Free Electrons at FOSDEM and the Buildroot Developers Meeting

FOSDEM 2017Like every year, a number of Free Electrons engineers will be attending the FOSDEM conference next week-end, on February 4 and 5, in Brussels. This year, Mylène Josserand and Thomas Petazzoni are going to FOSDEM. Being the biggest European open-source conference, FOSDEM is a great opportunity to meet a large number of open-source developers and learn about new projects.

In addition, Free Electrons is sponsoring the participation of Thomas Petazzoni to the Buildroot Developers meeting, which takes place during two days right after the FOSDEM conference. During this event, the Buildroot developers community gathers to make progress on the project by having discussions on the current topics, and working on the patches that have been submitted and need to be reviewed and merged.

Free Electrons at the Embedded Linux Conference 2017

The next Embedded Linux Conference will take place later this month in Portland (US), from February 21 to 23, with a great schedule of talks. As usual, a number of Free Electrons engineers will attend this event, and we will also be giving a few talks.

Embedded Linux Conference 2017

Free Electrons CEO Michael Opdenacker will deliver a talk on Embedded Linux size reduction techniques, while Free Electrons engineer Quentin Schulz will give a talk on
Power Management Integrated Circuits: Keep the Power in Your Hands
. In addition, Free Electrons engineers Maxime Ripard, Antoine Ténart and Mylène Josserand will be attending the conference.

We once again look forward to meeting our fellow members of the embedded Linux and Linux kernel communities!

Linux 4.9 released, Free Electrons contributions

Linus Torvalds has released the 4.9 Linux kernel yesterday, as was expected. With 16214 non-merge commits, this is by far the busiest kernel development cycle ever, but in large part due to the merging of thousands of commits to add support for Greybus. LWN has very well summarized what’s new in this kernel release: 4.9 Merge window part 1, 4.9 Merge window part 2, The end of the 4.9 merge window.

As usual, we take this opportunity to look at the contributions Free Electrons made to this kernel release. In total, we contributed 116 non-merge commits. Our most significant contributions this time have been:

  • Free Electrons engineer Boris Brezillon, already a maintainer of the Linux kernel NAND subsystem, becomes a co-maintainer of the overall MTD subsystem.
  • Contribution of an input ADC resistor ladder driver, written by Alexandre Belloni. As explained in the commit log: common way of multiplexing buttons on a single input in cheap devices is to use a resistor ladder on an ADC. This driver supports that configuration by polling an ADC channel provided by IIO.
  • On Atmel platforms, improvements to clock handling, bug fix in the Atmel HLCDC display controller driver.
  • On Marvell EBU platforms
    • Addition of clock drivers for the Marvell Armada 3700 (Cortex-A53 based), by Grégory Clement
    • Several bug fixes and improvements to the Marvell CESA driver, for the crypto engine founds in most Marvell EBU processors. By Romain Perier and Thomas Petazzoni
    • Support for the PIC interrupt controller, used on the Marvell Armada 7K/8K SoCs, currently used for the PMU (Performance Monitoring Unit). By Thomas Petazzoni.
    • Enabling of Armada 8K devices, with support for the slave CP110 and the first Armada 8040 development board. By Thomas Petazzoni.
  • On Allwinner platforms
    • Addition of GPIO support to the AXP209 driver, which is used to control the PMIC used on most Allwinner designs. Done by Maxime Ripard.
    • Initial support for the Nextthing GR8 SoC. By Mylène Josserand and Maxime Ripard (pinctrl driver and Device Tree)
    • The improved sunxi-ng clock code, introduced in Linux 4.8, is now used for Allwinner A23 and A33. Done by Maxime Ripard.
    • Add support for the Allwinner A33 display controller, by re-using and extending the existing sun4i DRM/KMS driver. Done by Maxime Ripard.
    • Addition of bridge support in the sun4i DRM/KMS driver, as well as the code for a RGB to VGA bridge, used by the C.H.I.P VGA expansion board. By Maxime Ripard.
  • Numerous cleanups and improvements commits in the UBI subsystem, in preparation for merging the support for Multi-Level Cells NAND, from Boris Brezillon.
  • Improvements in the MTD subsystem, by Boris Brezillon:
    • Addition of mtd_pairing_scheme, a mechanism which allows to express the pairing of NAND pages in Multi-Level Cells NANDs.
    • Improvements in the selection of NAND timings.

In addition, a number of Free Electrons engineers are also maintainers in the Linux kernel, so they review and merge patches from other developers, and send pull requests to other maintainers to get those patches integrated. This lead to the following activity:

  • Maxime Ripard, as the Allwinner co-maintainer, merged 78 patches from other developers.
  • Grégory Clement, as the Marvell EBU co-maintainer, merged 43 patches from other developers.
  • Alexandre Belloni, as the RTC maintainer and Atmel co-maintainer, merged 26 patches from other developers.
  • Boris Brezillon, as the MTD NAND maintainer, merged 24 patches from other developers.

