Abstract In order to study the mechanism of bolt support and the behavior of strata in a coal roadway under tectonic stress, deformation and destruction of a roof, floor and sides were studied using an experiment in similarity simulation. We also studied the mechanism and types of bolt support functions in the coal roadway. The results show that with an increase in horizontal tectonic stress, the strata in the roof and floor of the roadway gradually separate and become shear failure areas. Coal in side walls moves, but its integrity remains intact. Side bolts are mainly affected by tension and roof bolts by the effect of shear.