Mark Ellis markp.ellis at
Tue Dec 2 13:56:30 PST 2003

Just a small fix.


-------------- next part --------------
AUTHOR: Mark Ellis (markp.ellis at

DATE: 2003-09-23

LICENSE: GNU Free Documentation License Version 1.2

SYNOPSIS: How to use kernel module autoloading with devfs and devfsd

Kernel module autoloading with modutils requires a slightly different approach
when using devfs rather than a static /dev. This hint explains how to configure
your modutils for devfs(d).

Almost any system should do, providing you enabled devfs in the kernel.

Devfs is a virtual filesystem, like /proc, that an appropriately configured
kernel generates to replace the device nodes found in /dev, used to access the
hardware, but you probably already knew that. For more see

the kernel docs


and the devfs hint at linuxfromscratch.

A common problem when using devfs appears to be the use of auto loaded kernel
modules that are associated with device nodes under /dev. It's a chicken and egg
problem, modules are loaded when the node is accessed in /dev, but until the
module loads there is no device node. This hint attempts to explain how auto
loading using devfs is done the way it was intended, the "intended" part being
important because there are a number of workarounds, all of which duplicate to a
certain extent functionality that is already present.

All of this is to my personal understanding, particulary the why's, which I have
deduced from scatterings of documentation and the functionality i have found.
If anyone knows that it is wrong, mistaken or otherwise, please shout :)

Throughout this hint I'm going to use ALSA, the Advanced Linux Sound
Architecture modules, as an example, primarily because they are the most complex
set of modules i have come across and involve practically everything you need to
know about modules, and also because it crops up time and again on the BLFS
support mailing list. This hint will probably look like it is actually for ALSA,
but everything here should hopefully be applicable to any kernel module.

1) Aliasing device nodes to modules

I'm assuming you know the basics of module configuration, particularly aliases,
using /etc/modules.conf. If not, go and have a look at the modutils

The ALSA documentation gives a basic setup for autoloading modules using a
normal /dev directory, it looks something like this :-

       alias char-major-116 snd
       options snd snd_major=116 snd_cards_limit=1
       alias snd-card-0 snd-<your sound card>
       options snd-<your sound card> snd_index=0 snd_id="GusPnP"

The important part for us is the first line, which essentially says, when a
device node is accessed that has a major number of 116, we need the module
called snd.o. This won't work with devfs because we dont have the device file
until the module is loaded.

This issue is addressed by devfsd, the devfs daemon. A lot of people think
that devfsd is only needed to provide all those backwards compatible symlinks
for non-devfs aware applications, but it also helps fix this non-existent
device file problem, which devfs alone cannot do. You'll therefore need to
start devfsd at boot, see the appendix if you don't already have it set up.

Now for a more helpful alias in modules.conf.

	alias snd-card-0 snd-<your sound card>
	alias /dev/snd* snd-card-0

ALSA with devfs puts all the native sound device files in the /dev/snd/
directory, so now whenever a node in /dev/snd/, or the directory itself, is
accessed, and that includes listing the directory, devfsd notices the node
does not exist, finds that the node(s) are aliased to module snd-whatever,
and requests that the module be loaded. The module creates the device nodes
and the application never knows they weren't there a second ago.

An alternative to aliasing in modules.conf is available, using the devfsd
configuration file /etc/devfsd.conf directly. I prefer the method above, it
comes across as being a little more straightforward, but if you want to try
something like :-

	LOOKUP snd MODLOAD snd-<your sound card>

in devfsd.conf, this should give similar results.

Enabling OSS emulation with ALSA requires a little more work. The ALSA
documentation says :-

	alias sound-slot-0 snd-card-0
	alias sound-service-0-0 snd-mixer-oss
	alias sound-service-0-1 snd-seq-oss
	alias sound-service-0-3 snd-pcm-oss
	alias sound-service-0-8 snd-seq-oss
	alias sound-service-0-12 snd-pcm-oss

The first number in "sound-service-?-?" corresponds to the number of the sound
card, in many cases literally the slot it occupies on the motherboard, and
corresponds to the "sound-slot-?" entry.
The second number is the minor number of the corresponding device file, so
/dev/sound/dsp has a minor number of 3, and requires the snd-pcm-oss module. In
devfs speak this translates to :-

	alias /dev/sound/mixer snd-mixer-oss
	alias /dev/sound/sequencer* snd-seq-oss
	alias /dev/sound/dsp* snd-pcm-oss
	alias /dev/sound/audio* snd-pcm-oss
	alias /dev/sound/adsp* snd-pcm-oss
	alias /dev/sound* snd-card-0

Note that the least specific match, /dev/sound*, must be at the end of the
sequence, or the more specific entries will effectively be ignored.

