coreboot, LinuxBoot, NERF... What?

Naming is hard. You may have heard of coreboot, NERF, u-root, systemboot, etc. If you are confused, well, you're not alone.


LinuxBIOS is a project originated in 1999 from Ron Minnich, Stefan Reinauer and others. It is not much younger than UEFI, but they were already experimenting the idea of running Linux as firmware! Like many great ideas, it was way ahead of its time. At that time Linux was not mature enough for hardware initialization project, and while LinuxBIOS was successful in several performance-and-reliability critical environments, it didn't see mass adoption.


LinuxBIOS became coreboot in 2008. It is effectively the same project that evolved over time. coreboot (spelled lowercase) is a complete open source system firmware package, aimed at replacing proprietary implementations. It's also one of the most mature and well-maintained open source firmware projects.

coreboot supports a wide varieties of platforms, and has a modular architecture. It provides platform initialization (CPU, DRAM, PCI, ACPI, SMBIOS, etc), a filesystem (CBFS) suitable for on-firmware storage, integration with vendor extensions and blobs, a friendly license, and a wide variety of payloads.

This modular design also enables various bootloader scenarios, through coreboot payloads. Among the various options, there are:

  • SeaBIOS, a very popular open source BIOS implementation
  • depthcharge, the blazing-fast boot payload for ChromeOS/Chromebooks
  • LinuxBoot, of course! More details below
  • UEFI, via the open-source EDK II.


LinuxBoot is not a product, but rather a concept. It's the idea of booting Linux (OS) with Linux (system firmware). In a way, the same concept pioneered by LinuxBIOS.

"LinuxBoot" is also often used as an umbrella name at Facebook to indicate how we do open source firmware, i.e. coreboot + Linux + u-root + systemboot. Imagine it like a Linux distribution, but for firmware. It is a collection of various open source components, glued together to work as a consistent firmware OS.

Depending on who you are talking to, you may hear "LinuxBoot" used as a reference to "stripped UEFI, plus Linux". This is because LinuxBoot, when originally created, was meant to run a Linux kernel on top of a stripped UEFI firmware, not on coreboot. See also "NERF" below.


This is the original name for the stripped UEFI, plus Linux, plus u-root. The name stands for Non-Extensible Reduced Firmware, as opposed to UEFI's Unified Extensible Firmware Interface. Basically, saying that NERF is an UEFI replacement that prefers to be more compact, less extensible, and a bit more opinionated. While extensibility is nice and often desirable, too much extensibility and too many "yes" can make a complex project very hard to maintain and keep secure.

NERF started from Ron Minnich (one of the coreboot founders) at Google, and is now developed by a few other folks that are now part of Google's "NERF team". This name, in my understanding, is mostly used within Google, while "LinuxBoot" is becoming a more common name for this effort.


Heads is an open source firmware for laptops and servers, aimed at strong platform security. Developed by Trammell Hudson, this is based on stripped UEFI plus Linux, and BusyBox instead of u-root. More info at .

Open System Firmware

Open System Firmware, or in short OSF, is an official subproject of the Open Compute Project (OCP). OSF has been developed in the open, by various members of OCP that were interested in having open source system firmware. OSF defines a set of guidelines with contributions from Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Intel, 9elements, TwoSigma, and several other companies.

The important thing to keep in mind is that Open System Firmware is a project name, not an implementation, nor an idea. An implementation (like LinuxBoot or OpenEDK2) can be OSF-compliant if it follows the aforementioned guidelines.

Currently, Open System Firmware has two work streams:

  • LinuxBoot, led by Google, Facebook, 9elements, ITRenew, TwoSigma, and others
  • OpenEDK II, led by Microsoft and Intel.

Open Source Firmware

While this may sound obvious, it's worth noting that OSF can be used to refer to "Open Source Firmware" or "Open System Firmware" depending on the context. Confusing? I couldn't agree more.


BIOS is the good old, imperscrutable, unstructured, non-standard way of initializing a hardware platform in the pre-UEFI days. In other words it's a binary blob with no standardized structure, that is responsible for initializing CPU and memory, and jumping to a hard-coded position on the MBR of the first disk drive.

BIOS has been largely replaced by the (much better) UEFI over the past 20 years. Many UEFI implementations still offer a "BIOS compatibility mode" which make it behave like an old BIOS, with its (lack of) features.

BIOS is also a misused term for system firmware nowadays. You may still hear "BIOS" in reference to system firmware, either it's UEFI or even LinuxBoot. However, "BIOS" refers to a specific type of firmware, and UEFI is definitely not BIOS, just like LinuxBoot is not BIOS.


It's a complex specification of a standard for system firmware. It defines everything from the layout on the flash chip, to how to interface to peripherals, boot from disk or from network, how UEFI applications work, etc). It is not an implementation, it's a standard. EDK II and OpenEDK II are UEFI implementations.

UEFI is not closed source per-se, but in practice most implementations are. Typically IBVs and ODMs would take a snapshot of the reference implementation EDK II, and base their work on that, with their patches and additional components.


It is the open source reference implementation of an UEFI-compliant firmware, originally developed by Intel. See .


u-boot is another very popular open source firmware and bootloader.


u-root is not u-boot! They are two completely different projects.

u-root is modern, embedded userspace environment for Linux, with bootloader tools. u-root has several advantages:

  • it is written in a memory-safe language, Go, and it's compiled to avoid native code (CGo is disabled). No segfaults at firmware space!
  • it has a bb (busybox) mode: it's more space-efficient than compiling the programs individually, because it automatically merges the source code of the programs and libraries you need, into one.
  • it has a source mode: you have the source code of your tools in the firmware image, so you can modify any tool in place and re-run it, instead of rebuilding the whole image and reflashing, rebooting, and re-running the tool
  • it can run any unmodified Go program, it doesn't have to be written specifically for u-root (while with BusyBox it needs to be part of that source tree, using different libraries). This allows using any Go library or program written for non-embedded environments
  • is blazing fast to build: seconds instead of minutes