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FAQ tweak.
author Rob Landley <>
date Thu, 07 Oct 2010 23:59:05 -0500
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<title>Frequently Asked Questions</title>

<li><p><a href=#where_start>Q: Where do I start?</a></p></li>

<li><p><a href=#building><h1>Building System Images</h1></a></p></li>
<li><p><a href=#source_tour>Q: What's all this source code for?</a></p></li>

<li><p><a href=#add_package>Q: How do I add $PACKAGE to my system image's root filesystem?</a></p></li>

<li><p><a href=#case_sensitive_patch>Q: I added my uClibc patch to sources/patches but it didn't do anything, what's wrong?</a></p></li>

<li><p><a href=#package_breaks>Q: Why did package build $NAME die because it couldn't find $PREREQUISITE, even though it's installed?</a></p></li>

<li><p><a href=#environment_sanitizing>Q: Why isn't the build listening to the environment variables I set?</p></li>

<li><p><a href=#debugging><h1>Debugging questions</h1></a></p></li>

<li><p><a href=#debug_logging>Q: How do I get better log output?</p></li>
<li><p><a href=#debug_test>Q: How do I run my own build snippets without editing the build scripts?</a></p></li>
<li><p><a href=#debug_source>Q: How do I play around with package source code?</p></li>
<li><p><a href=#debug_package_cache>Q: What's the package cache for?</a></p></li>
<li><p><a href=#debug_working_copies>Q: What are working copies for?</a></p></li>

<li><p><a href=#other><h1>Other questions</h1></a></p></li>

<li><p><a href=#name_change>Q: Didn't this used to be called Firmware Linux?</a></p></li>

<li><p><a href=#ubuntu_mispackaged_qemu>Q: ./ says qemu-system-mips isn't found, but I installed qemu.  Why isn't this working?</a></p></li>

<li><p><a href=#windows>Q: Do you care about windows?</a></p></li>

<hr /><a name=where_start /><h2>Q: Where do I start?</h2>

<p>The project provides development and test environments for lots of different
hardware platforms, based on busybox and uClibc and configured to run under

<p>Most people want to do one of three things:</p>

<li><p>Download a prebuilt system image, boot it up under the emulator, and
compile stuff natively for a target.</p>

<p>Go <a href=screenshots>here</a> and download the appropriate
system-image-<b>$ARCH</b>.tar.bz2 for your $TARGET, extract it, cd into it,
and <b>./</b> to boot it under qemu.</p>

<p>Alternately, you can run the script <b>./</b>,
which is a wrapper around that feeds QEMU extra options to add
memory (256 megs) and writeable disk space (a blank 2 gigabyte disk image
mounted on /home) to provide a more capable development environment.</p>

<p>The system images contain native compiler toolchains, but if you install
distccd on the host and add the appropriate cross compiler to your host's
$PATH, the ./ script will detect this and set up the system
image to automatically use distcc to call out to the cross compiler through
the virtual network, speeding up native builds significantly.<p>

<li><p>Build your own cross compilers and system images from source, using
the build scripts.</p>

<p>Go to the <a href=downloads>downloads directory</a>, grab the most recent
release tarball, extract it, and run <b>./</b> to list
the available targets.  The run <b>./ $TARGET</b> to compile
the one you like.  The results wind up in the "build" directory.</p>

<p>The build scripts are written in bash, and fairly extensively commented.
All the scripts at the top level are designed to be run directly, and is just a wrapper script that calls them in order.  The less commonly
used scripts in <b>sources/more</b> are also designed to be run directly.</p>

<p>A large number of variables can be set to configure the build, either
by modifying the file "config" (which documents them all) or by exporting
them as environment variables.</p>

<p>To grab the latest development version of the build scripts out of the
source control system, go to the
<a href=>mercurial archive</a>.
If you don't want to install mercurial, you can grab a
<a href=>tarball</a> of the current code at
any time.</p>

