Buildroot Long Term Support releases: from 2017.02 to 2017.02.6 and counting

Buildroot LogoBuildroot is a widely used embedded Linux build systems. A large number of companies and projects use Buildroot to produce customized embedded Linux systems for a wide range of embedded devices. Most of those devices are now connected to the Internet, and therefore subject to attacks if the software they run is not regularly updated to address security vulnerabilities.

The Buildroot project publishes a new release every three months, with each release providing a mix of new features, new packages, package updates, build infrastructure improvements… and security fixes. However, until earlier this year, as soon as a new version was published, the maintenance of the previous version stopped. This means that in order to stay up to date in terms of security fixes, users essentially had two options:

  1. Update their Buildroot version regularly. The big drawback is that they get not only security updates, but also many other package updates, which may be problematic when a system is in production.
  2. Stick with their original Buildroot version, and carefully monitor CVEs and security vulnerabilities in the packages they use, and update the corresponding packages, which obvisouly is a time-consuming process.

Starting with 2017.02, the Buildroot community has decided to offer one long term supported release every year: 2017.02 will be supported one year in terms of security updates and bug fixes, until 2018.02 is released. The usual three-month release cycle still applies, with 2017.05 and 2017.08 already being released, but users interested in a stable Buildroot version that is kept updated for security issues can stay on 2017.02.

Since 2017.02 was released on February 28th, 2017, six minor versions were published on a fairly regularly basis, almost every month, except in August:

With about 60 to 130 commits between each minor version, it is relatively easy for users to check what has been changed, and evaluate the impact of upgrading to the latest minor version to benefit from the security updates. The commits integrated in those minor versions are carefully chosen with the idea that users should be able to easily update existing systems.

In total, those six minor versions include 526 commits, of which 183 commits were security updates, representing roughly one third of the total number of commits. The other commits have been:

  • 140 commits to fix build issues
  • 57 commits to bump versions of packages for bug fixes. These almost exclusively include updates to the Linux kernel, using its LTS versions. For other packages, we are more conservative and generally don’t upgrade them.
  • 17 commits to address issues in the licensing description of the packages
  • 186 commits to fix miscellaneous issues, ranging from runtime issues affecting packages to bugs in the build infrastructure

The Buildroot community has already received a number of bug reports, patches or suggestions specifically targetting the 2017.02 LTS version, which indicates that developers and companies have started to adopt this LTS version.

Therefore, if you are interested in using Buildroot for a product, you should probably consider using the LTS version! We very much welcome feedback on this version, and help in monitoring the security vulnerabilities affecting software packages in Buildroot.

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Free Electrons opens a new office in Lyon, France

After Toulouse and Orange, Lyon is the third city chosen for opening a Free Electrons office. Since September 1st of this year (2017), Alexandre Belloni and Grégory Clement have been working more precisely in Oullins close to the subway and the train station. It is the first step to make the Lyon team grow, with the opportunity to welcome interns and engineers.


Their new desks are already crowded by many boards running our favorite system.

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Mali OpenGL support on Allwinner platforms with mainline Linux

As most people know, getting GPU-based 3D acceleration to work on ARM platforms has always been difficult, due to the closed nature of the support for such GPUs. Most vendors provide closed-source binary-only OpenGL implementations in the form of binary blobs, whose quality depend on the vendor.

This situation is getting better and better through vendor-funded initiatives like for the Broadcom VC4 and VC5, or through reverse engineering projects like Nouveau on Tegra SoCs, Etnaviv on Vivante GPUs, Freedreno on Qualcomm’s. However there are still GPUs where you do not have the option to use a free software stack: PowerVR from Imagination Technologies and Mali from ARM (even though there is some progress on the reverse engineering effort).

Allwinner SoCs are using either a Mali GPU from ARM or a PowerVR from Imagination Technologies, and therefore, support for OpenGL on those platforms using a mainline Linux kernel has always been a problem. This is also further complicated by the fact that Allwinner is mostly interested in Android, which uses a different C library that avoids its use in traditional glibc-based systems (or through the use of libhybris).

However, we are happy to announce that Allwinner gave us clearance to publish the userspace binary blobs that allows to get OpenGL supported on Allwinner platforms that use a Mali GPU from ARM, using a recent mainline Linux kernel. Of course, those are closed source binary blobs and not a nice fully open-source solution, but it nonetheless allows everyone to have OpenGL support working, while taking advantage of all the benefits of a recent mainline Linux kernel. We have successfully used those binary blobs on customer projects involving the Allwinner A33 SoCs, and they should work on all Allwinner SoCs using the Mali GPU.

