2018 at Bootlin, a year in review

First of all, the entire team at Bootlin wishes you a Happy New Year, and best wishes for 2019 in your personal and professional life. The beginning of the new year is a good time to look back and see the achievements of the past year, which is why we review the 2018 year in terms of Bootlin news and activity:

We’re now called Bootlin

Due to a legal battle related to trademarks, we decided to change our name to Bootlin at the beginning of 2018. The company was not sold or purchased, it is still owned by the same people, and driven by the same team of engineers. This change of name obviously took a lot of time, which could have been used for other more productive contribution activities, but it’s finally done, and in 2019 we can move on and leave this legal battle behind us. See our blog post for more details.

Kernel contributions

In 2018, we contributed to the 4.15, 4.16, 4.17, 4.18, 4.19 and 4.20 kernel releases a total of 1365 commits, putting Bootlin regularly in the top 20 companies contributing to the Linux kernel.

Our most significant contributions have been:

  • Thanks to a successful crowdfunding campaign launched in February, we have been able to dedicate enough time to develop and upstream a Linux kernel driver and associated user-space library to support hardware-accelerated video decoding on Allwinner processors. This was a massive effort as it required discussing with the Linux kernel community a new set of userspace interfaces to support stateless video decoders. The base of our driver was merged in Linux 4.20 and supports only MPEG2 decoding. Support for H264 and H265 decoding is ready and has been posted several times, but discussions on the userspace interface are still on-going. See our numerous blog posts and especially the end of year status.
  • We have developed and contributed a brand new Linux kernel subsystem to support the MIPI I3C bus, a modern bus offering an alternative to SPI or I2C. Being vastly different from I2C, it required a completely separate subsystem located in drivers/i3c/. Along with the core subsystem itself, we developed a driver for the Cadence I3C master, and a driver for a Cadence I3C GPIO expander. See our blog posts on I3C for more details.
  • We contributed a new interface called exec_op for NAND flash controller drivers, which allows the MTD subsystem to more easily support optimized NAND flash controllers and vendor-specific NAND commands. This new interface was originally developed for the Marvell NAND controller driver, but a number of other drivers have been converted since then, and all new drivers make use of his interface. See our blog post for more details.
  • We contributed support for the Microsemi VSC7513 and VSC7514 MIPS processors, with the base support (irqchip, pinctrl, gpio, reset, DT) but more importantly a massive switchdev driver to support the major feature of these processors: a built-in gigabit Ethernet switch. Our switchdev driver supports bridging, STP, IGMP snooping, VLAN filtering and link aggregation. See our blog posts about platform support and switchdev support.
  • We contributed a new subsystem called spi-mem, which allows to support SPI flash memories in a generic way, re-using SPI controller drivers for regular SPI devices, SPI NOR flashes and SPI NAND flashes, instead of having separate controller drivers as was done until now for SPI NOR support. On top of spi-mem, we added support for SPI NAND flash memories to Linux. See our blog post on spi-mem: bringing some consistency to the SPI memory ecosystem.
  • We contributed a number of drivers for Cadence hardware IPs: Cadence MIPI CSI receiver, Cadence MIPI CSI transceiver, Cadence DSI encoder, Cadence PCIe host controller, Cadence PCIe endpoint controller and as detailed above Cadence I3C master controller.
  • We continued to work on improving the support for Marvell ARM processors
    • Improvements in the inside-secure crypto accelerator driver: support for new crypto algorithms, support for the EIP97 variant which enabled using the driver on Armada 37xx in addition to the already support EIP197 variant used on Armada 7K/8K, numerous fixes and performance improvements
    • Improvements in the mvpp2 network controller driver, used on Armada 7K/8K: RSS support, support for SFP ports, HW offloading for VLAN filtering, 1000baseX and 2500baseX support
    • On Armada 7K/8K, we added support for the NAND controller and the thermal sensors.
    • On Armada 37xx, we added cpufreq support and the first pieces of suspend/resume support.
  • Allwinner platform support improvements: of course the Allwinner VPU driver detailed above, but also general improvements to the Allwinner A83 support (for which we delivered a complete BSP for a customer), improvements to the sun4i display driver (especially support for YUV planes, and MIPI DSI support on Allwinner A33), improvements to the sun8i-codec audio driver, and improvements to the AXP209 and AXP813 PMIC drivers.
  • For Microchip/Atmel platforms, we continued our maintenance work, with a focus this year on reworking the representation of the platform clocks in the Device Tree.

U-Boot contributions

Even if Bootlin is mainly active as a Linux kernel contributor, we also contribute to U-Boot, and we have been more active in 2018 than we were in the past. In a recent blog post, we summarized our most significant contributions:

  • Support for SPI NAND memories, as well as a significant sync of the MTD stack in U-Boot with the one from Linux, and the introduction of a generic mtd U-Boot command to manipulate all types of flash memories
  • Generic support for TPMv2 and for TPMv2 chips connected over SPI
  • Brand new subsystem to support 1-wire controllers and devices
  • Support for the Microsemi Ocelot and Luton MIPS processors. We also contributed support for Microsemi Ocelot to Linux, as discussed above
  • Support for the ARM PL022 SPI controller
  • Support for multiple U-Boot environment backends
  • Support for Microsemi VSC8574 and VSC8584 Ethernet PHYs

In total, we contributed 172 commits to U-Boot in 2018.