<li><p>Download a prebuilt cross compiler and cross-compile stuff with it.</p>

<p>Go <a href=screenshots>here</a> and download the appropriate
cross-compiler-$TARGET.tar.bz2 for your $TARGET, extract it, add its
"bin" directory to your $PATH, and use the appropriate $TARGET-cc and
$TARGET-ld and so on to compile your program.  (The tool names have prefixes
so they can be in the same $PATH as your host's existing compiler.)</p>

<p>If all else fails, look at the pretty
<a href=screenshots>screenshots</a>.</p>

<hr /><a name=building />
<h1>Building System Images</h1>

<p>The build scripts compile the system images from source code.  Along
the way, they create the cross compilers and root filesystem tarballs too.
If you just want to use the prebuilt binary tarballs to mess around with
native environments for various targets, you don't need to care about the
build scripts.</p>

<p>But if you want to understand how it all works, and how to reproduce it,
then you do.</p>

<p>Start by running (or reading) "", it calls everything else.</p>

<hr /><a name=source_tour /><h2>Q: What's all this source code for?</h2>

<p>A: The basic outline is:</p>

<li><p><b>Top level</b> - The build stages.  The file calls the rest of these scripts in order (but you can call 'em directly too), and the file config lists all the envirionment variables you can set to change the default behavior.</p></li>

<li><p><b>sources</b> - Infrastructure files which you don't call directly.</p></li>

<li><p><b>more</b> - Additional scripts you can call directly to do various things, but which aren't build stages.  They have comments near the top describing what they do.</p></li>

<li><p><b>build</b> - Directory generated output goes into.  All the output of running a build winds up in here, and "rm -rf build" is essentially "make clean".</p></li>

<li><p><b>packages</b> - Downloaded source packages.  If you "rm -rf packages",
the script re-populates it by calling wget on various URLs.</p></li>

<hr /><a name=add_package /><h2>Q: How do I add $PACKAGE to my system image's root filesystem?</h2>

<p>A: Either build a writeable system image (SYSIMAGE_TYPE=ext2 or ext3 instead
of the default squashfs), or copy the squashfs contents into a writeable chroot

<p>Aboriginal Linux builds squashfs images by default, and the prebuilt binary
tarballs in
the downloads/binaries directory are built with the default values.  Squashfs
is a read-only compressed filesystem, which means it's pretty durable (you
never need to fsck it), but also a bit limiting.  The
script attaches a 2 gigabyte ext2 image to /dev/hdb (which is mounted on
/home) so you always have writeable space to build stuff in, but that doesn't
let you modify the root filesystem on /dev/hda: you can't install packages
you build into /bin and such on a read-only root filesystem.</p>

<p>The "SYSIMAGE_TYPE" and "SYSIMAGE_HDA_MEGS" config entries let you change
the default system image type generated by the script.  You
can edit the file "config" or specify them as environment variables, ala:</p>


<p>That creates a 2 gigabyte ext2 image, which you can boot into and install
packages natively under, using the "./ $TARGET" script.
If you've already built a system image, you can repackage the existing root
filesystem by just running (instead of the whole
As always, your new system image is created in the "build" subdirectory.</p>

<p>Note: since this is a writeable image, you'll have to fsck it.  You can
also use "tune2fs -j" to turn it into an ext3 image.</p>

<p>Alternately, you can boot from squashfs using the 
script and copy it to a writeable chroot in the /home directory.  The
gentoo-stage1 build in sources/native-builds does this like so:</p>

mkdir gentoo-stage1
find / -xdev | cpio -m -v -p /home/gentoo-stage1

echo Restarting init script in chroot

for i in mnt proc sys dev
  mount --bind /$i gentoo-stage1/$i

chroot gentoo-stage1 /mnt/init

for i in mnt proc sys dev
  umount gentoo-stage1/$i

tar cvjf gentoo-stage1.tar.bz2 gentoo-stage1

<hr /><a name=case_sensitive_patch /><h2>Q: I added a uClibc patch to sources/patches but it didn't do anything, what's wrong?</h2>

