Boo-ree Port Devices Driver

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“Do you pine for the nice days of Minix-1.1, when men were men and wrote their own device drivers?” Linus Torvalds

In order to develop Linux device drivers, it is necessary to have an understanding of the following:

  • C programming. Some in-depth knowledge of C programming is needed, like pointer usage, bit manipulating functions, etc.
  • Microprocessor programming. It is necessary to know how microcomputers work internally: memory addressing, interrupts, etc. All of these concepts should be familiar to an assembler programmer.

There are several different devices in Linux. For simplicity, this brief tutorial will only cover type char devices loaded as modules. Kernel 2.6.x will be used (in particular, kernel 2.6.8 under Debian Sarge, which is now Debian Stable).

When you write device drivers, it’s important to make the distinction between “user space” and “kernel space”.

  • Kernel space. Linux (which is a kernel) manages the machine's hardware in a simple and efficient manner, offering the user a simple and uniform programming interface. In the same way, the kernel, and in particular its device drivers, form a bridge or interface between the end-user/programmer and the hardware. Any subroutines or functions forming part of the kernel (modules and device drivers, for example) are considered to be part of kernel space.
  • User space. End-user programs, like the UNIX shell or other GUI based applications (kpresenter for example), are part of the user space. Obviously, these applications need to interact with the system's hardware . However, they don’t do so directly, but through the kernel supported functions.

All of this is shown in figure 1.

The kernel offers several subroutines or functions in user space, which allow the end-user application programmer to interact with the hardware. Usually, in UNIX or Linux systems, this dialogue is performed through functions or subroutines in order to read and write files. The reason for this is that in Unix devices are seen, from the point of view of the user, as files.

On the other hand, in kernel space Linux also offers several functions or subroutines to perform the low level interactions directly with the hardware, and allow the transfer of information from kernel to user space.

Usually, for each function in user space (allowing the use of devices or files), there exists an equivalent in kernel space (allowing the transfer of information from the kernel to the user and vice-versa). This is shown in Table 1, which is, at this point, empty. It will be filled when the different device drivers concepts are introduced.

EventsUser functionsKernel functions
Load module
Open device
Read device
Write device
Close device
Remove module

Table 1. Device driver events and their associated interfacing functions in kernel space and user space.

There are also functions in kernel space which control the device or exchange information between the kernel and the hardware. Table 2 illustrates these concepts. This table will also be filled as the concepts are introduced.

EventsKernel functions
Read data
Write data

Table 2. Device driver events and their associated functions between kernel space and the hardware device.

I’ll now show you how to develop your first Linux device driver, which will be introduced in the kernel as a module.

For this purpose I’ll write the following program in a file named nothing.c

<nothing.c> =

Since the release of kernel version 2.6.x, compiling modules has become slightly more complicated. First, you need to have a complete, compiled kernel source-code-tree. If you have a Debian Sarge system, you can follow the steps in Appendix B (towards the end of this article). In the following, I’ll assume that a kernel version 2.6.8 is being used.

Next, you need to generate a makefile. The makefile for this example, which should be named Makefile, will be:


Unlike with previous versions of the kernel, it’s now also necessary to compile the module using the same kernel that you’re going to load and use the module with. To compile it, you can type:

This extremely simple module belongs to kernel space and will form part of it once it’s loaded.

In user space, you can load the module as root by typing the following into the command line:

# insmod nothing.ko

The insmod command allows the installation of the module in the kernel. However, this particular module isn’t of much use.

It is possible to check that the module has been installed correctly by looking at all installed modules:

# lsmod

Finally, the module can be removed from the kernel using the command:

# rmmod nothing

By issuing the lsmod command again, you can verify that the module is no longer in the kernel.

The summary of all this is shown in Table 3.

EventsUser functionsKernel functions
Load moduleinsmod
Open device
Read device
Write device
Close device
Remove modulermmod

Table 3. Device driver events and their associated interfacing functions between kernel space and user space.

When a module device driver is loaded into the kernel, some preliminary tasks are usually performed like resetting the device, reserving RAM, reserving interrupts, and reserving input/output ports, etc.

These tasks are performed, in kernel space, by two functions which need to be present (and explicitly declared): module_init and module_exit; they correspond to the user space commands insmod and rmmod , which are used when installing or removing a module. To sum up, the user commands insmod and rmmod use the kernel space functions module_init and module_exit.

Let’s see a practical example with the classic program Hello world:

<hello.c> =

The actual functions hello_init and hello_exit can be given any name desired. However, in order for them to be identified as the corresponding loading and removing functions, they have to be passed as parameters to the functions module_init and module_exit.

The printk function has also been introduced. It is very similar to the well known printf apart from the fact that it only works inside the kernel. The <1> symbol shows the high priority of the message (low number). In this way, besides getting the message in the kernel system log files, you should also receive this message in the system console.

This module can be compiled using the same command as before, after adding its name into the Makefile.



In the rest of the article, I have left the Makefiles as an exercise for the reader. A complete Makefile that will compile all of the modules of this tutorial is shown in Appendix A.

When the module is loaded or removed, the messages that were written in the printk statement will be displayed in the system console. If these messages do not appear in the console, you can view them by issuing the dmesg command or by looking at the system log file with cat /var/log/syslog.

Table 4 shows these two new functions.

EventsUser functionsKernel functions
Load moduleinsmodmodule_init()
Open device
Read device
Write device
Close device
Remove modulermmodmodule_exit()

Table 4. Device driver events and their associated interfacing functions between kernel space and user space.

I’ll now show how to build a complete device driver: memory.c. This device will allow a character to be read from or written into it. This device, while normally not very useful, provides a very illustrative example since it is a complete driver; it's also easy to implement, since it doesn’t interface to a real hardware device (besides the computer itself).

To develop this driver, several new #include statements which appear frequently in device drivers need to be added:


Boo-ree Port Devices Driver

This new function is now shown in Table 5.

EventsUser functionsKernel functions
Load moduleinsmodmodule_init()
Open devicefopenfile_operations: open
Read device
Write device
Close device
Remove modulermmodmodule_exit()

Table 5. Device driver events and their associated interfacing functions between kernel space and user space.

The corresponding function for closing a file in user space (fclose) is the release: member of the file_operations structure in the call to register_chrdev. In this particular case, it is the function memory_release, which has as arguments an inode structure and a file structure, just like before.

When a file is closed, it’s usually necessary to free the used memory and any variables related to the opening of the device. But, once again, due to the simplicity of this example, none of these operations are performed.

The memory_release function is shown below:


The reading position in the file (f_pos) is also changed. If the position is at the beginning of the file, it is increased by one and the number of bytes that have been properly read is given as a return value, 1. If not at the beginning of the file, an end of file (0) is returned since the file only stores one byte.

In Table 7 this new function has been added.

EventsUser functionsKernel functions
Load moduleinsmodmodule_init()
Open devicefopenfile_operations: open
Read devicefreadfile_operations: read
Write device
Close devicefclosefile_operations: release
Remove modulesrmmodmodule_exit()

Table 7. Device driver events and their associated interfacing functions between kernel space and user space.

To write to a device with the user function fwrite or similar, the member write: of the file_operations structure is used in the call to register_chrdev. It is the function memory_write, in this particular example, which has the following as arguments: a type file structure; buf, a buffer in which the user space function (fwrite) will write; count, a counter with the number of bytes to transfer, which has the same values as the usual counter in the user space function (fwrite); and finally, f_pos, the position of where to start writing in the file.


It will be very similar to the memory module but substituting the freeing of memory with the removal of the reserved memory of the parallel port. This is done by the release_region function, which has the same arguments as check_region.


Table 9 (the equivalent of Table 2) shows this new function.

EventsKernel functions
Read datainb
Write data

Device driver events and their associated functions between kernel space and the hardware device.

Again, you have to add the “writing to the device” function to be able to transfer later this data to user space. The function outb accomplishes this; it takes as arguments the content to write in the port and its address.


Module init

In this module-initializing-routine I’ll introduce the memory reserve of the parallel port as was described before.


Removing the module

This routine will include the modifications previously mentioned.


Opening the device as a file

This routine is identical to the memory driver.


Reading the device

The reading function is similar to the memory one with the corresponding modifications to read from the port of a device.


In this section I’ll detail the construction of a piece of hardware that can be used to visualize the state of the parallel port with some simple LEDs.

WARNING: Connecting devices to the parallel port can harm your computer. Make sure that you are properly earthed and your computer is turned off when connecting the device. Any problems that arise due to undertaking these experiments is your sole responsibility.

The circuit to build is shown in figure 3 You can also read “PC & Electronics: Connecting Your PC to the Outside World” by Zoller as reference.

