Buildroot Summer 2022 Hackathon

Buildroot is an easy-to-use and popular embedded Linux build system, used by many as an alternative to Yocto/OpenEmbedded. Bootlin has expertise in both build systems, and has in particular been a long time contributor to the Buildroot project. Bootlin CEO’s Thomas Petazzoni is one of the co-maintainers of the project, to which he has contributed over 5000 patches.

From July 23 to July 27, four members of the Buildroot community gathered in the sunny south of France for a 5-day long hackathon on Buildroot: Yann Morin, Romain Naour from Smile, Arnout Vandecappelle from Mind and Thomas Petazzoni from Bootlin.

The main goal of this hackathon was to reduce the backlog of patches accumulated in the project’s patchwork, the tool used in the Buildroot community to record all contributed patches and make sure all of them are handled: reviewed, accepted, or potentially rejected.

When we started the hackathon, the backlog of patches cumulated to over 410 patches, and the hackathon allowed to reduce the backlog to 150-160 patches, especially taking care of all patches contributed before the beginning of 2022. In total, over 400 patches were merged during the hackathon in the Buildroot Git repository, which obviously is more than the reduction of the backlog of patches. This is mainly due to additional patches contributed during the hackathon itself (the community has been very active at submitting new patches!) and due to the review process triggering additional ideas or rework that required more patches.

Here is a summary of the main highlights that were merged during this hackathon:

  • New package for ntpsec, a “a secure, hardened, and improved implementation of Network Time Protocol”
  • Some cleanup of the genimage configuration files to use shortcuts for common GPT partition GUIDs
  • Test cases added for the get-developers script
  • Addition of several new defconfigs for multiple RISC-V 64-bit noMMU platforms: Sipeed MAIX-Bit, Sipeed MAIXDUINO, Sipeed MAIX-Dock, Sipeed MAIX-Go and Canaan KD233, based on Canaan K210 SoC.
  • Migration of the .py to .pyc byte-compilation to use the built-in Python infrastructure instead of a custom script.
  • Addition of support for version 12 of the GCC compiler. This means that GCC 11 is now the default in Buildroot, and support for GCC 9 has been removed.
  • Many new Python packages added: python-lark, python-typeguard, python-mypy-extensions, python-typing-inspect, python-rfc3987, python-ruamel-yaml, python-pyrsistent, python-pylibfdt, python-maturin
  • Rust has been bumped to 1.62.0
  • New package for mender-connect, a daemon responsible for handling bidirectional (websocket) communication with the Mender server
  • Some fixes to the glslsandbox-player package
  • New package for OpenSC, a set of libraries and utilities to work with smart cards.
  • New package for hyperfine, a benchmark tool written in Rust. It evaluates execution time of a command passed in arguments and make a relative comparison if multiple arguments are used at the same time.
  • New package for hawktracer, a highly portable, low-overhead, configurable profiling tool built in Amazon Video for getting performance metrics from low-end devices.
  • New package for vis-network, a JS library to display dynamic, automatically organised, customizable network views
  • New package for Avocado, an automated testing suite containing tests for various subsystems.
  • New package for freeradius-server, an open source server which implements a protocol for remote user Authorization, Authentication and Accounting.
  • New package for volk, a Vector-Optimized Library of Kernels. It is a library that contains kernels of hand-written SIMD code for different mathematical operations.
  • A rework of the LTO handling: LTO support is now always enabled in GCC, and the new option BR2_ENABLE_LTO allows to request LTO to be used by packages that support it.
  • New package for the Qt 6 library, separate from the current Qt 5 package. For now, the Qt 6 package is very minimal: it only packages qt6base, and only the core of Qt, not even the GUI support is enabled. As part of this, the double-conversion and libb2 packages were added.
  • Support for configurable page size for ARM64 was added. In addition to the default 4 KB, 64 KB pages are supported. This includes some test cases that allow to validate the 64 KB ARM64 page size support in Qemu.
  • New package for clpeak, a tool that profiles OpenCL devices to find their peak capacities, together with its dependency OpenCL-CLHPP, the C++ bindings for OpenCL
  • A rework of several top-level menuconfig options: the “enable MMU” option is now part of the Target architecture menu, the Toolchain menu is now before the Build options menu, which allows the choice of the C library to be done before the choice of static vs. shared libraries. This allows the choice of static library to be made unavailable when glibc is selected, fixing a number of invalid configurations.
  • New package for GDAL, a translator library for raster and vector geospatial data formats.
  • New package for libutp, a uTorrent Transport Protocol library
  • New package for dust, an alternative written in Rust of the command “du”.
  • The C-SKY CPU architecture support was removed, as it was no longer maintained, and barely used.
  • New package for gitlab-runner, the open source project that is used to run your jobs and send the results back to GitLab
  • New package for dbus-broker, which is an alternative implementation of the D-Bus daemon, by the systemd community. It is integrated in Buildroot so that either classic D-Bus or dbus-broker can be used as the D-Bus daemon implementation.
  • New package for nerdctl, a Docker-compatible CLI for containerd, controlling runc.
  • A rework of how the udev hwdb is handled, to be consistent between systemd and eudev, and to remove useless hwdb source files from the target, as the hwdb is compiled at build time.
  • And at least 137 packages have seen their version bumped

