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Running Debian on Bifferboard

There are three major steps in installing Debian on your Bifferboard:

  1. Kernel boot command line.
  2. Kernel installation on the Bifferboard.
  3. Rootfs installation on a USB device or an SD/MMC card.

Kernel boot command line

Since Biffboot v3.3, dated 19.July.2010, the kernel boot command line no longer specifies an external block device for the root file system. As a result of this, you need to update the boot configuration before you can boot from a USB device or an SD/MMC card. You have two options to configure the boot command line:

You need to set the kernel boot command line (“Kernel cmndline”) to:

console=uart,io,0x3f8 root=/dev/sda1 rootwait

Kernel installation on the Bifferboard

Download a pre-built kernel binary image:

The kernel is compiled with (almost) all possible modules, so your Bifferboard should be able to easily use any device supported on Debian. Once you have downloaded the kernel image, you can then upload it to the Bifferboard, as advised at the Biffboot Wiki page. You have two options to upload the kernel – via the serial port or over the ethernet. Both work well.

Example: Assuming that you have the Bifferboard SVN repository checked out in “~/biffer/svn“, you have downloaded the “vmlinuz-2.6.30.5-bifferboard-ipipe” kernel image in “/tmp“, your Bifferboard has a MAC address of “00:B3:F6:00:37:A9“, and you have connected it on the Ethernet port “eth0” of your computer, here are the commands that you would need to use:

cd ~/biffer/svn/utils
sudo ./bb_eth_upload.py eth0 00:B3:F6:00:37:A9 /tmp/vmlinuz-2.6.30.5-bifferboard-ipipe

Rootfs installation on a USB device or an SD/MMC card

Once you have the kernel “installed” on the Bifferboard and ready to boot, you need to prepare a rootfs media. This is where your Debian installation is stored and booted from. Download one of the following pre-built rootfs images (default root password is “biffroot”):

The “developer” version adds the following packages: build-essential, perl, links, manpages, manpages-dev, man-db, mc, vim. Note that for each image you will need at least 100MB more free on the rootfs media.

In order to populate the rootfs media, you have to do the following:

  1. Create one primary partition, format it as “ext3” and then mount the USB device or SD/MMC card.
  2. Extract the archive in the mounted directory.
  3. Unmount the directory.

Example: Assuming that you have the Bifferboard SVN repository checked out in “~/biffer/svn“, you have downloaded the “minimal” rootfs image in “/tmp“, and you are using an SD/MMC card under the device name “/dev/mmcblk0“, here are the commands that you would need to use:

sudo bash
mkdir /mnt/rootfs
cd ~/biffer/svn/debian/rootfs
./format-and-mount.sh /dev/mmcblk0 /mnt/rootfs
tar -jxf /tmp/debian-lenny-bifferboard-rootfs-minimal.tar.bz2 -C /mnt/rootfs
umount /mnt/rootfs
# CHANGE THE DEFAULT ROOT PASSWORD!

When you have the USB device or SD/MMC card ready and populated with the customized Debian rootfs, plug it in Bifferboard, attach a serial cable to Bifferboard, if you have one, and boot it up.

That’s it. Enjoy your Bifferboard running Debian.

Update: As already mentioned in the comments below, you would probably need to set up swap too. Here is my recipe:

# change "128" (MBytes) below to a number which suits your needs
dd if=/dev/zero of=/swapfile bs=1M count=128
mkswap /swapfile
swapon /swapfile # enables swap right away; disable with "swapoff -a"
echo '/swapfile none swap sw 0 0' >> /etc/fstab # enables swap at system boot

Using a file for swap on a 2.6 Linux kernel has the same performances as using a separate swap partition as discussed at LKML.

Update 2: As announced by Debian, Debian 5.0 (lenny) has been superseded by Debian 6.0 (squeeze). Security updates have been discontinued as of February 6th, 2012. Thus by downloading and installing the images provided here, you’re using an obsolete Debian release. If that’s not a problem for you, read on. You need to change the file “/etc/apt/sources.list” to the following using your favorite text editor:

deb http://archive.debian.org/debian lenny main contrib non-free
deb-src http://archive.debian.org/debian lenny main contrib non-free
deb http://archive.debian.org/debian-security/ lenny/updates main contrib non-free
deb-src http://archive.debian.org/debian-security/ lenny/updates main contrib non-free

P.S. If you want to build your own customized Debian rootfs image for Bifferboard – checkout the Bifferboard SVN repository and review the instructions in “debian/rootfs/images.txt“.

References:

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Debian rootfs installation customized for Bifferboard

Update: There are (more up-to-date) automated scripts which you can use for the below actions:

  1. You need to checkout the whole Bifferboard SVN repository.
  2. The scripts are located in the directory “/debian/rootfs“. Execute them from the checked out repository on your local computer.

First you have to mount a medium on which we are going to install the Debian system. Generally, you have two options:

  • Using a USB Flash drive:


    ## MAKE SURE THAT YOU UPDATE THIS
    $ export ROOTDEV=/dev/sdc1
    $ sudo mkfs.ext3 $ROOTDEV
    $ sudo tune2fs -c 0 -i 0 $ROOTDEV
    $ export MNTPOINT=/mnt/diskimage
    $ sudo mount $ROOTDEV $MNTPOINT

  • Using a Qemu image:


    $ export MNTPOINT=/mnt/diskimage
    $ export IMGFILE=hd0.img
    $ sudo mount -o loop,offset=32256 "$IMGFILE" $MNTPOINT

Once we have the medium mounted at $MNTPOINT, we can proceed with installing Debian there and configuring it for Bifferboard:

$ export DBS_OS_VERSION=lenny
## replace "bg." with your local archive, or just omit it
$ export DBS_LOCAL_ARCHIVE=bg.
$ sudo debootstrap --arch i386 ${DBS_OS_VERSION} $MNTPOINT/ http://ftp.${DBS_LOCAL_ARCHIVE}debian.org/debian
## ... go grab a pizza or something ... this will take a while
$ sudo cp /etc/resolv.conf $MNTPOINT/etc/
$ sudo mount proc $MNTPOINT/proc -t proc
$ sudo chroot $MNTPOINT
##
## We are now in the "chroot" environment as root
##
/# apt-get -qq update && apt-get install wget
/# cd /root && wget http://bifferboard.svn.sourceforge.net/viewvc/bifferboard/debian/rootfs/include/debootstrap-postconfig.sh
/root# chmod +x debootstrap-postconfig.sh && ./debootstrap-postconfig.sh
/root# passwd root
/root# exit
##
## Back to our machine
##
$ sudo umount $MNTPOINT/proc
$ sudo umount $MNTPOINT


Now you have a minimum Debian installation customized for Bifferboard in the following way:

  • Custom kernel for Bifferboard installed by a .deb package.
  • Ethernet interface configured as DHCP client.
  • Temporary directories /tmp and /var/tmp mounted on a RAM-disk.
  • All APT sources “main contrib non-free” enabled.
  • Serial console on ttyS0 (115200 8N1).
  • RTC (real-time clock) kernel modules blacklisted – the Bifferboard has no RTC.
  • IPv6 disabled – takes a lot of resources and we won’t use it anyway, for now.

I may add any further customizations if needed. You can always review the debootstrap-postconfig.sh script for details on what is being configured.

You can use this image/disk as a rootfs which you can boot directly on Bifferboard or try in Qemu. Note that you have to install our Debian kernel on Bifferboard prior to booting this rootfs.


Used resources: