The Linux kernel accepts certain 'command-line options' or 'boot time
parameters' at the moment it is started. In general this is used to
supply the kernel with information about hardware parameters that the
kernel would not be able to determine on its own, or to avoid/override
the values that the kernel would otherwise detect.
When the kernel is booted directly by the BIOS, you have no opportunity
to specify any parameters. So, in order to take advantage of this pos-
sibility you have to use a boot loader that is able to pass parameters,
such as GRUB.
The argument list
The kernel command line is parsed into a list of strings (boot argu-
ments) separated by spaces. Most of the boot arguments have the form:
where 'name' is a unique keyword that is used to identify what part of
the kernel the associated values (if any) are to be given to. Note the
limit of 10 is real, as the present code handles only 10 comma sepa-
rated parameters per keyword. (However, you can reuse the same keyword
with up to an additional 10 parameters in unusually complicated situa-
tions, assuming the setup function supports it.)
Most of the sorting is coded in the kernel source file init/main.c.
First, the kernel checks to see if the argument is any of the special
arguments 'root=', 'nfsroot=', 'nfsaddrs=', 'ro', 'rw', 'debug' or
'init'. The meaning of these special arguments is described below.
Then it walks a list of setup functions to see if the specified argu-
ment string (such as 'foo') has been associated with a setup function
('foo_setup()') for a particular device or part of the kernel. If you
passed the kernel the line foo=3,4,5,6 then the kernel would search the
bootsetups array to see if 'foo' was registered. If it was, then it
would call the setup function associated with 'foo' (foo_setup()) and
hand it the arguments 3, 4, 5, and 6 as given on the kernel command
Anything of the form 'foo=bar' that is not accepted as a setup function
as described above is then interpreted as an environment variable to be
set. A (useless?) example would be to use 'TERM=vt100' as a boot argu-
Any remaining arguments that were not picked up by the kernel and were
not interpreted as environment variables are then passed onto PID 1,
which is usually the init(1) program. The most common argument that is
passed to the init process is the word 'single' which instructs it to
boot the computer in single user mode, and not launch all the usual
daemons. Check the manual page for the version of init(1) installed on
your system to see what arguments it accepts.
General non-device-specific boot arguments
This sets the initial command to be executed by the kernel. If
This argument tells the kernel what device is to be used as the
root filesystem while booting. The default of this setting is
determined at compile time, and usually is the value of the root
device of the system that the kernel was built on. To override
this value, and select the second floppy drive as the root
device, one would use 'root=/dev/fd1'.
The root device can be specified symbolically or numerically. A
symbolic specification has the form /dev/XXYN, where XX desig-
nates the device type (e.g., 'hd' for ST-506 compatible hard
disk, with Y in 'a'-'d'; 'sd' for SCSI compatible disk, with Y
in 'a'-'e'), Y the driver letter or number, and N the number (in
decimal) of the partition on this device.
Note that this has nothing to do with the designation of these
devices on your filesystem. The '/dev/' part is purely conven-
The more awkward and less portable numeric specification of the
above possible root devices in major/minor format is also
accepted. (For example, /dev/sda3 is major 8, minor 3, so you
could use 'root=0x803' as an alternative.)
This parameter sets the delay (in seconds) to pause before
attempting to mount the root filesystem.
This parameter sets the mount option string for the root
filesystem (see also fstab(5)).
The 'rootfstype' option tells the kernel to mount the root
filesystem as if it where of the type specified. This can be
useful (for example) to mount an ext3 filesystem as ext2 and
then remove the journal in the root filesystem, in fact revert-
ing its format from ext3 to ext2 without the need to boot the
box from alternate media.
'ro' and 'rw'
The 'ro' option tells the kernel to mount the root filesystem as
'read-only' so that filesystem consistency check programs (fsck)
can do their work on a quiescent filesystem. No processes can
write to files on the filesystem in question until it is
'remounted' as read/write capable, for example, by 'mount -w -n
-o remount /'. (See also mount(8).)
The 'rw' option tells the kernel to mount the root filesystem
read/write. This is the default.
This tells the kernel the location of the suspend-to-disk data
In some machines it may be necessary to prevent device drivers
from checking for devices (auto-probing) in a specific region.
This may be because of hardware that reacts badly to the prob-
ing, or hardware that would be mistakenly identified, or merely
hardware you don't want the kernel to initialize.
The reserve boot-time argument specifies an I/O port region that
shouldn't be probed. A device driver will not probe a reserved
region, unless another boot argument explicitly specifies that
it do so.