<p>The Linux filesystem is case sensitive, so the patch has to start with
"uClibc-" with a capital C.</p>

<hr /><a name=package_breaks /><h2>Q: Why did the $NAME package build die
with a complaint that it couldn't find $PREREQUISITE, even though that's
installed on the host?  (For example, distcc and python.)</h2>

<p>Because you skipped the step, and because installing a package
on the host isn't the same as installing it on the target.</p>

<p>Even though is technically an optional step, your host has to
be carefully set up to work without it.</p>

<p>Not only does add prerequisite packages your build requires,
it _removes_ everything else from the $PATH that might change the behavior of
the build.  Without this, the ./configure stages of various packages will
detect that libtool exists, or that the host has Python or Perl installed,
and configure the packages to make use of things that the cross compiler's
headers and libraries don't have, and that the target root filesystem
may not have installed.</p>

<hr /><a name=environment_sanitizing /><h2>Q: Why isn't the build listening to the environment variables I set?</h2>

<p>Quick answer: export NO_SANITIZE_ENVIRONMENT=1.</p>

<p>Long answer: you probably deleted the commented out variables from "config"
and then tried to set them on the command line.  The environment sanitizing
logic has a whitelist of variables, but also looks at config to see what
variables are exported in there (whether they're commented out or not) and
lets those through from the environment as well.  If you remove them from
config, it won't let them through from the environment.</p>

<hr /><a name="debugging" /><h1>Debugging questions</h1>

<hr /><a name="debug_logging" /><h2>Q: How do I get better log output from the build?</h2>

<h3><b>Get a verbose, single-processor log of the build output.</b></h3>

<p>When something goes wrong, re-run your build with a couple extra variables,
and log the output with "tee":</p>

<blockquote><pre>BUILD_VERBOSE=1 CPUS=1 ./ 2>&1 | tee out.txt</pre></blockquote>

<p>The shell has a nice syntax for exporting variables just for a single
command, by putting the command to run after the assignment.  Doing
that doesn't pollute your environment by leaving CPUS or BUILD_VERBOSE
exported, but it exports them just for the new "" process it
launches.  And redirecting stderr to stdin and piping the result into "tee"
captures the output so you can examine it with less or vi.</p>

<p>BUILD_VERBOSE undoes the "pretty printing" of the linux kernel and uClibc,
and makes a few other build steps produce more explicit output.</p>

<p>CPUS controls the number of tasks make should run in parallel.  The default
value is the number of processors on the system, times 1.5.  (So a 4 processor
system runs 6 processes.)  Making it single processor gives you much more
readable output, because a single-processor build stops more reliably at the
point where it hit a problem, rather than at some random later point forcing
you to scroll back quite a ways to find the error.  It also shouldn't
interleave the output of multiple parallel commands.</p>

<h3><b>Use the command logging wrapper</b></h3>

<p>If you need more logging detail, run more/, then re-run
the build and look at the output in build/logs.</p>

<p>The record-commands script sets up a wrapper which logs every command (and
all its arguments) run out of $PATH.  It populates build/wrapdir with
symlinks for every command name currently in $PATH, all pointing to the
"wrappy" binary (built from sources/toys/wrappy.c).  If you run record-commands
before running it wraps the host $PATH, if you run it after it wraps the sanitized $PATH in build/host.</p>

<p>The wrappy binary depends on two environment variables (set up by
sources/ $WRAPPY_LOGPATH is an absolute path to the current
log file (updated by the "setupfor" function) and $OLDPATH is the $PATH to
exec the real command out of after appending the current command line to
the log.</p>

<p>The script "more/" prints out a list of all
commands used by each build stage.  (Comparing the host-tools version
to a run without host-tools can be instructive; that's the extra stuff
./configure is picking up out of the host environment.)</p>

<hr /><a name=debug_test /><h2>Q: How do I run my own build snippets without editing the build scripts?</p></h2>