In order to get GPU support to work on your Allwinner platform, you will need:

  • The kernel-side driver, available on Maxime Ripard’s Github repository. This is essentially the Mali kernel-side driver from ARM, plus a number of build and bug fixes to make it work with recent mainline Linux kernels.
  • The Device Tree description of the GPU. We introduced Device Tree bindings for Mali GPUs in the mainline kernel a while ago, so that Device Trees can describe such GPUs. Such description has been added for the Allwinner A23 and A33 SoCs as part of this commit.
  • The userspace blob, which is available on Free Electrons GitHub repository. It currently provides the r6p2 version of the driver, with support for both fbdev and X11 systems. Hopefully, we’ll gain access to newer versions in the future, with additional features (such as GBM support).

If you want to use it in your system, the first step is to have the GPU definition in your device tree if it’s not already there. Then, you need to compile the kernel module:

git clone https://github.com/mripard/sunxi-mali.git
cd sunxi-mali
export CROSS_COMPILE=$TOOLCHAIN_PREFIX
export KDIR=$KERNEL_BUILD_DIR
export INSTALL_MOD_PATH=$TARGET_DIR
./build.sh -r r6p2 -b
./build.sh -r r6p2 -i

It should install the mali.ko Linux kernel module into the target filesystem.

Now, you can copy the OpenGL userspace blobs that match your setup, most likely the fbdev or X11-dma-buf variant. For example, for fbdev:

git clone https://github.com/free-electrons/mali-blobs.git
cd mali-blobs
cp -a r6p2/fbdev/lib/lib_fb_dev/lib* $TARGET_DIR/usr/lib

You should be all set. Of course, you will have to link your OpenGL applications or libraries against those user-space blobs. You can check that everything works using OpenGL test programs such as es2_gears for example.

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Free Electrons at the Embedded Linux Conference Europe

The next Embedded Linux Conference Europe will take place on October 23-25 in Prague, Czech Republic.

Embedded Linux Conference Europe 2017

As usual, a significant part of the Free Electrons engineering team will participate to the conference and give talks on various topics:

In addition to the main ELCE conference, Thomas Petazzoni will participate to the Buildroot Developers Days, a 2-day hackaton organized on Saturday and Sunday prior to ELCE, and will participate to the Device Tree workshop organized on Thursday afternoon.

Once again, we’re really happy to participate to this conference, and looking forward to meeting again with a large number of Linux kernel and embedded Linux developers!

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Linux 4.13 released, Free Electrons contributions

Linux 4.13 was released last Sunday by Linus Torvalds, and the major new features of this release were described in details by LWN in a set of articles: part 1 and part 2.

This release gathers 13006 non-merge commits, amongst which 239 were made by Free Electrons engineers. According to the LWN article on 4.13 statistics, this makes Free Electrons the 13th contributing company by number of commits, the 10th by lines changed.

The most important contributions from Free Electrons for this release have been:

