GPIO Aggregator, a virtual gpio chip

GPIOs are obviously widely used in embedded systems, and many of them are typically driven directly by Linux kernel drivers for interrupt lines, reset lines, or other control lines used to connect with various peripherals. However, a number of GPIOs are sometimes directly driven by user-space applications. Historically, the Linux kernel has provided a sysfs interface, in /sys/class/gpio to allow such direct control. But in recent years, this sysfs interface has been superseded by a new user-space interface based on /dev/gpiochip* character devices.

This new interface has numerous advantages over the previous /sys/class/gpio interface. However, one drawback is that it creates one device file per GPIO chip, which means that access rights are defined per GPIO chip, and not per GPIOs.

For this reason, in Linux 5.8, Geert Uytterhoeven has contributed the GPIO aggregator mechanism. It allows to group a number of GPIOs into a virtual GPIO chip, visible as an additional /dev/gpiochip*. Its documentation can be found in Documentation/admin-guide/gpio/gpio-aggregator.rst.

The list of GPIOs part of this new virtual GPIO chip is defined in the Device Tree. One other interesting thing is that, as any GPIO controler, the lines can be named, and then queried by user-space applications based on their name, using the libgpiod library.

Configuration and Device Tree description

To have GPIO Aggregator support in your kernel, simply configure


Add a gpio-aggregator node in your Device Tree source. For instance, the following DTS snippet declares an aggregator with several GPIO lines:

gpio-aggregator {
    pinctrl-names = "default";
    pinctrl-0 = <&gpio_pins>;
    compatible = "gpio-aggregator";

    gpios = <&gpio3 4 GPIO_ACTIVE_HIGH>,
            <&gpio2 4 GPIO_ACTIVE_HIGH>,
            <&gpio1 28 GPIO_ACTIVE_HIGH>,
            <&gpio1 29 GPIO_ACTIVE_HIGH>,
            <&gpio2 0 GPIO_ACTIVE_HIGH>,
            <&gpio2 1 GPIO_ACTIVE_HIGH>,
            <&gpio3 8 GPIO_ACTIVE_HIGH>;

    gpio-line-names = "line_a", "line_b", "line_c", "line_d",
            "line_e", "line_f", "line_g";

In this example, line 4 of gpio controller gpio3 is used and is named “line_a”, line 4 of gpio controller gpio2 is used and is named “line_b”, and so on up to line 8 of gpio controler gpio3.

Usage from user-space

From userspace we can see the GPIO chip and its aggregated lines:

# gpioinfo
gpiochip6 - 7 lines:
    line 0: "line_a" unused input active-high
    line 1: "line_b" unused input active-high
    line 2: "line_c" unused input active-high
    line 3: "line_d" unused input active-high
    line 4: "line_e" unused input active-high
    line 5: "line_f" unused input active-high
    line 6: "line_g" unused input active-high

We can search a gpio chip and a line number by the line name:

# gpiofind 'line_b'
gpiochip6 1

We can access a GPIO line by its name

# gpioget $(gpiofind 'line_b')
# gpioset $(gpiofind 'line_e')=1
# gpioset $(gpiofind 'line_e')=0

We can change the GPIO chip device file ownership to allow user or group to access the attached lines:

# ls -al /dev/gpiochip*
crw------- 1 root root 254, 0 Jan 1 00:00 /dev/gpiochip0
crw------- 1 root root 254, 1 Jan 1 00:00 /dev/gpiochip1
crw------- 1 root root 254, 2 Jan 1 00:00 /dev/gpiochip2
crw------- 1 root root 254, 3 Jan 1 00:00 /dev/gpiochip3
crw------- 1 root root 254, 4 Jan 1 00:00 /dev/gpiochip4
crw------- 1 root root 254, 5 Jan 1 00:00 /dev/gpiochip5
crw------- 1 root root 254, 6 Jan 1 00:00 /dev/gpiochip6
# chown root:users /dev/gpiochip6
# chmod 660 /dev/gpiochip6
# ls -al /dev/gpiochip*
crw------- 1 root root 254, 0 Jan 1 00:00 /dev/gpiochip0
crw------- 1 root root 254, 1 Jan 1 00:00 /dev/gpiochip1
crw------- 1 root root 254, 2 Jan 1 00:00 /dev/gpiochip2
crw------- 1 root root 254, 3 Jan 1 00:00 /dev/gpiochip3
crw------- 1 root root 254, 4 Jan 1 00:00 /dev/gpiochip4
crw------- 1 root root 254, 5 Jan 1 00:00 /dev/gpiochip5
crw-rw---- 1 root users 254, 6 Jan 1 00:00 /dev/gpiochip6

