From Power Up To Bash Prompt

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction

  2. Hardware

     2.1 Configuration
     2.2 Exercises
     2.3 More Information

  3. Lilo

     3.1 Configuration
     3.2 Exercises
     3.3 More Information

  4. The Linux Kernel

     4.1 Configuration
     4.2 Exercises
     4.3 More Information

  5. The GNU C Library

     5.1 Configuration
     5.2 Exercises
     5.3 More Information

  6. Init

     6.1 Configuration
     6.2 Exercises
     6.3 More Information

  7. The Filesystem

     7.1 Configuration
     7.2 Exercises
     7.3 More Information

  8. Kernel Daemons

     8.1 Configuration
     8.2 Exercises
     8.3 More Information

  9. System Logger

     9.1 Configuration
     9.2 Exercises
     9.3 More Information

  10. Getty and Login

     10.1 Configuration
     10.2 Exercises

  11. Bash

     11.1 Configuration
     11.2 Exercises
     11.3 More Information

  12. Commands

  13. Conclusion

  14. Administrivia
     14.1 Copyright
     14.2 Homepage
     14.3 Feedback
     14.4 Acknowledgements
     14.5 Change History
        14.5.1 0.8 -> 0.9 (November 2000)
        14.5.2 0.7 -> 0.8 (September 2000)
        14.5.3 0.6 -> 0.7
        14.5.4 0.5 -> 0.6
     14.6 TODO


  1.  Introduction

  I find it frustrating that many things happen inside my Linux machine
  that I do not understand. If, like me, you want to really understand
  your system rather than just knowing how to use it, this document
  should be a good place to start.  This kind of background knowledge is
  also needed if you want to be a top notch Linux problem solver.

  I assume that you have a working Linux box, and understand some basic
  things about Unix and PC hardware. If not, an excellent place to start
  learning is Eric S. Raymond's The Unix and Internet Fundamentals HOWTO
  HOWTO.html> It is short, very readable and covers all the basics.

  The main thread in this document is how Linux starts itself up.  But
  it also tries to be a more comprehensive learning resource.  I have
  included exercises in each section. If you actually do some of these,
  you will learn much more than you could by just reading.

  I hope some readers will undertake the best Linux learning exercise
  that I know of, which is building a system from source code.
  Giambattista Vico, an Italian philosopher (1668-1744) said ``verum
  ipsum factum'', which means ``understanding arises through making''.
  Thanks to Alex (see ``Acknowledgements'') for this quote.

  If you want to ``roll your own'', you should also see Gerard Beekmans'
  Linux From Scratch HOWTO <> (LFS).  LFS
  has detailed instructions on building a complete useable system from
  source code. On the LFS website, you will also find a mailing list for
  people building systems this way.  The instructions that used to be
  part of this document are now in a separate document ``Building a
  Minimal Linux System from Source Code'', and can be found at From
  PowerUp to Bash Prompt home page
  <>.  They explain how to
  ``toy'' system, purely as a learning exercise.

  Packages are presented in the order in which they appear in the system
  startup process. This means that if you install the packages in this
  order you can reboot after each installation, and see the system get a
  little closer to giving you a bash prompt each time. There is a
  reassuring sense of progress in this.

  I recommend that you first read the main text of each section,
  skipping the exercises and references. Then decide how deep an
  understanding you want to develop, and how much effort you are
  prepared to put in. Then start at the beginning again, doing the
  exercises and additional reading as you go.

  2.  Hardware

  When you first turn on your computer it tests itself to make sure
  everything is in working order. This is called the ``Power on self
  test''. Then a program called the bootstrap loader, located in the ROM
  BIOS, looks for a boot sector. A boot sector is the first sector of a
  disk and has a small program that can load an operating system. Boot
  sectors are marked with a magic number 0xAA55 = 43603 at byte 0x1FE =
  510. That's the last two bytes of the sector. This is how the hardware
  can tell whether the sector is a boot sector or not.

  The bootstrap loader has a list of places to look for a boot sector.
  My old machine looks in the primary floppy drive, then the primary
  hard drive.  More modern machines can also look for a boot sector on a
  CD-ROM.  If it finds a boot sector, it loads it into memory and passes
  control to the program that loads the operating system.  On a typical
  Linux system, this program will be LILO's first stage boot loader.
  There are many different ways of setting your system up to boot
  though. See the LILO User's Guide for details. See section ``LILO''
  for a URL.

  Obviously there is a lot more to say about what PC hardware does. But
  this is not the place to say it. See one of the many good books about
  PC hardware.

  2.1.  Configuration

  The machine stores some information about itself in its CMOS. This
  includes what disks and RAM are in the system. The machine's BIOS
  contains a program to let you modify these settings. Check the
  messages on your screen as the machine is turned on to see how to
  access it. On my machine, you press the delete key before it begins
  loading its operating system.

  2.2.  Exercises

  A good way to learn about PC hardware is to build a machine out of
  second hand parts. Get at least a 386 so you can easily run Linux on
  it. It won't cost much.  Ask around, someone might give you some of
  the parts you need.

  Check out, download compile and make a boot disk for Unios
  <>.  (They used to have a
  home page at  <>, but it disappeared) This is just
  a bootable ``Hello World!'' program, consisting of just over 100 lines
  of assembler code. It would be good to see it converted to a format
  that the GNU assembler as can understand.

  Open the boot disk image for unios with a hex editor. This image is
  512 bytes long, exactly one sector. Find the magic number 0xAA55. Do
  the same for the boot sector from a bootable floppy disk or your own
  computer. You can use the dd command to copy it to a file: dd
  if=/dev/fd0 of=boot.sector.  Be very careful to get if (input file)
  and of (output file) the right way round!

  Check out the source code for LILO's boot loader.

  2.3.  More Information

  ·  The Unix and Internet Fundamentals HOWTO
     HOWTO.html> by Eric S. Raymond, especially section 3, What happens
     when you switch on a computer?

  ·  The first chapter of The LILO User's Guide gives an excellent
     explanation of PC disk partitions and booting.  See section
     ``LILO'' for a URL.

  ·  The NEW Peter Norton Programmer's Guide to the IBM PC & PS/2, by
     Peter Norton and Richard Wilton, Microsoft Press 1988 There is a
     newer Norton book, which looks good, but I can't afford it right

  ·  One of the many books available on upgrading PC's

  3.  Lilo

  When the computer loads a boot sector on a normal Linux system, what
  it loads is actually a part of lilo, called the ``first stage boot
  loader''. This is a tiny program who's only job in life is to load and
  run the ``second stage boot loader''.

  The second stage loader gives you a prompt (if it was installed that
  way) and loads the operating system you choose.

  When your system is up and running, and you run lilo, what you are
  actually running is the ``map installer''. This reads the
  configuration file /etc/lilo.conf and writes the boot loaders, and
  information about the operating systems it can load, to the hard disk.

  There are lots of different ways to set your system up to boot. What I
  have just explained is the most obvious and ``normal'' way, at least
  for a system who's main operating system is Linux. The Lilo Users'
  Guide explains several examples of ``boot concepts''. It is worth
  reading these, and trying some of them out.

  3.1.  Configuration

  The configuration file for lilo is /etc/lilo.conf. There is a manual
  page for it: type man lilo.conf into a shell to see it. The main thing
  in lilo.conf is one entry for each thing that lilo is set up to boot.
  For a Linux entry, this includes where the kernel is, and what disk
  partition to mount as the root filesystem. For other operating
  systems, the main piece of information is which partition to boot

  3.2.  Exercises

  DANGER: take care with these exercises. It is easy enough to get
  something wrong and screw up your master boot record and make your
  system unuseable. Make sure you have a working rescue disk, and know
  how to use it to fix things up again. See below for a link to
  tomsrtbt, the rescue disk I use and recommend. The best precaution is
  to use a machine that doesn't matter.

  Set up lilo on a floppy disk. It doesn't matter if there is nothing
  other than a kernel on the floppy - you will get a ``kernel panic''
  when the kernel is ready to load init, but at least you will know that
  lilo is working.

  If you like you can press on and see how much of a system you can get
  going on the floppy. This is probably the second best Linux learning
  activity around.  See the Bootdisk HOWTO (url below), and tomsrtbt
  (url below) for clues.

  Get lilo to boot unios (see section ``hardware exercises'' for a URL).
  As an extra challenge, see if you can do this on a floppy disk.

  Make a boot-loop. Get lilo in the master boot record to boot lilo in
  one of the primary partition boot sectors, and have that boot lilo in
  the master boot record... Or perhaps use the master boot record and
  all four primary partitions to make a five point loop. Fun!

  3.3.  More Information

  ·  The lilo man page.

