Many embedded devices these days use the U-Boot bootloader. This bootloader stores its configuration into an area of the flash called the environment that can be manipulated from within U-Boot using the
saveenv commands, or from Linux using the
fw_setenv userspace utilities provided with the U-Boot source code.
This environment is typically stored in a specific flash location, defined in the board configuration header in U-Boot. The environment is basically stored as a sequence of null-terminated strings, with a little header containing a checksum at the beginning.
While this environment can easily be manipulated from U-Boot or from Linux using the above mentioned commands, it is sometimes desirable to be able to generate a binary image of an environment that can be directly flashed next to the bootloader, kernel and root filesystem into the device’s flash memory. For example, on AT91 devices, the SAM-BA utility provided by Atmel is capable of completely reflashing an AT91 based system connected through the serial port of the USB device port. Or, in factory, initial flashing of devices typically takes place either through specific CPU monitors, or through a JTAG interface. For all of these cases, having a binary environment image is desirable.
David Wagner, who has been an intern with us at Free Electrons from April to September 2011, has written a utility called
mkenvimage which just does this: generate a valid binary environment image from a text file describing the
key=value pairs of the environment. This utility has been merged into the U-Boot Git repository (see the commit) and will therefore be part of the next U-Boot release.
mkenvimage you can write a text file
uboot-env.txt describing the environment, like:
bootargs=console=ttyS0,115200 bootcmd=tftp 22000000 uImage; bootm [...]
mkenvimage as follows:
./tools/mkenvimage -s 0x4200 -o uboot-env.bin uboot-env.txt
-s option allows to specify the size of the image to create. It must match the size of the flash area reserved for the U-Boot environment. Another option worth having in mind is
-r, which must be used when there are two copies of the environment stored in the flash thanks to the
CONFIG_ENV_SIZE_REDUND. Unfortunately, U-Boot has chosen to have a different environment layout in those two cases, so you must tell
mkenvimage whether you’re using a redundant environment or a single environment.
This utility has proven to be really useful, as it allows to automatically reflash a device with an environment know to work. It also allows to very easily generate a different environment image per-device, for example to contain the device MAC address and/or the device serial number.