Other contributions

Beyond Linux and U-Boot, we also contributed to a few other open-source projects:

Other engineering projects

While many of our engineering projects are directly related to upstream contributions, which have been described above, some are not always leading to direct contributions. Here is a small selection of other interesting projects we worked on in 2018:

  • For a German customer in the healthcare industry, wrote a complete U-Boot, Linux and Buildroot BSP for a custom NXP i.MX6 platform.
  • For an international company in the TV/set-top box industry, worked on adding support for top-level parallel build to Buildroot.
  • For a Netherlands based customer in the gaming industry, wrote a complete U-Boot, Linux and Buildrot BSP for a custom Allwinner A33 platform, with significant boot time optimization to quickly boot up to a Qt5 OpenGL application.
  • For a Spanish customer, brought up a PCM1789 audio codec connected to a NXP i.MX6 processor, and for an Italian customer, brought up a CS4272 audio codec connected to an Allwinner A20 processor. Under Linux, of course!
  • We continued working for a major US customer, delivering an i.MX6 and SPEAr600 Linux BSP based on Yocto. Our work in 2018 was mainly focused on supporting secure boot on i.MX6 (see our talk at ELC on this topic) and porting a modern version of U-Boot on the SPEAr600 platform.
  • For a customer in Chile, we worked on supporting a OV5640 camera sensor connected over CSI to an Allwinner H3 platform. Thanks to this, we made a significant number of improvements to the OV5640 driver.
  • We have continued to maintain toolchains.bootlin.com, by keeping the toolchains reguarly updated, and adding support for the RISC-V 64 bit architecture. See our blog posts.


In 2018, Bootlin was at a large number of conferences and events:


In 2018, we gave our Embedded Linux, Linux kernel, Yocto Project and Buildroot training courses on-site in the United States, Portugal, Belgium, Germany, France, Spain, Serbia, Greece, Bosnia, Finland and Switzerland. As you can see, we travel all around the world to teach our training courses.

Of course, we continued our public training sessions organized in Avignon (France), given in English by Bootlin founder and CEO Michael Opdenacker.

In 2018, we made 217 commits to our training materials Git repository, showing our continuous work to keep them updated. Our training materials remain all freely available under a Creative Commons CC-BY-SA license, as they have been since Bootlin creation fifteen years ago.

Office expansion

In 2018, we expanded both our Toulouse and Lyon offices:

  • We moved our office in Toulouse mid-2018 from a 100m² surface to a 180m² one, offering more room for the existing team, and room to expand the team in the coming years. As of January 1, 2019, we have a team of 8 engineers working in Toulouse.
  • We moved our office in Lyon end of 2018 from a small one room office of 30m² to a full office of 100m², here as well to expand the team in the coming years. As of January 1, 2019, the team in Lyon has 2 engineers, but we hope to increase this number soon (see Recruiting below).


In terms of recruiting:

  • Maxime Chevallier joined us in February 2018, and has since then been mostly working on networking topics on Marvell platforms, but also a few other engineering projects.
  • Paul Kocialkowski joined us in March 2018 for an internship focused on the Allwinner VPU development and then was hired as a full-time engineer starting November 2018.
  • Thanks to our office expansion in Lyon, we have an open position for a Embedded Linux and Kernel engineer with existing experience in Lyon. See our blog post (in French) for more details.
  • We have openings for several internships in 2019, on Linux, U-Boot, Buildroot and Elixir related topics. See our blog post (in French).

Financial support

In 2018, we continued to support organizations and events who promote and defend Free Software:

  • Donating 1,024 EUR to Framasoft, an organization whose goal (in addition to supporting Free Software) is to decentralize Internet services. For example, they made a huge effort to release PeerTube in 2018, a peer-to-peer and of course Free Software alternative to centralized video hosting solutions.
  • Donating 1,024 EUR to Wikimedia France, to support free knowledge sharing through projects such as Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons.
  • Donating 1,024 EUR to April, a French organization doing terrific work to promote Free Software, to follow the evolution of national and European law, and to animate campaigns to keep our political representatives aware of the needs of Free Software developers and users.
  • We also sponsored the Capitole du Libre 2018 (250 EUR) and Buildroot Developers Meeting 2018 in Edinburgh (250 EUR) events.
  • And of course, we support the LWN.net on-line weekly column through a corporate subscription (810 USD).
  • Last words

    We have plenty of ideas for 2019, so stay tuned for more news. We hope that 2019 will be a great year for you too, with many contributions of all kinds to the lives of others.

    A year of Bootlin contributions to U-Boot

    We regularly post about Bootlin contributions to the Linux kernel, but we more rarely post about our U-Boot contributions. Even though we are a bit less active in U-Boot than we are in Linux, we do quite a bit of upstream U-Boot work as well. In this blog post, we do a review of our most significant U-Boot contributions in 2018.

    U-Boot 2018.03

    Maxime Ripard contributed support for using multiple U-Boot environments. Thanks to this, multiple U-Boot environment backends can be compiled into a single U-Boot binary, so that it can support falling back to a different environment backend if needed. For example, U-Boot can try to load an environment from a file in a FAT partition, and if that fails, try to load from raw MMC storage. As explained by Maxime Ripard in his cover letter, this is useful to help converting Allwinner-based platforms from an environment stored in raw MMC to an environment stored in a FAT partition.

