Searching the web for Linux Drivers

Locating information about generic hardware components can be a little tricky, but with a bit of strategic searching you can usually find whatever it is that you need. The information in your computer and on the hardware itself is a good starting place, and from there you can continue the search on the Internet.

Tech Support /Google
Slick and Quick:Google’s Linux-based search engine rocks.

I just purchased a generic NIC (Network Interface Card) from a computer show and can’t figure out what driver I need to get this going. Can you please help?

Locating information about generic hardware components can be a little tricky, but with a bit of strategic searching you can usually find whatever it is that you need. The information in your computer and on the hardware itself is a good starting place, and from there you can continue the search on the Internet.

The first step is to look at the hardware itself and see if there is a vendor name and some sort of version or serial number. If for some reason there is no identifying information, I usually just install the card and look at the BIOS messages that the computer spits out while booting. If your computer recognizes the new hardware, it will print a message telling you what it is. Then it’s time to hit the Net and start searching.

The first place I like to search is always Deja.com (http://www.deja.com), which is probably the best place to find this sort of information. Deja allows you to search through newsgroup archives, which contain tons of information about topics like this. I like to use the “powersearch” (http://www.deja.com/home_ps_.shtml) tool instead of the normal search that comes up on the initial page. The powersearch is very helpful because it allows you to limit your search to specific archives, languages, subjects, authors, forums, and dates.

Your search will probably return a substantial amount of information. My suggestion would be to organize the information by date and confidence. This way you will be able to look at the most recent information first.

Tech Support/ Snapshot
All the News: Deja.com allows you to search through newsgroups.

Another great place to search for hardware- compatibility information is Google (http://www.google.com). Google is a very fast search engine that contains a lot of Linux-related information.

Google is not specific to newsgroups the way that Deja is. Instead, it’s more of a general Internet search engine. Still, it often contains the most relevant information available about Linux. In fact, the Google search engine itself is based on Linux. In any case, it is always very fast, even on particularly large searches.

Tech Support/lhd
In Search Of: LhD is a database of Linux hardware and drivers.

If even Google ends up being a dead end, try the Linux Hardware Database. In the case of this example, I would use the LhD Network Card Compatibility Database (http://lhd.datapower.com/db/searchproduct.cgi?_catid=4). This will bring up a list of most of the common Network Interface Cards that are available for Linux. It’s not a complete list, but it should give you an idea of what’s out there. You can use the information that you found on your searches at Deja.com and Google to see if your card is on the list, and whether it’s compatible with Linux or not.

Another pretty useful site is http://www.linuxhardware.net. This site is an extensive database of Linux hardware and driver information.

If at this point you still haven’t found any useful information and you still have no idea what’s going on with your card, its time to do some troubleshooting from the command prompt.

Open up a command prompt and su to root. Now cd to /usr/lib/ modules/version/net. This directory contains a bunch of kernel modules that you can try to load and see if any of them can communicate with the unknown hardware. Type ls | more to see which drivers are available. There are a few drivers that are commonly used with very generic cards. Table One contains a short list of the modules you should try first.

Table One: Common NIC Card Generic Modules

Lance driverlance.o
NE2000 and Compatiblene.o and ne2k-pci.o
Tulip Drivertulip.o

You can use the modprobe command to see if any of these drivers will work with your card. From the command prompt, type modprobe -v lance.o to try the Lance driver. If it’s not the right driver, it should tell you right away. You can use the same command to go through the list and see if you get lucky. If you do and the card ends up working, make sure to post the card name or serial number along with the driver that worked for you in the newsgroups. This would ensure that the next person who runs into the same hardware will be able to get the information much more easily. You can think of it as your contribution to the Linux community.

This was kind of a long answer, but I hope it helps you find what you are looking for.

App Tips

Tech Support/Eterm

* Eterm is a vt102 terminal emulator that is an alternative to the normal, but just plain boring xterm. I like it for the visual eye candy it provides. It has many backgrounds that randomly change as you open up more and more windows. It’s fun to use and makes your desktop a lot more interesting. Check it out!

Download: ftp://eterm.sourceforge.net/pub/eterm/

Alternate Download: http://download.sourceforge.net/eterm/

Homepage: http://eterm.sourceforge.net/

* Ksnapshot is an application that allows you to grab screenshots with a single mouse click. It can snap screenshots of only the active window or of the entire desktop. Ksnapshot gives you the option of delaying the grab and of hiding the Ksnapshot application, if you wish. It also provides drag-and-drop functionality. I use this utility to grab pictures for these articles.

Download: ftp://metalab.unc.edu/pub/Linux/X11/xutils/ksnapshot-0.2.7.tar.gz

Tech Support/ Webalizer
* Webalizer is a fast, free Web-server log-file analysis program. It produces highly detailed, easily configurable usage reports in HTML format, for viewing with a standard Web browser. Webalizer supports multiple languages and has been released under the GPL. It is easy to install and configure. I put it up on a few Web sites that I work on and it seems to be doing a great job. I really recommend it.

Download: ftp://ftp.mrunix.net/pub/webalizer/pre-release/

Alternate Download: ftp://webalizer.dexa.org/pub/webalizer/

Gaylen Brown is a senior consultant at Linuxcare, Inc. He can be reached at tech@linux-mag.com.

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