Bootlin contributions to Linux 5.14 and 5.15

It’s been a while we haven’t posted about Bootlin contributions to the Linux kernel, and in fact missed both the Linux 5.14 and Linux 5.15 releases, which we will cover in this blog post.

Linux 5.14 was released on August 29, 2021. The usual page and the LWN articles on the merge window (part 1 and part 2) provide the best summaries of the new features and hardware support offered by this release.

Linux 5.15 on the other hand was released on November 1, 2021. Here as well, we have a great article and LWN articles on the merge window (part 1 and part 2).

In total for those two releases, Bootlin contributed 79 commits, in various areas:

  • Alexandre Belloni, as the RTC subsystem maintainer, contributed 9 patches improving various aspects of RTC drivers, the RTC subsystem or Device Tree bindings for RTC
  • Clément Léger contributed a small improvement to the at_xdmac driver used on Microchip ARM platforms
  • Hervé Codina enabled Ethernet support on the old ST Spear320 SoC, by leveraging the existing stmmac Ethernet controller driver
  • Maxime Chevallier fixed a small issue with the Ethernet PHY on the i.MX6 Solidrun system-on-module
  • Miquèl Raynal added support for NV-DDR timings in the MTD susbsystem. This allows to improve performance with NAND flash memories that support those timings. Their usage is specifically implemented in the Arasan NAND controller driver, which Miquèl contributed back in Linux 5.8. See our previous blog post on this topic for more details
  • Miquèl Raynal added support for yet another NAND controller driver, the ARM PL35x, which is used for example on Xilinx Zynq 7000. See our previous blog post on this topic.
  • Miquèl Raynal added support for NAND chips with large pages (larger than 4 KB) to the OMAP GPMC driver.
  • Miquèl Raynal made a few fixes to the IIO driver for the max1027 ADC.
  • Paul Kocialkowski contributed a few patches to enable usage of the Hantro video decoder driver on the Rockchip PX30 processor.
  • Thomas Perrot contributed one patch to enable usage of the Flex Timers on i.MX7, and one to fix an issue in the PL022 SPI controller driver.

And now, as usual the complete list of our contributions to Linux 5.14 and 5.15:

Initial Allwinner V3 ISP support in mainline Linux


Several months ago, Bootlin announced ongoing work on MIPI CSI-2 support for the Allwinner A31/V3 and A83T platforms in mainline Linux, as well as support for the Omnivision OV8865 and OV5648 image sensors. This effort has been a success and while the sensor patches were already integrated in mainline Linux since, the MIPI CSI-2 controller patches are on their way towards inclusion.

Since then we had the opportunity to take things further and start tackling the next steps for advanced camera support in mainline Linux on Allwinner SoCs!

With MIPI CSI-2 support and proper sensor drivers available in V4L2, we were able to capture raw bayer data provided by the sensors. But this data does not constitute the final picture that can be displayed or encoded into a file: a number of enhancement and transformation steps are required to achieve a visually-pleasing result that users typically expect.

These steps are quite calculation-intensive and it does not make sense to implement them with a software pipeline, especially with rates of 25, 30 or even 60 frames per second that are typically expected for video recording.

An open-source and upstream driver for the Allwinner ISP

Allwinner SoCs that support MIPI CSI-2 also include an Image Signal Processor hardware unit, a dedicated accelerator for enhancing and transforming raw data received from sensors.

Allwinner ISP features
Features of the ISP as described in the Allwinner V3 datasheet.

Since support for this ISP was implemented using a non-free blob in Allwinner SDKs, this area remained unsupported in mainline Linux… Until now!

Thanks to some help from Allwinner, we were able to implement a proper V4L2 driver for the Allwinner ISP found in the Allwinner V3, completely open-source, with no binary blob involved. This work was recently submitted upstream, with a first revision totaling more than 8000 new lines of code, which comes together with a significant rework of the Allwinner camera interface driver to make it usable with or without the ISP, and including the new MIPI CSI-2 support which we had submitted previously. We are very happy to keep contributing to advancing fully open-source Allwinner SoCs support in mainline Linux and help tackle some of the remaining areas there!

Our currently proposed driver for the Allwinner ISP only supports a limited set of features: debayering with coefficients and 2D noise filtering. These features were sufficient for our use case, and allowed to offload the computationally intensive debayering process to a dedicated hardware accelerator.

As the driver for now relies on a specific user-space API that does not yet cover all aspects of the ISP, the driver was submitted to the Linux kernel staging area and will probably stay there until all ISP features are properly described.

Our work on this advanced camera support, including the ISP driver, has been described in the talk we have given earlier this week at the Embedded Linux Conference, for which the slides are already available.