  ·  The Lilo package (lilo
     <>), contains the ``LILO
     User's Guide'' (or a later version).  You may
     already have this document though.  Check /usr/doc/lilo or there
     abouts.  The postscript version is better than the plain text,
     since it contains diagrams and tables.

  ·  tomsrtbt <> the coolest single floppy linux.
     Makes a great rescue disk.

  ·  The Bootdisk HOWTO <>

  4.  The Linux Kernel

  The kernel does quite a lot really. I think a fair way of summing it
  up is that it makes the hardware do what the programs want, fairly and

  The processor can only execute one instruction at a time, but Linux
  systems appear to be running lots of things simultaneously. The kernel
  acheives this by switching from task to task really quickly. It makes
  the best use of the processor by keeping track of which processes are
  ready to go, and which ones are waiting for something like a record
  from a hard disk file, or some keyboard input.  This kernel task is
  called scheduling.

  If a program isn't doing anything, then it doesn't need to be in RAM.
  Even a program that is doing something, might have parts that aren't
  doing anything.  The address space of each process is divided into
  pages. The Kernel keeps track of which pages of which processes are
  being used the most. The pages that aren't used so much can be moved
  out to the swap partition. When they are needed again, another unused
  page can be paged out to make way for it. This is virtual memory

  If you have ever compiled your own Kernel, you will have noticed that
  there are many many options for specific devices. The kernel contains
  a lot of specific code to talk to diverse kinds of hardware, and
  present it all in a nice uniform way to the application programs.

  The Kernel also manages the filesystem, interprocess communication,
  and a lot of networking stuff.

  Once the kernel is loaded, the first thing it does is look for an init
  program to run.

  4.1.  Configuration

  Most of the configuration of the kernel is done when you build it,
  using make menuconfig, or make xconfig in /usr/src/linux/ (or wherever
  your Linux kernel source is). You can reset the default video mode,
  root filesystem, swap device and RAM disk size using rdev. These
  parameters and more can also be passed to the kernel from lilo. You
  can give lilo parameters to pass to the kernel either in lilo.conf, or
  at the lilo prompt.  For example if you wanted to use hda3 as your
  root file system instead of hda2, you might type

          LILO: linux root=/dev/hda3

  If you are building a system from source, you can make life a lot
  simpler by creating a ``monolithic'' kernel. That is one with no
  modules. Then you don't have to copy kernel modules to the target

  NOTE: The file is used by the kernel logger to determine
  the module names generating messages. The program top also uses this
  information. When you copy the kernel to the target system, copy too.

  4.2.  Exercises

  Think about this: /dev/hda3 is a special type of file that describes a
  hard disk partition. But it lives on a file system just like all other
  files. The kernel wants to know which partition to mount as the root
  filesystem - it doesn't have a file system yet. So how can it read
  /dev/hda3 to find out which partition to mount?

  If you haven't already: build your own kernel. Read all the help
  information for each option.

  See how small a kernel you can make that still works. You can learn a
  lot by leaving the wrong things out!

  Read ``The Linux Kernel'' (URL below) and as you do, find the parts of
  the source code that it refers to. The book (as I write) refers to
  kernel version 2.0.33, which is pretty out of date. It might be easier
  to follow if you download this old version and read the source there.
  Its amazing to find bits of C code called ``process'' and ``page''.

  Hack! See if you can make it spit out some extra messages or

  4.3.  More Information

  ·  /usr/src/linux/README and the contents of
     /usr/src/linux/Documentation/ (These may be in some other place on
     your system)

  ·  The Kernel HOWTO

  ·  The help available when you configure a kernel using make
     menuconfig or make xconfig

  ·  The Linux Kernel (and other LDP Guides)

  ·  source code, see Building a Minimal Linux System from Source Code
     <> for urls

  5.  The GNU C Library

  The next thing that happens as your computer starts up is that init is
  loaded and run. However, init, like almost all programs, uses
  functions from libraries.

  You may have seen an example C program like this:

          main() {
                  printf("Hello World!\n");

  The program contains no definition of printf, so where does it come
  from?  It comes from the standard C libraries, on a GNU/Linux system,
  glibc.  If you compile it under Visual C++, then it comes from a
  Microsoft implementation of the same standard functions. There are
  zillions of these standard functions, for math, string, dates/times
  memory allocation and so on. Everything in Unix (including Linux) is
  either written in C or has to try hard to pretend it is, so everything
  uses these functions.