The complete list of our contributions to this kernel release:

Buildroot 2016.11 released, Free Electrons contributions

Buildroot LogoThe 2016.11 release of Buildroot has been published on November, 30th. The release announcement, by Buildroot maintainer Peter Korsgaard, gives numerous details about the new features and updates brought by this release. This new release provides support for using multiple BR2_EXTERNAL directories, gives some important updates to the toolchain support, adds default configurations for 9 new hardware platforms, and 38 new packages were added.

On a total of 1423 commits made for this release, Free Electrons contributed a total of 253 commits:

$ git shortlog -sn --author=free-electrons 2016.08..2016.11
   142  Gustavo Zacarias
   104  Thomas Petazzoni
     7  Romain Perier

Here are the most important contributions we did:

  • Romain Perier contributed a package for the AMD Catalyst proprietary driver. Such drivers are usually not trivial to integrate, so having a ready-to-use package in Buildroot will really make it easier for Buildroot users who use hardware with an AMD/ATI graphics controller. This package provides both the driver and the OpenGL implementation. This work was sponsored by one of Free Electrons customer.
  • Gustavo Zacarias mainly contributed a large set of patches that do a small update to numerous packages, to make sure the proper environment variables are passed. This is a preparation change to bring top-level parallel build in Buildroot. This work was also sponsored by another Free Electrons customer.
  • Thomas Petazzoni did contributions in various areas:
    • Added a DEVELOPERS file to the tree, to reference which developers are interested by which architectures and packages. Not only it allows the developers to be Cc’ed when patches are sent on the mailing list (like the get_maintainers script does), but it also used by Buildroot autobuilder infrastructure: if a package fails to build, the corresponding developer is notified by e-mail.
    • Misc updates to the toolchain support: switch to gcc 5.x by default, addition of gcc patches needed to fix various issues, etc.
    • Numerous fixes for build issues detected by Buildroot autobuilders

In addition to contributing 104 commits, Thomas Petazzoni also merged 1095 patches from other developers during this cycle, in order to help Buildroot maintainer Peter Korsgaard.

Finally, Free Electrons also sponsored the Buildroot project, by funding the meeting location for the previous Buildroot Developers meeting, which took place in October in Berlin, after the Embedded Linux Conference. See the Buildroot sponsors page, and also the report from this meeting. The next Buildroot meeting will take place after the FOSDEM conference in Brussels.

Free Electrons at, January 2017, which takes place every year in January in Australia or New Zealand, is a major event of the Linux community. Free Electrons already participated to this event three years ago, and will participate again to this year’s edition, which will take place from January 16 to January 20 2017 in Hobart, Tasmania.

Linux Conf Australia 2017

This time, Free Electrons CTO Thomas Petazzoni will give a talk titled A tour of the ARM architecture and its Linux support, in which he will share with LCA attendees what is the ARM architecture, how its Linux support is working, what the numerous variants of ARM processors and boards mean, what is the Device Tree, the ARM specific bootloaders, and more. also features a number of other kernel related talks, such as the Kernel Report from Jonathan Corbet, Linux Kernel memory ordering: help arrives at last from Paul E. McKenney. The list of conferences is very impressive, and the event also features a number of miniconfs, including one on the Linux kernel.

If some of our readers located in Australia, New Zealand or neighboring countries plan on attending the conference, do not hesitate to drop us a mail so that we can meet during the event!

Slides and videos from the Embedded Linux Conference Europe 2016

Last month, the entire Free Electrons engineering team attended the Embedded Linux Conference Europe in Berlin. The slides and videos of the talks have been posted, including the ones from the seven talks given by Free Electrons engineers:

  • Alexandre Belloni presented on ASoC: Supporting Audio on an Embedded Board, slides and video.
  • Boris Brezillon presented on Modernizing the NAND framework, the big picture, slides and video.
  • Boris Brezillon, together with Richard Weinberger from sigma star, presented on Running UBI/UBIFS on MLC NAND, slides and video.
  • Grégory Clement presented on Your newer ARM64 SoC Linux check list, slides and video.
  • Thomas Petazzoni presented on Anatomy of cross-compilation toolchains, slides and video.
  • Maxime Ripard presented on Supporting the camera interface on the C.H.I.P, slides and video.
  • Quentin Schulz and Antoine Ténart presented on Building a board farm: continuous integration and remote control, slides and video.