  • In the RTC subsystem
    • Alexandre Belloni introduced a new method for registering RTC devices, with one step for the allocation, and one step for the registration itself, which allows to solve race conditions in a number of drivers.
    • Alexandre Belloni added support for exposing the non-volatile memory found in some RTC devices through the Linux kernel nvmem framework, making them usable from userspace. A few drivers were changed to use this new mechanism.
  • In the MTD/NAND subsystem
    • Boris Brezillon did a large number of fixes and minor improvements in the NAND subsystem, both in the core and in a few drivers.
    • Thomas Petazzoni contributed the support for on-die ECC, specifically with Micron NANDs. This allows to use the ECC calculation capabilities of the NAND chip itself, as opposed to using software ECC (calculated by the CPU) or ECC done by the NAND controller.
    • Thomas Petazzoni contributed a few improvements to the FSMC NAND driver, used on ST Spear platforms. The main improvement is to support the ->setup_data_interface() callback, which allows to configure optimal timings in the NAND controller.
  • Support for Allwinner ARM platforms
    • Alexandre Belloni improved the sun4i PWM driver to use the so-called atomic API and support hardware read out.
    • Antoine Ténart improved the sun4i-ss cryptographic engine driver to support the Allwinner A13 processor, in addition to the already supported A10.
    • Maxime Ripard contributed HDMI support for the Allwinner A10 processor (in the DRM subsystem) and a number of related changes to the Allwinner clock support.
    • Quentin Schulz improved the support for battery charging through the AXP20x PMIC, used on Allwinner platforms.
  • Support for Atmel ARM platforms
    • Alexandre Belloni added suspend/resume support for the Atmel SAMA5D2 clock driver. This is part of a larger effort to implement the backup mode for the SAMA5D2 processor.
    • Alexandre Belloni added suspend/resume support in the tcb_clksrc driver, used as for clocksource and clockevents on Atmel SAMA5D2.
    • Alexandre Belloni cleaned up a number of drivers, removing support for non-DT probing, which is possible now that the AVR32 architecture has been dropped. Indeed, the AVR32 processors used to share the same drivers as the Atmel ARM processors.
    • Alexandre Belloni added the core support for the backup mode on Atmel SAMA5D2, a suspend/resume state with significant power savings.
    • Boris Brezillon switched Atmel platforms to use the new binding for the EBI and NAND controllers.
    • Boris Brezillon added support for timing configuration in the Atmel NAND driver.
    • Quentin Schulz added suspend/resume support to the Bosch m_can driver, used on Atmel platforms.
  • Support for Marvell ARM platforms
    • Antoine Ténart contributed a completely new driver (3200+ lines of code) for the Inside Secure EIP197 cryptographic engine, used in the Marvell Armada 7K and 8K processors. He also subsequently contributed a number of fixes and improvements for this driver.
    • Antoine Ténart improved the existing mvmdio driver, used to communicate with Ethernet PHYs over MDIO on Marvell platforms to support the XSMI variant found on Marvell Armada 7K/8K, used to communicate with 10G capable PHYs.
    • Antoine Ténart contributed minimal support for 10G Ethernet in the mvpp2 driver, used on Marvell Armada 7K/8K. For now, the driver still relies on low-level initialization done by the bootloader, but additional changes in 4.14 and 4.15 will remove this limitation.
    • Grégory Clement added a new pinctrl driver to configure the pin-muxing on the Marvell Armada 37xx processors.
    • Grégory Clement did a large number of changes to the clock drivers used on the Marvell Armada 7K/8K processors to prepare the addition of pinctrl support.
    • Grégory Clement added support for Marvell Armada 7K/8K to the existing mvebu-gpio driver.
    • Thomas Petazzoni added support for the ICU, a specialized interrupt controller used on the Marvell Armada 7K/8K, for all devices located in the CP110 part of the processor.
    • Thomas Petazzoni removed a work-around to properly resume per-CPU interrupts on the older Marvell Armada 370/XP platforms.
  • Support for RaspberryPi platforms
    • Boris Brezillon added runtime PM support to the HDMI encoder driver used on RaspberryPi platforms, and contributed a few other fixes to the VC4 DRM driver.

It is worth mentioning that Miquèl Raynal, recently hired by Free Electrons, sees his first kernel patch merged: nand: fix wrong default oob layout for small pages using soft ecc.

Free Electrons engineers are not only contributors, but also maintainers of various subsystems in the Linux kernel, which means they are involved in the process of reviewing, discussing and merging patches contributed to those subsystems:

  • Maxime Ripard, as the Allwinner platform co-maintainer, merged 113 patches from other contributors
  • Boris Brezillon, as the MTD/NAND maintainer, merged 62 patches from other contributors
  • Alexandre Belloni, as the RTC maintainer and Atmel platform co-maintainer, merged 57 patches from other contributors
  • Grégory Clement, as the Marvell EBU co-maintainer, merged 47 patches from other contributors

Here is the commit by commit detail of our contributors to 4.13:

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Free Electrons at Embedded and Kernel Recipes 2017

Kernel RecipesEmbedded RecipesThe Kernel Recipes conference has become over the last few years a very interesting conference, with an original single track format and a limited number of attendees, which fosters communication and networking. Held in Paris, France, it is obviously a conference of choice for Free Electrons engineers to attend and speak at. We participated to multiple editions, Free Electrons engineer Maxime Ripard gave a talk at the 2014 edition, while Thomas Petazzoni gave a talk at the 2013 edition.

In 2017, the organizers decided to complement the 3-day Kernel Recipes conference with a 1-day Embedded Recipes event, and Free Electrons will participate by having two engineers attend those events and give talks:

If you’re interested in attending one of those events, make sure to register on time, there are only 100 seats available!

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Free Electrons at the Linux Plumbers 2017 conference

The Linux Plumbers conference has established itself as a major conference in the Linux ecosystem, discussing numerous aspects of the low-level layers of the Linux software stack. Linux Plumbers is organized around a number of micro-conferences, plus a number of more regular talks.