Several other topics were looked at and discussed, but did not necessarily lead to patches already integrated. One such topic is the investigation of several issues with elf2flt, the tool used on noMMU architectures to produce binaries in the FLAT format, from an ELF binary. Another topic is the merge of the SciPy package, for which the review and testing is well advanced.

Overall, it was a very productive hackathon, and besides the massive work done on Buildroot from 9 AM to (at least) midnight each day, the participants also enjoyed lots of side discussions, embedded Linux related or not. We look forward to the next in-person gathering of the Buildroot community, on September 17/18 in Dublin, right after the Embedded Linux Conference Europe.

Linux 5.19 released, Bootlin contributions inside

Linux 5.19 has been released yesterday. We recommend the usual resources of LWN (part 1 and part 2) as well as KernelNewbies to get some high-level overview of the major additions. CNX-Software also has an article focused on the ARM/RISC-V/MIPS improvements.

At Bootlin, we contributed 68 patches to this release, the main highlights being:

  • Clément Léger contributed patches for the Microchip SAMA5 platform to support suspend operation while running in non-secure mode, with OP-TEE handling the necessary PCSI calls. This is related to our work to port OP-TEE on Microchip SAMA5D2, which we have covered in several blog posts before.
  • Hervé Codina contributed device Tree updates to enable the PCI controller of the Renesas RZ/N1 platform, which allows to access the USB host controller that sits on an internal PCI bus. Some driver updates for the PCI driver are needed, and they will land in 5.206.0 kernel.
  • Miquèl Raynal contributed several improvements to the IIO subsystem, following his work on several IIO drivers and his related blog post. These improvements either touch the core IIO, or fix some incorrect API use in IIO drivers.
  • Miquèl Raynal contributed a new driver for the Renesas RZ/N1 DMA router (in drivers/dmaengine) as well as a new driver for the Renesas RZ/N1 Real Time Clock (in drivers/rtc). In addition, Miquèl modified the 8250 UART controller driver to be able to use the DMA capabilities available on the RZ/N1 processor.
  • Miquèl Raynal also contributed a number of improvements to the IEEE 802.15.4 stack in the Linux kernel.
  • Paul Kocialkowski contributed support for MIPI CSI-2 in the Allwinner phy-sun6i-mipi-dphy driver.
  • Paul Kocialkowski and Luca Ceresoli contributed a few misc fixes, touching the SPI core and SPI Rockchip driver and the dmaengine documentation.

The complete details of our contributions are:

Yocto training course updated to Kirkstone release

Yocto ProjectBack in May 2022, the Yocto Project published the Kirkstone release, the latest Long Term Support version of the popular embedded Linux build system. See the release notes of this 4.0 release.

For many years, Bootlin has helped plenty of engineers around the world get started with the Yocto Project and OpenEmbedded thanks to our Yocto Project and OpenEmbedded development training course, whose training materials are freely accessible, to everyone.

We are happy to announce that we have just published the update of these materials to cover this new Kirstone release. Our practical lab instructions, available for both the STM32MP1 Discovery Kit and the BeagleBoneBlack, have been correspondingly updated:

This update was done by Bootlin engineer Luca Ceresoli, who is teaching this updated version of our course this week. The next public session, open to individual registration, will take place on September 26-30, and will be taught by Maxime Chevallier. If you are interested, you can register directly online. We also offer this course in private sessions, organized on demand for your team, either on-line or on-site, you can contact us for more details.

Embedded Linux Conference Europe 2022: four talks from Bootlin

The schedule for the upcoming Embedded Linux Conference Europe 2022 has been published recently.

Bootlin CEO Thomas Petazzoni is again a member of the program committee for this edition of ELCE, and has helped with other members of this committee in reviewing and selecting the numerous talk submissions that have been received.

