“Porting Linux on ARM” seminar road show in France

CaptronicIn December 2015, Bootlin engineer Alexandre Belloni gave a half-day seminar “Porting Linux on ARM” in Toulouse (France) in partnership with french organization Captronic. We published the materials used for the seminar shortly after the event.

We are happy to announce that this seminar will be given in four different cities in France over the next few months:

  • In Montpellier, on April 14th from 2 PM to 6 PM. See this page for details.
  • In Clermont-Ferrand, on April 27th from 2 PM to 6 PM. See this page for details.
  • In Brive, on April 28th from 9 AM to 1 PM. See this page for details.
  • Near Chambéry, on May 25th from 9:30 AM to 5/30 PM. See this page for details.
  • Near Bordeaux, on June 2nd from 2 PM to 6 PM. See this page for details.
  • Near Nancy, on June 16th from 2 PM to 6 PM. See this page for details.

The seminar is delivered in French, and the event is free after registration. The speaker, Alexandre Belloni, has worked on porting botloaders and the Linux kernel on a number of ARM platforms (Atmel, Freescale, Texas Instruments and more) and is the Linux kernel co-maintainer for the RTC subsystem and the support of the Atmel ARM processors.

Factory flashing with U-Boot and fastboot on Freescale i.MX6

Introduction

For one of our customers building a product based on i.MX6 with a fairly low-volume, we had to design a mechanism to perform the factory flashing of each product. The goal is to be able to take a freshly produced device from the state of a brick to a state where it has a working embedded Linux system flashed on it. This specific product is using an eMMC as its main storage, and our solution only needs a USB connection with the platform, which makes it a lot simpler than solutions based on network (TFTP, NFS, etc.).

In order to achieve this goal, we have combined the imx-usb-loader tool with the fastboot support in U-Boot and some scripting. Thanks to this combination of a tool, running a single script is sufficient to perform the factory flashing, or even restore an already flashed device back to a known state.

The overall flow of our solution, executed by a shell script, is:

  1. imx-usb-loader pushes over USB a U-Boot bootloader into the i.MX6 RAM, and runs it;
  2. This U-Boot automatically enters fastboot mode;
  3. Using the fastboot protocol and its support in U-Boot, we send and flash each part of the system: partition table, bootloader, bootloader environment and root filesystem (which contains the kernel image).
The SECO uQ7 i.MX6 platform used for our project.
The SECO uQ7 i.MX6 platform used for our project.

imx-usb-loader

imx-usb-loader is a tool written by Boundary Devices that leverages the Serial Download Procotol (SDP) available in Freescale i.MX5/i.MX6 processors. Implemented in the ROM code of the Freescale SoCs, this protocol allows to send some code over USB or UART to a Freescale processor, even on a platform that has nothing flashed (no bootloader, no operating system). It is therefore a very handy tool to recover i.MX6 platforms, or as an initial step for factory flashing: you can send a U-Boot image over USB and have it run on your platform.

This tool already existed, we only created a package for it in the Buildroot build system, since Buildroot is used for this particular project.

Fastboot

Fastboot is a protocol originally created for Android, which is used primarily to modify the flash filesystem via a USB connection from a host computer. Most Android systems run a bootloader that implements the fastboot protocol, and therefore can be reflashed from a host computer running the corresponding fastboot tool. It sounded like a good candidate for the second step of our factory flashing process, to actually flash the different parts of our system.

Setting up fastboot on the device side

The well known U-Boot bootloader has limited support for this protocol:

The fastboot documentation in U-Boot can be found in the source code, in the doc/README.android-fastboot file. A description of the available fastboot options in U-Boot can be found in this documentation as well as examples. This gives us the device side of the protocol.

In order to make fastboot work in U-Boot, we modified the board configuration file to add the following configuration options:

#define CONFIG_CMD_FASTBOOT
#define CONFIG_USB_FASTBOOT_BUF_ADDR       CONFIG_SYS_LOAD_ADDR
#define CONFIG_USB_FASTBOOT_BUF_SIZE          0x10000000
#define CONFIG_FASTBOOT_FLASH
#define CONFIG_FASTBOOT_FLASH_MMC_DEV    0

Other options have to be selected, depending on the platform to fullfil the fastboot dependencies, such as USB Gadget support, GPT partition support, partitions UUID support or the USB download gadget. They aren’t explicitly defined anywhere, but have to be enabled for the build to succeed.

You can find the patch enabling fastboot on the Seco MX6Q uQ7 here: 0002-secomx6quq7-enable-fastboot.patch.

U-Boot enters the fastboot mode on demand: it has to be explicitly started from the U-Boot command line:

U-Boot> fastboot

From now on, U-Boot waits over USB for the host computer to send fastboot commands.