Note that different sound cards will support different features, and these
entries may be more than enough or insufficient for your needs. I deduced most of
these using an ISA PnP SoundBlaster 16, but the adsp* entry isn't relevant for
me, it came out of devices.txt in the kernel documentation, must reading for any
LFSer :) If you have problems with specific features of your card under OSS
emulation, manually modprobe each oss mudule in turn and see what devices it

If you want your entries in devfsd.conf rather than modules.conf :-

	LOOKUP sound MODLOAD snd-<your sound card>
	LOOKUP sound/mixer MODLOAD snd-mixer-oss
	LOOKUP sound/sequencer MODLOAD snd-seq-oss
	LOOKUP sound/dsp MODLOAD snd-pcm-oss
	LOOKUP sound/audio MODLOAD snd-pcm-oss
	LOOKUP sound/adsp MODLOAD snd-pcm-oss

You should hopefully now have a setup that will at least auto load modules for
sound applications, run as root, that can work with devfs naming schemes.

2) Adding entries for backward compatibility

Alas many applications do not yet support the relatively new naming scheme
used by devfs. In some cases it is easy to re-configure these programs
to point to the new namespace, and for the rest devfsd will happily create
a host of symlinks to point from the old names to the new. However, it must be
told which of the old names correspond to modules that need to be loaded, in the
same way as the 'true' devices. It's easy to find out what you need, just
modprobe the modules by hand and see where the symlinks go.

Native ALSA devices all live in /dev/snd/ whether you use devfs or a static
/dev, so you'll only need backwards compatibility for OSS devices :-

	alias /dev/mixer snd-mixer-oss
	alias /dev/sequencer* snd-seq-oss
	alias /dev/dsp* snd-pcm-oss
	alias /dev/audio* snd-pcm-oss
	alias /dev/adsp* snd-pcm-oss

	alias /dev/dmfm snd-card-0
	alias /dev/dmmidi snd-card-0
	alias /dev/midi00 snd-card-0
Notice the last three entries. With the old naming scheme there is no common
element we can use to autoload the basic functionality, such as a shared
directory name, so each entry must be listed individually.

So assuming you remembered to turn on compatibility mode in devfsd (the first
REGISTER/UNREGISTER lines in devfsd.conf), accessing /dev/dsp will load the
oss module and create a symlink to /dev/sound/dsp.

Again, if you'd rather use devfsd.conf :-

	LOOKUP mixer MODLOAD snd-mixer-oss
	LOOKUP sequencer MODLOAD snd-seq-oss
	LOOKUP dsp MODLOAD snd-pcm-oss
	LOOKUP audio MODLOAD snd-pcm-oss
	LOOKUP adsp MODLOAD snd-pcm-oss

	LOOKUP dmfm MODLOAD snd-<your sound card>
	LOOKUP dmmidi MODLOAD snd-<your sound card>
	LOOKUP midi00 MODLOAD snd-<your sound card>

3) More configuration

You've got your modules autoloading by device entry, and compatibility
symlinks, which is sufficient for many uses.

Devfs by default creates device nodes owned by user and group root,
with restrictive permissions in most cases, not much use unless you like
danger and always login as root :)

For our ALSA setup, a good solution is to create an 'audio' group and
give its members read/write access to the audio devices. The following
in devfsd.conf accomplishes just that:-

	REGISTER       ^sound$		PERMISSIONS 0750
	REGISTER       ^sound/.*	PERMISSIONS 0660
	REGISTER       ^snd$		PERMISSIONS 0750
	REGISTER       ^snd/.*		PERMISSIONS 0660

Finally, since modules may be loaded and unloaded a number of times,
any extra configuration related to devices may be lost, hence the
'post-install' and 'pre-remove' entries in modules.conf, which
do exectly that, run arbitrary commands after module loading and
before unloading. The ALSA sound channels are muted by default,
you must unmute them the first time they are used. To retain your
volume settings, in modules.conf use :-

post-install snd-sb16 /usr/sbin/alsactl restore
pre-remove snd-sb16 /usr/sbin/alsactl store

which store the settings when the modules are unloaded, and restore
them the next time the modules are loaded.

For other modules these commands can be anything you like. For example
when i hotplug my USB mouse, the hotplug system inserts the
appropriate modules, then i have a post-install entry to start gpm.

Installing devfsd is easy. Get it from the devfs web page above.
After unpacking, edit the GNUmakefile for stuff like CFLAGS if you
want, then just:-

make install

which puts the daemon in /sbin and a couple of config files in /etc.

Make an addition to your bootscripts to run '/sbin/devfsd /dev' as the
very first thing that happens. Thats it !

The default devfsd.conf enables all those compatibility symlinks. If
you don't need them comment out the first REGISTER/UNREGISTER lines.

 * Initial hint.
 * updated to new format.
 * minor text changes.
 * added /dev/sound* wildcard
 * new contact email 
 * more descriptive name
 * removed spurious statement about symlink permissions.

More information about the hints mailing list