    U-Boot 2018.05

    Miquèl Raynal contributed support for the Allwinner A33 based Nintendo NES Classic platform. It was also the first Allwinner A33 platform supported in U-Boot that boots from NAND, so as part of this work, Miquèl had to change the Allwinner NAND driver used in the SPL to make it work on Allwinner A31, which required using PIO transfers instead of DMA, and a number of other changes.

    U-Boot 2018.07

    Miquèl Raynal contributed generic support for TPMv2, and also specifically support for TPMv2 chips over SPI. We will publish a more detailed blog post about this topic in the near future.

    U-Boot 2018.09

    Quentin Schulz improved the env import command so that it can filter the environment variables it loads from the provided environment. This allows to white-list only a few selected environment variables in cases where the system is locked down by secure boot, but we still need a small writable U-Boot environment to store a few variables. As part of this release, Miquèl Raynal also contributed a few TPM-related fixes.

    U-Boot 2018.11

    • Miquèl Raynal contributed a lot of changes in the MTD subsystem, which brought support for SPI NAND flash memories in U-Boot. We described this work in a previous blog post. Boris Brezillon helped by submitting a number of fixes related to this effort.
    • Miquèl Raynal contributed a new mtd command, which can be used in a generic way to access all flash memories. This command will replace commands such as sf, nand, etc. We will publish in the near future a separate blog post about this topic.
    • Quentin Schulz contributed a SPI controller driver for the ARM PL022 SPI controller, which we are using on an old STMicro SPEAr600 platform.
    • Maxime Ripard contributed a brand new subsystem to support One Wire devices. This work was initially started by Maxime years ago as part of our work on the CHIP platform from Nextthing, and was picked up by Eugen Hristev from Microchip who pushed it all the way to upstream U-Boot.

    U-Boot 2019.01

    • Grégory Clement contributed the support for the Microchip/Microsemi Ocelot and Luton MIPS platforms, which includes the core code, but also a GPIO driver and a pinctrl driver.
    • Boris Brezillon contributed a number of fixes in the MTD subsystem to address various issues introduced by our work on this subsystem in the previous release.
    • Quentin Schulz contributed support for the VSC8574 and VSC8584 Ethernet PHYs from Microchip/Microsemi.
    • Miquèl Raynal improved the NAND controller driver for Marvell platforms by adding raw read support, which was used to add support for NAND chips using 2 KB pages and a ECC strength of 8 bits.

    Overall contribution statistics

    Overall, during this year, Bootlin engineer Miquèl Raynal contributed 90 commits, Maxime Ripard 33 commits, Boris Brezillon 24 commits, Quentin Schulz 14 commits, Grégory Clement 9 commits and Mylène Josserand 2 commits, a total of 172 commits, including some significant new features: SPI NAND support, TPMv2 support, One Wire subsystem, Ocelot and Luton platform support, ARM PL022 SPI controller support, support for additional Ethernet PHY, support for multiple environments.

    We expect to continue our involvement in upstream U-Boot development, starting with a new network driver for the Microchip/Microsemi Ocelot and Luton platforms.

    Detailed list of our contributions

    Linux 4.20 released, Bootlin contributions

    Penguin from Mylène Josserand
    Drawing from Mylène Josserand, based on a picture from Samuel Blanc (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Manchot_royal_-_King_Penguin.jpg)
    The Linux 4.20 kernel has been released just before Christmas, on December 23. As usual, LWN had a very nice coverage of the most significant features and improvements provided by this new release as part of the merge window articles: part 1 and part 2.

    Bootlin once again contributed to this Linux 4.20 release, with a total of 216 non-merge commits, which puts us the 13th contributing company by number of commits and the 8th contributing company by number of lines changed, according to LWN statistics for the 4.20 release.

    Significant Bootlin contributions

    For Linux 4.20, the most significant contributions from Bootlin have been:

