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INTRO(4)	       FreeBSD Kernel Interfaces Manual 	      INTRO(4)

NAME
     intro - introduction to devices and device drivers

DESCRIPTION
     This section contains information related to devices, device driver and
     miscellaneous hardware.

   The device abstraction
     Device is a term used mostly for hardware-related stuff that belongs to
     the system, like disks, printers, or a graphics display with its key­
     board.  There are also so-called pseudo-devices where a device driver em­
     ulates the behaviour of a device in software without any particular un­
     derlying hardware.  A typical example for the latter class is /dev/mem, a
     loophole where the physical memory can be accessed using the regular file
     access semantics.

     The device abstraction generally provides a common set of system calls
     layered on top of them, which are dispatched to the corresponding device
     driver by the upper layers of the kernel.	The set of system calls avail­
     able for devices is chosen from open(2),  close(2),  read(2),  write(2),
     ioctl(2),	select(2),  and mmap(2).  Not all drivers implement all system
     calls, for example, calling mmap(2) on a terminal devices is likely to be
     not useful at all.

   Accessing Devices
     Most of the devices in a unix-like operating system are accessed through
     so-called device nodes, sometimes also called special files. They are
     usually located under the directory /dev in the file system hierarchy
     (see also hier(7)).

     Until devfs(5) is fully functional, each device node must be created
     statically and independently of the existence of the associated device
     driver, usually by running MAKEDEV(8).

     Note that this could lead to an inconsistent state, where either there
     are device nodes that do not have a configured driver associated with
     them, or there may be drivers that have successfully probed for their de­
     vices, but cannot be accessed since the corresponding device node is
     still missing.  In the first case, any attempt to reference the device
     through the device node will result in an error, returned by the upper
     layers of the kernel, usually `ENXIO'. In the second case, the device
     node needs to be created before the driver and its device will be usable.

     Some devices come in two flavors: block and character devices, or by a
     better name, buffered and unbuffered (raw) devices.  The traditional
     names are reflected by the letters `b' and `c' as the file type identifi­
     cation in the output of `ls -l'. Buffered devices are being accessed
     through the buffer cache of the operating system, and they are solely in­
     tended to layer a file system on top of them.  They are normally imple­
     mented for disks and disk-like devices only, for historical reasons also
     for tape devices.

     Raw devices are available for all drivers, including those that also im­
     plement a buffered device.  For the latter group of devices, the differ­
     entiation is conventionally done by prepending the letter `r' to the path
     name of the device node, for example /dev/rda0 denotes the raw device for
     the first SCSI disk, while /dev/da0 is the corresponding device node for
     the buffered device.

     Unbuffered devices should be used for all actions that are not related to
     file system operations, even if the device in question is a disk device.
     This includes making backups of entire disk partitions, or to raw floppy
     disks (i.e. those used like tapes).

     Access restrictions to device nodes are usually subject of the regular
     file permissions of the device node entry, instead of being implied di­
     rectly by the drivers in the kernel.

   Drivers without device nodes
     Drivers for network devices do not use device nodes in order to be ac­
     cessed.  Their selection is based on other decisions inside the kernel,
     and instead of calling open(2),  use of a network device is generally in­
     troduced by using the system call socket(2).

   Configuring a driver into the kernel
     For each kernel, there is a configuration file that is used as a base to
     select the facilities and drivers for that kernel, and to tune several
     options.  See config(8) for a detailed description of the files involved.
     The individual manual pages in this section provide a sample line for the
     configuration file in their synopsis portion.  See also the sample config
     file /sys/i386/conf/LINT (for the i386 architecture).

SEE ALSO
     close(2),	ioctl(2),  mmap(2),  open(2),  read(2),  select(2),
     socket(2),  write(2),  devfs(5),  hier(7),  config(8),  MAKEDEV(8)

AUTHORS
     This man page has been written by Joerg Wunsch with initial input by
     David E. O'Brien.

HISTORY
     Intro appeared in FreeBSD 2.1.

FreeBSD 2.1		       January 20, 1996 			     2

NAME | DESCRIPTION | SEE ALSO | AUTHORS | HISTORY

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