Advanced camera support on Allwinner SoCs with Mainline Linux

Additional features and future work

The Allwinner ISP supports a lot more features beyond just debayering and noise filtering. For example, it supports statistics to implement 3A algorithms (auto-focus, auto-exposition and auto-white-balance) which are necessary to avoid manual configuration of scene-specific parameters. These could typically be implemented in libcamera, the community free software project that supports complex image capture pipelines and ISPs.

As a result Bootlin would be very interested to continue this work and bring this driver to a more advanced state. So if you have a project that could help move this topic forward, do not hesitate to contact us about it!

Bootlin contributions to Linux 5.13

After finally publishing about our Linux 5.12 contributions and even though Linux 5.14 was just released yesterday, it’s hopefully still time to talk about our contributions to Linux 5.13. Check out the LWN articles about the merge window to get the bigger picture about this release: part 1 and part 2.

In terms of Bootlin contributions, this was a much more quiet release than Linux 5.12, with just 28 contributions. The main highlights are:

  • The usual round of RTC subsystem updates from its maintainer Alexandre Belloni
  • A large amount of improvements in the MTD subsystem by its co-maintainer Miquèl Raynal, continuing his effort to improve the ECC handling in the MTD subsystem. See Miquèl’s talk at ELCE 2020 for more details on this effort: slides and video.
  • A small fix for an annoying regression in the musb USB gadget controller driver.

Even though we contributed just 28 commits to this release, as maintainers, some of us also reviewed and merged code from other contributors: Miquèl Raynal as the MTD co-maintainer merged 63 patches, Alexandre Belloni merged 22 patches, and Grégory Clement 6 patches.

Here are the details of our contributions to Linux 5.13:

Mainline Linux support for the ARM Primecell PL35X NAND controller

It has been more than 7 years since the first draft of a Linux kernel driver for the ARM Primecell PL35X NAND controller was posted on a public mailing list. Maybe because of the lack of time, each new version was delayed so much that it actually needed another iteration just to catch up with the latest internal API changes in the MTD subsystem (quite a number of them happened in the last 2-3 years). The NAND controller itself is part of an ARM Primecell Static Memory bus Controller (SMC) which increased the overall complexity. Finally, the way the commands and data are shared with the memory controller is very specific to the SMC. All these technical points probably played against Xilinx engineers, and Bootlin was contracted in 2021 to finalize the work of getting the ARM Primecell PL35X NAND controller driver in the upstream Linux kernel.

Static Memory Controller principles

SMC diagram from the TRM

The SMC can interface with two different memory types: NAND or SRAM/NOR. As it features two memory slots, this means that it can drive two memories, but they must be of the same type. When handling NAND devices, a hardware ECC engine is available to perform on-the-fly correction.

As only a single type of memory device can be plugged in at a time (either two SRAM/NORs or two NANDs), we don’t need to share a lot of controls with the SRAM/NOR controllers. So in the end the memory bus driver is almost an empty envelope that relies on the child controller driver to do the job.

Interactions with a memory device

On the CPU side, the controller has two main interfaces: APB and AXI.

The APB interface works like any regular interface: the CPU sees registers that it can access with diverse read and write operations, which will effectively read and write the content of the 32-bit registers located at the desired addresses. This is how the driver configures the device type, the timings, the possible ECC configuration and so forth. All the initial SMC configuration is done through the APB interface.

The AXI interface does not quite work like this. Instead of featuring a set of registers at a fixed address in which the content of the command, address and data cycles would be written in order to be forwarded to the memory device, the AXI interface needs to reserve a notable range in the addressable space. In particular, the offset targetted by the AXI write depend on the type of action that must be performed and the content of the action:

  • When requesting the controller to send command and address cycles to the memory device, the datasheet refers to it as the “command phase”.
  • When doing I/Os, eg. actually reading from/writing to the memory device, the datasheet calls this the “data phase”.

Both the command and data phase use regular AXI read/writes, but the offsets and values are different than usual.

Command phase

When the driver wants to send command cycles, it must perform one or two register writes. The address of the write operation in the AXI address space must target a specific offset. This offset indicates a number of information:

  • A specific bit is set to tell the SMC that it must enter a command phase.
  • Part of the offset are made of the shifted values of the different command opcodes for the memory device.
  • Part of the offset encodes the number of address cycles to perform on the NAND bus.

The payload of the AXI write contains the value of the address cycles that should be forwarded to the memory device. If there are more than 4 address cycles (which is quite common today), then a second AXI write containing the remaining address cycles as payload must happen at the same offset as before.