The GPIO chip created by the aggregator can be retrieved from sysfs:

# ls -1 /sys/bus/platform/devices/gpio-aggregator/
# cat /sys/bus/platform/devices/gpio-aggregator/gpiochip6/dev


A GPIO Aggregator can be used to group a subset of GPIO lines, name them, access them by their names and manage access control to the virtual gpio chip created by the aggregator. On an embedded system, this can simplify the management and usage of individual GPIO lines.

Bootlin contributions to Linux 5.12

Yes, Linux 5.13 was released yesterday, but we never published the blog post detailing our contributions to Linux 5.12, so let’s do this now! First of all the usual links to the excellent articles on the 5.12 merge window: part 1 and part 2. also published an article with Linux 5.12 development statistics, and two Bootlin engineers made their way to the statistics: Alexandre Belloni in the list of top contributors by number of changesets, with 69 commits, and Paul Kocialkowski in the list of top contributors by number of changed lines, with over 6000 lines changed.

Here are the highlights of our contributions:

  • Addition of a new driver for the Silvaco I3C master controller. This was contributed by Miquèl Raynal, who became the maintainer for this driver. Bootlin has pioneered support for I3C in Linux, by introducing the complete drivers/i3c subsystem a few years ago, together with the first controller driver, for a Cadence IP, see our blog post from 2018.
  • Addition of two new camera sensor drivers, one for the Omnivision OV5648 and another for the Omnivision OV8865. These were contributed by Paul Kocialkowski.
  • Implementation of mqprio support in the Marvell Ethernet controller driver mvneta, see this commit. As explained in the tc-mqprio man page, the MQPRIO qdisc is a simple queuing discipline that allows mapping traffic flows to hardware queue ranges using priorities and a configurable priority to traffic class mapping. This was contributed by Maxime Chevallier
  • Improvements in the IIO driver for the ms58xx family of sensors, contributed by Alexandre Belloni.
  • The final removal of the atmel_tclib code, which has been replaced by proper drivers for the TCB timers on Atmel/Microchip ARM platforms over the past few releases, also by Alexandre Belloni.
  • As usual, a large amount of fixes and improvements in the RTC subsystem, by its maintainer Alexandre Belloni.

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

LTP: Linux Test Project, Bootlin contributions


The Linux Test Project is a project that develops and maintains a large test suite that helps validating the reliability, robustness and stability of the Linux kernel and related features. LTP has been mainly developed by companies such as IBM, Cisco, Fujitsu, SUSE, RedHat, with a focus on desktop distributions.

On the embedded side, both the openembedded-core Yocto layer and Buildroot have packages that allow to use LTP on embedded targets. However, for a recent project, we practically tried to run the full LTP test suite on an i.MX8 based platform running a Linux system built with Yocto. It turned out that LTP was apparently not very often tested on Busybox-based embedded systems, and we faced a number of issues. In addition to reporting various bugs/issues to the upstream LTP project, we also contributed a number of fixes and improvements:

Our contributions received a very warm welcome in the LTP community, which turned out to be very open and responsive. We hope that these contributions will encourage others to use LTP, and hopefully to make sure it continues to work on embedded platforms.

Quick start guide

At the time of this writing, LTP has more than 3800 tests written by the community, including about 1000 network-related tests. The tests are grouped together in categories described by files in the runtest/ folder. Based on this, two scenarios of tests are defined: default and network which are described by two files in the scenario_groups/ folder. These two scenarios simply list the categories of tests that need to be executed.

Here are the contents of the default and network:

$ cat scenario_groups/default 
$ cat scenario_groups/network 

Once you have LTP built and installed on your board thanks to the appropriate OpenEmbedded or Buildroot package, you can run these two scenarios of test with the following commands (-n specify the network one):

$ cd /opt/ltp
$ ./runltp
$ ./runltp -n

Then take a look at the content of the result and the output directories.