Bootlin will obviously be present at this conference. With 13 engineers from Bootlin participating, almost the entire company will be in Dublin for this major event of the embedded Linux community. Also, 4 of the talks that we had submitted have been accepted:

  • Luca Ceresoli on Basics of I2C on Linux
    This talk is an introduction to using I²C on embedded Linux devices. I²C (or I2C) is a simple but flexible electronic bus to allow low-speed communication between the CPU and all sorts of chips: PMICs, ADC/DACs, GPIO expanders, video sensors, audio codecs, EEPROMS, RTCs and many more. It is so popular that knowing it is a must for any embedded system engineer. Luca will first give an introduction to what I2C is at the electrical level. He will then describe how I2C is implemented in the Linux kernel driver model and how that appears in sysfs, how to describe I2C devices using device tree and how to write a driver for an I2C device. Finally he will present the tools to communicate with the chips from userspace and share some debugging techniques, including inspection of the physical bus and software-level debugging.
  • Miquèl Raynal on Improving Wireless PAN Support
    Anybody eager to learn about IoT devices has at least once tried to play with Zigbee or 6lowpan sensors. These two protocols are built on top of a well common MAC/PHY specification: IEEE 802.15.4, also known as Wireless Personal Area Networks: WPAN, designed to be low-rate/low-range wireless networks. There is already substantial support for this protocol in the Linux kernel but when my journey started, several of the MAC-related operations well described in the specification were not implemented, making the subsystem mainly useful for very simple use cases: peer-to-peer transmissions. This is unfortunate as a significant part of the idea behind WPAN is to make these networks quite adaptive and resilient, which requires a minimal subset of the peer management procedure to be supported. Besides a number of preparation changes, the main idea behind the continuous flow of patches was to bring support for the scanning procedure which allows a PAN controller to detect all the compatible devices around it in different ways. Discovering these devices is the first step in order to associate them together and build up starred networks. This talk will be an opportunity to explain the new APIs allowing such discoveries and provide a state of the art of the support in the mainline kernel.
  • Michael Opdenacker on Implementing A/B System Updates with U-Boot
    A popular way to implement system updates is through the A/B scheme, in which you have two copies of the root filesystem, one which is active, and one that is meant to contain the next update. When a new update is successfully applied, you need to make the corresponding partition become the new active one. That’s when a number of practical questions arise, such as how to identify the active partition, how to detect when the new system fails to boot properly, and how to fall back to the previous version? It was hard to find documentation about how U-Boot could address such needs to implement a functional and failsafe A/B system update mechanism. This presentation proposes to address this need by sharing the practical solutions we found, using lesser known commands and capabilities in U-Boot. We will also explain how the Linux side can cooperate with the U-Boot side. Fortunately, you won’t need to erase half of your brain to get updated on this topic.
  • Paul Kocialkowski on Walking Through the Linux-Based Graphics Stack
    The graphics stack used with the Linux kernel is a notoriously complex beast. From userspace down to the kernel level, a number of components are involved and interact with eachother. It is also an area that is constantly evolving to meet new use cases, refresh legacy implementations and achieve better performance. This makes it difficult to have a clear idea of the big picture and what is actually happening when using graphics-related components. This presentation will detail a walk through the graphics stack, with actual examples of displaying a buffer and rendering using the GPU. Going from the application level through the system libraries, down to the kernel and ending with actual hardware configuration. State-of-the-art technologies such as Wayland and DRM will be highlighted with relevant excerpts from the source code of related free software projects that are widely used today.

We look forward to meeting again the embedded Linux community, its developers, users and maintainers, at Dublin during this conference!

Hands-on installation of PipeWire

Let’s jump right in! In the previous article, we went through a theoretical overview of PipeWire. Our goal will now be to install and configure a minimal Linux-based system that runs PipeWire in order to output audio to an ALSA sink. The hardware for this demo will be a SAMA5D3 Xplained board and a generic USB sound card (a Logitech USB Headset H340 in our case, as reported by /sys/bus/usb/devices/MAJOR-MINOR/product).

We won’t bother with the bootloader setup (in our case U-Boot) as this is out of scope of our topic; if needed, Bootlin has training sessions for embedded Linux system development for which the training materials are freely available.

