Thursday, 7 August 2014


  • If you have an orientation sensor in your laptop that works under Windows 8, this tool might be of interest to you.
  • Mattias will use that code as a base to add Compass support to Geoclue (you're on the hook!)
  • I've made a hack to load games metadata using Grilo and Lua plugins (everything looks like nail when you have a hammer ;)
  • I've replaced a Linux phone full of binary blobs by another Linux phone full of binary blobs
  • I believe David Herrmann missed out on asking for a VT, and getting something nice in return.
  • Cosimo will be writing some more animations for me! (and possibly for himself)
  • I now know more about core dumps and stack traces than I would want to, but far less than I probably will in the future.
  • Get Andrea to approve Timm Bädert's git account so he can move Corebird to GNOME. Don't forget to try out Charles, Timm!
  • My team won FreeFA, and it's not even why I'm smiling ;)
  • The cathedral has two towers!
Unfortunately for GUADEC guests, Bretzel Airlines opened its new (and first) shop on Friday, the last days of the BoFs.

(Lovely city, great job from Alexandre, Nathalie, Marc and all the volunteers, I'm sure I'll find excuses to come back :)

Monday, 4 August 2014

Notes on Fedora on an Android device

A bit more than a year ago, I ordered a Geeksphone Peak, one of the first widely available Firefox OS phones to explore this new OS.

Those notes are probably not very useful on their own, but they might give a few hints to stuck Android developers.

The hardware

The device has a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 MSM8225Q SoC, which uses the Adreno 203 and a 540x960 Protocol A (4 touchpoints) touchscreen.

The Adreno 203 (Note: might have been 205) is not supported by Freedreno, and is unlikely to be. It's already a couple of generations behind the latest models, and getting a display working on this device would also require (re-)writing a working panel driver.

At least the CPU is an ARMv7 with a hardware floating-point (unlike the incompatible ARMv6 used by the Raspberry Pi), which means that much more software is available for it.

Getting a shell

Start by installing the android-tools package, and copy the udev rules file to the correct location (it's mentioned with the rules file itself).

Then, on the phone, turn on the developer mode. Plug it in, and run "adb devices", you should see something like:

$ adb devices
	List of devices attached 
	22ae7088f488	device

Now run "adb shell" and have a browse around. You'll realise that the kernel, drivers, init system, baseband stack, and much more, is plain Android. That's a good thing, as I could then order Embedded Android, and dive in further.

If you're feeling a bit restricted by the few command-line applications available, download an all-in-one precompiled busybox, and push it to the device with "adb push".

You can also use aafm, a simple GUI file manager, to browse around.

Getting a Fedora chroot

After formatting a MicroSD card in ext4 and unpacking a Fedora system image in it, I popped it inside the phone. You won't be able to use this very fragile script to launch your chroot just yet though, as we lack a number of kernel features that are required to run Fedora. You'll also note that this is an old version of Fedora. There are probably newer versions available around, but I couldn't pinpoint them while writing this article.

Runnning Fedora, even in a chroot, on such a system will allow us to compile natively (I wouldn't try to build WebKit on it though) and run against a glibc setup rather than Android's bionic libc.

Let's recompile the kernel to be able to use our new chroot.

Avoiding the brick

Before recompiling the kernel and bricking our device, we'll probably want to make sure that we have the ability to restore the original software. Nothing worse than a bricked device, right?

First, we'll unlock the bootloader, so we can modify the kernel, and eventually the bootloader. I took the instructions from this page, but ignored the bits about flashing the device, as we'll be doing that a different way.

You can grab the restore image from my Fedora people page, as, as seems to be the norm for Android(-ish) devices makers to deny any involvement in devices that are more than a couple of months old. No restore software, no product page.

The recovery should be as easy as

$ adb reboot-bootloader
$ fastboot flash boot boot.img
$ fastboot flash system system.img
$ fastboot flash userdata userdata.img
$ fastboot reboot

This technique on the Geeksphone forum might also still work.

Recompiling the kernel

The kernel shipped on this device is a modified Ice-Cream Sandwich "Strawberry" version, as spotted using the GPU driver code.

We grabbed the source code from Geeksphone's github tree, installed the ARM cross-compiler (in the "gcc-arm-linux-gnu" package on Fedora) and got compiling:

$ export ARCH=arm
$ export CROSS_COMPILE=/usr/bin/arm-linux-gnu-
$ make C8680_defconfig
# Make sure that CONFIG_DEVTMPFS and CONFIG_EXT4_FS_SECURITY get enabled in the .config
$ make

We now have a bzImage of the kernel. Launching "fastboot boot zimage /path/to/bzImage" didn't seem to work (it would have used the kernel only for the next boot), so we'll need to replace the kernel on the device.

It's a bit painful to have to do this, but we have the original boot image to restore in case our version doesn't work. The boot partition is on partition 8 of the MMC device. You'll need to install my package of the "android-BootTools" utilities to manipulate the boot image.

$ adb shell 'cat /dev/block/mmcblk0p8 > /mnt/sdcard/disk.img'
$ adb pull /mnt/sdcard/disk.img
$ bootunpack boot.img
$ mkbootimg --kernel /path/to/kernel-source/out/arch/arm/boot/zImage --ramdisk p8.img-ramdisk.cpio.gz --base 0x200000 --cmdline 'androidboot.hardware=qcom loglevel=1' --pagesize 4096 -o boot.img
$ adb reboot-bootloader
$ fastboot flash boot boot.img

If you don't want the graphical interface to run, you can modify the Android init to avoid that.

Getting a Fedora chroot, part 2

Run the script. It works. Hopefully.

If you manage to get this far, you'll have a running Android kernel and user-space, and will be able to use the Fedora chroot to compile software natively and poke at the hardware.

I would expect that, given a kernel source tree made available by the vendor, you could follow those instructions to transform your old Android phone into an ARM test "machine".

Going further, native Fedora boot

Not for the faint of heart!

The process is similar, but we'll need to replace the initrd in the boot image as well. In your chroot, install Rob Clark's hacked-up adb daemon with glibc support (packaged here) so that adb commands keep on working once we natively boot Fedora.

Modify the /etc/fstab so that the root partition is the SD card:

/dev/mmcblk1 /                       ext4    defaults        1 1

We'll need to create an initrd that's small enough to fit on the boot partition though:

$ dracut -o "dm dmraid dmsquash-live lvm mdraid multipath crypt mdraid dasd zfcp i18n" initramfs.img

Then run "mkbootimg" as above, but with the new ramdisk instead of the one unpacked from the original boot image.

Flash, and reboot.


In the future, one would hope that packages such as adbd and the android-BootTools could get into Fedora, but I'm not too hopeful as Fedora, as a project, seems uninterested in running on top of Android hardware.


Why am I posting this now? Firstly, because it allows me to organise the notes I took nearly a year ago. Secondly, I don't have access to the hardware anymore, as it found a new home with Aleksander Morgado at GUADEC.

Aleksander hopes to use this device (Qualcomm-based, remember?) to add native telephony support to the QMI stack. This would in turn get us a ModemManager Telephony API, and the possibility of adding support for more hardware, such as through RIL and libhybris (similar to the oFono RIL plugin used in the Jolla phone).