One of the purposes of an operating system is to hide the peculiarities
of the system's hardware devices from its users.
For example the Virtual File System presents a uniform view of the mounted
filesystems irrespective of the underlying physical devices.
This chapter describes how the Linux kernel manages the
physical devices in the system.
The CPU is not the only intelligent device in the system,
device has its own hardware controller. The keyboard, mouse and serial ports
are controlled by a SuperIO chip, the IDE disks by an
IDE controller, SCSI disks by a SCSI
controller and so on.
Each hardware controller has its own control and status registers (CSRs)
and these differ between devices.
The CSRs for an Adaptec 2940 SCSI controller are completely different from
those of an NCR 810 SCSI controller.
The CSRs are used to start and stop the device, to initialize it and to diagnose
any problems with it.
Instead of putting code to manage the hardware controllers
into every application, the code is kept in the Linux kernel.
The software that handles or manages a hardware controller is known as a device
The Linux kernel device drivers are, essentially, a shared library of
memory resident, low level hardware handling routines.
It is Linux's device drivers that handle the peculiarities of the devices they
Linux supports three types of hardware devices: character, block and network.
Character devices are read and written directly without buffering, for example
the system's serial ports /dev/cua0 and /dev/cua1.
Block devices can only be written to and read from in multiples of the block
size, typically 512 or 1024 bytes.
Block devices are accessed via the buffer cache and may be randomly accessed,
that is to say, any block can be read or written no matter where it is on the device.
Block devices can be accessed via their device special file but more commonly
they are accessed via the file system.
Only a block device can support a mounted file system.
Network devices are accessed via the BSD socket interface
and the networking subsytems described in the section on networking.
There are many different device drivers in the Linux kernel (that is one of
Linux's strengths) but they all share some common attributes:
- Kernel code
- Device drivers are part of the kernel and, like
other code within the kernel, if they go wrong they can seriously
damage the system.
A badly written driver may even crash the system, possibly corrupting
file systems and losing data.
- Kernel interfaces
- Device drivers provide a standard interface
to the Linux kernel or to the appropriate subsystem.
For example, the terminal driver provides a file I/O interface
to the Linux kernel and a SCSI device driver provides a
SCSI device interface to the SCSI subsystem which, in turn, provides both
file I/O and buffer cache interfaces to the kernel.
- Kernel mechanisms and services
- Device drivers make use of
standard kernel services such as memory allocation, interrupt delivery
and wait queues to operate.
- Most of the Linux device drivers can be loaded on
demand as kernel modules when
they are needed and unloaded when they are no longer being used. This makes the
kernel very adaptable and efficient with the system's resources.
- Linux device drivers can be built into the
kernel. Which devices are built is configurable when the kernel is compiled.
As the system boots and each device driver is initialized it looks for the
hardware devices that it will control. If those devices do not exist (maybe
are just not found), the device driver is simply redundant and causes no
harm apart from occupying a little of the system's memory.
Device drivers have to be careful when using memory.
As they are part of the Linux kernel they cannot use virtual memory.
Each time a device driver runs, maybe as an interrupt is received or as a bottom
half or task queue handler is scheduled, the current process may change.
The device driver cannot rely on a particular process running even if it is
doing work on its behalf.
Like the rest of the kernel, device drivers use data structures to keep track of
the device they controll.
The kernel would become unnecessarily large if these data structures were
statically allocated, part of the device driver's code.
Most device drivers allocate kernel, non-paged, memory to hold their data.
Linux provides kernel memory allocation and deallocation routines and it is
these that the device drivers use.
Kernel memory is allocated in chunks that are powers of 2.
For example 128 or 512 bytes, even if the device driver asks for less.
The number of bytes that the device driver requests is rounded up to the next
block size boundary.
This makes kernel memory deallocation easier as the smaller free blocks can be
recombined into bigger blocks.
It may be that Linux needs to do quite a lot of extra work when the
memory is requested. If the amount of free memory is low, physical pages may
need to be discarded or written to the swap device.
Normally, Linux would suspend the requestor, putting the process onto a wait
queue until there is enough physical memory.
Not all device drivers (or indeed Linux kernel code) may want this to happen and
so the kernel memory allocation routines can be requested to fail if they cannot
immediately allocate memory.
The device driver can also specify that it wants to DMA to and from the memory
it allocates. It is the Linux kernel, not the device driver, however, that takes
care of the details. This way it is the Linux kernel rather than the device
driver decides what constitutes DMA'able memory for the system.
Interfacing Device Drivers with the Kernel
To ensure that access is always done in the correct manner, the Linux kernel must be able
to interact with device drivers in standard ways.
Each class of device driver, character, block and network, provides common
interfaces that the kernel uses when requesting services from them. These common
interfaces mean that the kernel can treat often very different devices and their
device drivers absolutely the same. For example, SCSI and
IDE disks behave very differently but the Linux kernel
uses the same interface to both of them.
Linux is very dynamic, every time a Linux kernel boots it may encounter
different physical devices and thus need different device drivers.
Linux allows you to include device drivers at kernel build time via its
configuration scripts. When these drivers are initialized at boot time they may
not discover any hardware to control.
Other drivers can be loaded as kernel modules when they are needed.
To cope with this dynamic nature of device drivers, device drivers
register themselves with the kernel as they are initialized.
Linux maintains tables of registered device drivers as part of its interfaces
These tables include pointers to routines and information that supports
the interface with the device class.
Figure: Character Devices
Character devices, the simplest of Linux's devices, are accessed as files,
applications use standard system calls to open them, read from them, write
to them and close them exactly as if the device were a file.
This is true even if the device is a modem being used by the PPP daemon
to connect a Linux system onto a network.
As a character device is initialized its device driver registers itself with
the Linux kernel by adding an entry into the
chrdevs vector of device_struct data structures.
The device's major device identifier (for example 4 for the tty
device) is used as an index into this vector.
The major device identifier for a device is fixed.
Each entry in the chrdevs vector, a
device_struct data structure contains two elements: a pointer to the
name of the registered device driver and a pointer to a block of file
This block of file operations is itself the addresses of routines within the
character device driver, each of which handles specific file operations
such as open, read, write and close.
The contents of /proc/devices for character devices is taken from
the chrdevs vector.
When a character special file representing a character device (for example
/dev/cua0) is opened, the kernel must set things up so that the correct
character device driver's file operation routines will be called.
Just like an ordinairy file or directory, each device special file is
represented by a VFS inode .
The VFS inode for a character special file, indeed for all device special
files, contains both the major and minor identifiers for the device.
This VFS inode was created by the underlying filesystem, for example
EXT2, from information in the real filesystem when the device
special file's name was looked up.
Each VFS inode has associated with it a set of file operations and these are
different depending on the filesystem object that the inode represents.
Whenever a VFS inode representing a character special file is created,
its file operations are set to the default character device operations.
This has only one file operation, the open file operation.
When the character special file is opened by an application the generic
open file operation uses the device's major identifier as an index into the
chrdevs vector to retrieve the file
operations block for this particular device.
It also sets up the file data structure describing this character
special file, making its file operations pointer point to those of the
Thereafter all of the applications file operations will be mapped to
calls to the character devices set of file operations.
Block devices also support being accessed like files.
The mechanisms used to provide the correct set of file operations for
the opened block special file are very much the same as for character
devices. Linux maintains the set of registered block devices as the
blkdevs vector. It, like the chrdevs vector, is indexed
using the device's major device number.
Its entries are also device_struct data structures.
Unlike character devices, there are classes of block devices.
SCSI devices are one such class and IDE devices are another.
It is the class that registers itself with the Linux kernel and provides
file operations to the kernel.