We will rely on Buildroot for the root filesystem, and compile our Linux kernel outside Buildroot for ease of development. In the chronological order, here are the steps we’ll follow:

  1. Download Buildroot and configure it. This step will provide us with two things: a cross-compiling toolchain and a root filesystem. We will use a pre-compiled toolchain as compiling a GCC toolchain is a slow process.
  2. Download, configure and build the kernel. This will require small tweaks to ensure the right drivers are compiled-in. We will rely upon the Buildroot-provided toolchain, which will make allow our project to be self-contained and reduce the number of dependencies installed system-wide. This also leads to a more reproducible routine.
  3. Boot our board; this requires a kernel image and a root filesystem. We’ll rely upon U-Boot’s TFTP support to retrieve the kernel image and Linux’s NFS support for root filesystems to allow for quick changes.
  4. Iterate on 1, 2 and 3 as needed! We might want to change kernel options or add packages to our root filesystem.

Feel free to skip the steps that are not required for you if you plan to follow along, this probably assumes some small configuration changes here and there on your side.

Buildroot: toolchain & root filesystem

Let’s start with Buildroot:

$ export WORK_DIR=PATH/TO/WORKING/DIRECTORY/
$ cd $WORK_DIR

# Download and extract Buildroot
$ export BR2_VERSION=2022.02
$ wget "https://buildroot.org/downloads/buildroot-$BR2_VERSION.tar.gz"
$ tar xf buildroot-$BR2_VERSION.tar.gz
$ mv buildroot-$BR2_VERSION buildroot

# Hop into the config menu
$ cd buildroot
$ make menuconfig
# nconfig, xconfig and gconfig are also available options

It’s config time! We’ll use a pre-compiled glibc-based toolchain.

  • In “Target options”:
    • “Target architecture” should be “ARM (little endian)” (BR2_arm symbol);
    • “Target architecture variant” should be “cortex-A5” (BR2_cortex_a5);
    • “Enable VFP extension support” should be true (BR2_ARM_ENABLE_VFP);
  • In “Toolchain”:
    • “Toolchain type” should be “External toolchain” (BR2_TOOLCHAIN_EXTERNAL);
    • “Toolchain” should be “Bootlin toolchains” (BR2_TOOLCHAIN_EXTERNAL_BOOTLIN);
    • “Bootlin toolchain variant” should be “armv7-eabihf glibc stable 2021.11-1” (BR2_TOOLCHAIN_EXTERNAL_BOOTLIN_ARMV7_EABIHF_GLIBC_STABLE);
    • “Copy gdb server to the target” can be set to true, this might come in useful in such experiments (BR2_TOOLCHAIN_EXTERNAL_GDB_SERVER_COPY).
  • In “Build options”, various options could be modified based on preferences: “build packages with debugging symbols”, “build packages with runtime debugging info”, “strip target binaries” and “gcc optimization level”.
  • In “System configuration”, the root password can be defined (BR2_TARGET_GENERIC_ROOT_PASSWD symbol). Changing this from the default empty password will allow us to login using SSH.
  • In “Target packages”, we’ll list them using symbol names as that is easier to search:
    • BR2_PACKAGE_ALSA_UTILS with its APLAY option, to enable testing devices directly using ALSA;
    • BR2_PACKAGE_DROPBEAR to enable the Dropbear SSH server, its client option can be disabled;
    • BR2_PACKAGE_PIPEWIRE, today’s topic.

From this article’s introduction, we know that we still need a session manager to go along with PipeWire. Both pipewire-media-session and WirePlumber are packaged by Buildroot but we’ll stick with WirePlumber as its the recommended option. At the place it should appear in the menuconfig is a message that tells us that we are missing dependencies:

*** wireplumber needs a toolchain w/ wchar, threads and Lua >= 5.3 ***

If in doubt of what causes this message to appear as it lists multiple dependencies, we can find the exact culprit by searching for the BR2_PACKAGE_WIREPLUMBER symbol in menuconfig, which tells us on which symbols WirePlumber depends on:

Symbol: BR2_PACKAGE_WIREPLUMBER [=n]
Type  : bool
Prompt: wireplumber
  Location:
    -> Target packages
      -> Libraries
      (1)     -> Graphics
  Defined at package/wireplumber/Config.in:1
  Depends on: BR2_PACKAGE_PIPEWIRE [=y] &&
    (BR2_PACKAGE_LUA_5_3 [=n] || BR2_PACKAGE_LUA_5_4 [=n]) &&
    BR2_USE_WCHAR [=y] && BR2_TOOLCHAIN_HAS_THREADS [=y] &&
    BR2_USE_MMU [=y]
  Selects: BR2_PACKAGE_LIBGLIB2 [=n]

The depends on entry tells us the boolean expression that needs to be fullfilled for BR2_PACKAGE_WIREPLUMBER to be available. Next to each symbol name is its current value in square brackets.