<p>A: Use the more/ script</p>

<p>The more/ script's first argument is the target to build for, and
the rest of its arguments are a command line to run as if building for that
target.  It sets up the same context for building for an $ARCH the scripts use
(adds the appropriate cross compiler to the $PATH if it's been build, sets
all the shell functions and environment variables, and so on), and then runs
the rest of the command line in that context.</p>

  more/ armv5l build_section busybox
  more/ mips getconfig linux

<p>You can also write your own script and source sources/ and
call read_arch_dir yourself at the top of it, but that's pretty much all does.</p>

<hr /><a name=debug_source /><h2>Q: How do I play around with package source code?</p></h2>

<p>The source code used by package builds lives in several directories, each
with a different purpose:</p>

<li><p><b>packages</b> - vanilla upstream source tarballs (populated by</p></li>
<li><p><b>sources/patches</b> - local patches to apply to the vanilla packages.</li>
<li><p><b>build/packages</b> - the package cache, clean copies of the extracted and patched source.</p></li>
<li><p><b>build/temp-$ARCH</b> - working copies of the source configured and built for the given architecture.</p></li>


<p>The list of source URLs is in the script, along with a list
of mirrors to check if the original URL isn't available.  Those URLs are
the only place that specifies version numbers for packages, so if you want
to switch versions just point to a new URL and re-run  (You can
set SHA1= blank for the first download, and it will output the sha1sum for
the file it downloads.  Cut and paste that into the download script and
re-run to confirm.)</p>

<h3><b>Extracting and patching</b></h3>

<p>Each script to build a package calls the shell function "setupfor"
before building the package, and "cleanup" afterwards.  Conceptually,
"setupfor" extracts a tarball (from the "packages" directory),
patches it if necessary (applying all the files in "sources/patches" that
start with that package's name, which come from the aboriginal linux
repository), and cd's into the resulting directory.  The function "cleanup"
does an "rm -rf" on that directory when you're done.</p>

<p>In practice, the infrastructure behind the scenes caches the extracted
tarballs.  This optimization saves disk space, CPU time, and I/O bandwidth,
speeding up builds considerably (especially when you do a lot of them in
parallel).  This optimization is designed to be easily ignored, but
understanding the infrastructure can be useful for debugging.</p>

<p>There are two places to look for extracted source packages: the package
cache and the working copy.  The <b>package cache</b> (in "build/packages")
contains clean copies of all the previously extracted source tarballs, with
patches already applied.  Each <b>working copy</b> (in an architecture's
temporary directory, "build/temp-$ARCH") is a tree of hardlinks to the
package cache that provides a directory in which to configure, build, and
install that package for a specific target.</p>

<p>The source in the package cache stays clean, can be re-used across multiple
builds, and is only used to create working copies.  Working copies fill up
with temporary files from configure/make/install, and are normally deleted
after each successful build.  If you want to look at clean source, you
want the package cache.  If you want to look at the state of a failed
build to see how it was configured or re-run portions of it, you want the
working copy.</p>

<hr /><a name=debug_package_cache /><h2>Q: What's the package cache for?</p></h2>

<p>The package cache contains clean architecture-independent source code,
which you can edit, use to run modified builds and create patches, and easily
revert to its original condition.  The package cache avoids re-extracting the
same tarballs over and over, but also provides a place you can make temporary
modifications to that source behind the build system's back without having to
mess around with tarballs or patch files.</p>

<p>The setupfor function calls "extract_package" to populate the package
cache.  First extract_package checks for an existing copy of the appropriate
source directory, and when it doesn't find one it extracts the source tarballs
from the "packages" directory, applies the appropriate patches from
"sources/patches/$PACKAGENAME-*.patch", and saves the results into its own
directory (named after the package) under "build/packages".  (USE_UNSTABLE
packages work the same way, but insert an "alt-" prefix on the package

