Parabola Boot Process

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A chronological overview of the Parabola boot process.
In order to boot Parabola, a Linux-capable boot loader such as GRUB, GRUB2, LILO, or Syslinux must be installed to the Master Boot Record, or the GUID Partition Table. The boot loader is responsible for loading the kernel and initial ramdisk before initiating the boot process.

This article is intended to give a chronological overview of the Parabola boot process and the system files and processes involved, providing links to relevant wiki articles where necessary. Parabola famously follows the BSD init convention as opposed to the more common SysV. What this means is that there is little distinction between runlevels, since the system by default is configured to use the same modules and run the same processes on all runlevels. The advantage is that users have a simple way to configure the startup process (see rc.conf); the disadvantage is that some fine-grained configuration options that SysV offers are lost. See Adding Runlevels for a way to hack some SysV-like capabilities into Parabola. See Wikipedia:init for more on the distinctions between SysV and BSD style.

1 Before init

After the system is powered-on and the POST is completed, the BIOS locates the preferred boot medium and transfers control to the Master Boot Record of this device. On a GNU/Linux machine, often a bootloader such as GRUB or LILO is found and loaded from the MBR. The bootloader presents the user with a range of options for boot. Once Parabola is selected, the bootloader loads the kernel (vmlinuz-linux-libre) and the initial root filesystem image (initramfs-linux-libre.img) into memory and then starts the kernel, passing in the memory address of the image.

The kernel is the core of an operating system. It functions on a low level (kernelspace) interacting between the hardware of the machine and the programs which use the hardware to run. To make efficient use of the CPU, the kernel uses a scheduler to arbitrate which tasks take priority at any given moment, creating the illusion of many tasks being executed simultaneously.

After the kernel is loaded, it unpacks the initramfs (initial RAM filesystem), which becomes the initial root filesystem. The kernel then executes /init as the first process. The early userspace starts.

The purpose of the initramfs is to bootstrap the system to the point where it can access the root filesystem (see FHS for details). This means that any modules that are required for devices like IDE, SCSI, SATA, USB/FW (if booting from an external drive) must be loadable from the initramfs if not built into the kernel; once the proper modules are loaded (either explicitly via a program or script, or implicitly via udev), the boot process continues. For this reason, the initramfs only needs to contain the modules necessary to access the root filesystem; it does not need to contain every module one would ever want to use. The majority of modules will be loaded later on by udev, during the init process.

At the final stage of early userspace, the real root is mounted, and then replaces the initial root filesystem. /sbin/init is executed, replacing the /init process.

See also: Early Userspace in Arch Linux

2 init and The Parabola boot scripts

The main Parabola startup process is initiated by the program init, which spawns all other processes. The purpose of init is to bring the system into a usable state, using the boot scripts to do so. As previously mentioned, Parabola uses BSD-style boot scripts. init reads the file /etc/inittab; the default inittab begins with the following:


# Boot to console
# Boot to X11



The first uncommented line defines the default system runlevel (3). When the kernel calls init:

  • First, the main initialization script is run, /etc/rc.sysinit (a Bash script).
  • If started in single user mode (runlevel 1 or S), the script /etc/rc.single is run.
  • If in any other runlevel (2-5), /etc/rc.multi is run instead.
  • The last script to run is /etc/rc.local (via /etc/rc.multi), which is empty by default.
Note: You may want to read more about Init and inittab.

2.1 /etc/rc.sysinit

/etc/rc.sysinit is a large startup script that configures hardware, and performs general initialization tasks. It can be identified by one of its first tasks, printing the lines:

Parabola GNU/Linux-Libre

The tasks of rc.sysinit are:

  1. sources the /etc/rc.conf script.
  2. sources the /etc/rc.d/functions script.
  3. displays a welcome message.
  4. mounts various virtual file systems.
  5. make sure rootfs is mounted read-only (if needed).
  6. starts bootlogd.
  7. print deprecation warnings.
  8. configures the hardware clock.
  9. starts udev, loads modules from the MODULES array defined in rc.conf, and waits for udev to finish processing coldplug events.
  10. starts the loopback interface.
  11. configures RAID, btrfs and encrypted filesystem mappings.
  12. check partitions (fsck).
  13. remount the rootfs in order to apply the options from /etc/fstab.
  14. mounts local filesystems (networked drives are not mounted before a network profile is up).
  15. start monitoring lvm groups.
  16. activates swap areas.
  17. configure timezone.
  18. initialize the random seed.
  19. removes various leftover/temporary files, such as /tmp/*.
  20. sets the hostname, locale and system clock as defined in rc.conf.
  21. configures the locale, console, and keyboard mappings.
  22. sets the console font.
  23. writes output from dmesg to /var/log/dmesg.log.

/etc/rc.sysinit is a script and not a place for settings. It sources (i.e. reads and inherits variables and functions) rc.conf for settings and /etc/rc.d/functions for the functions that produce its graphical output (nice colors, alignments, switching 'busy' to 'done', etc.). This file should not be edited as it is overwritten on upgrade. To add customizations use the hooks as described below.