Note: this process could have been done manually, by looking for the WirePlumber symbol definition in buildroot/package/wireplumber/Config.in and grepping our current .config, seeing what was missing.

The conclusion is that we are missing Lua, which is the scripting used throughout WirePlumber. Enabling BR2_PACKAGE_LUA makes the BR2_PACKAGE_WIREPLUMBER option available, which we enable.

In the Buildroot version we selected, the WirePlumber package lists PACKAGE_DBUS as an unconditional dependency in the WIREPLUMBER_DEPENDENCIES variable, in package/wireplumber/wireplumber.mk. However, WirePlumber can be built fine without it and we therefore need to remove it manually to build successfully our image. This has been fixed for upcoming Buildroot versions.

As often in Buildroot, packages have optional features that get enabled if dependencies are detected. make menuconfig won’t tell us about those, the best way is to browse the package/$PKG/$PKG.mk files for $PKG that interests us and see what gets conditionnally enabled. By visiting PipeWire’s and WirePlumber’s makefiles, we can see that we might want to enable:

  • BR2_PACKAGE_DBUS for various D-Bus-related features which we have explored in the first article; this allows building the SPA D-Bus support plugin relied upon by both PipeWire and WirePlumber, which explains why WirePlumber doesn’t directly depend upon D-Bus;
  • BR2_PACKAGE_HAS_UDEV to support detection of events on ALSA, V4L2 and libcamera devices;
  • BR2_PACKAGE_SYSTEMD for systemd unit files to get generated and systemd-journald support (logging purposes);
  • BR2_PACKAGE_ALSA_LIB for ALSA devices support (which also requires BR2_PACKAGE_ALSA_LIB_{SEQ,UCM} and BR2_PACKAGE_HAS_UDEV);
  • BR2_PACKAGE_AVAHI_LIBAVAHI_CLIENT for network discovery in various PipeWire modules: search for the avahi_dep symbol in PipeWire’s meson.build files for the list;
  • BR2_PACKAGE_NCURSES_WCHAR to build the pw-top monitoring tool;
  • BR2_PACKAGE_LIBSNDFILE to build the pw-cat tool (equivalent of alsa-tools’ aplay);
  • and a few others.

One option that needs discussion is the BR2_PACKAGE_HAS_UDEV. It is required to have the -Dalsa=enabled option at PipeWire’s configure step. As can be seen in PipeWire’s spa/meson.build, this option enforces that ALSA support gets built:

alsa_dep = dependency('alsa', required: get_option('alsa'))

This line seems to indicate that to have ALSA support, we could simply add ALSA as a dependency and rely on the fact that the build system will find it. However, later on in the same Meson build file, we notice:

libudev_dep = dependency(
    'libudev',
    required: alsa_dep.found() or
        get_option('udev').enabled() or
        get_option('v4l2').enabled())

This line means that if the ALSA dependency is found, the libudev dependency is required which would lead to a failing build if we don’t have udev support.

As we expect ALSA support, we’ll make sure BR2_PACKAGE_HAS_UDEV is enabled. To find out what provides this config entry, the easiest way is a search through Buildroot for the select BR2_PACKAGE_HAS_UDEV string, which returns two results:

$ grep -sR "select BR2_PACKAGE_HAS_UDEV" .
./package/eudev/Config.in:      select BR2_PACKAGE_HAS_UDEV
./package/systemd/Config.in:    select BR2_PACKAGE_HAS_UDEV

We’ll stick with eudev and avoid importing the whole of systemd in our root filesystem. To do so, we tell Buildroot to use eudev for /dev management in the “System configuration” submenu (the BR2_ROOTFS_DEVICE_CREATION_DYNAMIC_EUDEV symbol, which automatically selects BR2_PACKAGE_EUDEV).

In turn, PipeWire’s build configuration automatically enables some options if specific dependencies are found. That is why the package/pipewire/pipewire.mk file has sections such as:

ifeq ($(BR2_PACKAGE_NCURSES_WCHAR),y)
PIPEWIRE_DEPENDENCIES += ncurses
endif

Then, in PipeWire’s meson.build, we see ncurses_dep = dependency('ncursesw', required : false) and in src/tools/meson.build:

if ncurses_dep.found()
  executable('pw-top',
    'pw-top.c',
    install: true,
    dependencies : [pipewire_dep, ncurses_dep],
  )
endif

That means pw-top will get built if ncursesw is found; for ncurses the trailing w means wide.