The device drivers for a class of block device provide class specific
interfaces to the class.
So, for example, a SCSI device driver has to provide interfaces to the
SCSI subsystem which the SCSI subsystem uses to provide file operations
for this device to the kernel.
Every block device driver must provide an interface to the buffer cache
as well as the normal file operations interface.
Each block device driver fills in its entry in the
blk_dev vector of blk_dev_struct data structures.
The index into this vector is, again, the device's major number.
The blk_dev_struct data structure consists of the address of a
request routine and a pointer to a list of request data structures,
each one representing a request from the buffer cache for the driver to
read or write a block of data.
Figure: Buffer Cache Block Device Requests
Each time the buffer cache wishes to read or write a block of data to or
from a registered device it adds a request data structure onto its
The figure above shows that each request has a
pointer to one or more
buffer_head data structures,
each one a request to read or write a block of data.
The buffer_head structures are locked (by the buffer cache) and there
may be a process waiting on the block operation to this buffer to complete.
Each request structure is allocated from a static list, the
If the request is being added to an empty request list, the driver's
request function is called to start processing the request queue.
Otherwise the driver will simply process every request on the request
Once the device driver has completed a request it must remove each of the
buffer_head structures from the request structure, mark them
as up to date and unlock them.
This unlocking of the buffer_head will wake up any process that has
been sleeping waiting for the block operation to complete.
An example of this would be where a file name is being resolved and the
EXT2 filesystem must read the block of data that contains the
next EXT2 directory entry from the block device that holds the
The process sleeps on the buffer_head that will contain the directory
entry until the device driver wakes it up.
The request data structure is marked as free so that it can be used
in another block request.
Figure: Linked list of disks
During initialization Linux maps the topology of the hard disks in the
system.It finds out how many hard disks there are and of what type.
Additionally, Linux discovers how the individual disks have been partitioned.
This is all represented by a list of gendisk data structures pointed at
by the gendisk_head list pointer. As each disk subsystem, for example IDE, is
initialized it generates gendisk data structures representing
the disks that it finds. It does this at the same time as it registers its file operations
and adds its entry into the blk_dev data structure.
Each gendisk data structure has a unique major device number and these
match the major numbers of the block special devices.
For example, the SCSI disk subsystem creates a single gendisk entry
(``sd'') with a major number of 8, the major number of all SCSI disk devices.
Figure 8.3 shows two gendisk entries,
the first one for the SCSI disk subsystem and the second for an IDE disk controller.
This is ide0, the primary IDE controller.
Although the disk subsystems build the gendisk entries during their
initialization they are only used by Linux during partition checking.
Instead, each disk subsystem maintains its own data structures which allow it to
map device special major and minor device numbers to partitions within physical disks.
Whenever a block device is read from or written to, either via the buffer cache
or file operations, the kernel directs the operation to the appropriate device using the
major device number found in its block special device file (for example /dev/sda2).
It is the individual device driver or subsystem that maps the minor device
number to the real physical device.
Details of the physical charactistics of hard disks can be found here.
The most common disks used in Linux systems today are Integrated Disk Electronic
or IDE disks. IDE is a disk interface rather than an I/O bus like SCSI.
Each IDE controller can support up to two disks, one the master disk and the
other the slave disk. The master and slave functions are usually set by jumpers on the disk.
The first IDE controller in the system is known as the primary IDE controller,
the next the secondary controller and so on. IDE can manage about 3.3 Mbytes per second
of data transfer to or from the disk and the maximum IDE disk size is 538Mbytes.
Extended IDE, or EIDE, has raised the disk size to a maximum of 8.6 Gbytes and
the data transfer rate up to 16.6 Mbytes per second. IDE and EIDE disks are cheaper than
SCSI disks and most modern PCs contain one or more
on board IDE controllers.
Linux names IDE disks in the order in which it finds their controllers.
The master disk on the primary controller is /dev/hda and the slave
disk is /dev/hdb.
