The kernel has the capability to accept information at boot in the form of a `command line', similar to an argument list you would give to a program. In general this is used to supply the kernel with information about hardware parameters that the kernel would not be able to determine on its own, or to avoid/override the values that the kernel would otherwise detect.
It is the job of the boot loader (e.g. LILO, loadlin or Grub) to take this information from the user and put it in a previously agreed upon place where the kernel can find it once it starts.
This present revision covers kernels up to and including v2.4.20. and v2.5.63
The BootPrompt-Howto is by:
p_gortmaker @ yahoo.com
This document is Copyright (c) 1995-2003 by Paul Gortmaker. Please see the Disclaimer and Copying information at the end of this document ( copyright) for information about redistribution of this document and the usual `we are not responsible for what you manage to break...' type legal stuff.
Most Linux users should never have to even look at this document. Linux does an exceptionally good job at detecting most hardware and picking reasonable default settings for most parameters. The information in this document is aimed at users who might want to change some of the default settings to optimize the kernel to their particular machine, or to a user who has `rolled their own' kernel to support a not so common piece of hardware for which the automatic defaults are not optimal.
For the sake of this document it is best to break the
boot arguments into two general categories; (a)ones
handled by the kernel and (b)those being handled by a device driver.
Examples would be
init= which tells the kernel what the
first program to run should be, versus
tells a device driver for a SCSI card what hardware resources it
should use are. This document concentrates on giving detailed
information on those in (a) for reasons outlined below.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Driver related boot prompt arguments
only apply to hardware drivers that are compiled directly into the
kernel. They have no effect on drivers that are loaded
as modules. Most Linux distributions come with a basic `bare-bones'
kernel, and the drivers are small modules that are loaded after
the kernel has initialized.
If you are unsure if you are using modules then try
man depmod and
man modprobe along with the
contents of your
In light of this, device driver boot prompt arguments are only really used by a few people who are building their own kernels, and thus have the kernel source at hand. These people are usually going to check the source for the options and syntax required by that driver to get the most up to date info.
For example, if you were looking for what arguments could be
passed to the AHA1542 SCSI driver, then you would go to the
linux/drivers/scsi directory, and look in the
__setup(... , ...). The
first thing in brackets is the argument you provide at boot,
and the second thing is the name of the function that processes your
argument. Usually near the top of this function or at the
top of the source file you will find a description of the boot
time arguments that the driver accepts.
For a while now, the kernel source has come with the file
file contains a brief listing of all the boot time arguments
that you can provide, along with quick pointers to where in
the source you can find where the arguments are parsed.
The idea is that this file gives developers a quick and
easy place to add in a brief description of any new arguments
that they add while working on the source. As such, it
will probably always be more up to date than this document.
Actually, I'm considering discontinuing this document in light
of the existence of
linux directory is usually found in
for most distributions. All references in this document
to files that come with the kernel will have their pathname
abbreviated to start with
linux - you will have to add the
/usr/src/ or whatever is appropriate for your system.
Some distributions may not install the full kernel source by
default, and only put in the
If you can't find the file in question, then install the kernel
source and/or make use of the
If you can't find the kernel source package in your distribution
then the kernel source is available at:
Kernel Source Home
The next best thing to reading the kernel C source itself, will
be any of the other documentation files that are
distributed with the kernel itself. There are now quite a
few of these, and most of them can be found in the directory
linux/Documentation and subdirectories from there.
Sometimes there will be
README.foo files that can be found
in the related driver directory (e.g.
where examples of
??? could be
The general trend is to move these files into the Documentation
directory, so if a file mentioned in this document is no longer
there, chances are it has been moved.
If you have figured out what boot-args you intend to use, and now want to know how to get that information to the kernel, then look at the documentation that comes with the software that you use to boot the kernel (e.g. LILO or loadlin). A brief overview is given below, but it is no substitute for the documentation that comes with the booting software.
New versions of this document can be retrieved via anonymous
FTP from most Linux FTP sites in the directory
/pub/Linux/docs/HOWTO/. Updates will be made as new
information and/or drivers becomes available. If this copy that
you are presently reading is more than six months old, then
you should probably check to see if a newer copy exists.
I would recommend viewing this via a WWW browser or in the
Postscript/dvi format. Both of these contain cross-references
that are lost in a simple plain text version.
If you want to get the official copy, here is URL.