For more information on building or running LTP please read this readme.

Bootlin contributions to Linux 5.11

Linux 5.11 was released quite some time ago now, but it’s never too late to have a look at Bootlin contributions to this release. As usual, we recommend reading the LWN articles on the 5.11 merge window: part 1 and part2. Also of interest is the Kernelnewbies page for 5.11.

Here are the main highlights of our contributions:

  • Alexandre Belloni, as the maintainer of the RTC subsystem, continued making numerous improvements and fixes to RTC drivers
  • On the support for Microchip ARM platforms, Alexandre Belloni switched the PWM atmel-tcb driver to a new Device Tree binding and added SAMA5D2 support, he did some improvements to the IIO driver for the Microchip ADC, and continued to remove platform_data support from Microchip drivers as all platforms are now converted to the Device Tree.
  • Alexandre Belloni contributed a new Simple Audio Mux driver for the ALSA subsystem, which can be used to control simple audio multiplexers driven using GPIOs, that allows to select which of their input line is connected to the output line.
  • Grégory Clement added support for several new MIPS platforms from Microchip: Luton, Serval and Jaguar2. All those platforms include a MIPS core, a few peripherals and more importantly an Ethernet switch. For now the support only includes the base platform support, but we are working on the switchdev driver for the Ethernet switch.
  • Miquèl Raynal, maintainer of the NAND subsystem and co-maintainer of the MTD subsystem, contributed numerous changes to the ECC support in the MTD subsystem, making it more generic so that it can be used not just for parallel NAND flashes, but also SPI NAND flashes. For more details, see the talk from Miquèl Raynal on this topic.

In addition to those 95 patches that we authored and contributed, several Bootlin engineers being maintainers of different subsystems of the Linux kernel reviewed and merged patches from other contributors:

  • Miquèl Raynal, as the NAND maintainer and MTD co-maintainer, reviewed and merged 67 patches from other contributors
  • Alexandre Belloni, as the RTC, I3C and Microchip ARM/MIPS platforms maintainer, reviewed and merged 47 patches from other contributors
  • Grégory Clement, as the Marvell EBU platform co-maintainer, reviewed and merged 33 patches from other contributors

Here is the detailed list of our contributions to Linux 5.11:

Large Page Support for NAS systems on 32 bit ARM

The need for large page support on 32 bit ARM

Storage space has become more and more affordable to a point that it is now possible to have multiple hard drives of dozens of terabytes in a single consumer-grade device. With a few 10 TiB hard drives and thanks to RAID technology, storage capacities that exceed 16 or 32 TiB can easily be reached and at a relatively low cost.

However, a number of consumer NAS systems used in the field today are still based on 32 bit ARM processors. The problem is that, with Linux on a 32 bit system, it’s only possible to address up to 16 TiB of storage space. This is still true even with the ext4 filesystem, even though it uses 64 bit pointers.

We were lucky to have a customer contracting us to update older Large Page Support patches to a recent version of the Linux kernel. This set of patches are one way of overcoming this 16 TiB limitation for ARM 32-bit systems. Since updating this patch series was a non trivial task, we are happy to share the results of our efforts with the community, both through this blog post and through a patch series we posted to the Linux ARM kernel mailing list: ARM: Add support for large kernel page (from 8K to 64K).

How Large Page Support works

The 16 TiB limitation comes from the use of page->index which is a pgoff_t offset type corresponding to unsigned long. This limits us to a 32-bit page offsets, so with 4 KiB physical pages, we end up with a maximum of 16 TiB. A way to address this limitation is to use larger physical pages. We can reach 32 TiB with 8 KiB pages, 64 TiB with 16 KiB pages and up to 256 TiB with 64 KiB pages.

Before going further, the ARM32 Page Tables article from Linus Walleij is a good reference to understand how the Linux kernel deals with ARM32 page tables. In our case, we are only going to cover the non LPAE case. As explained there, the way the Linux kernel sees the page tables actually doesn’t match reality. First, the kernel deals with 4 levels of page tables while on hardware there are only 2 levels. In addition, while the ARM32 hardware stores only 256 PTEs in Page Tables, taking up only 1 KB, Linux optimizes things by storing in each 4 KB page two sets of 256 PTEs, and two sets of shadow PTEs that are used to store additional metadata needed by Linux about each page (such as the dirty and accessed/young bits). So, there is already some magic between what is presented to the Linux virtual memory management subsystem, and what is really programmed into the hardware page tables. To support large pages, the idea is to go further in this direction by emulating larger physical pages.