  If you look in /lib on your linux system you will see lots of files
  called or libsomething.a etc. They are libraries of
  these functions.  Glibc is just the GNU implementation of these

  There are two ways programs can use these library functions. If you
  statically link a program, these library functions are copied into the
  executable that gets created. This is what the libsomething.a
  libraries are for. If you dynamically link a program (and this is the
  default), then when the program is running and needs the library code,
  it is called from the file.

  The command ldd is your friend when you want to work out which
  libraries are needed by a particular program.  For example, here are
  the libraries that bash uses:

          [greg@Curry power2bash]$ ldd /bin/bash
         => /lib/ (0x40019000)
         => /lib/ (0x4001d000)
                  /lib/ => /lib/ (0x40000000)

  5.1.  Configuration

  Some of the functions in the libraries depend on where you are. For
  example, in Australia we write dates as dd/mm/yy, but Americans write
  mm/dd/yy. There is a program that comes with the glibc distribution
  called localedef which enables you to set this up.

  5.2.  Exercises

  Use ldd to find out what libraries your favourite applications use.

  Use ldd to find out what libraries init uses.

  Make a toy library, with just one or two functions in it. The program
  ar is used to create them, the man page for ar might be a good place
  to start investigating how this is done. Write, compile and link a
  program that uses this library.

  5.3.  More Information

  ·  source code, see Building a Minimal Linux System from Source Code
     <> for urls

  6.  Init

  I will only talk about the ``System V'' style of init that Linux
  systems mostly use. There are alternatives. In fact, you can put any
  program you like in /sbin/init, and the kernel will run it when it has
  finished loading.

  It is init's job to get everthing running the way it should be.  It
  checks that the file systems are ok and mounts them. It starts up
  ``daemons'' to log system messages, do networking, serve web pages,
  listen to your mouse and so on. It also starts the getty processes
  that put the login prompts on your virtual terminals.

  There is a whole complicated story about switching ``run-levels'', but
  I'm going to mostly skip that, and just talk about system start up.

  Init reads the file /etc/inittab, which tells it what to do.
  Typically, the first thing it is told to do is to run an
  initialisation script.  The program that executes (or interprets) this
  script is bash, the same program that gives you a command prompt.  In
  Debian systems, the initialisation script is /etc/init.d/rcS, on Red
  Hat, /etc/rc.d/rc.sysinit. This is where the filesystems get checked
  and mounted, the clock set, swap space enabled, hostname gets set etc.

  Next, another script is called to take us into the default run-level.
  This just means a set of subsystems to start up. There is a set of
  directories /etc/rc.d/rc0.d, /etc/rc.d/rc1.d, ..., /etc/rc.d/rc6.d in
  Red Hat, or /etc/rc0.d, /etc/rc1.d, ..., /etc/rc6.d in Debian, which
  correspond to the run-levels. If we are going into runlevel 3 on a
  Debian system, then the script runs all the scripts in /etc/rc3.d that
  start with `S' (for start).  These scripts are really just links to
  scripts in another directory usually called init.d.

  So our run-level script was called by init, and it is looking in a
  directory for scripts starting with `S'. It might find S10syslog
  first. The numbers tell the run-level script which order to run them
  in. So in this case S10syslog gets run first, since there were no
  scripts starting with S00 ... S09. But S10syslog is really a link to
  /etc/init.d/syslog which is a script to start and stop the system
  logger. Because the link starts with an `S', the run-level script
  knows to execute the syslog script with a ``start'' parameter. There
  are corresponding links starting with `K' (for kill), which specify
  what to shut down and in what order when leaving the run-level.

  To change what subsystems start up by default, you must set up these
  links in the rcN.d directory, where N is the default runlevel set in
  your inittab.

  The last important thing that init does is to start some getty's.
  These are ``respawned'' which means that if they stop, init just
  starts them again. Most distributions come with six virtual terminals.
  You may want less than this to save memory, or more so you can leave
  lots of things running and quickly flick to them as you need them. You
  may also want to run a getty for a text terminal or a dial in modem.
  In this case you will need to edit the inittab file.

  6.1.  Configuration

  /etc/inittab is the top level configuration file for init.

  The rcN.d directories, where N = 0, 1, ..., 6 determine what
  subsystems are started.

  Somewhere in one of the scripts invoked by init, the mount -a command
  will be issued. This means mount all the file systems that are
  supposed to be mounted. The file /etc/fstab defines what is supposed
  to be mounted.  If you want to change what gets mounted where when
  your system starts up, this is the file you will need to edit. There
  is a man page for fstab.

