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Using the RAM disk block device with Linux
1) Overview
2) Kernel Command Line Parameters
3) Using "rdev -r" With New Kernels
4) An Example of Creating a Compressed RAM Disk
1) Overview
As of kernel v1.3.48, the RAM disk driver was substantially changed.
The older versions would grab a chunk of memory off the top before
handing the remainder to the kernel at boot time. Thus a size parameter
had to be specified via "ramdisk=1440" or "rdev -r /dev/fd0 1440" so
that the driver knew how much memory to grab.
Now the RAM disk dynamically grows as more space is required. It does
this by using RAM from the buffer cache. The driver marks the buffers
it is using with a new "BH_Protected" flag so that the kernel does
not try to reuse them later. This means that the old size parameter
is no longer used, new command line parameters exist, and the behavior
of the "rdev -r" or "ramsize" (usually a symbolic link to "rdev")
command has changed.
Also, the new RAM disk supports up to 16 RAM disks out of the box, and can
be reconfigured in rd.c to support up to 255 RAM disks. To use multiple
RAM disk support with your system, run 'mknod /dev/ramX b 1 X' and chmod
(to change its permissions) it to your liking. The default /dev/ram(disk)
uses minor #1, so start with ram2 and go from there.
The old "ramdisk=<ram_size>" has been changed to "ramdisk_size=<ram_size>"
to make it clearer. The original "ramdisk=<ram_size>" has been kept around
for compatibility reasons, but it will probably be removed in 2.1.x.
The new RAM disk also has the ability to load compressed RAM disk images,
allowing one to squeeze more programs onto an average installation or
rescue floppy disk.
Notes: You may have "/dev/ram" or "/dev/ramdisk" or both. They are
equivalent from the standpoint of this document. Also, the new RAM disk
is a config option. When running "make config", make sure you enable
RAM disk support for the kernel with which you intend to use the RAM disk.
2) Kernel Command Line Parameters
To allow a kernel image to reside on a floppy disk along with a compressed
RAM disk image, the "ramdisk_start=<offset>" command was added. The kernel
can't be included into the compressed RAM disk filesystem image, because
it needs to be stored starting at block zero so that the BIOS can load the
boot sector and then the kernel can bootstrap itself to get going.
Note: If you are using an uncompressed RAM disk image, then the kernel can
be a part of the filesystem image that is being loaded into the RAM disk,
and the floppy can be booted with LILO, or the two can be separate as
is done for the compressed images.
If you are using a two-disk boot/root setup (kernel on #1, RAM disk image
on #2) then the RAM disk would start at block zero, and an offset of
zero would be used. Since this is the default value, you would not need
to actually use the command at all.
If instead, you have a "zImage" of about 350 kB, and a "fs_image.gz" of
say about 1 MB, and you want them both on the same disk, then you
would use an offset. If you stored the "fs_image.gz" onto the floppy
starting at an offset of 400 kB, you would use "ramdisk_start=400".
This parameter tells the kernel whether it is to try to load a
RAM disk image or not. Specifying "load_ramdisk=1" will tell the
kernel to load a floppy into the RAM disk. The default value is
zero, meaning that the kernel should not try to load a RAM disk.
This parameter tells the kernel whether or not to give you a prompt
asking you to insert the floppy containing the RAM disk image. In
a single floppy configuration the RAM disk image is on the same floppy
as the kernel that just finished loading/booting and so a prompt
is not needed. In this case one can use "prompt_ramdisk=0". In a
two floppy configuration, you will need the chance to switch disks,
and thus "prompt_ramdisk=1" can be used. Since this is the default
value, it doesn't really need to be specified.
This parameter tells the RAM disk driver to set up RAM disks of N k size. The
default is 4096 (4 MB).
