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I have many times come across this word. I even know a little about it but don't know exactly what it is.

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Visit the wiki pages of Kernel and Android for information.

In simple terms, the kernel is a key component of operating systems, which mediates between software and the hardware. When an application needs the hardware to do something (this is known as a system call), it sends a request to the kernel, which in turn interprets the command for the hardware.

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Both the hardware and the software communicate both ways with the kernel.

In the context of Android, the kernel is not user-accessible without superuser permissions. Thus, many users flash a custom kernel, to tweak hardware settings such as CPU clock speed and File System Architectures.

For further reading, look here and here.

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