  6.2.  Exercises

  Find the rcN.d directory for the default run-level of your system and
  do a ls -l to see what the files are links to.

  Change the number of gettys that run on your system.

  Remove any subsystems that you don't need from your default run-level.

  See how little you can get away with starting.

  Set up a floppy disk with lilo, a kernel and a statically linked
  "hello world" program called /sbin/init and watch it boot up and say

  Watch carefully as your system starts up, and take notes about what it
  tells you is happening. Or print a section of your system log
  /var/log/messages from start up time. Then starting at inittab, walk
  through all the scripts and see what code does what. You can also put
  extra start up messages in, such as

          echo "Hello, I am rc.sysinit"

  This is a good exercise in learning Bash shell scripting too, some of
  the scripts are quite complicated. Have a good Bash reference handy.

  6.3.  More Information

  ·  There are man pages for the inittab and fstab files.  Type (eg) man
     inittab into a shell to see it.

  ·  The Linux System Administrators Guide has a good section
     <> on init.

  ·  source code, see Building a Minimal Linux System from Source Code
     <> for urls

  7.  The Filesystem

  In this section, I will be using the word ``filesystem'' in two
  different ways.  There are filesystems on disk partitions and other
  devices, and there is the filesystem as it is presented to you by a
  running Linux system. In Linux, you ``mount'' a disk filesystem onto
  the system's filesystem.

  In the previous section I mentioned that init scripts check and mount
  the filesystems. The commands that do this are fsck and mount

  A hard disk is just a big space that you can write ones and zeros on.
  A filesystem imposes some structure on this, and makes it look like
  files within directories within directories... Each file is
  represented by an inode, which says who's file it is, when it was
  created and where to find its contents.  Directories are also
  represented by inodes, but these say where to find the inodes of the
  files that are in the directory. If the system wants to read
  /home/greg/bigboobs.jpeg, it first finds the inode for the root
  directory / in the ``superblock'', then finds the inode for the
  directory home in the contents of /, then finds the inode for the
  directory greg in the contents of /home, then the inode for
  bigboobs.jpeg which will tell it which disk blocks to read.

  If we add some data to the end of a file, it could happen that the
  data is written before the inode is updated to say that the new blocks
  belong to the file, or vice versa. If the power cuts out at this
  point, the filesystem will be broken. It is this kind of thing that
  fsck attempts to detect and repair.

  The mount command takes a filesystem on a device, and adds it to the
  heirarchy that you see when you use your system. Usually, the kernel
  mounts its root file system read-only. The mount command is used to
  remount it read-write after fsck has checked that it is ok.

  Linux supports other kinds of filesystem too: msdos, vfat, minix and
  so on. The details of the specific kind of filesystem are abstracted
  away by the virtual file system (VFS). I won't go into any detail on
  this though. There is a discussion of it in ``The Linux Kernel'' (see
  section ``The Linux Kernel'' for a url)

  A completely different kind of filesystem gets mounted on /proc.  It
  is really a representation of things in the kernel. There is a
  directory there for each process running on the system, with the
  process number as the directory name. There are also files such as
  interrupts, and meminfo which tell you about how the hardware is being
  used.  You can learn a lot by exploring /proc.

  7.1.  Configuration

  There are parameters to the command mke2fs which creates ext2
  filesystems. These control the size of blocks, the number of inodes
  and so on.  Check the mke2fs man page for details.

  What gets mounted where on your filesystem is controlled by the
  /etc/fstab file. It also has a man page.

  7.2.  Exercises

  Make a very small filesystem, and view it with a hex viewer. Identify
  inodes, superblocks and file contents.

  I believe there are tools that give you a graphical view of a
  filesystem.  Find one, try it out, and email me the url and a review!

  Check out the ext2 filesystem code in the Kernel.

  7.3.  More Information

  ·  Chapter 9 of the LDP book ``The Linux Kernel'' is an excellent
     description of filesystems. You can find it at the Australian LDP
     mirror <>

  ·  The mount command is part of the util-linux package, there is a
     link to it in Building a Minimal Linux System from Source Code

  ·  man pages for mount, fstab, fsck, mke2fs and proc

  ·  The file Documentation/proc.txt in the Linux source code explains
     the /proc filesystem.

  ·  EXT2 File System Utilities ext2fsprogs
     <> home page
     Australian mirror. There is also a Ext2fs-overview document here,
     although it is out of date, and not as readable as chapter 9 of
     ``The Linux Kernel''

  ·   Unix File System Standard
     Another link <> to the Unix File System
     Standard.  This describes what should go where in a Unix file
     system, and why. It also has minimum requirements for the contents
     of /bin, /sbin and so on. This is a good reference if your goal is
     to make a minimal yet complete system.

