WiFi on Raspberry Pi 3 for Fedora 26 Alpha

So I managed to land just about everything needed for the WiFi on the Raspberry Pi 3 for Fedora 26 Alpha (around 4.11 rc3). There’s one thing missing, because we can’t currently redistribute it, but it’s straight forward for the end user to do themselves once they’ve done the initial setup:

sudo curl https://raw.githubusercontent.com/RPi-Distro/firmware-nonfree/master/brcm80211/brcm/brcmfmac43430-sdio.txt -o /lib/firmware/brcm/brcmfmac43430-sdio.txt

Or you can also do it when you’re flashing the image if you mount the root filesystem but the above is likely easier. It’s been surprisingly stable in my testing.

Before you all ask, at the moment I don’t plan on pushing this to earlier Fedora releases, as the upgrade path is not trivial. I will also soon publish more details of some of the other new features coming for the Raspberry Pi to Fedora 26 but I thought you’d all like the WiFi details now. The wiki has also been updated to reflect the status of the WiFi.

PS: No this is not an April Fool’s joke (it’s well past midday in UK).

Updating Raspberry Pi firmware on Fedora

The upstream Raspberry Pi firmware/bootloader gets regular updates and improvements. In Fedora we ship that firmware in a package called bcm283x-firmware. I regularly follow the git repo of the upstream firmware and on occasion when I believe there’s reasonable changes that benefit Fedora I’ll prepare a new version, do some brief testing on my devices to make sure it boots and basic functionality hasn’t regressed at which point I’ll update the package and send it out to supported releases as an update.

Once the new bcm283x-firmware lands on your Raspberry Pi it doesn’t automatically update the firmware though. Why is that you ask? I don’t like to spring surprises on people where they end up with a device that might not boot or it might regress things they care about.

So how do you upgrade the firmware for the Raspberry Pi on Fedora? It’s simple! You simply run the command rpi-firmware-update and it’ll update the firmware and the u-boot to the latest one that’s shipped as a Fedora package. Then you just need to reboot to make it active.

The easiest way to work out which firmware you’re currently running is “dmesg | grep raspberrypi-firmware”

I tend to try and push out a new firmware update every month or so but if I see something that’s of interest or that fixes known issues I do it as needed.

Lipstick on a Pig AKA the Raspberry Pi 3

So while waiting for local scratch kernel builds for much more interesting devices I started looking around to see if I could find details of the kernel sources for the new BCM2837 SoC that is centre stage in the Raspberry Pi 3.

The problem is I couldn’t. What I did find is the hack the Raspberry Pi Foundation uses to boot the RPi3 on github.

So there is no source code release for the new BCM2837 SoC, just a device tree file. Someone said to me “They’re violating the GPL” and before people get out their pitch forks… they’re NOT because this is the code they ship, they are meeting their obligations there.

So for the lay person (yes, I know there’s a lot of deep level tech details I’m glossing over deep ARM architecturey people!!) basically what they are doing is booting this device as a ARMv7 device, and because the code isn’t built for ARMv8 (32 or 64 bit) they really just get the speed bump of a ARMv7 device running a bit faster, and possibly some better memory speeds and other general improvements.

So what does this mean for other distributions that wish to actually to support the Raspberry Pi 3 as a aarch64 device? You currently can NOT do so!. Why? Basically it boils down to two things:

  • Source code release for the kernel: To be honest I don’t think this should be large. People with low level knowledge of ARMv7 and the BCM283x could probably hack this up
  • Firmware support: I suspect there will need to be a new firmware that supports booting this as a aarch64 device. I obviously don’t know for sure but I’m guessing the firmware will need changes to actually properly boot this as a aarch64 device. I’ve little doubt there’s a bunch of hackery going on in there!

Of the above two, if my theory is correct, the firmware is the problematic one because it relies on the Raspberry Pi Foundation to do the work. This work for something that they feel, at the moment, gives them no particular gain but only confusion about multiple OSes. They are of course correct for their use case, basically like old school enterprise where you buy a bigger server to scale vertically because your app won’t scale horizontally, but this is another kick in the guts of the Open Source community they so heavily rely on! Oh well, it’s about as much as I expected from the Raspberry Pi Foundation as after all their devices are only just now becoming usable with upstream kernels and open userspace GPU drivers…. after a mere four years.

So what does this mean for Fedora? Basically the only way we’ll be able to support it in the short, possibly medium, term is like it’s sibling the Raspberry Pi 2 as an ARMv7 device but with added shitty wifi. Really, this device isn’t a cheap aarch64 device, it’s just like lipstick on a pig! If a cheap aarch64 device is what you want one of those go and buy a PINE64.

On the plus side the work needed to support it as a ARMv7 device at the same time as it’s sibling should just be some minor u-boot and kernel device tree patches on top of what I previously documented . Note I’ve not looked closely at this as yet, I’m still waiting for mine to arrive (YAY day 3 of 1 day shipping)! Frankly I’d sooner support it this way, an aarch64 device with terrible USB2 IO and 1GB of RAM won’t provide much, if any, of a perf bump over ARMv7, and then have the Raspberry Pi Foundation spend their time working with Broadcom on fixing the wifi and enabling distribution of the wifi firmware in linux-firmware as proper opensource broadcom wifi support would have a wider impact on the Open Source community the Foundation relies upon!

