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4.2.2. The boot process

When an x86 computer is booted, the processor looks at the end of the system memory for the BIOS (Basic Input/Output System) and runs it. The BIOS program is written into permanent read-only memory and is always available for use. The BIOS provides the lowest level interface to peripheral devices and controls the first step of the boot process.

The BIOS tests the system, looks for and checks peripherals, and then looks for a drive to use to boot the system. Usually it checks the floppy drive (or CD-ROM drive on many newer systems) for bootable media, if present, and then it looks to the hard drive. The order of the drives used for booting is usually controlled by a particular BIOS setting on the system. Once Linux is installed on the hard drive of a system, the BIOS looks for a Master Boot Record (MBR) starting at the first sector on the first hard drive, loads its contents into memory, then passes control to it.

This MBR contains instructions on how to load the GRUB (or LILO) boot-loader, using a pre-selected operating system. The MBR then loads the boot-loader, which takes over the process (if the boot-loader is installed in the MBR). In the default Red Hat Linux configuration, GRUB uses the settings in the MBR to display boot options in a menu. Once GRUB has received the correct instructions for the operating system to start, either from its command line or configuration file, it finds the necessary boot file and hands off control of the machine to that operating system.

Introducing Linux
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