3) Using "rdev -r" With New Kernels
The usage of the word (two bytes) that "rdev -r" sets in the kernel image
has changed. The low 11 bits (0 -> 10) specify an offset (in 1 k blocks)
of up to 2 MB (2^11) of where to find the RAM disk (this used to be the
size). Bit 14 indicates that a RAM disk is to be loaded, and bit 15
indicates whether a prompt/wait sequence is to be given before trying
to read the RAM disk. Since the RAM disk dynamically grows as data is
being written into it, a size field is no longer required. Bits 11
to 13 are not currently used and may as well be zero. These numbers
are no magical secrets, as seen below:
./arch/i386/kernel/setup.c:#define RAMDISK_IMAGE_START_MASK 0x07FF
./arch/i386/kernel/setup.c:#define RAMDISK_PROMPT_FLAG 0x8000
./arch/i386/kernel/setup.c:#define RAMDISK_LOAD_FLAG 0x4000
Consider a typical two floppy disk setup, where you will have the
kernel on disk one, and have already put a RAM disk image onto disk #2.
Hence you want to set bits 0 to 13 as 0, meaning that your RAM disk
starts at an offset of 0 kB from the beginning of the floppy.
The command line equivalent is: "ramdisk_start=0"
You want bit 14 as one, indicating that a RAM disk is to be loaded.
The command line equivalent is: "load_ramdisk=1"
You want bit 15 as one, indicating that you want a prompt/keypress
sequence so that you have a chance to switch floppy disks.
The command line equivalent is: "prompt_ramdisk=1"
Putting that together gives 2^15 + 2^14 + 0 = 49152 for an rdev word.
So to create disk one of the set, you would do:
/usr/src/linux# cat arch/i386/boot/zImage > /dev/fd0
/usr/src/linux# rdev /dev/fd0 /dev/fd0
/usr/src/linux# rdev -r /dev/fd0 49152
If you make a boot disk that has LILO, then for the above, you would use:
append = "ramdisk_start=0 load_ramdisk=1 prompt_ramdisk=1"
Since the default start = 0 and the default prompt = 1, you could use:
append = "load_ramdisk=1"
4) An Example of Creating a Compressed RAM Disk
To create a RAM disk image, you will need a spare block device to
construct it on. This can be the RAM disk device itself, or an
unused disk partition (such as an unmounted swap partition). For this
example, we will use the RAM disk device, "/dev/ram".
Note: This technique should not be done on a machine with less than 8 MB
of RAM. If using a spare disk partition instead of /dev/ram, then this
restriction does not apply.
a) Decide on the RAM disk size that you want. Say 2 MB for this example.
Create it by writing to the RAM disk device. (This step is not currently
required, but may be in the future.) It is wise to zero out the
area (esp. for disks) so that maximal compression is achieved for
the unused blocks of the image that you are about to create.
dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/ram bs=1k count=2048
b) Make a filesystem on it. Say ext2fs for this example.
mke2fs -vm0 /dev/ram 2048
c) Mount it, copy the files you want to it (eg: /etc/* /dev/* ...)
and unmount it again.
d) Compress the contents of the RAM disk. The level of compression
will be approximately 50% of the space used by the files. Unused
space on the RAM disk will compress to almost nothing.
dd if=/dev/ram bs=1k count=2048 | gzip -v9 > /tmp/ram_image.gz
e) Put the kernel onto the floppy
dd if=zImage of=/dev/fd0 bs=1k
f) Put the RAM disk image onto the floppy, after the kernel. Use an offset
that is slightly larger than the kernel, so that you can put another
(possibly larger) kernel onto the same floppy later without overlapping
the RAM disk image. An offset of 400 kB for kernels about 350 kB in
size would be reasonable. Make sure offset+size of ram_image.gz is
not larger than the total space on your floppy (usually 1440 kB).
dd if=/tmp/ram_image.gz of=/dev/fd0 bs=1k seek=400
g) Use "rdev" to set the boot device, RAM disk offset, prompt flag, etc.
For prompt_ramdisk=1, load_ramdisk=1, ramdisk_start=400, one would
have 2^15 + 2^14 + 400 = 49552.
rdev /dev/fd0 /dev/fd0
rdev -r /dev/fd0 49552
That is it. You now have your boot/root compressed RAM disk floppy. Some
users may wish to combine steps (d) and (f) by using a pipe.
Paul Gortmaker 12/95