    • On the support for Marvell platforms
      • Antoine Ténart reworked how the “software thread” mechanism is handled in the mvpp2 network driver, used on Marvell Armada 375 and 7K/8K.
      • Maxime Chevallier enabled XPS support in the same mvpp2 driver
      • Maxime Chevallier added logic to support 2.5G speed in the mvneta driver, but this logic is not enabled yet, as we don’t have the necessary COMPHY driver for Armada 38x to really allow using 2.5G speed.
      • Miquèl Raynal added suspend/resume support for the Armada 37xx clock driver. This is part of a larger work to enable suspend/resume on the Armada 37xx platform.
      • Miquèl Raynal improved the Marvell ICU driver to support SEI interrupts. The ICU is the Interrupt Collector Unit, found on Marvell Armada 7K/8K. It turns wired interrupts from a part of the chip called the “Communication Processor” (CP) into message interrupts so that they can be notified to the other part of the chip called the “Application Processor” (AP), which contains the CPU core and GIC.
      • Thomas Petazzoni introduced some common code in the PCI subsystem to emulate a PCI root port bridge, and converted the pci-mvebu and pci-aardvark drivers to use it. pci-mvebu already had such an emulation logic, but since it became also needed for pci-aardvark, we turn it into a piece of common code so that it can be shared by both drivers (and perhaps others in the future). pci-mvebu is used on Marvell Armada XP, 370, 375, 38x, while pci-aardvark is used on Marvell Armada 37xx.
    • On the support for Allwinner platforms
      • Paul Kocialkowski contributed the Cedrus VPU driver, with for now just MPEG2 decoding support. This work was done thanks to the successful crowd-funding campaign we did in February/March 2018.
      • Paul Kocialkowski contributed a few fixes to the sun4i DRM display driver.
    • On the support for Microchip/Microsemi MIPS platforms
      • Alexandre Belloni added support for the Microsemi Jaguar2 in the Designware SPI controller driver
      • Alexandre Belloni added support for the Microsemi Ocelot in the Designware I2C controller driver
      • Quentin Schulz contributed a new driver in the PHY subsystem to configure the SERDES muxing on Microsemi Ocelot platforms
      • Quentin Schulz contributed a new Device Tree description for the Microsemi Ocelot PCB120 platform
    • On the support Microchip/Atmel ARM platforms
      • Alexandre Belloni got the first step of the clock drivers rework merged. The purpose of this rework is to move from a Device Tree representation with one Device Tree node per clock to a much simpler representation with only one Device Tree node for the whole clock controller. The SAMA5D2, SAMA5D4, AT91SAM9260, AT91SAM9x5 at AT91SAM9RL clock drivers have already been converted. Other platforms and DT changes will arrive in future releases.
    • In the support for RaspberryPi platforms
      • Boris Brezillon contributed a few minor fixes for the vc4 DRM driver.
    • In the RTC subsystem
      • As the subsystem maintainer, Alexandre Belloni as usual did a number of cleanups and improvements in numerous drivers, especially to use more modern APIs where possible.
    • In the network subsystem
      • Quentin Schulz contributed extensive support for the Microsemi VSC8574 and VSC8584 Ethernet PHYs.
    • In the MTD subsystem
      • Subsystem maintainer Boris Brezillon did a lot of changes to pass a nand_chip object to numerous NAND subsystem hooks, and fixed all the drivers accordingly.
      • Boris Brezillon also deprecated a significant number of NAND subsystem hooks, by introducing a nand_legacy structure with legacy hooks. This should encourage developers to move their drivers to the more modern MTD/NAND APIs.

    Bootlin maintainers activity

    A number of Bootlin engineers are maintainers in the Linux kernel, so their work is not visible as patch authors, but rather as developers reviewing and merging patches contributed by others. As part of this maintainer work:

    • Maxime Ripard reviewed and merged 47 patches from other developers, as the Allwinner platform co-maintainer
    • Boris Brezillon reviewed and merged 36 patches from other developers, as the MTD subsystem co-maintainer
    • Alexandre Belloni reviewed and merged 64 patches from other developers, as the RTC subsystem maintainer and the Microchip/Atmel platform co-maintainer
    • Grégory Clement reviewed and merged 25 patches from other developers, as the Marvell platform co-maintainer
    • Miquèl Raynal reviewed and merged 71 patches from other developers, as the NAND subsystem co-maintainer

    Detailed list of Bootlin contributions

    MIPI I3C support is now in upstream Linux

    MIPI I3C specification publishedBack in August 2017, we wrote in a blog post about the first iteration of the Linux kernel subsystem we proposed to support the brand new MIPI I3C bus. Almost a year and half later, there are some really good news:

    • The Linux I3C support now has its own Git repository on kernel.org
    • The Linux I3C community has its mailing list.
    • Besides the first I3C controller driver we wrote for the Cadence I3C Master, Synopsys has contributed a second driver for their I3C master IP: i3c: master: Add driver for Synopsys DesignWare IP. This definitely helped show that there is interest in I3C beyond our contributions, and also helped validate that the subsystem was working fine for a different I3C controller.
    • The Linux I3C tree has been part of linux-next since November 6, 2018: linux-next: Tree for Nov 6.
    • The Linux I3C subsystem has received a Reviewed-by: Arnd Bergmann and later on a Acked-by: Greg Kroah-Hartman, which were two key approvals to move forward with the merging of I3C support.
    • I3C subsystem maintainer Boris Brezillon has therefore sent a pull request to get this subsystem merged in the upcoming 4.21 (or 5.0 ?) Linux kernel: [GIT PULL] i3c: Initial pull request, and this pull request has been merged by Linus Torvalds, so the I3C subsystem is now visible in Linus Git tree: drivers/i3c. The merge commit has been done on December 25, so it arrived as a very nice Christmas present!

    It has been a long process, but we are proud and happy to have pioneered the support for I3C in the Linux kernel, from the design of the subsystem based on the I3C specifications all the way to its merging in the upstream Linux kernel and the creation of a small (but hopefully growing) community of developers around it.

    Buildroot 2018.11 released, Bootlin contributions inside

    Buildroot logoThe 2018.11 release of Buildroot was published a few days ago. As is well-known, Bootlin is a strong contributor to this project, and this blog post proposes a summary of the new features provided by 2018.11, and highlights the contributions made by Bootlin.

    What’s new in 2018.11 ?