In order to use it, you must first ensure that all hardware is correctly connected. Next, switch off the PC and connect the device to the parallel port. The PC can then be turned on and all device drivers related to the parallel port should be removed (for example, lp, parport, parport_pc, etc.). The hotplug module of the Debian Sarge distribution is particularly annoying and should be removed. If the file /dev/parlelport does not exist, it must be created as root with the command:

# mknod /dev/parlelport c 61 0

Then it needs to be made readable and writable by anybody with:

# chmod 666 /dev/parlelport

The module can now be installed, parlelport. You can check that it is effectively reserving the input/output port addresses 0x378 with the command:

$ cat /proc/ioports

To turn on the LEDs and check that the system is working, execute the command:

$ echo -n A >/dev/parlelport

This should turn on LED zero and six, leaving all of the others off.


You can check the state of the parallel port issuing the command:

$ cat /dev/parlelport

Finally, I’ll develop a pretty application which will make the LEDs flash in succession. To achieve this, a program in user space needs to be written with which only one bit at a time will be written to the /dev/parlelport device.

<lights.c> =

It can be compiled in the usual way:

$ gcc -o lights lights.c

and can be executed with the command:

$ lights

The lights will flash successively one after the other! The flashing LEDs and the Linux computer running this program are shown in figure 4.

Having followed this brief tutorial you should now be capable of writing your own complete device driver for simple hardware like a relay board (see Appendix C), or a minimal device driver for complex hardware. Learning to understand some of these simple concepts behind the Linux kernel allows you, in a quick and easy way, to get up to speed with respect to writing device drivers. And, this will bring you another step closer to becoming a true Linux kernel developer.

A. Rubini, J. Corbert. 2001. Linux device drivers (second edition). Ed. O’Reilly. This book is available for free on the internet.

Jonathan Corbet. 2003/2004. Porting device drivers to the 2.6 kernel. This is a very valuable resource for porting drivers to the new 2.6 Linux kernel and also for learning about Linux device drivers.

B. Zoller. 1998. PC & Electronics: Connecting Your PC to the Outside World (Productivity Series). Nowadays it is probably easier to surf the web for hardware projects like this one.

M. Waite, S. Prata. 1990. C Programming. Any other good book on C programming would suffice.


To compile a 2.6.x kernel on a Debian Sarge system you need to perform the following steps, which should be run as root:

  1. Install the “kernel-image-2.6.x” package.
  2. Reboot the machine to make this the running kernel image. This is done semi-automatically by Debian. You may need to tweak the lilo configuration file /etc/lilo.conf and then run lilo to achieve this.
  3. Install the “kernel-source-2.6.x” package.
  4. Change to the source code directory, cd /usr/src and unzip and untar the source code with bunzip2 kernel-source-2.6.x.tar.bz2 and tar xvf kernel-source-2.6.x.tar. Change to the kernel source directory with cd /usr/src/kernel-source-2.6.x
  5. Copy the default Debian kernel configuration file to your local kernel source directory cp /boot/config-2.6.x .config.
  6. Make the kernel and the modules with make and then make modules.

If you would like to take on some bigger challenges, here are a couple of exercises you can do:

Boo-ree Port Devices Driver Wireless

  1. I once wrote two device drivers for two ISA Meilhaus boards, an analog to digital converter (ME26) and a relay control board (ME53). The software is available from the ADQ project. Get the newer PCI versions of these Meilhaus boards and update the software.
  2. Take any device that doesn’t work on Linux, but has a very similar chipset to another device which does have a proven device driver for Linux. Try to modify the working device driver to make it work for the new device. If you achieve this, submit your code to the kernel and become a kernel developer yourself!

Boo-ree Port Devices Driver Tp-link

Three years have elapsed since the first version of this document was written. It was originally written in Spanish and intended for version 2.2 of the kernel, but kernel 2.4 was already making its first steps at that time. The reason for this choice is that good documentation for writing device drivers, the Linux device drivers book (see bibliography), lagged the release of the kernel in some months. This new version is also coming out soon after the release of the new 2.6 kernel, but up to date documentation is now readily available in Linux Weekly News making it possible to have this document synchronized with the newest kernel.

Fortunately enough, PCs still come with a built-in parallel port, despite the actual trend of changing everything inside a PC to render it obsolete in no time. Let us hope that PCs still continue to have built-in parallel ports for some time in the future, or that at least, parallel port PCI cards are still being sold.

This tutorial has been originally typed using a text editor (i.e. emacs) in noweb format. This text is then processed with the noweb tool to create a LaTeX file ( .tex ) and the source code files ( .c ). All this can be done using the supplied makefile.document with the command make -f makefile.document.

I would like to thank the “Instituto Politécnico de Bragança”, the “Núcleo Estudantil de Linux del Instituto Politécnico de Bragança (NUX)”, the “Asociación de Software Libre de León (SLeón)” and the “Núcleo de Estudantes de Engenharia Informática da Universidade de Évora” for making this update possible.

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