GRUB loads itself into memory in the following stages:
The Stage 1 or primary boot loader is read into memory by the BIOS from the MBR. The primary boot loader exists on less than 512 bytes of disk space within the MBR and is capable of loading either the Stage 1.5 or Stage 2 boot loader.
The Stage 1.5 boot loader is read into memory by the Stage 1 boot loader, if necessary. Some hardware requires an intermediate step to get to the Stage 2 boot loader. This is sometimes true when the /boot/ partition is above the 1024 cylinder head of the hard drive or when using LBA mode. The Stage 1.5 boot loader is found either on the /boot/ partition or on a small part of the MBR and the /boot/ partition.
The Stage 2 or secondary boot loader is read into memory. The secondary boot loader displays the GRUB menu and command environment. This interface allows the user to select which kernel or operating system to boot, pass arguments to the kernel, or look at system parameters.
The secondary boot loader reads the operating system or kernel as well as the contents of /boot/sysroot/ into memory. Once GRUB determines which operating system or kernel to start, it loads it into memory and transfers control of the machine to that operating system.
The method used to boot Red Hat Enterprise Linux is called direct loading because the boot loader loads the operating system directly. There is no intermediary between the boot loader and the kernel.
The boot process used by other operating systems may differ. For example, the Microsoft® Windows® operating system, as well as other operating systems, are loaded using chain loading. Under this method, the MBR points to the first sector of the partition holding the operating system, where it finds the files necessary to actually boot that operating system.
GRUB supports both direct and chain loading boot methods, allowing it to boot almost any operating system.
During installation, Microsoft's DOS and Windows installation programs completely overwrite the MBR, destroying any existing boot loaders. If creating a dual-boot system, it is best to install the Microsoft operating system first.