Beginning the Boot Loading Process

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Although the actual boot loading mechanism for Linux varies on different hardware platforms (such as the SPARC, Alpha, or PowerPC systems), Intel-based PCs running Ubuntu most often use the same mechanism throughout product lines. This process is accomplished through a Basic Input Output System, or BIOS. The BIOS is an application stored in a chip on the motherboard that initializes the hardware on the motherboard (and often the hardware that’s attached to the motherboard). The BIOS gets the system ready to load and run the software that we recognize as the operating system.

As a last step, the BIOS code looks for a special program known as the boot loader or boot code. The instructions in this little bit of code tell the BIOS where the Linux kernel is located, how it should be loaded into memory, and how it should be started.

If all goes well, the BIOS looks for a bootable volume such as a floppy disk, CD-ROM, hard drive, RAM disk, or other media. The bootable volume contains a special hexadecimal value written to the volume by the boot loader application (likely either GRUB or LILO, although LILO is not provided with Ubuntu) when the boot loader code was first installed in the system’s drives. The BIOS searches volumes in the order established by the BIOS settings (for example, the floppy first, followed by a CD-ROM, and then a hard drive) and then boots from the first bootable volume it finds. Modern BIOS’s allow considerable flexibility in choosing the device used for booting the system.

Next, the BIOS looks on the bootable volume for boot code in the partition boot sector also known as the Master Boot Record (MBR) of the first hard disk. The MBR contains the boot loader code and the partition table—think of it as an index for a book, plus a few comments on how to start reading the book. If the BIOS finds a boot loader, it loads the boot loader code into memory. At that point, the BIOS’s job is completed, and it passes control of the system to the boot loader.

The boot loader locates the Linux kernel on the disk and loads it into memory. After that task is completed, the boot loader passes control of the system to the Linux kernel. You can see how one process builds on another in an approach that enables many different operating systems to work with the same hardware.

If the BIOS detects a hardware problem, the boot process will fail and the BIOS will generate a few beeps from the system speaker. These “beep codes” indicate the nature of the problem the BIOS has encountered. The codes vary among manufacturers, and the diagnosis of problems occurring during this phase of the boot process is beyond the scope of this book and does not involve Linux. If you encounter a problem, you should consult the motherboard manual or contact the manufacturer of the motherboard.

Linux is very flexible and can be booted from multiple images on a CD-ROM, over a network using PXE (pronounced “pixie”) or NetBoot, or on a headless server with the console display sent over a serial or network connection. Work is even underway to create a special Linux BIOS at http://www.coreboot.org/ that will expedite the boot process because Linux does not need many of the services offered by the typical BIOS. This kind of flexibility enables Linux to be used in a variety of ways, such as remote servers or diskless workstations, which are not generally seen in personal home use.

Source of Informattion : Sams Ubuntu Unleashed 2008 Edition

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