/dev/hdc is the master disk on the secondary IDE controller.
The IDE subsystem registers IDE controllers and not disks with the
The major identifier for the primary IDE controller is 3 and is 22 for the
secondary IDE controller.
This means that if a system has two IDE controllers there will be entries for
the IDE subsystem at indices at 3 and 22 in the blk_dev and blkdevs vectors.
The block special files for IDE disks reflect this numbering, disks
/dev/hda and /dev/hdb,
both connected to the primary IDE controller, have a major identifier of 3.
Any file or buffer cache operations for the IDE subsystem operations on these
block special files
will be directed to the IDE subsystem as the kernel uses the major identifier as
When the request is made, it is up to the IDE subsystem to work out which IDE
disk the request is for.
To do this the IDE subsystem uses the minor device number from the device
special identifier, this
contains information that allows it to direct the request to the correct
partition of the correct
disk. The device identifier for /dev/hdb, the slave IDE drive on the primary
IDE controller is (3,64).
The device identifier for the first partition of that disk (/dev/hdb1)
More details of the physical charactistics of IDE drives can be found here.
Initializing the IDE Subsystem
IDE disks have been around for much of the IBM PC's history.
Throughout this time the interface to these devices has changed.
This makes the initialization of the IDE subsystem more complex than it might at
The maximum number of IDE controllers that Linux can support is 4.
Each controller is represented by an ide_hwif_t data structure in the
ide_hwifs vector. Each ide_hwif_t data structure contains two ide_drive_t data
structures, one per possible supported master and slave IDE drive.
During the initializing of the IDE subsystem, Linux first looks to see if there
is information about the disks present in the system's CMOS memory.
This is battery backed memory that does not lose its contents when the PC is
powered off. This CMOS memory is actually in the system's real time clock device which always
runs no matter if your PC is on or off.
The CMOS memory locations are set up by the system's BIOS and tell Linux what
IDE controllers and drives have been found.
Linux retrieves the found disk's geometry from BIOS and uses the information to
set up the ide_hwif_t data structure for this drive.
More modern PCs use PCI chipsets such as Intel's 82430 VX chipset which includes
a PCI EIDE controller. The IDE subsystem uses PCI BIOS callbacks to locate the PCI (E)IDE
controllers in the system. It then calls PCI specific interrogation routines for those chipsets
that are present.
Once each IDE interface or controller has been discovered, its
ide_hwif_t is set up to reflect the
controllers and attached disks.
During operation the IDE driver writes commands to IDE command registers that
exist in the I/O memory space.
The default I/O address for the primary IDE controller's control and status
registers is 0x1F0 - 0x1F7.
These addresses were set by convention in the early days of the IBM PC.
The IDE driver registers each controller with the Linux block buffer cache and
VFS, adding it to the
blk_dev and blkdevs vectors respectively.
The IDE drive will also request control of the appropriate interrupt.
Again these interrupts are set by convention to be 14 for the primary IDE
controller and 15 for the secondary
However, they like all IDE details, can be overridden by command line options
to the kernel.
The IDE driver also adds a gendisk entry into the list of
gendisk's discovered during boot for
each IDE controller found.
This list will later be used to discover the partition tables of all of the hard
disks found at boot time.
The partition checking code understands that IDE controllers may each control
two IDE disks.
The SCSI (Small Computer System Interface) bus is an efficient peer-to-peer
data bus that supports up to eight devices per bus, including one or more
hosts. Each device has to have a unique identifier and this is usually set by
jumpers on the disks.
Data can be transfered synchronously or asynchronously between any two
devices on the bus and with 32 bit wide data transfers up to 40 Mbytes per
second are possible.
The SCSI bus transfers both data and state information between devices, and
a single transaction between an initiator and a target can
involve up to eight distinct phases.