  8.  Kernel Daemons

  If you issue the ps aux command, you will see something like the

  root         1  0.1  8.0  1284   536   ? S    07:37   0:04 init [2]
  root         2  0.0  0.0     0     0   ? SW   07:37   0:00 (kflushd)
  root         3  0.0  0.0     0     0   ? SW   07:37   0:00 (kupdate)
  root         4  0.0  0.0     0     0   ? SW   07:37   0:00 (kpiod)
  root         5  0.0  0.0     0     0   ? SW   07:37   0:00 (kswapd)
  root        52  0.0 10.7  1552   716   ? S    07:38   0:01 syslogd -m 0
  root        54  0.0  7.1  1276   480   ? S    07:38   0:00 klogd
  root        56  0.3 17.3  2232  1156   1 S    07:38   0:13 -bash
  root        57  0.0  7.1  1272   480   2 S    07:38   0:01 /sbin/agetty 38400 tt
  root        64  0.1  7.2  1272   484  S1 S    08:16   0:01 /sbin/agetty -L ttyS1
  root        70  0.0 10.6  1472   708   1 R   Sep 11   0:01 ps aux

  This is a list of the processes running on the system. The information
  comes from the /proc filesystem that I mentioned in the previous
  section.  Note that init is process number one. Processes 2, 3, 4 and
  5 are kflushd, kupdate, kpiod and kswapd. There is something strange
  here though: notice that in both the virtual storage size (SIZE) and
  the Real Storage Size (RSS) columns, these processes have zeroes. How
  can a process use no memory?

  These processes are the kernel daemons. Most of the kernel does not
  show up on process lists at all, and you can only work out what memory
  it is using by subtracting the memory available from the amount on
  your system. The kernel daemons are started after init, so they get
  process numbers like normal processes do. But their code and data
  lives in the kernel's part of the memory.

  There are brackets around the entries in the command column because
  the /proc filesystem does not contain command line information for
  these processes.

  So what are these kernel daemons for?  Previous versions of this
  document had a plea for help, as I didn't know much about the kernel
  daemons.  The following partial story has been patched together from
  various replies to that plea, for which I am most grateful.  Further
  clues, references and corrections are most welcome!

  Input and output is done via buffers in memory.  This allows things to
  run faster. What programs write can be kept in memory, in a buffer,
  then written to disk in larger more efficient chunks. The daemons
  kflushd and kupdate handle this work: kupdate runs periodically (5
  seconds?)  to check whether there are any dirty buffers. If there are,
  it gets kflushd to flush them to disk.

  Processes often have nothing to do, and ones that are running often
  don't need all of their code and data in memory. This means we can
  make better use of our memory, by shifting unused parts of running
  programs out to the swap partition(s) of the hard disk.  Moving this
  data in and out of memory as needed is done by kpiod and kswapd. Every
  second or so, kswapd wakes up to check out the memory situation, and
  if something out on the disk is needed in memory, or there is not
  enough free memory, kpiod is called in.

  There might also be a kapmd daemon running on your system if you have
  configured automatic power management into your kernel.

  8.1.  Configuration

  The program update allows you to configure kflushd and kswapd.  Try
  update -h for some information.

  Swap space is turned on by swapon and off by swapoff.  The init script
  (/etc/rc.sysinit or /etc/rc.d/rc.sysinit) usually calls swapon as the
  system is coming up.  I'm told that swapoff is handy for saving power
  on laptops.

  8.2.  Exercises

  Do an update -d, note the blatherings on the last line about
  ``threshold for buffer fratricide''.  Now there's an intriguing
  concept, go investigate!

  Change directory to /proc/sys/vm and cat the files there. See what you
  can work out.

  8.3.  More Information

  The Linux Documentation Project's ``The Linux Kernel'' (see section
  ``The Linux Kernel'' for a url)

  The Linux kernel source code, if you are brave enough!  The kswapd
  code is in linux/mm/vmscan.c, and kflushd and kupdate are in

  9.  System Logger

  Init starts the syslogd and klogd daemons. They write messages to
  logs. The kernel's messages are handled by klogd, while syslogd
  handles log messages from other processes. The main log is
  /var/log/messages. This is a good place to look if something is going
  wrong with your system. Often there will be a valuable clue in there.