    • From a CPU architecture support point of view, by far the most important addition is support for the RISC-V 64 architecture. For now, only the 64-bit version of the architecture is supported, but the patches for the 32-bit version have been posted already, and will hopefully be merged for the next release. It is worth mentioning that we have already used the RISC-V 64 support in Buildroot to provide a pre-built toolchain for this architecture on our toolchains.bootlin.com site.
    • In the toolchain support area, the most important change is that glibc was upgraded to version 2.28. This caused a number of build issues with various packages, which were detected by the project autobuilders and fixed. musl was bumped to version 1.1.20, and the ARM (formerly Linaro) pre-built toolchains for ARM and AArch64 were updated.
    • The support for hardening flags, i.e flags passed to gcc to improve the “security” of programs, has been changed, and is now done directly as part of the compiler wrapper that Buildroot has. Indeed, when using Buildroot, arm-linux-gcc is not directly the usual gcc compiler, but a small wrapper program that Buildroot uses to make sure we always pass the appropriate flags when calling the cross-compiler. Passing those hardening flags through the wrapper allowed to solve a number of build issues. Options such as BR2_RELRO_PARTIAL, BR2_RELRO_FULL, BR2_SSP_REGULAR, BR2_SSP_STRONG and BR2_SSP_ALL should therefore work better now.
    • In terms of filesystem images, while Buildroot already supports the most popular filesystem types, two additional filesystems are now supported: btrfs and f2fs.
    • A number of new default configuration for various boards have been added: Amarula a64-relic, Bananapi m2 ultra, Embest riotboard, Hardkernel Odroid XU-4, QEMU riscv64-virt.
    • A number of packages have been added: bird, bluez5_utils-headers, btrfs-progs, checksec, davici, duktape, ell, haproxy, libclc, libcorrect, libopencl, libopenresolv, nss-myhostname, riscv-pk, sedutil, spandsp, tini, waffle, xapian, not counting the dozens of new Perl and Python modules that have been added.

    Bootlin contributions

    By far and large, the most significant contribution from Bootlin to Buildroot is the activity of Thomas Petazzoni as a co-maintainer for the project. Out of the 1366 commits made between the 2018.08 and 2018.11 release, Thomas authored 126 commits, but more importantly reviewed and merged 883 patches from other developers, or in other words 64% of the commits that have been made.

    As part of the 127 commits Bootlin contributed, we:

    • Fixed a large number of build issues reported by the autobuilder, or by the CI testing the build of our defconfigs.
    • Introduced a make check-package target to more easily use Buildroot check-package tool to verify the coding style of packages.
    • Updated the musl C library to 1.1.20.
    • Updated the Solidrun MacchiatoBin defconfigs (board powered by a Marvell Armada 8K processor) to use the most recent kernel, U-Boot and ATF versions.
    • Started adding a virtual package for opencl.
    • Fixed a number of missing dependencies on host-pkgconf (i.e pkg-config) which were detected by our work on per-package directories, that we will discuss in a future blog post.

    Here is the detailed list of our contributions to this release:

    Updated cross-compilation toolchains, RISC-V 64 bit toolchain added

    RISC-V 64 toolchainWe have just published an updated version of the cross-compilation toolchains available at toolchains.bootlin.com.

    The significant changes are:

    • A RISC-V 64 bit toolchain is now provided, following the addition of support for this architecture to the Buildroot project.
    • The stable toolchains are now using gcc 7.3.0 (instead of 6.4.0), gdb 7.12.1 (instead of 7.11.1), kernel headers 4.1.52 (instead of 4.1.49), glibc 2.27 (instead of 2.26), musl 1.1.19 (instead of 1.1.18) and uclibc 1.0.30 (instead of 1.0.28). We are still using a 7.x gdb version because the 8.x versions need C++11 support, which requires a recent enough host compiler, which in turn requires using a more modern distribution. Thus, those toolchains would be unusable with older distributions as they would require a recent glibc version on the host. Currently, our stable toolchains are still built within an old Debian Squeeze system, for maximum compatibility with old distributions.
    • The bleeding-edge toolchains are still using gcc 8.2.0, but gdb is now 8.1.1 (instead of 8.1), kernel headers 4.14.80 (instead of 4.14.57), glibc 2.28 (instead of 2.27), musl 1.1.20 (instead of 1.1.19).

    We will continue to update those toolchains with more recent versions of gcc, binutils, gdb and the different C libraries, and add support for more architectures. Do not hesitate to ask for additional features or report any issue encountered when using those toolchains in our bug tracker.

    Bootlin at Capitole du Libre in Toulouse, France

    Capitole du LibreNext week-end, a local free and open-source software conference called Capitole du Libre will take place in Toulouse, France, where Bootlin has one of its offices. Bootlin will participate to this event in several ways:

    We encourage free software developers and users from the south west of France to join this event, which has been organized for several years, and provides a very nice selection of talks and tutorials. And of course, this conference is entirely free, and no registration is required.

    Back from ELCE 2018: our selection of talks

    The Embedded Linux Conference Europe edition 2018 took place a few weeks ago in Edinburgh, Scotland, and no less than 9 engineers from Bootlin attended the conference. While our previous blog post shared the videos and slides of our talks, tutorials and demos, in this blog post we would like to highlight a selection of talks that Bootlin engineers found interesting. We asked each of the 9 engineers who attended the event to pick one talk they liked, and make a small write-up about it. Of course, many other talks were interesting and what makes a talk interesting is very subjective!

    Getting Your Patches in Mainline Linux: What Not To Do (and a Few Things You Could Try Instead), by Marc Zyngier

    Talk selected by Maxime Ripard

    Marc gave a talk on a subject that is often debated, and still confusing to newcomers: how to contribute. He first started by presenting the various actors involved in a contribution: a contributor, a maintainer and a reviewer. He also took the time to explain the various objectives that everyone has which is something that is often overlooked by the other parties and the conferences on this subject. He then went on to explain and document the good practices that can be used in order to contribute to most subsystems. This was overall a great overview, and we definitely recommend it to people willing to start contributing.

