Reverse-Engineering DOS 1.0

 Images Dos1Boot
Pt 1916
Happy birthday DOS

The bootsector of DOS 1.0 is celebtaring its 28th birthday today (it contains the timestamp “7-May-81″), so let’s look at it more closely.

DOS 1.0 shipped on a 160 KB single sided disk. The boot code in the IBM PC’s BIOS loaded the first sector into RAM at segment 0×0000, offset 0×7C00 and ran it. Later versions of BIOS checked for 0xAA55 in the last word of the bootsector, but the first version did not. Note that DOS 1.0 is also pre-BIOS Parameter Block, i.e. the bootsector does not contain any information about the physical layout of the disk, since there was only a single disk size.

What the boot sector is supposed to do is read “IBMBIO.COM” and “IBMDOS.COM” into RAM and run them – these are the DOS system files for machine abstraction and DOS API, respectively. In MS-DOS, they would be called “IO.SYS” and “MSDOS.SYS”.

But the DOS 1.0 bootsector takes quite a lot of shortcuts. It assumes it’s always a 40 track, 8 sectors single-sided disk and the two files occupy the first sectors of the data area contiguously – something that SYS.COM could guarantee when making a disk bootable.

So the bootsector first loads the first sector of the root directory (hardcoded to track 0, sector 4) and compares the first two entries with “IBMBIO.COM” and “IBMDOS.COM”. For some reason, the comparison is case-insensitive, although DOS only allows uppercase filenames.

Adafruit publishes a wide range of writing and video content, including interviews and reporting on the maker market and the wider technology world. Our standards page is intended as a guide to best practices that Adafruit uses, as well as an outline of the ethical standards Adafruit aspires to. While Adafruit is not an independent journalistic institution, Adafruit strives to be a fair, informative, and positive voice within the community – check it out here:

Join Adafruit on Mastodon

Adafruit is on Mastodon, join in!

Stop breadboarding and soldering – start making immediately! Adafruit’s Circuit Playground is jam-packed with LEDs, sensors, buttons, alligator clip pads and more. Build projects with Circuit Playground in a few minutes with the drag-and-drop MakeCode programming site, learn computer science using the CS Discoveries class on, jump into CircuitPython to learn Python and hardware together, TinyGO, or even use the Arduino IDE. Circuit Playground Express is the newest and best Circuit Playground board, with support for CircuitPython, MakeCode, and Arduino. It has a powerful processor, 10 NeoPixels, mini speaker, InfraRed receive and transmit, two buttons, a switch, 14 alligator clip pads, and lots of sensors: capacitive touch, IR proximity, temperature, light, motion and sound. A whole wide world of electronics and coding is waiting for you, and it fits in the palm of your hand.

Have an amazing project to share? The Electronics Show and Tell is every Wednesday at 7pm ET! To join, head over to YouTube and check out the show’s live chat – we’ll post the link there.

Join us every Wednesday night at 8pm ET for Ask an Engineer!

Join over 36,000+ makers on Adafruit’s Discord channels and be part of the community!

CircuitPython – The easiest way to program microcontrollers –

Maker Business — “Packaging” chips in the US

Wearables — Enclosures help fight body humidity in costumes

Electronics — Transformers: More than meets the eye!

Python for Microcontrollers — Python on Microcontrollers Newsletter: Silicon Labs introduces CircuitPython support, and more! #CircuitPython #Python #micropython @ThePSF @Raspberry_Pi

Adafruit IoT Monthly — Guardian Robot, Weather-wise Umbrella Stand, and more!

Microsoft MakeCode — MakeCode Thank You!

EYE on NPI — Maxim’s Himalaya uSLIC Step-Down Power Module #EyeOnNPI @maximintegrated @digikey

New Products – Adafruit Industries – Makers, hackers, artists, designers and engineers! — #NewProds 7/19/23 Feat. Adafruit Matrix Portal S3 CircuitPython Powered Internet Display!

Get the only spam-free daily newsletter about wearables, running a "maker business", electronic tips and more! Subscribe at !


  1. Note that the error messages have the high bit set in the last character to indicate EOS. I guess the author (Robert?) had to compress things a bit to leave enough room for his name.

  2. The set-high-bit-for-EOS trick is also used in Microsoft ROM BASIC code for the 6502, and is present in the Commodore PET, the Ohio Scientific machines, the Commodore 64 and the Compukit UK101. The BASIC keyword tables use the trick, and so do the BASIC error messages. In the case of the UK101, the high bit is not stripped when the error message is printed, resulting in some cryptic messages!

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.