Linux Plumbers 2017

Free Electrons already participated to several previous editions of Linux Plumbers, and will again participate to this year’s edition that takes place in Los Angeles on September 13-15. Free Electrons engineers Boris Brezillon, Alexandre Belloni, Grégory Clement and Thomas Petazzoni will attend the conference.

If you’re attending this conference, or are located in the Los Angeles area, and want to meet us, do not hesitate to drop us a line at info@free-electrons.com. You can also follow Free Electrons Twitter feed for updates during the conference.

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Updated bleeding edge toolchains on toolchains.free-electrons.com

Two months ago, we announced a new service from Free Electrons: free and ready-to-use Linux cross-compilation toolchains, for a large number of architectures and C libraries, available at http://toolchains.free-electrons.com/.

Bleeding edge toolchain updates

All our bleeding edge toolchains have been updated, with the latest version of the toolchain components:

  • gcc 7.2.0, which was released 2 days ago
  • glibc 2.26, which was released 2 weeks ago
  • binutils 2.29
  • gdb 8.0

Those bleeding edge toolchains are now based on Buildroot 2017.08-rc2, which brings a nice improvement: the host tools (gcc, binutils, etc.) are no longer linked statically against gmp, mpfr and other host libraries. They are dynamically linked against them with an appropriate rpath encoded into the gcc and binutils binaries to find those shared libraries regardless of the installation location of the toolchain.

However, due to gdb 8.0 requiring a C++11 compiler on the host machine (at least gcc 4.8), our bleeding edge toolchains are now built in a Debian Jessie system instead of Debian Squeeze, which means that at least glibc 2.14 is needed on the host system to use them.

The only toolchains for which the tests are not successful are the MIPS64R6 toolchains, due to the Linux kernel not building properly for this architecture with gcc 7.x. This issue has already been reported upstream.

Stable toolchain updates

We haven’t changed the component versions of our stable toolchains, but we made a number of fixes to them:

  • The armv7m and m68k-coldfire toolchains have been rebuilt with a fixed version of elf2flt that makes the toolchain linker directly usable. This fixes building the Linux kernel using those toolchains.
  • The mips32r5 toolchain has been rebuilt with NaN 2008 encoding (instead of NaN legacy), which makes the resulting userspace binaries actually executable by the Linux kernel, which expects NaN 2008 encoding on mips32r5 by default.
  • Most mips toolchains for musl have been rebuilt, with Buildroot fixes for the creation of the dynamic linker symbolic link. This has no effect on the toolchain itself, but also the tests under Qemu to work properly and validate the toolchains.

Other improvements

We made a number of small improvements to the toolchains.free-electrons.com site:

  • Each architecture now has a page that lists all toolchain versions available. This allows to easily find a toolchain that matches your requirements (in terms of gcc version, kernel headers version, etc.). See All aarch64 toolchains for an example.
  • We added a FAQ as well as a news page.

As usual, we welcome feedback about our toolchains, either on our bug tracker or by mail at info@free-electrons.com.

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Free Electrons proposes an I3C subsystem for the Linux kernel

MIPI I3C fact sheet, from the MIPI I3C white paper

MIPI I3C fact sheet, from the MIPI I3C white paper

At the end of 2016, the MIPI consortium has finalized the first version of its I3C specification, a new communication bus that aims at replacing older busses like I2C or SPI. According to the specification, I3C gets closer to SPI data rate while requiring less pins and adding interesting mechanisms like in-band interrupts, hotplug capability or automatic discovery of devices connected on the bus. In addition, I3C provides backward compatibility with I2C: I3C and legacy I2C devices can be connected on a common bus controlled by an I3C master.

For more details about I3C, we suggest reading the MIPI I3C Whitepaper, as unfortunately MIPI has not publicly released the specifications for this protocol.

For the last few months, Free Electrons engineer Boris Brezillon has been working with Cadence to develop a Linux kernel subsystem to support this new bus, as well as Cadence’s I3C master controller IP. We have now posted the first version of our patch series to the Linux kernel mailing list for review, and we already received a large number of very useful comments from the kernel community.

Free Electrons is proud to be pioneering the support for this new bus in the Linux kernel, and hopes to see other developers contribute to this subsystem in the near future!

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Linux 4.12, Free Electrons contributions

Linus Torvalds has released the 4.12 Linux kernel a week ago, in what is the second biggest kernel release ever by number of commits. As usual, LWN had a very nice coverage of the major new features and improvements: first part, second part and third part.