For example, the boot line
keeps all device drivers except the driver for 'blah' from prob-
By default, the kernel will not reboot after a panic, but this
option will cause a kernel reboot after N seconds (if N is
greater than zero). This panic timeout can also be set by
echo N > /proc/sys/kernel/panic
Since Linux 2.0.22, a reboot is by default a cold reboot. One
asks for the old default with 'reboot=warm'. (A cold reboot may
be required to reset certain hardware, but might destroy not yet
written data in a disk cache. A warm reboot may be faster.) By
default, a reboot is hard, by asking the keyboard controller to
pulse the reset line low, but there is at least one type of
motherboard where that doesn't work. The option 'reboot=bios'
will instead jump through the BIOS.
'nosmp' and 'maxcpus=N'
(Only when __SMP__ is defined.) A command-line option of
'nosmp' or 'maxcpus=0' will disable SMP activation entirely; an
option 'maxcpus=N' limits the maximum number of CPUs activated
in SMP mode to N.
Boot arguments for use by kernel developers
Kernel messages are handed off to a daemon (e.g., klogd(8) or
similar) so that they may be logged to disk. Messages with a
priority above console_loglevel are also printed on the console.
(For a discussion of log levels, see syslog(2).) By default,
console_loglevel is set to log messages at levels higher than
KERN_DEBUG. This boot argument will cause the kernel to also
print messages logged at level KERN_DEBUG. The console loglevel
can also be set on a booted system via the /proc/sys/ker-
nel/printk file (described in syslog(2)), the syslog(2) SYS-
LOG_ACTION_CONSOLE_LEVEL operation, or dmesg(8).
profile[address >> prof_shift]++;
The raw profiling information can be read from /proc/profile.
Probably you'll want to use a tool such as readprofile.c to
digest it. Writing to /proc/profile will clear the counters.
Boot arguments for ramdisk use
(Only if the kernel was compiled with CONFIG_BLK_DEV_RAM.) In general
it is a bad idea to use a ramdisk under Linux--the system will use
available memory more efficiently itself. But while booting, it is
often useful to load the floppy contents into a ramdisk. One might
also have a system in which first some modules (for filesystem or hard-
ware) must be loaded before the main disk can be accessed.
In Linux 1.3.48, ramdisk handling was changed drastically. Earlier,
the memory was allocated statically, and there was a 'ramdisk=N' param-
eter to tell its size. (This could also be set in the kernel image at
compile time.) These days ram disks use the buffer cache, and grow
dynamically. For a lot of information on the current ramdisk setup,
see the kernel source file Documentation/blockdev/ramdisk.txt (Documen-
tation/ramdisk.txt in older kernels).
There are four parameters, two boolean and two integral.
If N=1, do load a ramdisk. If N=0, do not load a ramdisk.
(This is the default.)
If N=1, do prompt for insertion of the floppy. (This is the
default.) If N=0, do not prompt. (Thus, this parameter is
'ramdisk_size=N' or (obsolete) 'ramdisk=N'
Set the maximal size of the ramdisk(s) to N kB. The default is
4096 (4 MB).
Sets the starting block number (the offset on the floppy where
the ramdisk starts) to N. This is needed in case the ramdisk
follows a kernel image.
(Only if the kernel was compiled with CONFIG_BLK_DEV_RAM and
CONFIG_BLK_DEV_INITRD.) These days it is possible to compile
the kernel to use initrd. When this feature is enabled, the
boot process will load the kernel and an initial ramdisk; then
the kernel converts initrd into a "normal" ramdisk, which is
mounted read-write as root device; then /linuxrc is executed;
afterward the "real" root filesystem is mounted, and the initrd
filesystem is moved over to /initrd; finally the usual boot
sequence (e.g., invocation of /sbin/init) is performed.
For a detailed description of the initrd feature, see the kernel
specified in hexadecimal notation, and usually lie in the range from
0x200 to 0x3ff.
irq -- the hardware interrupt that the card is configured to use.
Valid values will be dependent on the card in question, but will usu-
ally be 5, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, and 15. The other values are usually used
for common peripherals like IDE hard disks, floppies, serial ports, and
scsi-id -- the ID that the host adapter uses to identify itself on the
SCSI bus. Only some host adapters allow you to change this value, as
most have it permanently specified internally. The usual default value
is 7, but the Seagate and Future Domain TMC-950 boards use 6.
parity -- whether the SCSI host adapter expects the attached devices to
supply a parity value with all information exchanges. Specifying a one
indicates parity checking is enabled, and a zero disables parity check-
ing. Again, not all adapters will support selection of parity behavior
as a boot argument.
A SCSI device can have a number of 'subdevices' contained within
itself. The most common example is one of the new SCSI CD-ROMs
that handle more than one disk at a time. Each CD is addressed
as a 'Logical Unit Number' (LUN) of that particular device. But
most devices, such as hard disks, tape drives and such are only
one device, and will be assigned to LUN zero.
