2.2  Classification of Drivers According to Functionality

There are numerous driver types, differing in their functionality. This subsection briefly describes three of the most common driver types.

2.2.1  Monolithic Drivers

Monolithic drivers are device drivers that embody all the functionality needed to support a hardware device. A monolithic driver is accessed by one or more user applications, and directly drives a hardware device. The driver communicates with the application through I/O control commands (IOCTLs) and drives the hardware using calls to the different WDK, ETK, DDI/DKI functions.

Figure 2.1  Monolithic Drivers

Monolithic Drivers

Monolithic drivers are supported in all operating systems including all Windows platforms and all Unix platforms.

2.2.2  Layered Drivers

Layered drivers are device drivers that are part of a stack of device drivers that together process an I/O request. An example of a layered driver is a driver that intercepts calls to the disk and encrypts/decrypts all data being transferred to/from the disk. In this example, a driver would be hooked on to the top of the existing driver and would only do the encryption/decryption.

Layered drivers are sometimes also known as filter drivers, and are supported in all operating systems including all Windows platforms and all Unix platforms.

Figure 2.2  Layered Drivers

Layered Drivers

2.2.3  Miniport Drivers

A Miniport driver is an add-on to a class driver that supports miniport drivers. It is used so the miniport driver does not have to implement all of the functions required of a driver for that class. The class driver provides the basic class functionality for the miniport driver.
A class driver is a driver that supports a group of devices of common functionality, such as all HID devices or all network devices.

Miniport drivers are also called miniclass drivers or minidrivers, and are supported in the Windows NT (2000) family, namely Windows 7 / Vista / Server 2008 / Server 2003 / XP / 2000 / NT 4.0.

Figure 2.3  Miniport Drivers

Miniport Drivers

Windows 7/Vista/Server 2008/Server 2003/XP/2000/NT 4.0 provide several driver classes (called ports) that handle the common functionality of their class. It is then up to the user to add only the functionality that has to do with the inner workings of the specific hardware. The NDIS miniport driver is one example of such a driver. The NDIS miniport framework is used to create network drivers that hook up to NT's communication stacks, and are therefore accessible to common communication calls used by applications. The Windows NT kernel provides drivers for the various communication stacks and other code that is common to communication cards. Due to the NDIS framework, the network card developer does not have to write all of this code, only the code that is specific to the network card he is developing.