1Console Drivers
   4The linux kernel has 2 general types of console drivers.  The first type is
   5assigned by the kernel to all the virtual consoles during the boot process.
   6This type will be called 'system driver', and only one system driver is allowed
   7to exist. The system driver is persistent and it can never be unloaded, though
   8it may become inactive.
  10The second type has to be explicitly loaded and unloaded. This will be called
  11'modular driver' by this document. Multiple modular drivers can coexist at
  12any time with each driver sharing the console with other drivers including
  13the system driver. However, modular drivers cannot take over the console
  14that is currently occupied by another modular driver. (Exception: Drivers that
  15call do_take_over_console() will succeed in the takeover regardless of the type
  16of driver occupying the consoles.) They can only take over the console that is
  17occupied by the system driver. In the same token, if the modular driver is
  18released by the console, the system driver will take over.
  20Modular drivers, from the programmer's point of view, has to call:
  22         do_take_over_console() - load and bind driver to console layer
  23         give_up_console() - unload driver, it will only work if driver is fully unbond
  25In newer kernels, the following are also available:
  27         do_register_con_driver()
  28         do_unregister_con_driver()
  30If sysfs is enabled, the contents of /sys/class/vtconsole can be
  31examined. This shows the console backends currently registered by the
  32system which are named vtcon<n> where <n> is an integer from 0 to 15. Thus:
  34       ls /sys/class/vtconsole
  35       .  ..  vtcon0  vtcon1
  37Each directory in /sys/class/vtconsole has 3 files:
  39     ls /sys/class/vtconsole/vtcon0
  40     .  ..  bind  name  uevent
  42What do these files signify?
  44     1. bind - this is a read/write file. It shows the status of the driver if
  45        read, or acts to bind or unbind the driver to the virtual consoles
  46        when written to. The possible values are:
  48        0 - means the driver is not bound and if echo'ed, commands the driver
  49            to unbind
  51        1 - means the driver is bound and if echo'ed, commands the driver to
  52            bind
  54     2. name - read-only file. Shows the name of the driver in this format:
  56        cat /sys/class/vtconsole/vtcon0/name
  57        (S) VGA+
  59            '(S)' stands for a (S)ystem driver, ie, it cannot be directly
  60            commanded to bind or unbind
  62            'VGA+' is the name of the driver
  64        cat /sys/class/vtconsole/vtcon1/name
  65        (M) frame buffer device
  67            In this case, '(M)' stands for a (M)odular driver, one that can be
  68            directly commanded to bind or unbind.
  70     3. uevent - ignore this file
  72When unbinding, the modular driver is detached first, and then the system
  73driver takes over the consoles vacated by the driver. Binding, on the other
  74hand, will bind the driver to the consoles that are currently occupied by a
  75system driver.
  77NOTE1: Binding and unbinding must be selected in Kconfig. It's under:
  79Device Drivers -> Character devices -> Support for binding and unbinding
  80console drivers
  82NOTE2: If any of the virtual consoles are in KD_GRAPHICS mode, then binding or
  83unbinding will not succeed. An example of an application that sets the console
  84to KD_GRAPHICS is X.
  86How useful is this feature? This is very useful for console driver
  87developers. By unbinding the driver from the console layer, one can unload the
  88driver, make changes, recompile, reload and rebind the driver without any need
  89for rebooting the kernel. For regular users who may want to switch from
  90framebuffer console to VGA console and vice versa, this feature also makes
  91this possible. (NOTE NOTE NOTE: Please read fbcon.txt under Documentation/fb
  92for more details).
  94Notes for developers:
  97do_take_over_console() is now broken up into:
  99     do_register_con_driver()
 100     do_bind_con_driver() - private function
 102give_up_console() is a wrapper to do_unregister_con_driver(), and a driver must
 103be fully unbound for this call to succeed. con_is_bound() will check if the
 104driver is bound or not.
 106Guidelines for console driver writers:
 109In order for binding to and unbinding from the console to properly work,
 110console drivers must follow these guidelines:
 1121. All drivers, except system drivers, must call either do_register_con_driver()
 113   or do_take_over_console(). do_register_con_driver() will just add the driver to
 114   the console's internal list. It won't take over the
 115   console. do_take_over_console(), as it name implies, will also take over (or
 116   bind to) the console.
 1182. All resources allocated during con->con_init() must be released in
 119   con->con_deinit().
 1213. All resources allocated in con->con_startup() must be released when the
 122   driver, which was previously bound, becomes unbound.  The console layer
 123   does not have a complementary call to con->con_startup() so it's up to the
 124   driver to check when it's legal to release these resources. Calling
 125   con_is_bound() in con->con_deinit() will help.  If the call returned
 126   false(), then it's safe to release the resources.  This balance has to be
 127   ensured because con->con_startup() can be called again when a request to
 128   rebind the driver to the console arrives.
 1304. Upon exit of the driver, ensure that the driver is totally unbound. If the
 131   condition is satisfied, then the driver must call do_unregister_con_driver()
 132   or give_up_console().
 1345. do_unregister_con_driver() can also be called on conditions which make it
 135   impossible for the driver to service console requests.  This can happen
 136   with the framebuffer console that suddenly lost all of its drivers.
 138The current crop of console drivers should still work correctly, but binding
 139and unbinding them may cause problems. With minimal fixes, these drivers can
 140be made to work correctly.
 143Antonino Daplas <>
 145 kindly hosted by Redpill Linpro AS, provider of Linux consulting and operations services since 1995.