Our series (and especially patch 5: ARM: Add large kernel page support) proposes to pretend to have larger hardware pages. The ARM 32-bit architecture only supports 4 KiB or 64 KiB page sizes, but we would like to support intermediate values of 8 KiB, 16 KiB and 32 KiB as well. So what we do to support 8 KiB pages is that we tell Linux the hardware has 8 KiB pages, but in fact we simply use two consecutive 4 KiB pages at the hardware level that we manipulate and configure simultaneously. To support 16 KiB pages, we use 4 consecutive 4 KiB pages, for 32 KiB pages, we use 8 consecutive pages, etc. So really, we “emulate” having larger page sizes by grouping 2, 4 or 8 pages together. Adding this feature only required a few changes in the code, mainly dealing with ranges of pages every time we were dealing with a single page. Actually, most of the code in the series is about making it possible to modify the hard coded value of the hardware page size and fixing the assumptions associated to such a fixed value.

In addition to this emulated mechanism that we provide for 8 KiB, 16 KiB, 32 KiB and 64 KiB pages, we also added support for using real hardware 64 KiB pages as part of this patch series.

Overall the number of changes is very limited (271 lines added, 13 lines removed), and allows to use much larger storage devices. Here is the diffstat of the full patch series:

 arch/arm/include/asm/elf.h                  |  2 +-
 arch/arm/include/asm/fixmap.h               |  3 +-
 arch/arm/include/asm/page.h                 | 12 ++++
 arch/arm/include/asm/pgtable-2level-hwdef.h |  8 +++
 arch/arm/include/asm/pgtable-2level.h       |  6 +-
 arch/arm/include/asm/pgtable.h              |  4 ++
 arch/arm/include/asm/shmparam.h             |  4 ++
 arch/arm/include/asm/tlbflush.h             | 21 +++++-
 arch/arm/kernel/entry-common.S              | 13 ++++
 arch/arm/kernel/traps.c                     | 10 +++
 arch/arm/mm/Kconfig                         | 72 +++++++++++++++++++++
 arch/arm/mm/fault.c                         | 19 ++++++
 arch/arm/mm/mmu.c                           | 22 ++++++-
 arch/arm/mm/pgd.c                           |  2 +
 arch/arm/mm/proc-v7-2level.S                | 72 ++++++++++++++++++++-
 arch/arm/mm/tlb-v7.S                        | 14 +++-
 16 files changed, 271 insertions(+), 13 deletions(-)

This patch series is running in production now on some NAS devices from a very popular NAS brand.

Limitations and alternatives

The submission of our patch series is recent but this feature has actually been running for years on many NAS systems in the field. Our new series is based on the original patchset, with the purpose of submitting it to the mainline kernel community. However, there is little chance that it will ever be merged into the mainline kernel.

The main drawback of this approach are large pages themselves: as each file in the page cache uses at least one page, the memory wasted increases as the size of the pages increases. For this reason, Linus Torvalds was against similar series proposed in the past.

To show how much memory is wasted, Arnd Bergmann ran some numbers to measure the page cache overhead for a typical set of files (Linux 5.7 kernel sources) for 5 different page sizes:

Page size (KiB) 4 8 16 32 64
page cache usage (MiB) 1,023.26 1,209.54 1,628.39 2,557.31 4,550.88
factor over 4K pages 1.00x 1.18x 1.59x 2.50x 4.45x

We can see that while a factor of 1.18 is acceptable for 8 KiB pages, a 4.45 multiplier looks excessive with 64 KiB pages.

Actually, to make it possible to address large volumes on 32 bit ARM, another solution was pointed out during the review of our series. Instead of using larger pages which have an impact on the entire system, an alternative is to modify the way the filesystem addresses the memory by using 64 bits pgoff_t offsets. This has already been implemented in vendor kernels running in some NAS systems, but this has never been submitted to mainline developers.