<p>When the package cache has an existing copy of the package, extract_package
checks the list of sha1sums in that copy's "sha1-for-source.txt" file against
the sha1sums for the tarball and for each of the patch files it needs to apply.
If the list matches, it uses the existing copy.  If it doesn't match, it
deletes the existing copy out of the package cache, re-extracts the tarball,
and reapplies each patch to it.</p>

<p>This means if you can edit the copy under sources/patches all you like,
and as long as you don't modify sha1-for-source.txt, don't replace the
tarball, or add/remove/edit any of the patches to apply to it, it
will re-use that source for subsequent builds.  So go ahead and fill it
full of printf()s and test code, then when you want to go back to a clean
copy, delete the build/packages directory (either one package or the whole
thing) and let setupfor recreate it.</p>

<p>If you come up with changes you want to keep, you can create a patch from
the package cache this way:</p>

  # Rename the modified package directory

  cd $TOP
  cd build/packages

  # Extract a clean copy

  cd $TOP
  more/ host extract_package $PACKAGE

  # Diff the two and write out the patch to sources/patches

  cd build/packages
  diff -ruN $PACKAGE $PACKAGE.bak > ../../sources/patches/$PACKAGE-$NAME.patch
  rm -rf $PACKAGE

  # Run a clean test build

  cd $TOP
  rm -rf build/packages/$PACKAGE
  ./ $ARCH

<p>Where $TOP is your top level Aboriginal Linux directory, $PACKAGE is the
name of the package you're modifying, and $NAME is some unique name for your
patch.  Don't forget to delete the $PACKAGE.bak directory to reclaim its disk
space when you're satisfied with your patch (or "rm -rf build/packages" to
zap the entire package cache, or just "rm -rf build" to clean
up all the temporary files).</p>

<p>If the environment variable EXTRACT_ALL is set, will
call extract_package on each package as soon as it confirms the tarball's
sha1sum.  (The environment variable FORK makes each package download happen
in parallel, including the call to extract_package if any.)  Prepopulating
the package cache this way is useful before running different architecture
builds in parallel, or when testing that new patches (added to the
sources/patches directory) apply correctly to the relevant package(s).</p>

<p>This means you can do the following to get a freshly extracted and patched
clean copy of all packages:</p>

  rm -rf build/packages

<hr /><a name=debug_working_copies /><h2>Q: What are working copies for?</p></h2>

<p>Working copies are target-specific copies of package source where builds
actually happen.  The build scripts clone a fresh working copy for each build,
then run configure, make, and install commands in the new copy.  They leave the
aftermath of failed builds lying around for analysis; to keep the working
copies of successful builds around too, set the NO_CLEANUP environment
variable.  If you want to cd into a source directory and re-run bits of a
previous build, use the working copy of a package's source.  (You'll probably
have to add the appropriate cross compiler's bin directory to your $PATH, but
otherwise it'll usually just work.)</p>

<p>Working copies of source packages are cloned from the package cache
by the the function "setupfor", which first calls extract_package to ensure the
package cache is up to date, then creates a directory of hardlinks to the
package cache via "cp -l" (or symlinks via "cp -s" if $SNAPSHOT_SYMLINK is

<p>The working copies use hardlinks to avoid creating redundant copies of the
file contents, which would waste I/O bandwidth and eat lots of disk space
and disk cache memory.  Using hardlinks instead of symlinks for the working
copies also saves inodes and dentry cache, since each symlink consumes an
inode, but that optimization requires that the package cache and working
copies be on the same filesystem.</p>

<p>Linking to the page cache instead of copying it doesn't cause problems
for most packages, because most methods of modifying files used by package
builds break hardlinks or symlinks by first creating a temporary copy with
the modifications, then deleting the original and moving the copy into its
place.  Modifying files that are tracked by source control also creates
spurious noise for the package's developers.  Occasionally a package will
make a mistake (such as zlib 1.2.5 shipping a Makefile which is
generated by configure, and modified in place), in which case the build
has to break the link itself.  (Note that editing the working copies of
source files in build/temp-$ARCH can modify the cached copy if your editor
isn't configured to break hardlinks.  Usually you edit the package cache
version and let setupfor create a new working copy.)</p>

