In versions of MS-DOS from 1.1x through 6.22, the file comprised the MS-DOS kernel and is responsible for file access and program management.
MSDOS.SYS is loaded by the DOS BIOS
IO.SYS as part of the boot procedure. In some OEM versions of MS-DOS, the file is named
In Windows 95 (MS-DOS 7.0) through Windows ME (MS-DOS 8.0), the DOS kernel has been combined with the DOS BIOS into a single file,
MSDOS.SYS became a plain text file containing boot configuration directives instead. If a
WINBOOT.INI file exists, the system will retrieve these configuration directives from
WINBOOT.INI rather than from
When Windows 9x is installed over a preexisting DOS install, the Windows file may be temporarily named
MSDOS.W40 for as long as Windows' dual-boot feature has booted the previous OS. Likewise, the
MSDOS.SYS of the older system is named
MSDOS.DOS for as long as Windows 9x is active.
Some DOS utilities expect the
MSDOS.SYS file to have a minimal file size of at least 1 KB. This is the reason why a large dummy comment is typically found in the
MSDOS.SYS configuration file since Windows 95.[nb 1]
IBM PC DOS as well as DR DOS since 5.0 (with the exception of DR-DOS 7.06) used the file
IBMDOS.COM for the same purpose, whereas DR DOS 3.31 to 3.41 used
DRBDOS.SYS instead. FreeDOS uses the file
KERNEL.SYS for the same purpose.
Windows NT-based operating systems (NT 3.1-4, 2000, XP, and 2003) use the NTLDR file and NT 6+ operating systems (Vista, 2008, 7, 8, 8.1, and 10) use bootmgr instead, as they have a different boot sequence.
- The dummy comment in unmodified copies of
MSDOS.SYSexplains these reasons explicitly:
The following lines are required for compatibility with other programs. Do not remove them (MSDOS.SYS needs to be >1024 bytes).
- Robbins, Judd (1991). Mastering DOS 5 (3 ed.). San Francisco, California: Sybex. pp. 68–69.
- Paul, Matthias R. (1997-10-02) [1997-09-29]. "Caldera OpenDOS 7.01/7.02 Update Alpha 3 IBMBIO.COM - README.TXT and BOOT.TXT - A short description of how OpenDOS is booted". Archived from the original on 2003-10-04. Retrieved 2009-03-29.  (NB. Also has a few bits on how other DOSes are booted.)
- "Windows Does Not Start Normally With Bootgui=1 in the Msdos.sys". 2.0. Microsoft. 2013-10-24. KB136416, Q136416. Retrieved 2015-08-20.
- "Contents of the Windows MSDOS.SYS file". 1.4. Microsoft. 2007-01-19. KB118579, Q118579. Retrieved 2015-08-20.
- "How to create an MSDOS.SYS file larger than 1024 bytes". 1.3. Microsoft. 2004-12-21. KB129998, D36528. Retrieved 2014-11-22.
- Wolking, Gregory A. (1996-09-24). "BootOpt Gives You Start-Up Control - A GUI interface makes it easier to set Windows 95's startup options". PC Magazine. pp. 222–230. Retrieved 2019-07-27.
- Kurth, Rüdiger; Groß, Martin; Hunger, Henry (2016-11-29) . "Betriebssystem DCP". www.robotrontechnik.de (in German). Archived from the original on 2019-04-03. Retrieved 2019-04-28.