You can tell the current phase of a SCSI bus from five signals from the
The eight phases are:
- BUS FREE
- No device has control of the bus and there are
no transactions currently happening,
- A SCSI device has attempted to get control of
the SCSI bus, it does this by asserting its SCSI identifer
onto the address pins. The highest number SCSI identifier
- When a device has succeeded in getting control of
the SCSI bus through arbitration it must now signal the target
of this SCSI request that it wants to send a command to it.
It does this by asserting the SCSI identifier of the target
on the address pins.
- SCSI devices may disconnect during the
of a request. The target may then reselect the initiator.
Not all SCSI devices support this phase.
- 6,10 or 12 bytes of command can be transfered from
the initiator to the target,
- DATA IN, DATA OUT
- During these phases data is transfered
between the initiator and the target,
- This phase is entered after completion of all
and allows the target to send a status byte indicating
success or failure to the initiator,
- MESSAGE IN, MESSAGE OUT
- Additional information is
between the initiator and the target.
The Linux SCSI subsystem is made up of two basic elements, each of which is
- A SCSI host is a physical piece of hardware, a SCSI
The NCR810 PCI SCSI controller is an example of a SCSI host.
If a Linux system has more than one SCSI controller of the same type, each
will be represented by a separate SCSI host.
This means that a SCSI device driver may control more than one instance of its
SCSI hosts are almost always the initiator of SCSI commands.
- The most common set of SCSI device is a SCSI disk
but the SCSI standard supports
several more types; tape, CD-ROM and also a generic SCSI device.
SCSI devices are almost always the targets of SCSI commands. These
devices must be
treated differently, for example with removable media such as CD-ROMs or tapes,
to detect if the media was removed.
The different disk types have different major device numbers, allowing Linux to
block device requests to the appropriate SCSI type.
Details of the physical charactistics of SCSI drives
can be found here.
Initializing the SCSI Subsystem
Initializing the SCSI subsystem is quite complex, reflecting the dynamic nature
of SCSI buses and their
Linux initializes the SCSI subsystem at boot time; it finds the SCSI controllers
(known as SCSI hosts) in the system
and then probes each of their SCSI buses finding all of their devices.
It then initializes those devices and makes them available to the rest of the
Linux kernel via the
normal file and buffer cache block device operations.
This initialization is done in four phases:
First, Linux finds out which of the SCSI host adapters, or controllers, that
were built into the kernel at kernel build time have hardware to control.
Each built in SCSI host has a Scsi_Host_Template
entry in the builtin_scsi_hosts vector
The Scsi_Host_Template data structure contains pointers to routines
that carry out SCSI host specific
actions such as detecting what SCSI devices are attached to this SCSI host.
These routines are called by the SCSI subsystem as it configures itself and they
are part of the SCSI device driver supporting this host type.
Each detected SCSI host, those for which there are real SCSI devices attached,
has its Scsi_Host_Template data structure added to the scsi_hosts list
of active SCSI hosts. Each instance of a detected host type is represented by a Scsi_Host
data structure held in the scsi_hostlist list.
For example a system with two NCR810 PCI SCSI controllers would have two
Scsi_Host entries in the list, one per controller.
Each Scsi_Host points at the Scsi_Host_Template representing its device driver.
Figure: SCSI Data Structures
Now that every SCSI host has been discovered, the SCSI subsystem must find
out what SCSI devices are attached to each host's bus.
SCSI devices are numbered between 0 and 7 inclusively, each device's number or
SCSI identifier being unique on the SCSI bus to which it is attached.
SCSI identifiers are usually set by jumpers on the device.
The SCSI initialization code finds each SCSI device on a SCSI bus by sending it
a TEST_UNIT_READY command. When a device responds, its identification is read by sending
it an ENQUIRY command.
This gives Linux the vendor's name and the device's model and revision names.