  9.1.  Configuration

  The file /etc/syslog.conf tells the loggers what messages to put
  where. Messages are identified by which service they come from, and
  what priority level they are. This configuration file consists of
  lines that say messages from service x with priority y go to z, where
  z is a file, tty, printer, remote host or whatever.

  NOTE: Syslog requires the /etc/services file to be present. The
  services file allocates ports. I am not sure whether syslog needs a
  port allocated so that it can do remote logging, or whether even local
  logging is done through a port, or whether it just uses /etc/services
  to convert the service names you type /etc/syslog.conf into port

  9.2.  Exercises

  Have a look at your system log. Find a message you don't understand,
  and find out what it means.

  Send all your log messages to a tty. (set it back to normal once done)

  9.3.  More Information

  Australian sysklogd Mirror

  10.  Getty and Login

  Getty is the program that enables you to log in through a serial
  device such as a virtual terminal, a text terminal, or a modem. It
  displays the login prompt. Once you enter your username, getty hands
  this over to login which asks for a password, checks it out and gives
  you a shell.

  There are many getty's available. Some distributions, including Red
  Hat use a very small one called mingetty that only works with virtual

  The login program is part of the util-linux package, which also
  contains a getty called agetty, which works fine. This package also
  contains  mkswap, fdisk, passwd, kill, setterm, mount, swapon, rdev,
  renice, more (the program) and more (ie more programs).

  10.1.  Configuration

  The message that comes on the top of your screen with your login
  prompt comes from /etc/issue. Gettys are usually started in
  /etc/inittab.  Login checks user details in /etc/passwd, and if you
  have password shadowing, /etc/shadow.

  10.2.  Exercises

  Create a /etc/passwd by hand. Passwords can be set to null, and
  changed with the program passwd once you log on. See the man page for
  this file Use man 5 passwd to get the man page for the file rather
  than the man page for the program.

  11.  Bash

  If you give login a valid username and password combination, it will
  check in /etc/passwd to see which shell to give you. In most cases on
  a Linux system this will be bash. It is bash's job to read your
  commands and see that they are acted on. It is simultaneously a user
  interface, and a programming language interpreter.

  As a user interface it reads your commands, and executes them itself
  if they are ``internal'' commands like cd, or finds and executes a
  program if they are ``external'' commands like cp or startx. It also
  does groovy stuff like keeping a command history, and completing

  We have already seen bash in action as a programming language
  interpreter. The scripts that init runs to start the system up are
  usually shell scripts, and are executed by bash. Having a proper
  programming language, along with the usual system utilities available
  at the command line makes a very powerful combination, if you know
  what you are doing.  For example (smug mode on) I needed to apply a
  whole stack of ``patches'' to a directory of source code the other
  day. I was able to do this with the following single command:

  for f in /home/greg/sh-utils-1.16*.patch; do patch -p0 < $f; done;

  This looks at all the files in my home directory whose names start
  with sh-utils-1.16 and end with .patch. It then takes each of these in
  turn, and sets the variable f to it and executes the commands between
  do and done. In this case there were 11 patch files, but there could
  just as easily have been 3000.

  11.1.  Configuration

  The file /etc/profile controls the system-wide behaviour of bash. What
  you put in here will affect everybody who uses bash on your system. It
  will do things like add directories to the PATH, set your MAIL
  directory variable.

  The default behaviour of the keyboard often leaves a lot to be
  desired. It is actually readline that handles this. Readline is a
  separate package that handles command line interfaces, providing the
  command history and filename completion, as well as some advanced line
  editing features. It is compiled into bash. By default, readline is
  configured using the file .inputrc in your home directory. The bash
  variable INPUTRC can be used to override this for bash. For example in
  Red Hat 6, INPUTRC is set to /etc/inputrc in /etc/profile. This means
  that backspace, delete, home and end keys work nicely for everyone.

  Once bash has read the system-wide configuration file, it looks for
  your personal configuration file. It checks in your home directory for
  .bash_profile, .bash_login and .profile. It runs the first one of
  these it finds. If you want to change the way bash behaves for you,
  without changing the way it works for others, do it here. For example,
  many applications use environment variables to control how they work.
  I have the variable EDITOR set to vi so that I can use vi in Midnight
  Commander (an excellent console based file manager) instead of its

  11.2.  Exercises

  The basics of bash are easy to learn. But don't stop there: there is
  an incredible depth to it. Get into the habit of looking for better
  ways to do things.