 * Define the offset in the AXI address space where to write with:
 * - the bit indicating the command phase
 * - the number of address cycles
 * - the command opcode
cmd_addr = PL35X_SMC_CMD_PHASE |
           PL35X_SMC_CMD_PHASE_NADDRS(naddr_cycles) |

/* Define the payload with the address bytes */
for (i = 0, row = 0; row < nrows; i++, row++) {
        if (row < 4)
                addr1 |= PL35X_SMC_CMD_PHASE_ADDR(row, addr);
                addr2 |= PL35X_SMC_CMD_PHASE_ADDR(row - 4, addr);

/* Send the command and address cycles */
writel(addr1, nfc->io_regs + cmd_addr);
if (naddr_cycles > 4)
        writel(addr2, nfc->io_regs + cmd_addr);

Data phase

The data phase is a bit easier to understand: several AXI reads or writes will be performed at a specific offset. The payload matches our expectations: it is actually the data that we want to read from or write to the device. However, the offset in the AXI address space is again a bit counter-intuitive:

  • It contains a specific bit such as the command phase to inform the controller that the data phase must be entered.
  • It also contains shifted values of different flags regarding the ECC configuration. The thing is, this offset will change at the end of the I/O operation because the last chunk of data must always be handled differently because of the ECC calculations that must be manually started. We end up reading or writing physically contiguous data by accessing two completely different offsets.
/* I/O transfers: simple case */
for (i = 0; i < buf_end; i++) {
        data_phase_addr = PL35X_SMC_DATA_PHASE;
        if (i + 1 == buf_end)
                data_phase_addr += PL35X_SMC_DATA_PHASE_ECC_LAST;

        writel(buf32[i], nfc->io_regs + data_phase_addr);

But what happens if a command cycle must be sent at the end of a data transfer (typical case of a PAGE_WRITE)? While it would certainly be more logical to perform an additional command phase AXI write, it was certainly more optimized to merge data and command phase on the last access. And here is how it looks like:

/* I/O transfers: less straightforward situation */
for (i = 0; i < buf_end; i++) {
        data_phase_addr = PL35X_SMC_DATA_PHASE;
        if (i + 1 == buf_end)
                data_phase_addr +=
                    PL35X_SMC_DATA_PHASE_ECC_LAST |
                    PL35X_SMC_CMD_PHASE_CMD1(NAND_CMD_PAGEPROG) |

        writel(buf32[i], nfc->io_regs + data_phase_addr);

Of course, nothing highly unreadable, but at the very least, these accesses are quite uncommon.

A memory bus driver and a NAND controller driver

As explained earlier, this SMC controller can support different types of memories, and this has called for a Device Tree representation where the SMC controller is one node, and the memories connected to it are represented as sub-node. So, the Device Tree representation of the SMC controller, used with its NAND controller looks like this:

    smcc: memory-controller@e000e000 {
      compatible = "arm,pl353-smc-r2p1", "arm,primecell";
      reg = <0xe000e000 0x0001000>;
      clock-names = "memclk", "apb_pclk";
      clocks = <&clkc 11>, <&clkc 44>;
      ranges = <0x0 0x0 0xe1000000 0x1000000 /* Nand CS region */
                0x1 0x0 0xe2000000 0x2000000 /* SRAM/NOR CS0 region */
                0x2 0x0 0xe4000000 0x2000000>; /* SRAM/NOR CS1 region */
      #address-cells = <2>;
      #size-cells = <1>;

      nfc0: nand-controller@0,0 {
        compatible = "arm,pl353-nand-r2p1";
        reg = <0 0 0x1000000>;
        #address-cells = <1>;
        #size-cells = <0>;

So, we first have a node for the SMC controller itself, memory-controller@e000e000, which will allow probing the memory bus driver located at drivers/memory/pl353-smc.c. This driver is very simple: it enables the clocks necessary for the SMC to work, and then it probes the first child device that matches either the cfi-flash or arm,pl353-nand-r2p1 compatible strings. In the latter case (which is illustrated in our example), the NAND controller driver at drivers/mtd/nand/raw/pl35x-nand-controller.c will be probed, and where the two memory areas (accessed through APB and AXI) will be mapped, and accessed to program the NAND controller.

Now in the mainline Linux kernel

Starting from the latest version posted by Xilinx, Miquèl Raynal, Bootlin’s NAND/MTD expert, performed a massive cleanup of the memory bus driver and the NAND controller driver, rewrote entirely the binding file (in YAML schema!) and three versions later, with the support of Xilinx engineers and the acknowledgements of Rob Herring and Krzysztof Kozlowski, managed to finally close the story. The driver is now part of Linux 5.14-rc, and will therefore be in the final Linux 5.14 release in a few weeks!

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.