SCSI commands are represented by a Scsi_Cmnd data structure and these
are passed to the device driver for this SCSI host by calling the device driver routines within its Scsi_Host_Template data structure. Every SCSI device that is found is represented by a Scsi_Device data structure, each of which points to its parent Scsi_Host. All of the Scsi_Device data structures are added to the scsi_devices list.
The figure above shows how the main data structures relate to one another.
There are four SCSI device types: disk, tape, CD and generic. Each of these SCSI types are
individually registered with the kernel as different major block device types. However
they will only register themselves if one or more of a given SCSI device type has been
found. Each SCSI type, for example SCSI disk, maintains its own tables of devices.
It uses these tables to direct kernel block operations (file or buffer cache) to
the correct device driver or SCSI host.
Each SCSI type is represented by a Scsi_Device_Template data structure.
This contains information about this type of SCSI device and the addresses of
routines to perform various tasks.
The SCSI subsystem uses these templates to call the SCSI type routines for each
type of SCSI device.In other words, if the SCSI subsystem wishes to attach a SCSI
disk device it will call the SCSI disk type
attach routine. The Scsi_Type_Template data structures are added to the
list if one or more SCSI devices of that type have been detected.
The final phase of the SCSI subsystem initialization is to call the finish
functions for each registered
For the SCSI disk type this spins up all of the SCSI disks that were found and
then records their disk geometry.
It also adds the gendisk data structure representing all SCSI disks to
the linked list of disks shown
in the figure above.
Delivering Block Device Requests
Once Linux has initialized the SCSI subsystem, the SCSI devices may be used.
Each active SCSI device type registers itself with the kernel so that Linux can
direct block device requests to it.
There can be buffer cache requests via blk_dev or file operations
via blkdevs. Taking a SCSI disk driver that has one or more EXT2 filesystem partitions as an
example, how do kernel
buffer requests get directed to the right SCSI disk when one of its EXT2
partitions is mounted?
Each request to read or write a block of data to or from a SCSI disk partition
results in a new request structure being added to the SCSI disks
current_request list in the blk_dev vector.
If the request list is being processed, the buffer cache need not do
anything else; otherwise
it must nudge the SCSI disk subsystem to go and process its request queue.
Each SCSI disk in the system is represented by a Scsi_Disk data
structure. These are kept in the rscsi_disks vector that is indexed using
part of the SCSI disk partition's minor device number.
For exmaple, /dev/sdb1 has a major number of 8 and a minor number of
17; this generates an index of 1. Each Scsi_Disk data structure contains a pointer to the
Scsi_Device data structure representing this device.
That in turn points at the Scsi_Host data structure which ``owns'' it.
The request data structures from the buffer cache are translated into
Scsi_Cmd structures describing the SCSI command that needs to be sent to the SCSI device and this is queued onto the Scsi_Host structure representing this device.
These will be processed by the individual SCSI device driver once the
appropriate data blocks have been read or written.
A network device is, so far as Linux's network subsystem is concerned, an entity
that sends and receives packets of data.
This is normally a physical device such as an ethernet card.
Some network devices though are software only such as the loopback device which
is used for sending data to yourself.
Each network device is represented by a device data structure.
Network device drivers register the devices that they control with Linux during
network initialization at kernel boot time.
The device data structure contains information about the device and the
addresses of functions that allow
the various supported network protocols to use the device's services.
These functions are mostly concerned with transmitting data using the network
device. The device uses standard networking support mechanisms to pass received data up
to the appropriate protocol layer.
All network data (packets) transmitted and received are represented by
sk_buff data structures, these are
flexible data structures that allow network protocol headers to be easily added
and removed. How the network protocol layers use the network devices, how they pass data back
and forth using sk_buff data structures is described in detail in the Networks chapter
This chapter concentrates on the device data structure and on how
network devices are discovered
The device data structure contains information about the network
- Unlike block and character devices which have their
device special files created
using the mknod command, network device special
files appear spontaniously as the
system's network devices are discovered and initialized.
