The solutions

The parport code in Linux 2.2 was designed to meet these problems of architectural differences in parallel ports, of port-sharing between devices with pass-through ports, and of lack of support for IEEE 1284 transfer modes.

There are two layers to the parport subsystem, only one of which deals directly with the hardware. The other layer deals with sharing and IEEE 1284 transfer modes. In this way, parallel support for a particular architecture comes in the form of a module which registers itself with the generic sharing layer.

The sharing model provided by the parport subsystem is one of exclusive access. A device driver, such as the printer driver, must ask the parport layer for access to the port, and can only use the port once access has been granted. When it has finished a "transaction", it can tell the parport layer that it may release the port for other device drivers to use.

Devices with pass-through ports all manage to share a parallel port with other devices in generally the same way. The device has a latch for each of the pins on its pass-through port. The normal state of affairs is pass-through mode, with the device copying the signal lines between its host port and its pass-through port. When the device sees a special signal from the host port, it latches the pass-through port so that devices further downstream don't get confused by the pass-through device's conversation with the host parallel port: the device connected to the pass-through port (and any devices connected in turn to it) are effectively cut off from the computer. When the pass-through device has completed its transaction with the computer, it enables the pass-through port again.

This technique relies on certain "special signals" being invisible to devices that aren't watching for them. This tends to mean only changing the data signals and leaving the control signals alone. IEEE 1284.3 documents a standard protocol for daisy-chaining devices together with parallel ports.

Support for standard transfer modes are provided as operations that can be performed on a port, along with operations for setting the data lines, or the control lines, or reading the status lines. These operations appear to the device driver as function pointers; more later.