    Real Time is Coming to Linux; What Does that Mean to You? , by Steven Rostedt

    Talk selected by Michael Opdenacker

    In this talk about PREEMPT_RT, the speaker, who’s a long time contributor to this feature, was approaching the subject on a new angle, taking for granted that PREEMPT_RT is in mainline Linux. That’s not quite right yet, but this is possible before the next Embedded Linux Conference, in August next year. One proof that this is on the verge of being true is that its authors no longer call it a patch set, but just PREEMPT_RT. Rostedt also added that Linux can now be called a Deterministic Operating System (aka DOS!).

    So, Rostedt first explains what PREEMPT_RT is about and how it addresses the challenges of users who are determined to be deterministic (that’s my pun here, not Steven’s).

    Doing this, Steven recalled the “Priority inheritance” issue that is best known through the fact that it happened on Mars on the Pathfinder robot. A high priority and critical system process got starved by a lower priority one because an even lower priority process was holding the lock the high priority process was waiting for, causing some system services to be unavailable. This caused a watchdog to kick in and reboot the system endlessly. Such an issue is addressed by “Priority inheritance”, allowing a lock-holding process to inherit the priority of the highest priority process waiting for the lock. Priority inheritance is now supported in kernel locks thanks to PREEMPT_RT.

    By the way, I learned that there are now 5 preemption models in the kernel, instead of four originally with PREEMPT_RT. There is now a “Basic RT” option in which you have all the PREEMPT_RT features except the sleeping spinlocks, which is useful for debugging such features.

    So now that PREEMPT_RT is almost in mainline, what should kernel developers do? The main thing is to stop adding non determinism to Linux. For example, Rostedt strongly advised against rw_locks and semaphores on multiple CPUs. That’s horrible for cache lines, as they do not scale. You should use RCU mechanisms instead.

    As a kernel developer, you shouldn’t use preempt_disable() either, unless you know it is done for a very short amount of time. Similarly, if you find code that uses local_irq_save(), that’s most likely a bug. Instead, people should use spin_lock_irqsave() and spin_lock_irq(), which disable interrupts only when PREEMPT_RT is not enabled.

    Rostedt ended his talk by answering a question about what will remain of the PREEMPT_RT patch set. Even when the most important parts of PREEMPT_RT are in mainline, some changesets are likely to remain for some time, just to address cases that don’t have a solution yet. 99.9% of the users will be able to do without it. That’s what a mainline solution means: no patches to apply.

    Uh-oh, It’s I/O Ordering! by Will Deacon

    Talk selected by Miquèl Raynal

    Will gave his second talk at an ELCE about I/O ordering, 6 years after the first talk on that subject. For this purpose, he started with an introduction to the memory consistency models (in 5 minutes!) to show the audience how a very simple program, ran on two CPUs, could produce very strange results due to store buffering. Because his assumption was a bit hard to believe for such a simple program, he proved us he was right by actually running it on his laptop. While such kind of tricky behavior applies to memory, the same odd situation may happen with I/Os! After a theoretical explanation, he gave a few examples (mostly taken from the mainline Linux kernel) of good and bad code sections and explained why. If you are a device driver writer, this talk should be of interest! The examples are real use cases that you might encounter someday (if not already) and knowing how to workaround the most generic caveats with the right memory barrier or even doing a dummy read to enforce ordering is something you will want to master to avoid strange random bugs.


    The Power Supply Subsystem, by Sebastian Reichel

    Talk selected by Quentin Schulz

    Sebastian started the talk by presenting what this subsystem is used for and its history, which he knows in great length since he took over the maintainership of the power supply subsystem in the Linux kernel in 2014. While it’s not the subsystem with the hardest concepts to grasp, Sebastian explained that he aimed, with his talk, at providing an accessible approach to the subsystem for people who’re trying to get started in the Linux kernel or in this specific subsystem. Having contributed to this subsystem a few patches and drivers in my early days as a kernel developer, I can say that I wish I had seen his talk before to quicken my understanding of the power supply subsystem. Scrolling down the slides, he presented a very simple example of a dummy driver, Device Tree nodes and how to configure what’s exposed to sysfs. Sebastian also gave a few words on Open-Circuit Voltage in batteries which is interesting for getting more precise values of the battery capacity depending on its age and temperature, and the ongoing work on supporting this in the kernel. He concluded with the future plans for the subsystem, which are mainly related to batteries, their fuel gauges and chargers.


    The End of Time, 19 Years to Go, by Arnd Bergmann

    Talk selected by Alexandre Belloni

    Arnd gave an update on the status of the effort to get a 32-bit kernel handle the 32-bit time_t overflow which will happen in January 2038. He first started to explain why this is necessary. This boils down to the huge number of 32-bit products that are still being introduced on the market with some of them having a very long service life. Arnd said this work has been on-going since 2014, when John Stultz switched the internal timekeeping code to a 64-bit second counter. The device drivers then needed fixing. This was done by addressing them individually by changing:

    • time* to ktime_t
    • time* to jiffies
    • time_t to time64_t
    • timespec/timeval to timespec64

    The driver userspace interface also needed to be changed. Some IOCTLs were easy to change because they are already using different numbers depending on the size of the argument they take. The other IOCTLs had to be redefined. It gets worse Arnd said, explaining how the read, write and mmap callbacks are getting fixed.