Using fastboot on the host computer side

Fastboot needs a user-space program on the host computer side to talk to the board. This tool can be found in the Android SDK and is often available through packages in many Linux distributions. However, to make things easier and like we did for imx-usb-loader, we sent a patch to add the Android tools such as fastboot and adb to the Buildroot build system. As of this writing, our patch is still waiting to be applied by the Buildroot maintainers.

Thanks to this, we can use the fastboot tool to list the available fastboot devices connected:

# fastboot devices

Flashing eMMC partitions

For its flashing feature, fastboot identifies the different parts of the system by names. U-Boot maps those names to the name of GPT partitions, so your eMMC normally requires to be partitioned using a GPT partition table and not an old MBR partition table. For example, provided your eMMC has a GPT partition called rootfs, you can do:

# fastboot flash rootfs rootfs.ext4

To reflash the contents of the rootfs partition with the rootfs.ext4 image.

However, while using GPT partitioning is fine in most cases, i.MX6 has a constraint that the bootloader needs to be at a specific location on the eMMC that conflicts with the location of the GPT partition table.

To work around this problem, we patched U-Boot to allow the fastboot flash command to use an absolute offset in the eMMC instead of a partition name. Instead of displaying an error if a partition does not exists, fastboot tries to use the name as an absolute offset. This allowed us to use MBR partitions and to flash at defined offset our images, including U-Boot. For example, to flash U-Boot, we use:

# fastboot flash 0x400 u-boot.imx

The patch adding this work around in U-Boot can be found at 0001-fastboot-allow-to-flash-at-a-given-address.patch. We are working on implementing a better solution that can potentially be accepted upstream.

Automatically starting fastboot

The fastboot command must be explicitly called from the U-Boot prompt in order to enter fastboot mode. This is an issue for our use case, because the flashing process can’t be fully automated and required a human interaction. Using imx-usb-loader, we want to send a U-Boot image that automatically enters fastmode mode.

To achieve this, we modified the U-Boot configuration, to start the fastboot command at boot time:

#define CONFIG_BOOTCOMMAND "fastboot"
#define CONFIG_BOOTDELAY 0

Of course, this configuration is only used for the U-Boot sent using imx-usb-loader. The final U-Boot flashed on the device will not have the same configuration. To distinguish the two images, we named the U-Boot image dedicated to fastboot uboot_DO_NOT_TOUCH.

Putting it all together

We wrote a shell script to automatically launch the modified U-Boot image on the board, and then flash the different images on the eMMC (U-Boot and the root filesystem). We also added an option to flash an MBR partition table as well as flashing a zeroed file to wipe the U-Boot environment. In our project, Buildroot is being used, so our tool makes some assumptions about the location of the tools and image files.

Our script can be found here: flash.sh. To flash the entire system:

# ./flash.sh -a

To flash only certain parts, like the bootloader:

# ./flash.sh -b 

By default, our script expects the Buildroot output directory to be in buildroot/output, but this can be overridden using the BUILDROOT environment variable.

Conclusion

By assembling existing tools and mechanisms, we have been able to quickly create a factory flashing process for i.MX6 platforms that is really simple and efficient. It is worth mentioning that we have re-used the same idea for the factory flashing process of the C.H.I.P computer. On the C.H.I.P, instead of using imx-usb-loader, we have used FEL based booting: the C.H.I.P indeed uses an Allwinner ARM processor, providing a different recovery mechanism than the one available on i.MX6.

2016 Q1 newsletter

Newsletter iconThe Bootlin team wishes you a Happy New Year for 2016, with many new bits to enjoy in your life!

Bootlin is happy to take this opportunity to share some news about the latest training and contribution activities of the company.

Bootlin work on the $9 computer

As announced in our previous newsletter, Bootlin has been working intensively on developing the low-level software support for the first $9 computer, the C.H.I.P by Next Thing Co.

Next Thing Co. has successfully delivered an initial batch of platforms in September to the early adopters, and has started shipping the final products in December to thousands of Kickstarter supporters.

Those products are using the U-Boot and Linux kernel ported by Bootlin engineers, with numerous patches submitted to the official projects and more to be submitted in the coming weeks and months:

  • Support for the C.H.I.P platform itself, in U-Boot and in the Linux kernel;
  • Support for audio on Allwinner platforms added to the Linux kernel;
  • Development of a DRM/KMS driver for the graphics controller found on Allwinner platforms;
  • Significant research effort on finding appropriate solutions to support Multi-Level Cell NANDs in the Linux kernel;
  • Enabling of the NAND storage in Single-Level Cell mode, until the Multi-Level Cell mode can be enabled reliably;
  • Addition of NAND support in the fastboot implementation of U-Boot, which is used to reflash the C.H.I.P.

We will continue to work on the C.H.I.P over the next months, with among other things more work on the graphics side and the NAND side.