2.2 /etc/rc.single

Single-user mode boots straight into the root user account and should only be used if one cannot boot normally. This script ensures no daemons are running except for the bare minimum: syslog-ng and udev. The single-user mode is useful for system recovery where preventing remote users from doing anything that might cause data loss or damage is necessary. In single-user mode, users can continue with the standard (multi-user) boot by entering 'exit' at the prompt.

2.3 /etc/rc.multi

/etc/rc.multi is run on any multi-user (i.e. normal) runlevel (i.e. 2, 3, 4, and 5). Typically, users do not notice the transition from rc.sysinit to rc.multi because rc.multi also uses /etc/rc.d/functions for handling output. This script:

  1. runs sysctl to apply the settings in /etc/sysctl.conf, modifying kernel parameters at runtime; Parabola has very few of these by default (mainly networking settings).
  2. starts the daemons, as per the DAEMONS array in rc.conf.
  3. runs /etc/rc.local to handle user customizations.

2.4 /etc/rc.local

/etc/rc.local is the local multi-user startup script. Empty by default, it is a good place to put any last-minute commands the system should run at the very end of the boot process. Most common system configuration tasks (like loading modules, changing the console font, or setting up devices) usually have a dedicated place where they are entered. To avoid confusion, ensure that commands entered in rc.local are not better suited elsewhere, such as /etc/profile.d.

When editing this file, keep in mind that it is run after the basic setup (modules/daemons), as the root user, and whether or not X starts. In this example, the rc.local script un-mutes ALSA sound settings:


# /etc/rc.local: Local multi-user startup script.

amixer sset 'Master Mono' 50% unmute &> /dev/null
amixer sset 'Master' 50% unmute &> /dev/null
amixer sset 'PCM' 75% unmute &> /dev/null

3 Custom hooks

Hooks can be used to include custom code in various places in the rc.* scripts.

Hook Name When hook is executed
sysinit_start At the beginning of rc.sysinit
sysinit_udevlaunched After udev has been launched in rc.sysinit
sysinit_udevsettled After uevents have settled in rc.sysinit
sysinit_prefsck Before fsck is run in rc.sysinit
sysinit_postfsck After fsck is run in rc.sysinit
sysinit_premount Before local filesystems are mounted, but after root is mounted read-write in rc.sysinit
sysinit_end At the end of rc.sysinit
multi_start At the beginning of rc.multi
multi_end At the end of rc.multi
single_start At the beginning of rc.single
single_prekillall Before all processes are being killed in rc.single
single_postkillall After all processes have been killed in rc.single
single_udevlaunched After udev has been launched in rc.single
single_udevsettled After uevents have settled in rc.single
single_end At the end of rc.single
shutdown_start At the beginning of rc.shutdown
shutdown_prekillall Before all processes are being killed in rc.shutdown
shutdown_postkillall After all processes have been killed in rc.shutdown
shutdown_poweroff Directly before powering off in rc.shutdown

To define a hook function, create a file in /etc/rc.d/functions.d using:

function_name() {
add_hook hook_name function_name

Files in /etc/rc.d/functions.d are sourced by /etc/rc.d/functions. You can register multiple hook functions for the same hook, as well as registering the same hook function for multiple hooks. Don't define functions named add_hook or run_hook in these files, as they are defined in /etc/rc.d/functions.

3.1 Example

Adding the following file disables the write-back cache on a hard drive before any daemons are started (useful for drives containing MySQL InnoDB files).

hd_settings() {
    /sbin/hdparm -W0 /dev/sdb
add_hook sysinit_udevsettled hd_settings
add_hook single_udevsettled  hd_settings

First it defines the function hd_settings, and then registers it for the single_udevsettled and sysinit_udevsettled hooks. The function will be called immediately after uvents have settled in /etc/rc.d/rc.sysinit or /etc/rc.d/rc.single.

4 init: Login

By default, after the Parabola boot scripts are completed, the /sbin/agetty program prompts users for a login name. After a login name is received, /sbin/agetty calls /bin/login to prompt for the login password.

Finally, with a successful login, the /bin/login program starts the user's default shell. The default shell and environment variables may be globally defined within /etc/profile. All variables defined by shell startup scripts within a user's home directory shall take precedence over those globally defined under /etc. For instance, if a variable is defined within both /etc/profile and ~/.bashrc, the one defined by ~/.bashrc shall prevail.

Other options include mingetty which allows for auto-login (agetty has the option to auto-login since util-linux 2.20) and rungetty which allows for auto-login and automatically running commands and programs, e.g. the always useful htop.

The majority of users wishing to start an X server during the boot process should install a display manager (see Display Manager for details). Alternatively, Start X at Boot outlines methods that do not involve a display manager.

5 See also

6 Acknowledgement

This wiki article is based on ArchWiki. We may have removed non-FSDG bits from it.