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Chapter 9. Setting Up the Bootloader

Though the bootloader runs for a very short time during the system's startup and is mainly responsible for loading the kernel, it is a very important system component. Setting up a bootloader is, to some extent, a task common to all Linux systems. It is a special task, nevertheless, for embedded Linux systems, because the bootloaders used in such systems are either completely different from those used in common systems or, even when they are the same, are configured and operated in very different ways.

Chapter 7 discussed the manipulation of embedded storage devices, and Chapter 8 explained how to set up a root filesystem for use in an embedded target. We are now ready to set up the bootloader along with the other components created earlier so we may obtain a bootable and functional embedded system. Because hardware architectures differ greatly among each other and because boards based on the same architecture differ greatly among themselves, the selection, set up, and configuration of a bootloader depend largely on the hardware you are using.

There is a slew of bootloaders available for Linux, thousands upon thousands of embedded boards, and many possible boot configurations for a same board. It is, therefore, inconceivable to cover all the possible combinations within a single chapter. Nor is it possible to give an in-depth discussion of the use of each of the bootloaders covered. Many existing bootloaders for Linux either already have an entire book describing their use or need one to be written for them.

Also, the number and quality of bootloaders vary greatly between architectures. Some architectures, such as the PPC and the x86, have well known, established bootloaders providing support for a range of hardware. Other architectures have few or no standard bootloaders and mainly rely on the use of bootloaders provided by the hardware manufacturer. If you are using a bootloader provided by the manufacturer, make sure you have all the binaries and documentation. If possible, obtain the source code too so you can reprogram your target freely.

This chapter will concentrate on the bootloader/boot setup combinations most commonly used in embedded systems to load Linux. Although GRUB can be installed and used on hard disks, for example, its most common use in embedded Linux systems is to load Linux from DOC devices. Hence, the GRUB section will cover only GRUB's use to load Linux from DOC devices.

First, we start by looking at the plethora of embedded bootloaders available for use with Linux. We then discuss how to set up and configure a server to provide BOOTP/DHCP and NFS services for targets that use these services to obtain a kernel image and mount their root filesystem, respectively. This is followed by in-depth discussions of the use of LILO with disk devices, the use of GRUB with DOC devices, and the use of U-Boot.

At the end of this chapter, you will either have installed all the components we created earlier, configured your target with the appropriate bootloader, and be ready to boot your system, or you will know where to get the rest of the information you need to achieve this.

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