This page describes rEFInd, my fork of the rEFIt boot manager for computers based on the Extensible Firmware Interface (EFI) and Unified EFI (UEFI). Like rEFIt, rEFInd is a boot manager, meaning that it presents a menu of options to the user when the computer first starts up, as shown below.
rEFInd is not a boot loader, which is a program that loads an OS kernel and hands off control to it. (Since version 3.3.0, the Linux kernel has included a built-in boot loader, though, so this distinction is rather artificial these days, at least for Linux.)
Many popular boot managers, such as the Grand Unified Bootloader (GRUB), are also boot loaders, which can blur the distinction in many users' minds. All EFI-capable OSes include boot loaders, so this limitation isn't a problem.
If you're using Linux, you should be aware that several EFI boot loaders are available, so choosing between them can be a challenge. In fact, the Linux kernel can function as an EFI boot loader for itself, which gives rEFInd characteristics similar to a boot loader for Linux. See my Web page on this topic for more information.
In theory, EFI implementations should provide boot managers. Unfortunately, in practice these boot managers are often so poor as to be useless. The worst I've personally encountered is on Gigabyte's Hybrid EFI, which provides you with no boot options whatsoever, beyond choosing the boot device (hard disk vs. optical disc, for instance). I've heard of others that are just as bad. For this reason, a good EFI boot manager—either standalone or as part of a boot loader—is a practical necessity for multi-booting on an EFI computer. That's where rEFInd comes into play.
I decided to fork the earlier rEFIt project because, although rEFIt is a useful program, it's got several important limitations, such as poor control over the boot loader detection process and an ability to display at most a handful of boot loader entries on its main screen. Christoph Pfisterer, rEFIt's author, stopped updating rEFIt with version 0.14, which was released in March of 2010. Since I forked rEFIt to rEFInd, Christoph has begun pointing rEFIt users to rEFInd as a successor project.
The rEFIt Web page has a distinct Mac bias, and the provided binaries work only on Macs because they're 32-/64-bit "fat" binaries, which Macs can handle but UEFI-based PCs can't. rEFIt can be recompiled to work on UEFI-based PCs, but prebuilt binaries for such systems are relatively rare. Although I do own a Mac Mini, my interest lies more on the side of standard PC hardware, and hence with UEFI. My development platform is Linux, and my installation instructions and binaries are much more platform-neutral.
I'm aware that many Mac users will consider this a step backward, but I ask their indulgence; I only have so many hours a week to work on this project, and I prefer to devote my efforts to improvements that will benefit all rEFInd users, at least initially.
As already noted, rEFInd is a boot manager for EFI and UEFI computers. (I use "EFI" to refer to either version unless the distinction is important.) You're likely to benefit from it on computers that boot multiple OSes, such as two or more of Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows. You will not find rEFInd useful on older BIOS-based computers. Prior to mid-2011, few computers outside of Intel-based Macs used EFI; but starting in 2011, computer manufacturers began adopting UEFI in droves, so most computers bought since then use EFI. Even so, many modern PCs support both EFI-style booting and BIOS-style booting, the latter via a BIOS compatibility mode that's known as the Compatibility Support Module (CSM). Thus, you may be using BIOS-style booting on an EFI-based computer. If you're unsure which boot method your computer uses, check the first of the subsections, What's Your Boot Mode.
Subsequent sections of this document are on separate pages. Be aware that you probably don't need to read them all; just skip to the sections that interest you:
Note: I consider rEFInd to be beta-quality software! I'm discovering bugs (old and new) and fixing them every few days. That said, rEFInd is a usable program in its current form on many systems. If you have problems, feel free to drop me a line.
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