Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Inside the Linux Boot Process

This article explores the Linux boot process from the initial bootstrap to the start of the first user-space application. Along the way, you'll learn about various other boot-related topics such as the boot loaders, kernel decompression, the initial RAM disk, and other elements of Linux boot.

When a system is first booted, or is reset, the processor executes code at a well-known location. In a personal computer (PC), this location is in the basic input/output system (BIOS), which is stored in flash memory on the motherboard. The central processing unit (CPU) in an embedded system invokes the reset vector to start a program at a known address in flash/ROM. In either case, the result is the same. Because PCs offer so much flexibility, the BIOS must determine which devices are candidates for boot. We'll look at this in more detail later.

When a boot device is found, the first-stage boot loader is loaded into RAM and executed. This boot loader is less than 512 bytes in length (a single sector), and its job is to load the second-stage boot loader.

When the second-stage boot loader is in RAM and executing, a splash screen is commonly displayed, and Linux and an optional initial RAM disk (temporary root file system) are loaded into memory. When the images are loaded, the second-stage boot loader passes control to the kernel image and the kernel is decompressed and initialized. At this stage, the second-stage boot loader checks the system hardware, enumerates the attached hardware devices, mounts the root device, and then loads the necessary kernel modules. When complete, the first user-space program (init) starts, and high-level system initialization is performed.

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