    While the VFS layer got fixed earlier this year, some filesystems are still work in progress and other ones are not fixable because they use a 32-bit time on disk. The only way is to move away from those.

    Arnd then went over the biggest remaining part of the work, the system calls. The 32-bit compat syscalls mechanism is reused and a __kernel_timespec type has been introduced to handle time at the boundary. He then listed the affected system calls and their current status.

    He ended by talking about userspace and the plan to handle the issue in glibc. Finally, he mentioned what distributions will have to do.


    On this Rock I will Build my System – Why Open-Source Firmware Matters, by Lucas Stach

    Talk selected by Grégory Clement

    Lucas started to present what we used to have in embedded world: a minimalist firmware which acts only as a bootloader and with no interaction with the kernel.

    Then he showed why with the virtualization there were some needs to have CPU power management in a single place. This was defined by the PSCI: the purpose of it was to have the bare-metal and the virtualized kernel seeing the same interface. What should have been a simple and delimited interface then became more and more complex due to the hardware constraints. Indeed, in many SoCs multiples devices or CPUs can share the same register. Besides, an interface such as the I2C used by a PMIC can also be shared. This lead to moving the entire register inside the firmware or to have lock mechanisms between the kernel and the firmware. In conclusion, the kernel implementation became easier but at the expense of a complex firmware.

    The sad news, is that most of the firmwares are not copyleft which can lead to closed source binaries, making the debugging very difficult for the kernel. Even if the firmware remains open source, having the hardware management split in two parts, makes the debugging more complex. However, there is nothing we can do about it, because there are valid reasons to have a firmware. The only thing we should be vigilant about is the openness of the firmware source.


    Handling Security Flaws in an Open Source Project, by Jeremy Allison

    Talk selected by Antoine Ténart

    Samba is a well known re-implementation of the SMB protocol and as such is used in several consumer devices — such as NAS. As open source software are more and more used in new products, correctly handling security flaws and their fixes is becoming an important topic.

    Jeremy Allison, one of the core developers of Samba, gave a talk about how Samba is dealing with security issues and what questions other projects should ask themselves to handle those the right way. He talked about the process to put in place to take security seriously, how to respond to vulnerability reporters and to security issues, and how to notify downstream vendors so that products in the wild are patched before the CVE is made public.

    Jeremy Allison also presented three examples of security flaws in Samba. He described how they were handled at the time, the difficulties the Samba developers encountered, and gave a postmortem.

    Security is important and we found this talk to be a must-see for open source maintainers and developers, as it gave a good insight on how to properly handle security vulnerabilities in a project. One of the key points was how to coordinate the security responses to avoid having the users being at risk.


    Improve Linux User-Space Core Libraries with Restartable Sequences, by Mathieu Desnoyers

    Talk selected by Maxime Chevallier

    Following-up on the good LWN coverage of the restartable sequences, Mathieu Desnoyers gave an interesting talk on the current userspace support, and some feedback regarding the shortcomings of the current implementation.

    Restartable sequences allow to implement lockless per-cpu sections of code, that will be automatically aborted (or restarted) whenever migration, preemption or signal delivery occurs before the final “commit” operation is done.

    This is useful to read some performance counters from userspace with a minimal overhead since there’s no lock involved to protect the critical section.

    Mathieu explained that these critical sections need to be written in assembly code, but thanks to the librseq and its set of macros, users shouldn’t have to worry about this.

    Mathieu then presented some of the shortcomings of rseqs, one of them being that they can’t be debugged in step-by-step (since a signal interrupts the sequence, causing it to abort). To solve these shortcomings, Mathieu gave a quick glimpse of a possible new system-call, cpu_opv(), that would allow users to execute a limited sequence of instructions with preemption and migration disabled.

    Power Debugging with JTAG, by Patrick Titiano & Alexandre Bailon, Baylibre

    Talk selected by Thomas Petazzoni

    In this talk, BayLibre engineers Patrick Titiano and Alexandre Bailon introduced libSoCCA (SoC Continuous Analyzer), a Python library that allows to watch over JTAG what a SoC is doing.

    This library allows remote access to the registers of a SoC through JTAG, and uses the SoC interconnect debug port rather than the CPU debug port. Non-intrusive observation of what the SoC is doing is thus possible, even when the CPU is idle or in a low-power state.

    libSoCCA uses SVD (System View Description) files, which are XML files that describe all the registers of the SoC, their bitfields and possible values. This format is not specific to libSoCCA, since it is already used by Keil, and apparently some SoC vendors provide such SVD files for their SoCs. Unfortunately, not all vendors do this, and creating such SVD files from the SoC datasheet is a very long and boring process. In addition, the speakers pointed out that the SVD file format lacked an include directive, which would be very useful to share register definitions between SoC.

    With the information provided by the SVD files and a connection to the target over JTAG that uses OpenOCD, libSoCCA is then used to implement a number of different

    • PMUGraph, which shows power management statistics of the device. Compared to solution such as perf or powertop, this solution has the advantage of being non-intrusive.
    • memtool, which provides a way of manipulating registers without having to manually fiddle with register offsets and bitfields. It could be summarized as a remote devmem that knows your SoC registers. This kind of feature can be found in proprietary JTAG tools, and was lacking in the open-source world.
    • clocktool (development not started yet), which shows the state of the SoC clocks remotely, a bit like clk_summary in debugfs, but which works even when the SoC is idle or in a low power state, which is precisely a moment where getting clock status may be useful for debugging.