  Read shell scripts, look up stuff you don't understand.

  11.3.  More Information

  ·  There is a ``Bash Reference Manual'' with this, which is
     comprehensive, but heavy going.

  ·  There is an O'Rielly book on Bash, not sure if it's good.

  ·  I don't know of any good free up to date bash tutorials. If you do,
     please email me a url.

  ·  source code, see Building a Minimal Linux System from Source Code
     <> for urls
  12.  Commands

  You do most things in bash by issuing commands like cp. Most of these
  commands are small programs, though some, like cd are built into the

  The commands come in packages, most of them from the Free Software
  Foundation (or GNU).  Rather than list the packages here, I'll direct
  you to the Linux From Scratch HOWTO <>.
  It has a full and up to date list of the packages that go into a Linux
  system as well as instructions on how to build them.

  13.  Conclusion

  One of the best things about Linux, in my humble opinion, is that you
  can get inside it and really find out how it all works. I hope that
  you enjoy this as much as I do. And I hope that this little note has
  helped you do it.

  14.  Administrivia

  14.1.  Copyright

  This document is copyright (c) 1999, 2000 Greg O'Keefe. You are
  welcome to use, copy, distribute or modify it, without charge, under
  the terms of the GNU General Public Licence
  <>.  Please acknowledge me if you
  use all or part of this in another document.

  14.2.  Homepage

  The lastest version of this document lives at From Powerup To Bash
  Prompt <> as does its
  companion ``Building a Minimal Linux System from Source Code''.

  There is a French translation at From Powerup To Bash Prompt
  HOWTO.html> thanks to Dominique van den Broeck.  A Japanese by Yuji
  Senda is coming soon, if it's not at Japanese Documentation and FAQ
  Project <> already.

  14.3.  Feedback

  I would like to hear any comments, criticisms and suggestions for
  improvement that you have. Please send them to me Greg O'Keefe

  14.4.  Acknowledgements

  Product names are trademarks of the respective holders, and are hereby
  considered properly acknowledged.

  There are some people I want to say thanks to, for helping to make
  this happen.

     Michael Emery
        For reminding me about Unios.

     Tim Little
        For some good clues about /etc/passwd

     sPaKr on #linux in efnet
        Who sussed out that syslogd needs /etc/services, and introduced
        me to the phrase ``rolling your own'' to describe building a
        system from source code.

     Alex Aitkin
        For bringing Vico and his ``verum ipsum factum'' (understanding
        arises through making) to my attention.

     Dennis Scott
        For correcting my hexidecimal arithmetic.

        For pointing out some typos.

     David Leadbeater
        For contributing some ``ramblings'' about the kernel deamons.

     Dominique van den Broeck
        For translating this doc into French.

     Matthieu Peeters
        For some good information about kernel deamons.

     John Fremlin
        For some good information about kernel deamons.

     Yuji Senda
        For the Japanese translation.

     Antonius de Rozari
        For contributing a GNU assembler version of UNIOS (see resources
        section on the home page)

  14.5.  Change History

  14.5.1.  0.8 -> 0.9 (November 2000)

  ·  Incorporated some information from Matthieu Peeters and John
     Fremlin on kernel deamons and the /proc filesystem.

  14.5.2.  0.7 -> 0.8 (September 2000)

  ·  Removed instructions on how to build a system, placing them in a
     separate document. Adjusted a few links accordingly.

  ·  Changed homepage from learning@TasLUG
     <> to my own webspace

  ·  Completely failed to incorporate a lot of good material contributed
     by various people. Maybe next time :(

  14.5.3.  0.6 -> 0.7

  ·  more emphasis on explanation, less on how to build a system,
     building info gathered together in a separate section and the
     system built is trimmed down, direct readers to Gerard Beekmans'
     ``Linux From Scratch'' doc for serious building

  ·  added some ramblings contributed by David Leadbeater

  ·  fixed a couple of url's, added link to unios download at

  ·  tested and fixed url's

  ·  generally rewrite, tidy up

  14.5.4.  0.5 -> 0.6

  ·  added change history

  ·  added some todos

  14.6.  TODO

  ·  explain kernel modules, depmod, modprobe, insmod and all that (I'll
     have to find out first!)

  ·  mention the /proc filesystem, potential for exercises here

  ·  convert to docbook sgml

  ·  add more exercises, perhaps a whole section on larger exercises,
     like creating a minimal system file by file from a distro install.

  ·  add makefile hack to bash build instructions - see easter notes.

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