In our specific case, two tools that get conditionally built interest us: pw-top and pw-cat (and its aliases pw-play, pw-record, etc.). The first one will help us monitor the state of active nodes (their busy time, time quantum, etc.) and the second one is capable of playing an audio file by creating a PipeWire source node; it’s the equivalent of aplay, arecord, aplaymidi and arecordmidi. We therefore enable BR2_PACKAGE_NCURSES, BR2_PACKAGE_NCURSES_WCHAR and BR2_PACKAGE_LIBSNDFILE.

One last thing: let’s include an audio test file in our root filesystem image, for easy testing later on. We’ll create a root filesystem overlay directory for this:

$ cd $WORK_DIR
# Create an overlay directory with a .WAV example file
$ mkdir -p overlay/root
# This file is available under a CC BY 3.0 license, see:
# https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Crescendo_example.ogg
$ wget -O example.ogg \
    "https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/6/68/Crescendo_example.ogg"
# aplay only supports the .voc, .wav, .raw or .au formats
$ ffmpeg -i example.ogg overlay/root/example.wav
$ rm example.ogg

# Set BR2_ROOTFS_OVERLAY to "../overlay"
# This can be done through menuconfig as well
$ sed -i 's/BR2_ROOTFS_OVERLAY=""/BR2_ROOTFS_OVERLAY="..\\/overlay"/' \
    buildroot/.config

We now have a Buildroot configuration that includes BusyBox for primitive needs, Dropbear as an SSH server, PipeWire and its associated session manager WirePlumber, with automatic /dev management and tools that will help us in our tests (aplay and pw-play for outputting audio and pw-top to get an overview on PipeWire’s state). WirePlumber comes with a tool called wpctl that gets unconditionally built. make can be run in Buildroot’s folder so that both the cross-compiling toolchain and the root filesystem get generated and put into Buildroot’s output folder; see the manual for more information about Buildroot’s output/ directory. The toolchain’s GCC and binutils programs in particular can be accessed in output/host/bin/, all prefixed with arm-linux-.

Linux kernel

As we now have an available toolchain, we can go ahead by fetching, configuring and compiling the kernel:

# Download and extract the Linux kernel
$ export LINUX_VERSION=5.17.1
$ wget "https://cdn.kernel.org/pub/linux/kernel/v5.x/linux-$LINUX_VERSION.tar.xz"
$ tar xf linux-$LINUX_VERSION.tar.xz
$ mv linux-$LINUX_VERSION linux

If we compile the kernel as such, it wouldn’t know what our target architecture is and what toolchain to use (it would use what can be found in our $PATH environment variable, which is most probably not right). We therefore need to inform it using three environment variables:

  • Update the $PATH to add access to the recently-acquired toolchain, the one available in Buildroot’s output/host/bin/;
  • Set the $ARCH to the target’s architecture, that is arm in our case;
  • Set $CROSS_COMPILE to the prefix on our binutils tools, arm-linux- in our scenario.

To avoid forgetting those every time we interact with the kernel’s build system, we’ll use a small script that throws us into a shell with the right variables:

#!/bin/sh
# Make sure $WORK_DIR is absolute
export WORK_DIR=$(dirname $(realpath $0))
export PATH="$WORK_DIR/buildroot/output/host/bin:$PATH"
export ARCH=arm
export CROSS_COMPILE=arm-linux-

This script will be called kernel.sh from now on.

We can now configure our kernel, using the SAMA5 defconfig as groundwork:

$ source kernel.sh
$ cd linux

$ make sama5_defconfig
$ make menuconfig
  • In “General setup”:
    • Set “Kernel compression mode” to “LZO” (optional, CONFIG_KERNEL_LZO symbol);
    • Set “Preemption model” to “Preemptible kernel” for a-bit-better latencies (optional, CONFIG_PREEMPT symbol); if low-latency audio is necessary the PREEMPT_RT patch is probably the first step, along with many other configuration tweaks; Bootlin’s PREEMPT_RT training might be of use;
  • Enable the CONFIG_SND_USB_AUDIO option, for support of USB sound cards in ALSA.

It’s time for compilation using make, without forgetting the -jN option to allow N simultaneous jobs.

