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I know this isn't necessarily practical, but from a purely academic standpoint, I'm wondering if it is possible to install multiple boot loaders on a disk.

Would it be possible to install several operating systems on their own partitions, each with their own boot loader installed on its respective partition which could be invoked by selecting it from a boot loader on the MBR?

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migrated from serverfault.com Oct 17 '11 at 2:29

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Chaining bootloaders is possible (and common) - for instance, in a dual boot, it is common to have GRUB installed on the MBR and it loads NTLDR (Windows 'boot loader') or directly loads a Linux distro. I have also done GRUB loads Chameleon loads OSX. Can't common on 'every' partition having its own boot loader though, but more than one chained together is possible (at least under certain scenarios). –  cyberx86 Oct 17 '11 at 2:31

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up vote 2 down vote accepted

Yep, I'll do this by default now. One "Master" bootloader in the MBR that points to the different partitions holding the bootloaders of their OS.

Only 2 things are neccessary:

  • The "Master" Bootloader must be capable of executing Bootloaders of a partition (Most can do)

  • The other bootloaders must not insist of being installed in the MBR

Added at 2011-10-18:

grub configuration entry (from the MBR bootloader configuration) to boot the next boot loader (from a partition):

 title Partition 11  RedHat 5.2
    root (hd0,10)
    chainloader +1

This causes the bootloader from the 1st disk / 11th partition (numbering starts with 0) to be executed. For additional notes for grub and multi-OS installations have a look at http://www.dedoimedo.com/computers/grub.html for instance - but there are many grub tutorials out there...

One additional note regarding RedHat on high partition numbers:

Default Linux is able to work with up to 255 partitions on an IDE disk, but RedHat crippled fdisk with a patch to only support 8 or 16 partitions (don't remember exactly). I worked around this problem by installing RedHat Releases on low partition numbers, and moved them to higher partitons after the installation. I recommend therefore to use another distribution (I used a small Debian installation) as a base OS to administer the other installed systems (moving them around, perform backups and such).

And yet one additional note regarding Linux & swap files:

If not mixing old Linux systems with current distributions, all installed Linux systems may use the same swap partition. Otherwise you may have to set up 2 partitions as swap partitions, since the format changed once in the past (I don't remember when exactly - just keep one spare partition as fallback if you intend to install historic Linux distributions later and experience problems with the swap partition format)

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Out of curiosity, what software do you prefer as your master boot loader, and what does the configuration look like to boot into a partition's boot sector, rather than a kernel on a partition? –  andyortlieb Oct 17 '11 at 21:46
    
See my just added comments to the answer above. –  ktf Oct 18 '11 at 8:46
    
@ktf: You should add a warning that if you share a swap-device between installs that you dont use hibernate! (At least not on the shared swap, other partitions/files are ok, as long as you adjust pm- utils to disable the shared swap before hibernating, so the other install wont damage some data that might be still there) –  Legionair Oct 12 '13 at 16:03

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