LWN has also published statistics about the Linux 4.12 development cycles, showing:

  • Free Electrons as the #14 contributing company by number of commits, with 221 commits, between Broadcom (230 commits) and NXP (212 commits)
  • Free Electrons as the #14 contributing company number of changed lines, with 16636 lines changed, just two lines less than Mellanox
  • Free Electrons engineer and MTD NAND maintainer Boris Brezillon as the #17 most active contributor by number of lines changed.

Our most important contributions to this kernel release have been:

  • On Atmel AT91 and SAMA5 platforms:
    • Alexandre Belloni has continued to upstream the support for the SAMA5D2 backup mode, which is a very deep suspend to RAM state, offering very nice power savings. Alexandre touched the core code in arch/arm/mach-at91 as well as pinctrl and irqchip drivers
    • Boris Brezillon has converted the Atmel PWM driver to the atomic API of the PWM subsystem, implemented suspend/resume and did a number of fixes in the Atmel display controller driver, and also removed the no longer used AT91 Parallel ATA driver.
    • Quentin Schulz improved the suspend/resume hooks in the atmel-spi driver to support the SAMA5D2 backup mode.
  • On Allwinner platforms:
    • Mylène Josserand has made a number of improvements to the sun8i-codec audio driver that she contributed a few releases ago.
    • Maxime Ripard added devfreq support to dynamically change the frequency of the GPU on the Allwinner A33 SoC.
    • Quentin Schulz added battery charging and ADC support to the X-Powers AXP20x and AXP22x PMICs, found on Allwinner platforms.
    • Quentin Schulz added a new IIO driver to support the ADCs found on numerous Allwinner SoCs.
    • Quentin Schulz added support for the Allwinner A33 built-in thermal sensor, and used it to implement thermal throttling on this platform.
  • On Marvell platforms:
    • Antoine Ténart contributed Device Tree changes to describe the cryptographic engines found in the Marvell Armada 7K and 8K SoCs. For now only the Device Tree description has been merged, the driver itself will arrive in Linux 4.13.
    • Grégory Clement has contributed a pinctrl and GPIO driver for the Marvell Armada 3720 SoC (Cortex-A53 based)
    • Grégory Clement has improved the Device Tree description of the Marvell Armada 3720 and Marvell Armada 7K/8K SoCs and corresponding evaluation boards: SDHCI and RTC are now enabled on Armada 7K/8K, USB2, USB3 and RTC are now enabled on Armada 3720.
    • Thomas Petazzoni made a significant number of changes to the mvpp2 network driver, finally adding support for the PPv2.2 version of this Ethernet controller. This allowed to enable network support on the Marvell Armada 7K/8K SoCs.
    • Thomas Petazzoni contributed a number of fixes to the mv_xor_v2 dmaengine driver, used for the XOR engines on the Marvell Armada 7K/8K SoCs.
    • Thomas Petazzoni cleaned-up the MSI support in the Marvell pci-mvebu and pcie-aardvark PCI host controller drivers, which allowed to remove a no-longer used MSI kernel API.
  • On the ST SPEAr600 platform:
    • Thomas Petazzoni added support for the ADC available on this platform, by adding its Device Tree description and fixing a clock driver bug
    • Thomas did a number of small improvements to the Device Tree description of the SoC and its evaluation board
    • Thomas cleaned up the fsmc_nand driver, which is used for the NAND controller driver on this platform, removing lots of unused code
  • In the MTD NAND subsystem:
    • Boris Brezillon implemented a mechanism to allow vendor-specific initialization and detection steps to be added, on a per-NAND chip basis. As part of this effort, he has split into multiple files the vendor-specific initialization sequences for Macronix, AMD/Spansion, Micron, Toshiba, Hynix and Samsung NANDs. This work will allow in the future to more easily exploit the vendor-specific features of different NAND chips.
  • Other contributions:
    • Maxime Ripard added a display panel driver for the ST7789V LCD controller

In addition, several Free Electrons engineers are also maintainers of various kernel subsystems. During this release cycle, they reviewed and merged a number of patches from kernel contributors:

  • Maxime Ripard, as the Allwinner co-maintainer, merged 94 patches
  • Boris Brezillon, as the NAND maintainer and MTD co-maintainer, merged 64 patches
  • Alexandre Belloni, as the RTC maintainer and Atmel co-maintainer, merged 38 patches
  • Grégory Clement, as the Marvell EBU co-maintainer, merged 32 patches

The details of all our contributions for this release:

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