[syslinux] syslinux vs grub

Patrick J. LoPresti patl at users.sourceforge.net
Sat Jan 8 07:41:51 PST 2005

"H. Peter Anvin" <hpa at zytor.com> writes:

> Is it worth bothering with going forward, or am I wasting my time?
> If so, what should I be focusing on?

For installation and rescue boot disks, SYSLINUX is already the tool
of choice.  In my opinion, this is primarily because it runs in real
mode using BIOS calls to access all hardware.  This lets a generic
boot image work no matter what hardware happens to be in the machine.
The ability to use a modern network card's UNDI stack during PXE boot
is partcularly important; for this reason, I really had no choice but
to use SYSLINUX for Unattended.

GRUB's big strength (relative to the boot loader it replaced, LILO) is
that it can read files from the hard drive without the need to run an
installer.  When I accidentally hose my boot loader, a GRUB rescue
floppy lets me boot my system again by hand.  I even get name
completion on file names as I manually tell it which kernel and initrd
to load.

SYSLINUX can read the file system, too, but until recently, only FAT.
You added ext2, which is good.  But not all the world is FAT or ext2.
Are you going to add support for XFS, JFS, etc.?  And even if you do,
with the current design each would (I assume) be a separate boot
loader...  Which means a truly generic boot floppy would remain

So, in my usage scenarios, to supplant GRUB you need two things:

  1) A better boot-time command-line interface (e.g., the ability to
     select the boot device, TAB completion of file names, or at least
     the ability to browse the filesystem)

  2) Modular filesystem drivers (I assume you would eschew a GRUB-like
     monolithic design).  So I could boot a FAT floppy, tell it to
     load the appropriate ext2/xfs/jfs/whatever module, then load and
     boot the kernel from my real hard drive.

If you managed to start a wave, maybe other people could be convinced
to do the other file system modules.  Personally, I would love to see
GRUB replaced.

Anyway, those are my musings.  Flame away!

 - Pat

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