Some poorly designed SCSI devices cannot handle being probed for
LUNs not equal to zero. Therefore, if the compile-time flag
CONFIG_SCSI_MULTI_LUN is not set, newer kernels will by default
probe only LUN zero.
To specify the number of probed LUNs at boot, one enters
'max_scsi_luns=n' as a boot arg, where n is a number between one
and eight. To avoid problems as described above, one would use
n=1 to avoid upsetting such broken devices.
SCSI tape configuration
Some boot time configuration of the SCSI tape driver can be
achieved by using the following:
The first two numbers are specified in units of kB. The default
buf_size is 32kB, and the maximum size that can be specified is
a ridiculous 16384kB. The write_threshold is the value at which
the buffer is committed to tape, with a default value of 30kB.
The maximum number of buffers varies with the number of drives
detected, and has a default of two. An example usage would be:
Full details can be found in the file Documentation/scsi/st.txt
option will still work, and the option will just be applied as
Also note that 'hd=' can be used to refer to the next unspeci-
fied drive in the (a, ..., h) sequence. For the following dis-
cussions, the 'hd=' option will be cited for brevity. See the
file Documentation/ide/ide.txt (or Documentation/ide.txt in
older kernels, or drivers/block/README.ide in ancient kernels)
in the Linux kernel source for more details.
The 'hd=cyls,heads,sects[,wpcom[,irq]]' options
These options are used to specify the physical geometry of the
disk. Only the first three values are required. The cylin-
der/head/sectors values will be those used by fdisk. The write
precompensation value is ignored for IDE disks. The IRQ value
specified will be the IRQ used for the interface that the drive
resides on, and is not really a drive-specific parameter.
The 'hd=serialize' option
The dual IDE interface CMD-640 chip is broken as designed such
that when drives on the secondary interface are used at the same
time as drives on the primary interface, it will corrupt your
data. Using this option tells the driver to make sure that both
interfaces are never used at the same time.
The 'hd=noprobe' option
Do not probe for this drive. For example,
would disable the probe, but still specify the drive geometry so
that it would be registered as a valid block device, and hence
The 'hd=nowerr' option
Some drives apparently have the WRERR_STAT bit stuck on perma-
nently. This enables a work-around for these broken devices.
The 'hd=cdrom' option
This tells the IDE driver that there is an ATAPI compatible CD-
ROM attached in place of a normal IDE hard disk. In most cases
the CD-ROM is identified automatically, but if it isn't then
this may help.
Standard ST-506 Disk Driver Options ('hd=')
The standard disk driver can accept geometry arguments for the
disks similar to the IDE driver. Note however that it expects
only three values (C/H/S); any more or any less and it will
silently ignore you. Also, it accepts only 'hd=' as an argu-
ment, that is, 'hda=' and so on are not valid here. The format
is as follows:
card/driver. Typical param_n values are used to specify things like
shared memory address, interface selection, DMA channel and the like.
The most common use of this parameter is to force probing for a second
ethercard, as the default is to probe only for one. This can be accom-
plished with a simple:
Note that the values of zero for the IRQ and I/O base in the above
example tell the driver(s) to autoprobe.
The Ethernet-HowTo has extensive documentation on using multiple cards
and on the card/driver-specific implementation of the param_n values
where used. Interested readers should refer to the section in that
document on their particular card.
The floppy disk driver
There are many floppy driver options, and they are all listed in Docu-
mentation/blockdev/floppy.txt (or Documentation/floppy.txt in older
kernels, or drivers/block/README.fd for ancient kernels) in the Linux
kernel source. See that file for the details.
The sound driver
The sound driver can also accept boot arguments to override the com-
piled-in values. This is not recommended, as it is rather complex. It
is described in the Linux kernel source file Documenta-
tion/sound/oss/README.OSS (drivers/sound/Readme.linux in older kernel
versions). It accepts a boot argument of the form:
where each deviceN value is of the following format 0xTaaaId and
the bytes are used as follows:
T - device type: 1=FM, 2=SB, 3=PAS, 4=GUS, 5=MPU401, 6=SB16,
aaa - I/O address in hex.
I - interrupt line in hex (i.e 10=a, 11=b, ...)
d - DMA channel.
As you can see, it gets pretty messy, and you are better off to
compile in your own personal values as recommended. Using a
boot argument of 'sound=0' will disable the sound driver
The line printer driver
For up-to-date information, see the kernel source file Documenta-
This page is part of release 4.04 of the Linux man-pages project. A
description of the project, information about reporting bugs, and the
latest version of this page, can be found at
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