Operating System Boot

After an operating system is generated, it must be made available for use by the hardware. But how does the hardware know where the kernel is or how to load the kernel? The procedure of starting a computer by loading the kernel is known as booting the system. On most computer systems, a small piece of code known as the bootstrap program or bootstrap loader locates the kernel loads it into main memory, and starts its execution. Some computer systems, such as PCs, use a two-step process in which a simple bootstrap loader fetches a more complex boot program from disk, which in turn loads the kernel.

When a CPU receives a rest event - for instance, when it is powered up or rebooted - the instruction register is loaded with a predefined memory location, and execution starts there. At that location is the initial bootstrap program. This program is in the form or read-only memory (ROM), because the RAM is in an unknown state at the system startup. ROM is convenient because it needs no initialization and cannot easily be infected by a computer virus.

The bootstrap program can perform a variety of tasks. Usually, one task is to run diagnostics to determine the state of the machine. If the diagnostics pass, the program can continue with the booting steps. It can also initialize all aspects of the system, from CPU registers to device controllers and the contents of main memory. Sooner or later, it starts the operating system.

Some systems - such as cellular phones, tablets, and game consoles - store the entire operating system in ROM. Storing the operating system in ROM is suitable for small operating systems, simple supporting hardware and rugged operation. A problem with this approach is that changing the bootstrap code requires changing the ROM hardware chips. Some systems resolve this problem by using erasable-programmable read-only memory (EPRPOM), which is read-only except when explicitly given a command to become writable.

All forms of ROM are also known as Firmware, since their characteristics fall somewhere between those of hardware and Those of software. A problem with firmware in general is that executing code there is slower than executing code in RAM. Some systems store the operating system in firmware and copy it to RAM for fast execution. A final issue with firmware is that it is relatively expensive, so usually only small amounts are available.

For large operating systems (including most general-purpose operating systems like Windows, Mac OS X, and UNIX) or for systems that change frequently, the bootstrap loader is stored in firmware, and the operating system is on disk. In this case, the bootstrap runs diagnostics and has a bit of code that can read a single block at a fixed location (say block zero) from disk into memory and execute the code from that boot block.

The program stored in the boot block may be sophisticated enough to load the entire operating system into memory and begin its execution. More typically, it is simple code (as it fits in a single block) and knows only the address on disk and length of the remainder of the bootstrap program. GRUB is an example of an open-source bootstrap program for Linux systems. All of the disk-bound bootstrap, and the operating system itself, can be easily changed by writing new versions to disk. A disk that has a boot partition is called a boot disk or system disk.

Now that the full bootstrap program has been loaded, it can traverse the file system to find the operating system kernel, load it into memory, and start its execution. It is only at this point that the system is said to be .

About the Authors

Abraham Silberschatz is the Sidney J. Weinberg Professor of Computer Science at Yale University. Prior to joining Yale, he was the Vice President of the Information Sciences Research Center at Bell Laboratories. Prior to that, he held a chaired professorship in the Department of Computer Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin.

Professor Silberschatz is a Fellow of the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM), a Fellow of Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and a member of the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering.

Greg Gagne is chair of the Computer Science department at Westminster College in Salt Lake City where he has been teaching since 1990. In addition to teaching operating systems, he also teaches computer networks, parallel programming, and software engineering.

Operating System Concepts, now in its ninth edition, continues to provide a solid theoretical foundation for understanding operating systems. The ninth edition has been thoroughly updated to include contemporary examples of how operating systems function. The text includes content to bridge the gap between concepts and actual implementations. End-of-chapter problems, exercises, review questions, and programming exercises help to further reinforce important concepts. A new Virtual Machine provides interactive exercises to help engage students with the material.

Reader Adam Sinclair says, "I'm writing this review from the perspective of a student. I am finishing an Operating Systems course at university and I have to say this book is fantastic at introducing new concepts. If there is ever a conversation about OS, I always refer to this book. The content is very well laid out and organized in a way that can be read from beginning to end. There is no need to jump from one chapter to another (unless you want to skip sections)."

Reader Chetan Sharma says, "This book is bible for operating system knowledge. It covers very important concepts of Process Management and Memory Management. This book is good for all type of readers - Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced reader. Highly recommended for Students/Professionals/Readers who want to enhance their knowledge.

More Computer Architecture Articles:
• The AMD Athlon 64 Processor
• The Use of SOI (Silicone on Insulator) Wafers in MEMS (Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems) Production
• Basic Arithmetic Logic Unit (ALU) Circuitry
• Intel's Dual-Core Core i3 Processor
• Intel's Core 2 Processors
• Oscilloscope Required for Serious Digital Electronics Work
• CPU Process Memory Address Binding
• CPU Chip Packaging
• Operating System Process Control Block
• Shortest-Job-First CPU Scheduling Algorithm