The operating system software used in Cisco routers is known as Cisco Internetwork Operating System (IOS). Like any operating system on any computer, Cisco IOS manages the hardware and software resources of the router, including memory allocation, processes, security, and file systems. Cisco IOS is a multitasking operating system that is integrated with routing, switching, internetworking, and telecommunications functions.
Although the Cisco IOS may appear to be the same on many routers, there are many different IOS images. An IOS image is a file that contains the entire IOS for that router. Cisco creates many different types of IOS images, depending upon the model of the router and the features within the IOS. Typically the more features in the IOS, the larger the IOS image, and therefore, the more flash and RAM that is required to store and load the IOS. For example, some features include the ability to run IPv6 or the ability for the router to perform NAT (Network Address Translation).
As with other operating systems Cisco IOS has its own user interface. Although some routers provide a graphical user interface (GUI), the command line interface (CLI) is a much more common method of configuring Cisco routers. The CLI is used throughout this curriculum.
Upon boot up, the startup-config file in NVRAM is copied into RAM and stored as the running-config file. IOS executes the configuration commands in the running-config. Any changes entered by the network administrator are stored in the running-config and are immediately implemented by the IOS.