    Overall, we found libsocca very interesting as it opens up lots of possibilities. It would be useful to have a better file format than SVD to describe SoC registers though, and it would also be nice to have an on-target variant of memtool.


    Back from ELCE 2018: talks, tutorials and demos from Bootlin

    The Embedded Linux Conference Europe edition 2018 took place last week in Edinburgh, Scotland, and no less than 9 engineers from Bootlin attended the conference. In this blog post, we would like to share the slides, materials and videos of the talks, tutorials and demos we gave during this conference.

    Talk: Supporting Hardware Codecs in a Linux system – Maxime Ripard

    This talk was given by Bootlin engineer Maxime Ripard, who has worked since spring 2018 with Paul Kocialkowski on adding support in the upstream Linux kernel for hardware-accelerated video decoding on Allwinner platforms. This project was the topic of the successful crowd-funding campaign we launched in February 2018, and for which we regularly posted updates on our blog.

    [PDF] [Sources]

    Talk: Networking: From the Ethernet MAC to the Link Partner – Maxime Chevallier & Antoine Ténart

    This talk was given by Bootlin engineers Maxime Chevallier and Antoine Ténart, who shared their knowledge and experience working on enabling network hardware in Linux, trying to clarify how Ethernet MAC and PHYs interact, how PHYs communicate with their link partner, what are the protocols involved, etc.

    [PDF] [Sources]

    Talk: SPI Memory support in Linux and U-Boot – Miquèl Raynal

    This talk was given by Miquèl Raynal, who has worked with Bootlin engineer Boris Brezillon on adding support for SPI NAND in U-Boot and Linux, as well as improving in general the support for SPI flash memory, see our previous blog post.

    [PDF] [Sources]

    Tutorial: Introduction to Linux kernel driver programming – Michael Opdenacker

    This tutorial was given by Bootlin CEO and founder Michael Opdenacker, as part of the Embedded Apprentice Linux Engineer track.

    [PDF] [Sources]

    The video will be published later, as it was not recorded by the Linux Foundation, but by the E-ALE track organizers.

    Tutorial: Getting started with Buildroot – Thomas Petazzoni

    This tutorial was given by Bootlin CTO Thomas Petazzoni, as part of the Embedded Apprentice Linux Engineer track.

    [PDF] [Sources]
    The video will be published later, as it was not recorded by the Linux Foundation, but by the E-ALE track organizers.

    Demo: Hardware Video Codec Support on Allwinner SoCs – Maxime Ripard

    In this demonstration, Maxime Ripard was showing the upstream Linux kernel support for the Allwinner VPU, which provides hardware-accelerated video decoding for MPEG2, H264 and H265 within the Kodi media player on Allwinner platforms.

    [PDF] [Sources]

    Demo: Upstream Linux kernel support for Microsemi switches – Alexandre Belloni

    Alexandre Belloni showing upstream Linux kernel support for Microsemi Ethernet switches
    Alexandre Belloni showing upstream Linux kernel support for Microsemi Ethernet switches at the Embedded Linux Conference Europe 2018

    In this demonstration, Bootlin engineer Alexandre Belloni was showing the upstream Linux kernel support for the VSC5713 and VSC7514 Microsemi Ethernet switches, which we presented in a previous blog post. Thanks to this support in upstream Linux, the different ports of the switch are seen as regular Linux network interfaces, and standard Linux user-space tools can be used to bridge the ports, set up VLAN filtering, and more. This makes such switches a lot easier to use than vendor-specific SDKs.

    [Poster] [Sources]

    Allwinner VPU support in mainline Linux status update (week 37)

    Even though the bulk of the development on the Allwinner VPU support is done, we are still working on completing the upstreaming of the kernel driver, and some progress has been made recently on this topic:

    • On September 10, core Video4Linux developer Hans Verkuil sent a pull request to Video4Linux maintainer Mauro Carvalho Chehab to get the Cedrus driver merged. This means we’re getting closer and closer to have the driver merged. Unfortunately, some last minute issues were found in the patch series, so this pull request wasn’t merged.
    • On September 13, Bootlin engineer Maxime Ripard sent a new iteration of the Cedrus driver, version 10, which addresses those issues.
    • In addition, as the Allwinner platform maintainer, Maxime Ripard has merged the patches adding the Device Tree description of the Allwinner VPU, which reduces the Cedrus patch series to just 5 patches. They are now in the branch sunxi/dt-for-4.20, which should be part of the upcoming 4.20 Linux release.
    T-Shirt for Allwinner VPU campaign supporters
    T-Shirt for Allwinner VPU campaign supporters

    In addition to this progress on the Linux kernel driver upstreaming process, we also moved forward with delivering the perks to the companies and individuals who supported our campaign:

    • A CREDITS file has been added to the libva-v4l2-request base, thanking all our backers who pleged more than 16 EUR.
    • The T-Shirts for the backers who pledged more than 128 EUR have been sent to those in the EU. We are also working on sending the t-shirts to those outside the EU, but it takes a bit more time due to the need for customs declarations. Don’t hesitate to take a picture of you with the T-Shirt, and post it on Twitter with the hashtag #VPULinuxDriverSupporter.