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/etc/modules load/don't load

I've recently compiled a 2.2.17 kernel, specifying most everything as
modules. Oddly enough, "make menuconfig" won't allow me to specify my
mouse (PS/2) as a kernel, instead forcing a "*" in the config box. But
that's not my question.

I'm trying to get a handle on how modules work. I've commented out all
the items in /etc/modules, so that it is in essence an empty file. When
I reboot, my ethernet card doesn't work. Yet other items, like vfat and
serial and smbfs do load.

I thought since vfat and serial and smbfs were loading even though I had
previously commented them out of of /etc/modules, that the kmod (or
kerneld, or whatever it's called) was automatically loading those
modules when a need arose (such as when during bootup the fstab
instructed the system to mount a Windows95 partition - although this
doesn't explain the smbfs loading, since I don't do any samba mounts
automatically during bootup).

So my question is: Why are the vfat and serial and smbfs loading when
they are commented out of /etc/modules, but the 3c59x module does not
load when it's commented out?

And my second question: should I specifically load modules via
/etc/modules, or should I leave that file empty and let kmod handle the



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