Booting our board

We can now boot the kernel on our SAMA5D3 Xplained board. On the host side, that requires prepping a TFTP server with both the kernel image and the device tree binary as well as a NFS server (using the Linux kernel NFS server) for the root filesystem:

# Export the kernel image and device tree binary to the TFTP's
# root folder
$ sudo cp \
    linux/arch/arm/boot/{zImage,dts/at91-sama5d3_xplained.dtb} \
    /var/lib/tftpboot

# Create the root filesystem folder
$ mkdir rootfs
# Extract it from Buildroot's output
$ tar xf buildroot/output/images/rootfs.tar -C rootfs
# Allow read/write access to IP 192.168.0.100
$ echo "$WORK_DIR/rootfs 192.168.0.100(rw,no_root_squash,no_subtree_check)" \
    | sudo tee -a /etc/exports
# Tell the NFS server about our changes to /etc/exports
$ sudo exportfs -a

Do not forget to configure your host’s network interface to use a static IP and routing table, with a command such as the following:

nmcli con add type ethernet ifname $DEVICE_NAME ip4 192.168.0.1/24

On the target side, we configure U-Boot’s network stack, boot command and boot arguments.

# Connect to the board using a serial adapter
$ picocom -b 115200 /dev/ttyUSB0

# In U-Boot's command line interface:

=> env default -a
=> env set ipaddr 192.168.0.100
=> env set serverip 192.168.0.1
=> env set ethaddr 00:01:02:03:04:05
=> env set bootcmd "tftp 0x21000000 zImage ;
        tftp 0x22000000 at91-sama5d3_xplained.dtb ;
        bootz 0x21000000 - 0x22000000"
=> # $WORK_DIR has to be substituted manually
=> env set bootargs "console=ttyS0 root=/dev/nfs
        nfsroot=192.168.0.1:$WORK_DIR/rootfs,nfsvers=3,tcp
        ip=192.168.0.100:::::eth0 rw"
=> env save
=> boot

Outputting audio

That leads to a successful kernel boot! Once connected through SSH we can start outputting sound, first using ALSA directly:

# The password comes from BR2_TARGET_GENERIC_ROOT_PASSWD
$ ssh root@192.168.0.100

$ aplay -l
**** List of PLAYBACK Hardware Devices ****
card 0: H340 [Logitech USB Headset H340], device 0: USB Audio [USB Audio]
  Subdevices: 1/1
  Subdevice #0: subdevice #0

$ cd /root
$ aplay example.wav
Playing WAVE 'example.wav' : Signed 16 bit Little Endian, Rate 44100 Hz, Mono

It’s time to start fiddling with PipeWire. The current Buildroot packaging for PipeWire and WirePlumber do not provide scripts for starting using the BusyBox init system’s scripts; it provides service and socket systemd units if that is what is used. We’ll have to start them both manually. Naively running pipewire won’t work but it will make the issue explicit:

$ pipewire
[W][00120.281504] pw.context   | [       context.c:  353 pw_context_new()] 0x447970: can't load dbus library: support/libspa-dbus
[E][00120.313251] pw.module    | [   impl-module.c:  276 pw_context_load_module()] No module "libpipewire-module-rt" was found
[E][00120.318522] mod.protocol-native | [module-protocol-:  565 init_socket_name()] server 0x460aa8: name pipewire-0 is not an absolute path and no runtime dir found. Set one of PIPEWIRE_RUNTIME_DIR, XDG_RUNTIME_DIR or USERPROFILE in the environment
[E][00120.320760] pw.conf      | [          conf.c:  559 load_module()] 0x447970: could not load mandatory module "libpipewire-module-protocol-native": No such file or directory
[E][00120.322600] pw.conf      | [          conf.c:  646 create_object()] can't find factory spa-node-factory

The daemon, during startup, tries to create the UNIX socket that will be used by clients to communicate with it; its default name is pipewire-0. However, without specific environment variables, PipeWire does not know where to put it. The fix is therefore to invocate pipewire with the XDG_RUNTIME_DIR variable set:

$ XDG_RUNTIME_DIR=/run pipewire
[W][03032.468669] pw.context   | [       context.c:  353 pw_context_new()] 0x507978: can't load dbus library: support/libspa-dbus
[E][03032.504804] pw.module    | [   impl-module.c:  276 pw_context_load_module()] No module "libpipewire-module-rt" was found
[E][03032.530877] pw.module    | [   impl-module.c:  276 pw_context_load_module()] No module "libpipewire-module-portal" was found

Some warnings still occur, but they do not block PipeWire in its process:

  • The first line is to be expected, as we compiled PipeWire without D-Bus support.
  • The second one is because the default configuration invokes a PipeWire module that makes the daemon process realtime using setpriority(2) and threads using pthread_setschedparam(3) with SCHED_FIFO. This module, until recently, was not getting compiled if D-Bus support wasn’t available as it had a fallback upon RTKit (D-Bus RPC to ask for augmented process priority, used to avoiding giving the privileges to every process). This is fixed in newer versions as the module is now being compiled without RTKit fallback if D-Bus is not available, but the stable Buildroot version we are using is packaging an older version of PipeWire.
  • The third one refers to portal as in xdg-desktop-portal, a D-Bus based interface to expose various APIs to Flatpak applications. This does not matter to us for an embedded use.