Supporting Fedora 24 on the Raspberry Pi 2

So I get asked the question dozens of times a day so I thought I’d outline the answer to the question “When is Fedora going to support the Raspberry Pi 2?” and “The kernel support is upstream in the 4.5 kernel, why isn’t it enabled in Fedora 24?”

Ultimately support in the kernel is great, it’s obviously a core blocker, and the first steps to supporting a new piece of hardware in Fedora. The thing is that when people say kernel support is easy they are partially right but it’s only a very small part of what’s needed to support a complex device such has an ARMv7 Single Board Computer for the average user, especially one as popular as the Raspberry Pi! To make the device work with Fedora we could just enable the kernel bits but it doesn’t make for a good user experience OOTB (Out Of The Box).

With a lot of ARMv7 devices these days a new device comes out and it just works with Fedora. It’s awesome when I read a report, or someone tells me “I tried device X with Fedora and it just worked”. That’s because of a lot of work Fedora, and others, have done to ensure upstream boot loaders and boot process just works with new devices. It’s taken a long time to get us to this point. The Raspberry Pi is sadly not like all the other ARMv7 or aarch64 devices. It doesn’t have a standard boot process, doesn’t use u-boot or uEFI, needs vFAT partitions, firmware, text config files and other things that none of our other supported devices need. All of these differences need to be taken into account.

So in terms of the support being upstream in 4.5 the answer to that is it’s “mostly” upstream, there’s still a bunch of patches we’d need to pull in to ensure a nice OOTB experience. This isn’t a blocker in my opinion, it’s something that’s relatively straight foward with most of the bits already headed upstream into 4.6 so it’s a short term issue.

For the rest of the bits what do I consider a nice out of the box experience? This:

  • A single image to support the Raspberry Pi and all out devices (more on that below)
  • Graphics and USB support from boot to login
  • Most basic peripherals working, at a minimum USB (inc keyboard/mouse), HDMI, wired ethernet, a decent selection of wireless USB dongles, storage (MMC and USB) and preferably sound (analog, digital HDMI, mic)
  • A means of easily creating a bootable SD card from at least the Fedora command line, and probably Windows or MacOSX
  • Good documentation, FAQ etc

Single Image:
We currently produce a lot of different images for ARMv7 like Workstation, Server, Minimal and various desktops. If we had to double the amount of images we make to add vFAT that would double the work needed by QA, rel-eng and also lead to confusion by end users as to which image is needed. I have no intention of doubling anyone’s work, or adding confusion for end users, there needs to be a proper engineering solution to this problem!

Serial Console
A number of people have said to me “just enable it and tell them to use the serial console” but having been working on ARMv7 for over 6 years now I know from experience that this leads to vast amounts of confusion by end users as to why “it’s not working” and it leads to a lot of time “providing support” to end users. With a device such as the Raspberry Pi this will become an order of magnitude worse which won’t provide users a good Fedora experience, and likely drive the people who are trying to support the device a even more nuts than normal!

Basic peripheral support
I feel that network, storage, display, input and sound, although I’m still on the fence about sound, are the minimum viable supported peripherals needed for a good OOTB experience for users.

I know that initially we won’t support HATs very well, you can already copy around device tree overlays in the /sys filesystem for basic support, but upstream still hasn’t finalised what a good experience will look like in this regard. I think we can live with this. This won’t stop the use of I2C or SPI devices connected to the 40 pin header, most of these should work just fine.

Image to card creation
Closely related to the single image and basic peripheral support I think the ability to easily create an image to use is important. I’m not sure we’re going to be able to easily solve the Windows/OSX problem, although to be honest I’ve not looked at what’s out there and we might be able to extend LiveUSBCreator here.

Raspberry Pi 3
So when will we support this? Well the kernel support hasn’t been released yet, at least that I could find at the time of writing this. That being said I don’t think it’ll be a particularly evasive or large patch set, the hardware around the Cortex-A53 is the same, so it’ll be just some glue and a pinctrl driver to make all the bits work together, likely not too dissimilar to other recent SoCs that have gained ARMv8 support. This won’t land in 4.6 as the major changes are already queued to land in that, so likely 4.7 will be the earliest upstream kernel. The wireless on the other hand could be more interesting.

So basically the work needed for support of the Raspberry Pi 3, with a proper 64 bit OS 😉 , shouldn’t be too hard once the kernel bits are upstream.

The other issue we had was the legal ability to redistribute the “GPU boot loader firmware” thankfully that problem was resolved about a year ago, although it did take us over 2 years to do so!

The other firmware issue which will cause problems with Raspberry Pi 3 support is that the Broadcom wireless is notoriously terrible, as any Linux running Mac user will contest to, and their wireless firmware isn’t re-distributable in the standard process of being included in the upstream linux-firmware. With luck this is something that the Raspberry Pi Foundation could assist Broadcom in improving!

So we’re well on the way to adding support. Assistance in the issues above would be very welcome, whether for supporting a single image or adding support for writing images for the Pi, to help us get the bits done sooner rather than later. Feel free to reach out to me on IRC (pbrobinson on FreeNode) or some other means.