The linux kernel has 2 general types of console drivers. The first type is
assigned by the kernel to all the virtual consoles during the boot process.
This type will be called 'system driver', and only one system driver is allowed
to exist. The system driver is persistent and it can never be unloaded, though
it may become inactive.
The second type has to be explicitly loaded and unloaded. This will be called
'modular driver' by this document. Multiple modular drivers can coexist at
any time with each driver sharing the console with other drivers including
the system driver. However, modular drivers cannot take over the console
that is currently occupied by another modular driver. (Exception: Drivers that
call take_over_console() will succeed in the takeover regardless of the type
of driver occupying the consoles.) They can only take over the console that is
occupied by the system driver. In the same token, if the modular driver is
released by the console, the system driver will take over.
Modular drivers, from the programmer's point of view, has to call:
take_over_console() - load and bind driver to console layer
give_up_console() - unbind and unload driver
In newer kernels, the following are also available:
If sysfs is enabled, the contents of /sys/class/vtconsole can be
examined. This shows the console backends currently registered by the
system which are named vtcon<n> where <n> is an integer from 0 to 15. Thus:
. .. vtcon0 vtcon1
Each directory in /sys/class/vtconsole has 3 files:
. .. bind name uevent
What do these files signify?
1. bind - this is a read/write file. It shows the status of the driver if
read, or acts to bind or unbind the driver to the virtual consoles
when written to. The possible values are:
0 - means the driver is not bound and if echo'ed, commands the driver
1 - means the driver is bound and if echo'ed, commands the driver to
2. name - read-only file. Shows the name of the driver in this format:
'(S)' stands for a (S)ystem driver, ie, it cannot be directly
commanded to bind or unbind
'VGA+' is the name of the driver
(M) frame buffer device
In this case, '(M)' stands for a (M)odular driver, one that can be
directly commanded to bind or unbind.
3. uevent - ignore this file
When unbinding, the modular driver is detached first, and then the system
driver takes over the consoles vacated by the driver. Binding, on the other
hand, will bind the driver to the consoles that are currently occupied by a
NOTE1: Binding and unbinding must be selected in Kconfig. It's under:
Device Drivers -> Character devices -> Support for binding and unbinding
NOTE2: If any of the virtual consoles are in KD_GRAPHICS mode, then binding or
unbinding will not succeed. An example of an application that sets the console
to KD_GRAPHICS is X.
How useful is this feature? This is very useful for console driver
developers. By unbinding the driver from the console layer, one can unload the
driver, make changes, recompile, reload and rebind the driver without any need
for rebooting the kernel. For regular users who may want to switch from
framebuffer console to VGA console and vice versa, this feature also makes
this possible. (NOTE NOTE NOTE: Please read fbcon.txt under Documentation/fb
for more details).
Notes for developers:
take_over_console() is now broken up into:
bind_con_driver() - private function
give_up_console() is a wrapper to unregister_con_driver(), and a driver must
be fully unbound for this call to succeed. con_is_bound() will check if the
driver is bound or not.
Guidelines for console driver writers:
In order for binding to and unbinding from the console to properly work,
console drivers must follow these guidelines:
1. All drivers, except system drivers, must call either register_con_driver()
or take_over_console(). register_con_driver() will just add the driver to
the console's internal list. It won't take over the
console. take_over_console(), as it name implies, will also take over (or
bind to) the console.
2. All resources allocated during con->con_init() must be released in
3. All resources allocated in con->con_startup() must be released when the
driver, which was previously bound, becomes unbound. The console layer
does not have a complementary call to con->con_startup() so it's up to the
driver to check when it's legal to release these resources. Calling
con_is_bound() in con->con_deinit() will help. If the call returned
false(), then it's safe to release the resources. This balance has to be
ensured because con->con_startup() can be called again when a request to
rebind the driver to the console arrives.
4. Upon exit of the driver, ensure that the driver is totally unbound. If the
condition is satisfied, then the driver must call unregister_con_driver()
5. unregister_con_driver() can also be called on conditions which make it
impossible for the driver to service console requests. This can happen
with the framebuffer console that suddenly lost all of its drivers.
The current crop of console drivers should still work correctly, but binding
and unbinding them may cause problems. With minimal fixes, these drivers can
be made to work correctly.
Antonino Daplas <email@example.com>