The default PipeWire’s daemon configuration can be overridden to remove those warnings: support.dbus in context.properties controls the loading of the D-Bus library, and modules to be loaded are declared in context.modules. The default configuration is located at /usr/share/pipewire/pipewire.conf and a good way to override is it to touch a file with the same name in /etc/pipewire.

Tip: PipeWire’s logging is controlled using the PIPEWIRE_DEBUG environment variable, as described in the documentation.

We can therefore use various PipeWire clients and connect to the daemon: XDG_RUNTIME_DIR=/run pw-top should display both the dummy and freewheel drivers doing nothing, and XDG_RUNTIME_DIR=/run pw-dump gives us a JSON of the list of objects in PipeWire’s global registry.

The reason we do not see our ALSA PCM device is that PipeWire is not responsible for monitoring /dev and adding new nodes to the graph; that is our session manager’s responsability. WirePlumber’s configuration needs to be updated from the default to avoid it crashing because of the lack of a few optional dependencies. To update it, the recommended way is the same as for PipeWire: by overloading the configuration file with one located in /etc/wireplumber. Here are the issues with a default config:

  • It expects the SPA bluez library which has as unconditional dependencies libm, dbus, sbc and bluez. It therefore does not get built and cannot be found at runtime by WirePlumber. wireplumber.conf has a { name = bluetooth.lua, type = config/lua } component, which should be commented out to disable Bluetooth support.
  • v4l2 support, through the SPA v4l2 library, has not been built. This can be enabled using the BR2_PACKAGE_PIPEWIRE_V4L2 flag. Disabling the v4l2 monitor requires not calling the v4l2_monitor.enable(), which needs to be commented out in /usr/share/wireplumber/main.lua.d/90-enable-all.lua (Lua’s comments start with two dashes).
  • The ALSA monitor tries to reserve ALSA devices using the org.freedesktop.ReserveDevice1 D-Bus-based protocol.
  • Similarly to PipeWire’s libpipewire-module-portal, WirePlumber has support for Flatpak’s portal, which needs to be disabled as it relies on DBus.

The last two issues can be solved by using the following Lua configuration script, in /etc/wireplumber/main.lua.d/90-disable-dbus.lua:

alsa_monitor.properties["alsa.reserve"] = false
default_access.properties["enable-flatpak-portal"] = false

Once all that is done, WirePlumber’s daemon keeps running and successfully connects to PipeWire:

$ XDG_RUNTIME_DIR=/run wireplumber
M 03:05:17.904989                 pw ../src/pipewire/context.c:353:pw_context_new: 0x4f21d8: can't load dbus library: support/libspa-dbus

The remaining warning can be gotted rid of by setting support.dbus = false in the context.properties section of WirePlumber’s primary configuration.

Tip: those modifications can be added to our filesystem overlay for persistance accross rebuilds of our root filesystem image.

That’s it! WirePlumber now has detected our ALSA sink and source, adding them as nodes to the PipeWire graph. It will detect source nodes that we add to the graph and will link them to the ALSA sink node, outputting audio for our ears to enjoy.

pw-dot, called without any argument, will generate a pw.dot file that represents the active nodes, their ports and the links in the current graph. A .dot file is a textual description of a graph which can be turned graphical using a tool from the Graphviz project. It is simpler to install Graphviz on your host PC, using your favorite package manager, and copy the pw.dot file from the target to the host (a simple local copy as we are using an NFS root filesystem). A SVG file can then be generated as such:

dot -Tsvg pw.dot > pw.svg

Here is what the graph looks like when audio is being outputted using a single source:

PipeWire graph generated by pw-dot, click to see in full size

Conclusion

We have managed to create a rather bare image, with WirePlumber monitoring ALSA devices and adding them as devices and nodes to the PipeWire graph. WirePlumber automatically creates links between source nodes and the default sink node, which means that audio is outputted.

The next step is to create our own custom PipeWire source node. We’ll be able to use the PipeWire API through libpipewire and see what information and capabilities it exposes relative to the overall graph.