Kernel contributions

The primary focus of the majority of our customer projects remain the Linux kernel, to which we continue to contribute very significantly.

Linux 4.2

We contributed 203 patches to this release, with a new IIO driver for the ADC found on Marvell Berlin platforms, a big cleanup to the support of Atmel platforms, improvements to the DMA controller driver for Atmel platforms, a completely new driver for the cryptographic accelerator found on Marvell EBU platforms.

In this cycle, our engineer Alexandre Belloni became the official maintainer of the RTC subsystem.

See details on our contributions to Linux 4.2

Linux 4.3

We contributed 110 patches to this release, with mainly improvements to the DRM/KMS driver and DMA controller driver for Atmel platforms and power management improvements for Marvell platforms.

See details on our contributions to Linux 4.3

Linux 4.4

We contributed 112 patches to this release, the main highlights being an additional RTC driver, a PWM driver, support for the C.H.I.P platform, and improvements to the NAND support.

See details on our contributions to Linux 4.4

Work on ARM 64-bit platform

We have started to work on supporting the Linux kernel on several ARM 64 bits platforms from different vendors. We will be submitting the initial patches in the coming weeks and will progressively improve the support for those platforms throughout 2016 where a major part of our Linux kernel contribution effort will shift to ARM 64-bit.

Growing engineering team

Our engineering team, currently composed of six engineers, will be significantly expanded in 2016:

  • Two additional embedded Linux engineers will join us in March 2016 and will be working with our engineering team in Toulouse, France. They will help us on our numerous Linux kernel and Linux BSP projects.
  • An engineering intern will join us starting early February, and will work on setting up a board farm to contribute to the kernelci.org automated testing effort. This will help us do more automated testing on the ARM platforms we work on.

Upcoming training sessions

We have public training sessions scheduled for the beginning of 2016:

Embedded Linux development training
February 29 – March 4, in English, in Avignon (France)
Embedded Linux kernel and driver development training
March 14-18, in English, in Avignon (France)
Android system development training
March 7-10, in English, in Toulouse (France)

We also offer the following training courses, on-site, anywhere in the world, upon request:

Contact us at training@bootlin.com for details.

Conferences

We participated to the Embedded Linux Conference Europe in Dublin in October 2015, and gave a number of talks:

In addition, our engineer Thomas Petazzoni was invited to the Linux Kernel Summit, an invitation-only conference for the kernel maintainers and developers. He participated to the three days event in Seoul, South Korea. See Bootlin at the Linux Kernel Summit 2015.

At the beginning of 2016, our entire engineering team will be attending the Embedded Linux Conference in San Diego (US), which means that no less than 9 engineers from Bootlin will be present at the conference!

Porting Linux on ARM seminar

In December 2015, we gave a half-day seminar entitled “Porting Linux on ARM” in Toulouse (France). The materials, in English, are now freely available on our web site.

Seminar “Porting Linux on an ARM board”, materials available

Porting Linux on an ARM boardOn December 10th 2015, Bootlin engineer Alexandre Belloni gave a half-day seminar on the topic of Porting Linux on an ARM board in Toulouse, France. This seminar covers topics like porting the bootloader, understanding the concept of the Device Tree, writing Linux device drivers and more. With ~50 persons from various companies attending and lots of questions from the audience, this first edition has been very successful, which shows an increasing interest for using Linux on ARM platforms in the industry.

We are now publishing the 220 slides materials from this seminar, available in PDF format. Like all our training materials, this material is published under the Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0 license, which allows everyone to re-use it for free, provided the derivative works are released under the same license. We indeed re-used quite extensively parts of our existing training materials for this half-day seminar.

We plan to give this half-day seminar in other locations in France in 2016. Contact us if you are interested in organizing a similar seminar in your area (we are happy to travel!).

Device Tree on ARM article in French OpenSilicium magazine

Our French readers are most likely aware of the existence of a magazine called OpenSilicium, a magazine dedicated to embedded technologies, with frequent articles on platforms like the Raspberry Pi, the BeagleBone Black, topics like real-time, FPGA, Android and many others.

Open Silicium #17

Issue #17 of the magazine has been published recently, and features a 14-pages long article Introduction to the Device Tree on ARM, written by Bootlin engineer Thomas Petazzoni.

Open Silicium #17

Besides Thomas article, many other topics are covered in this issue:

  • A summary of the Embedded Linux Conference Europe 2015 in Dublin
  • Icestorm, a free development toolset for FPGA
  • Using the Armadeus APF27 board with Yocto
  • Set up an embedded Linux system on the Zynq ZedBoard
  • Debugging with OpenOCD and JTAG
  • Usage of the mbed SDK on a small microcontroller, the LPC810
  • From Javascript to VHDL, the art of writing synthetizable code using an imperative language
  • Optimization of the 3R strems decompression algorithm