D. Open Firmware and Mac issues.

This appendix documents some of the features of ppc macintoshes, and in particular the requirements of coexisting with Mac OS's (OSX or the old OS9). It is only relevant to NewWorld hardware.

Open Firmware and blessed partitions

The Open Firmware (OF) is the code in ROM or nvram which controls how the machine boots. If booting automatically, it will boot from the first valid blessed partition it finds (this is a simplification, but it is adequate for normal purposes).

It can only read apple filesystems (hfs, hfs+, or hfsx depending on the version of the firmware). For disks under linux, the blessing is done by ybin when it installs yaboot (the loader) and yaboot.conf.

Mac OS's have a tendency to look at other hfs{,+,x} filesystems on the disk, and unbless them if they do not match their expectations. Unblessing makes them unbootable. Fortunately, a filesystem of type Apple_Bootstrap can be read as hfs by the OF, but will be ignored by Mac OS.


Macintoshes use their own partition format - this means that other machines are unlikely to be able to read or write to macintosh partitions (in particular, fdisk does not understand them). The format allows a large number of individual partitions, and the native Mac tools had a tendency to insert small "filler" partitions between the real partitions. Under linux, using more than 15 partitions can be problematic (shortage of device nodes), so the normal approach is to use the Mac tools to create an area of freespace at the front of the disk, then put the Mac OS partition(s) after it and (re-)install the Mac OS. The freespace can then be partitioned using parted or the older mac-fdisk. It seems that recent versions of the Mac tools may no longer insert the filler partitions, so it may be possible to do all the partitioning before installing OSX.



The Macintosh resizing and partitioning tools are destructive and may delete all data when a partition is resized, even on unaltered partitions.

For the Linux partitions, you will need a bootstrap partition - this can normally be a mere 800KB in size (the smallest hfs partition available) although the Fedora installer has been known to insist on 800MB. This has to be in front of the Mac OS partition. The bootstrap is never mounted as a regular partition and should not be confused with a /boot partition. Other partitions are as normal (at least one rootfs, perhaps swap, perhaps others).

According to the lfs-from-osx hint, the Mac partitioning tools can create an apple_bootstrap partition and therefore there is no need to use a Linux CD to create the desired partitions from freespace, but using a Linux CD to create the partitions is a more widely tested approach.

If you follow this approach, partition 1 will be the apple partition map, partition 2 will be the bootstrap at the start of the disk, the linux partitions will follow, and then the mac partition(s) - under OSX the first mac partition will be number 3, under OS9 it would have a higher number and there would be some apple driver partitions.

OSX or OF upgrades

If the machine is dual-booted with OSX, the mac kernel or the OF will probably be upgraded at some point. This appears to either unbless the bootstrap, or else just point the OF boot device to the mac partition - so, the linux system will no longer be bootable.

Therefore, you will need to know which partition contains the bootstrap so that you can boot it from OF (on an apple keyboard, hold down option-command-o-f (that is, alt-apple-o-f) while booting then enter a command like:

boot hd:2,yaboot

This will allow you to select a linux boot, and from there you will have to rerun ybin.

The "OS chooser" menu that yaboot typically loads is stored in the OF and will not be available after a Mac kernel or firmware upgrade until ybin has been rerun.

Yaboot's requirements

Yaboot is the boot loader for linux, sometimes referred to as the second stage loader. It reads the yaboot.conf file on the bootstrap partition to find which linux system(s) should be available, and attempts to load the required kernel.

The bootstrap man page warns that the path to the kernel should contain no more than one directory for reliability.

Yaboot has to be able to understand the filesystem, so that it can find the kernel. It understands hfs (not useful for linux, it is not case-sensitive), ext2 (and therefore it can read ext3), reiser3, and xfs. If you want to use a different type of filesystem for '/' you will have to create a separate boot partition with a supported filesystem, and use that to hold the kernels.

Requirements if starting from OSX

Older versions of OSX (panther, leopard) can write to ext2 filesystems using version 1.3 of ext2fsx. The upgrade to tiger broke this, and version 1.4 of ext2fsx only supports reading. Users of current OSX will therefore have to find some other way of creating a suitable filesystem and populating it, such as a Live CD or rescue CD.