Free Electrons at the Kernel Recipes conference

Kernel RecipesThe 2016 edition of the Kernel Recipes conference will take place from September 28th to 30th in Paris. With talks from kernel developers Jonathan Corbet, Greg Kroah-Hartmann, Daniel Vetter, Laurent Pinchart, Tejun Heo, Steven Rosdedt, Kevin Hilman, Hans Verkuil and many others, the schedule looks definitely very appealing, and indeed the event is now full.

Thomas Petazzoni, Free Electrons CTO, will be attending this event. If you’re interested in discussing business or career opportunities with Free Electrons, this event will be a great place to meet together.

Free Electrons at the X Developer Conference

The next Developer Conference will take place on September 21 to September 23 in Helsinki, Finland. This is a major event for Linux developers working in the graphics/display areas, not only at the level, but also at the kernel level, in Mesa, and other related projects.

Free Electrons engineer Maxime Ripard will be attending this conference, with 80+ other engineers from Intel, Google, NVidia, Texas Instruments, AMD, RedHat, etc.

Maxime is the author of the DRM/KMS driver in the upstream Linux kernel for the Allwinner SoCs, which provides display support for numerous Allwinner platforms, especially Nextthing’s CHIP (with parallel LCD support, HDMI support, VGA support and composite video support). Maxime has also worked on making the 3D acceleration work on this platform with a mainline kernel, by adapting the Mali kernel driver. Most recently, Maxime has been involved in Video4Linux development, writing a driver for the camera interface of Allwinner SoCs, and supervising Florent Revest work on the Allwinner VPU that we published a few days ago.

Free Electrons mentioned in Linux Foundation’s report

Linux Kernel Development Report 2016Lask week, the Linux Foundation announced the publication of the 2016 edition of its usual report “Linux Kernel Development – How Fast It is Going, Who is Doing It, What They are Doing, and Who is Sponsoring It”.

This report gives a nice overview of the evolution of the Linux kernel since 3.18, especially from a contribution point of view: the rate of changes, who is contributing, are there new developers joining, etc.

Free Electrons is mentioned in several places in this report. First of all, even though Free Electrons is a consulting company, it is shown individually rather than part of the general “consultants” category. As the report explains:

The category “consultants” represents developers who contribute to the kernel as a work-for-hire effort from different companies. Some consultant companies, such as Free Electrons and Pengutronix, are shown individually as their contributions are a significant number.

Thanks to being mentioned separately from the “consultants” category, the report also shows that:

  • Free Electrons is the #15 contributing company over the 3.19 to 4.7 development period, in number of commits. Free Electrons contributed a total of 1453 commits, corresponding to 1.3% of the total commits
  • Free Electrons is ranked #13 in the list of companies by number of Signed-off-by from developers who are not the author of patches. This happens because 6 of our engineers are maintainers or co-maintainers from various areas in the kernel: they merge patches from contributors, sign-off on them, and send them to another maintainer (either arm-soc maintainers or directly Linus Torvalds, depending on the subsystem).

We’re glad to see Free Electrons mentioned in this report, which shows that we are a strong contributor to the official Linux kernel. Thanks to this contribution effort, we have tremendous experience with adding support for new hardware in the kernel, so contact us if you want your hardware supported in the official Linux kernel!

Support for the Allwinner VPU in the mainline Linux kernel

Over the last few years, and most recently with the support for the C.H.I.P platform, Free Electrons has been heavily involved in initiating and improving the support in the mainline Linux kernel for the Allwinner ARM processors. As of today, a large number of hardware features of the Allwinner processors, especially the older ones such as the A10 or the A13 used in the CHIP, are usable with the mainline Linux kernel, including complex functionality such as display support and 3D acceleration. However, one feature that was still lacking is proper support for the Video Processing Unit (VPU) that allows to accelerate in hardware the decoding and encoding of popular video formats.

During the past two months, Florent Revest, a 19 year old intern at Free Electrons worked on a mainline solution for this Video Processing Unit. His work followed the reverse engineering effort of the Cedrus project, and this topic was also listed as a High Priority Reverse Engineering Project by the FSF.

The internship resulted in a new sunxi-cedrus driver, a Video4Linux memory-to-memory decoder kernel driver and a corresponding VA-API backend, which allows numerous userspace applications to use the decoding capabilities. Both projects have both been published on Github:

Currently, the combination of the kernel driver and VA-API backend supports MPEG2 and MPEG4 decoding only. There is for the moment no support for encoding, and no support for H264, though we believe support for both aspects can be added within the architecture of the existing driver and VA-API backend.

A first RFC patchset of the kernel driver has been sent to the linux-media mailing list, and a complete documentation providing installation information and architecture details has been written on the linux-sunxi’s wiki.

Here is a video of VLC playing a MPEG2 demo video on top of this stack on the Next Thing’s C.H.I.P: