This HOWTO covers basic info on the serial port which is missing on newer personal computers but is being used in recent embedded systems as well as for routers, point-of-sale equipment, etc. It includes multiport serial cards. It was written when the serial port was a major port for connecting a PC to modems and printers, etc. and the style of this article reflects this. If you're having problems with the serial port, want to understand how it works, or need a detailed introduction to it before studying serial programming, this is one place to find out about it.
This HOWTO is about the original serial port which uses a UART chip and is sometimes called a "UART serial port" to differentiate it from the newer types of serial devices: Universal Serial Bus or Firewire. It's slow compared to newer serial devices but can send text several times faster than you can read it. Information specific to devices which use serial ports: analog modems, text-terminals, infrared devices, and a few printers are found in Modem-HOWTO, Text-Terminal-HOWTO, Infrared-HOWTO, and Printing-HOWTO. Info on getty (the program that runs the login process or the like) has been also moved to other related HOWTOs since mgetty and uugetty are best for modems while agetty is best for text-terminals. If you are dealing with a modem, text terminal, infrared device, or printer, then you may not need to consult this HOWTO. But if you are using the serial port for some other device, using a multiport serial card, trouble-shooting the serial port itself, or want to understand more technical details of the serial port, then you may want to use this HOWTO as well as some of the other HOWTOs. (See Related HOWTO's) This HOWTO lists info on various multiport serial cards. This HOWTO addresses Linux running on PCs (ISA and/or PCI buses), although it might be valid for other architectures.
Copyright (c) 1993-1997 by Greg Hankins, (c) 1998-2005 by David S. Lawyer mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
Please freely copy and distribute (sell or give away) this document in any format. Send any corrections and comments to the document maintainer. You may create a derivative work and distribute it provided that you:
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While I haven't intentionally tried to mislead you, there are likely a number of errors in this document. Please let me know about them. Since this is free documentation, it should be obvious that I cannot be held legally responsible for any errors.
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Most of the original Serial-HOWTO was written by Greg Hankins. mailto:email@example.com He also rewrote many contributions by others in order to maintain continuity in the writing style and flow. He wrote: ``Thanks to everyone who has contributed or commented, the list of people has gotten too long to list (somewhere over one hundred). Special thanks to Ted Ts'o for answering questions about the serial drivers.'' Approximately half of v2.00 was from Greg Hankins HOWTO and the other half were additions by David Lawyer. Ted Ts'o has continued to be helpful. In Jan. 2006 "Charles Brockman" reviewed it for typos which resulted in many typos being fixed.
New versions will be issued perhaps every year or two. They will be available to browse and/or download at LDP mirror sites see: http://www.tldp.org/mirrors.html. Various formats are available. If you only want to quickly check the date of the latest version look at http://www.tldp.org/HOWTO/Serial-HOWTO.html and compare it to this version: v2.27 February 2011 .
For a full revision history going back to the time I started maintaining this HOWTO, see the source file (in linuxdoc format): (cvs) Serial-HOWTO.sgml
Modems, Text-Terminals, some printers, and other peripherals often used the serial port. Get these HOWTOs from the nearest mirror site as explained above.
Modem-HOWTOis about installing and configuring modems
Printing-HOWTOhas info for serial printers using old lpr command
LPRng-HOWTO(not a LDP HOWTO, may come with software) has info for serial printing for "Next Generation" lpr
Serial-Programming-HOWTOhelps you write C programs that read and write to the serial port and/or check/set its state. A version written by Vern Hoxie but not submitted to LDP is at Internet section.
Text-Terminal-HOWTOis about how they work, how to install configure, and repair them. It includes a section on "Make a Terminal the Console" which is useful for using a remote terminal to control a server (via the serial port).
Remote-Serial-Console-HOWTOis about making a text-terminal be the console so it can display boot-time messages, etc.
Please send me any suggestions, correction or additional material. Tell me what you don't understand, or what could be clearer. You can reach me via email at
The conventional serial port (not the newer USB port, or Firewire port) is a very old I/O (Input/Output) port. Until around 2006, most new desktop PC's had one, and old PC's from the 1990's sometimes had 2 of them. Most laptops gave up them before the desktops did. Macs (Apple Computer) after mid-1998 only had the USB port. However, it's possible, to put a conventional serial port device on the USB bus which is on all modern PCs.
Each serial port has a "file" associated with it in the /dev directory. It isn't really a file but it seems like one. For example, /dev/ttyS0. Other serial ports are /dev/ttyS1, /dev/ttyS2, etc. But ports on the USB bus, multiport cards, etc. have different names.
The common specification for the conventional serial port is RS-232 (or RS-232). So it's often called a "RS-232 serial port". The connector(s) for the serial port are often seen as one or two 9-pin connectors (in some cases 25-pin) on the back of a PC. But the serial port is more than just connectors. It includes the associated electronics which must produce signals conforming to the RS-232 specification. See Voltage Waveshapes. One pin is used to send out data bytes and another to receive data bytes. Another pin is a common signal ground. The other "useful" pins are used mainly for signalling purposes with a steady negative voltage meaning "off" and a steady positive voltage meaning "on".
The UART (Universal Asynchronous Receiver-Transmitter) chip does most of the work. Today, the functionality of this chip is usually built into another chip. See What Are UARTs? These have improved over time and old models (prior to say 1994) are usually very obsolete.
The serial port was originally designed for connecting external modems to a PC but it's used to connect many other devices also such as mice, text-terminals, some printers, etc. to a computer. You just plug these devices into the serial port using the correct cable. Many internal modem cards have a built-in serial port so when you install one inside your PC it's as if you just installed another serial port in your PC.