Their names are standard, each name representing the type of device that it
Multiple devices of the same type are numbered upwards from 0. Thus the
devices are known as /dev/eth0,/dev/eth1,/dev/eth2
and so on. Some common network devices are:
/dev/ethN || Ethernet devices
/dev/slN || SLIP devices
/dev/pppN || PPP devices
/dev/lo || Loopback devices|
- Bus Information
- This is information that the device driver
needs in order to control
the device. The irq number is the interrupt that this device is
The base address is the address of any of the device's control and
in I/O memory. The DMA channel is the DMA channel number that this
network device is using.
All of this information is set at boot time as the device is initialized.
- Interface Flags
- These describe the characteristics and
abilities of the network device:
IFF_UP || Interface is up and running,
IFF_BROADCAST || Broadcast address in device is valid
IFF_DEBUG || Device debugging turned on
IFF_LOOPBACK || This is a loopback device
IFF_POINTTOPOINT || This is point to point link (SLIP and PPP)
IFF_NOTRAILERS || No network trailers
IFF_RUNNING || Resources allocated
IFF_NOARP || Does not support ARP protocol
IFF_PROMISC || Device in promiscuous receive mode, it will receive
|| all packets no matter who they are addressed to
IFF_ALLMULTI || Receive all IP multicast frames
IFF_MULTICAST || Can receive IP multicast frames|
- Protocol Information
- Each device describes how it may be
used by the network protocool layers:
- The size of the largest packet that this network can
transmit not including any
link layer headers that it needs to add. This maximum is used by the
for example IP, to select suitable packet sizes to send.
- The family indicates the protocol family that the
device can support. The
family for all Linux network devices is AF_INET, the Internet address
- The hardware interface type describes the media that
this network device is
attached to. There are many different types of media that Linux network
support. These include Ethernet, X.25, Token Ring, Slip, PPP and Apple
- The device data structure holds a
number of addresses that are relevant
to this network device, including its IP addresses.
- Packet Queue
- This is the queue of sk_buff packets
queued waiting to be transmitted on
this network device,
- Support Functions
- Each device provides a standard set of
routines that protocol layers
call as part of their interface to this device's link layer. These include
frame transmit routines as well as routines to add standard frame headers and
statistics. These statistics can be seen using the ifconfig command.
Initializing Network Devices
Network device drivers can, like other Linux device drivers, be built into the
Each potential network device is represented by a device data structure
network device list pointed at by dev_base list pointer.
The network layers call one of a number of network device service routines whose
are held in the device data structure if they need device specific work
Initially though, each device data structure holds only the address of
an initialization or probe
There are two problems to be solved for network device drivers.
Firstly, not all of the network device drivers built into the Linux kernel will
have devices to control.
Secondly, the ethernet devices in the system are always called
/dev/eth0, /dev/eth1 and so on, no
matter what their underlying device drivers are.
The problem of ``missing'' network devices is easily solved.
As the initialization routine for each network device is called, it returns a
whether or not it located an instance of the controller that it is driving.
If the driver could not find any devices, its entry in the device list
pointed at by
dev_base is removed.
If the driver could find a device it fills out the rest of the device
data structure with information
about the device and the addresses of the support functions within the network
The second problem, that of dynamically assigning ethernet devices to the
standard /dev/ethN device
special files is solved more elegantly.
There are eight standard entries in the devices list; one for eth0,
eth1 and so on to eth7.
The initialization routine is the same for all of them, it tries each ethernet
device driver built into
the kernel in turn until one finds a device.
When the driver finds its ethernet device it fills out the ethN
device data structure,
which it now owns.
It is also at this time that the network device driver initializes the physical
hardware that it
is controlling and works out which IRQ it is using, which DMA channel (if any)
and so on.
A driver may find several instances of the network device that it is controlling
and, in this case, it will take
over several of the /dev/ethN device data structures.
Once all eight standard /dev/ethN have been allocated, no more ethernet
devices will be probed for.