<p>If you want to search just the generated files and not the snapshot of
the source, use "find $PACKAGE -links 1".  If you want to search just
the source files and not the generated files, that's what the package
cache is for.</p>

<hr /><a name=name_change /><h2>Q: Didn't this used to be called Firmware Linux?</h2>

<p>A: Yup.  The name changed shortly before the 1.0 release in 2010.</p>

<p>The name "Aboriginal Linux" is based on a synonym for "native", as in
native compiling.  It implies it's the first Linux on a new system, and also
that it can be replaced.  It turns a system into something you can do
native development in, terraforming your environment so you can use it
to natively build your deployment environment (which may be something else

<p>Aboriginal Linux is cross compiled, but after it boots you shouldn't need
to do any more cross compiling.  (Except optionally using the cross compiler
as a native building accelerator via distcc.)  Hence our motto,
"We cross compile so you don't have to".</p>

<p>The old name didn't describe the project very well.  (It also had tens
of millions of Google hits, most of which weren't this project.)  If you're
really bored, there's a page on <a href=history.html>the history of the

<hr /><a name=ubuntu_mispackaged_qemu /><h2>Q: ./ says qemu-system-$TARGET isn't found, but I installed the qemu package and the executable "qemu" is there.  Why isn't this working?</h2>

<p>A: You're using Ubuntu, aren't you?  You need to install
"qemu-kvm-extras" to get the non-x86 targets.</p>

<p>The Ubuntu developers have packaged qemu in an <strike>actively
misleading</strike> "interesting" way.  They've confused the emulator QEMU
with the virtualizer KVM.</p>

<p>QEMU is an emulator that supports multiple hardware
targets, translating the target code into host code a page at a time.  KVM
stands for Kernel Virtualization Module, a kernel module which allows newer x86
chips with support for the "VT" extension to run x86 code in a virtual

<p>The KVM project started life as a fork of QEMU (replacing QEMU's CPU
emulation with a kernel module providing VT virtualization support, but
using QEMU's device emulation for I/O), but KVM only ever offered a
small subset of the functionality of QEMU, and current versions of QEMU have
merged KVM support into the base package.  (QEMU 0.11.0 can automatically
detect and use the KVM module as an accelerator, where appropriate.)</p>

<p>It's a bit like the X11 project providing a "drm" module (for 3D acceleration
and such), which was integrated upstream into the Linux kernel.  The Linux
kernel was never part of the X11 project, and vice versa, and pretending the
two projects were the same thing would be wrong.</p>

<p>That said, on Ubuntu the "qemu" package is an alias for "qemu-kvm", a
package which only supports i386 and x86_64 (because that's all KVM supports
when running on an x86 PC).  In order to install the rest of qemu (support
for emulating arm, mips, powerpc, sh4, and so on), you need to install
the "qemu-kvm-extras" package (which despite the name has nothing whatsoever
to do with KVM).</p>

<p>Support for non-x86 targets is part of the base package when you build QEMU
from source.  If you ignore Ubuntu's packaging insanity and build QEMU
from source, you shouldn't have to worry about this strangely named
artificial split.</p>

<hr /><a name=windows /><h2>Q: Do you care about windows?</h2>

<p>A: Not really, but <a href=>this
guy does</a>.  You can download his prebuilt binary QEMU versions for Windows,
and launch the various prebuilt binary Linux system images under them for
each target.  Then if you want to rebuild the system images from source, or
build more software for a given target, you can do so natively within a
system image.</p>

<p>If you want to cross compile from Cygwin or mingw or something, you're on
your own.  Emulating a Linux system (thereby bypassing Windows entirely) is
fairly straightforward, assuming somebody else has already done the work of
porting the emulator.  Trying to make Windows run posix apps is an unnatural
act involving ceremonial headgear and animal sacrifice just to get it to
fail the same way twice.</p>

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