Raspberry Pi2 and Pi3 running pure Debian 9 (“Stretch”) and the Linux Mainline/Vanilla Kernel

Update 2017 Feb 25: I have updated the step-by-step instructions based on the suggested fixes and improvements contained in the reader comments. I also have copied the step-by-step instructions from this blog post to the README.md file hosted on https://github.com/michaelfranzl/rpi23-gen-image. From now on I will update the instructions only on github, so expect that the instructions in this blog post will grow slightly out of date.

Update 2017 Mar 4: 64 bit kernel and Debian OS now works on the RPi3.

Gallium graphics drivers for Raspberry Pi’s VC4 chip are now fully supported by Linux Mainline

This has been a long way coming. In February 2014, Broadcom announced that they would release the formerly closed-source drivers for the VideoCore IV (VC4) GPU of their BCM283x family of System-on-a-chip (SoC), powering Raspberry Pi’s.

To make a long story short, Eric Anholt started porting the Open Source drivers, as documented by this presentation early 2015, and contributed code to the Linux (Mainline) Kernel, libdrm, Mesa, and X.org. I’m sure it was a long and painful work. But the results are worth it. A picture says more than 1000 words:

Debian 9 ("Stretch") running on a Raspberry Pi 2, powered by Linux 4.9.0-rc3 Mainline/Vanilla Kernel. Notable in this image: Graphics driver is "Gallium" running on the VC4 GPU of the Broadcom 2836 system-on-a-chip (SOC). Glxgears runs with 60 FPS and consumes very little CPU. I2C interface is recognized.

Debian 9 (“Stretch”) running on my Raspberry Pi 2 (and 3), powered by Linux 4.9.0-rc3 Mainline/Vanilla Kernel. Notable in this image: Graphics driver is recognized as “Gallium” running on the VC4 GPU of the Broadcom 2836 system-on-a-chip (SOC). The glxgears benchmark runs with 60 FPS (the vsync of the monitor) and consumes very little CPU. Even the Raspberry I2C interface is recognized by the Linux Mainline Kernel.

To emphasize the point: It is no longer necessary to run specialized distributions (like Raspbian) or Linux kernels (like the Raspbian flavor) in order to have the Raspberry Pi well supported. And this is good news. Debian is a well established and maintained standard Distribution. And even though the Raspberry Pi is not powerful enough for the professional desktop user, it is powerful enough for the casual desktop user, and it is very small and cheap, which opens up a whole lot of possibities for new real-world applications.

I ran an additional test: Gnome even runs on Wayland (modern replacement for the X Window System) on the Raspberry Pi 2 (and 3):

Gnome on Wayland on Raspberry Pi 2

Gnome on Wayland on Raspberry Pi 2

 

 

 

 

Remarks

It still is not a matter of a one-click installer to reproduce these results, you need some experience when you run into barriers. But it has gotten a whole lot easier. Github user drtyhlpr thankfully published the script rpi23-gen-image that can create a standard Debian distribution for the Raspberry Pi that can simply be copied to a SD card.

I have created a fork of this script to use the official Linux kernel instead of the Raspberry flavor one. Above screenshots are taken from a system that I’ve created with this script. My fork is developed into a slightly different direction:

  • Only official Debian releases 9 (“Stretch”) and newer are supported.
  • Only the official/mainline/vanilla Linux kernel is supported (not the raspberry flavor kernel).
  • The Linux kernel must be pre-cross-compiled on the PC running this script (instructions below).
  • Only U-Boot booting is supported.
  • The U-Boot sources must be pre-downloaded and pre-cross-compiled on the PC running this script (instructions below).
  • An apt caching proxy server must be installed to save bandwidth (instructions below).
  • The installation of the system to an SD card is done by simple copying or rsyncing, rather than creating, shrinking and expanding file system images.
  • The FBTURBO option is removed in favor or the working VC4 OpenGL drivers of the mainline Linux kernel.

All of these simplifications are aimed at higher bootstrapping speed and maintainability of the script. For example, we want to avoid testing of all of the following combinations:

RPi2 with u-boot, with official kernel
RPi2 without u-boot, with official kernel
RPi2 with u-boot, with raspberry kernel
RPi2 without u-boot, with raspberry kernel
RPi3 with u-boot, with official kernel
RPi3 without u-boot, with official kernel
RPi3 with u-boot, with raspberry kernel
RPi3 without u-boot, with raspberry kernel

Thus, the script only supports:

RPi2 with u-boot with official kernel
RPi3 with u-boot with official kernel

RPi2 (setting RPI_MODEL=2) is well supported. It will run the arm architecture of Debian, and a 32-bit kernel. You should get very good results, see my related blog posts:

https://michaelfranzl.com/2016/10/31/raspberry-pi-debian-stretch/

https://michaelfranzl.com/2016/11/10/setting-i2c-speed-raspberry-pi/

https://michaelfranzl.com/2016/11/10/reading-cpu-temperature-raspberry-pi-mainline-linux-kernel/

The newer RPi3 (setting RPI_MODEL=3) is supported too. It will run the arm64 architecture of Debian, and a 64-bit kernel. The support of this board by the Linux kernel will very likely improve over time.

In general, this script is EXPERIMENTAL. I do not provide ISO file system images. It is better to master the process rather than to rely on precompiled images. In this sense, use this project only for educational purposes.

How to do it

Basically, we will deboostrap a minimal Debian 9 (“Stretch”) system for the Raspberry on a regular PC running also Debian 9 (“Stretch”). Then we copy that system onto a SD card, then boot it on the Raspberry.

We will work with the following directories:

Set up your working directory:

Do the following steps as root user.

 

Set up caching for apt

This way, you won’t have to re-download hundreds of megabytes of Debian packages from the Debian server every time you run the rpi23-gen-image script.

Check its status page:

 

Install dependencies

The following list of Debian packages must be installed on the build system because they are essentially required for the bootstrapping process.

For a RPi2, you also need:

For a RPi3, you also need:

Kernel compilation

Get the latest Linux mainline kernel. This is a very large download, about 2GB. (For a smaller download of about 90 MB, consider downloading the latest stable kernel as .tar.xz from https://kernel.org.)

Confirmed working revision (approx. version 4.10, Feb 2017): 60e8d3e11645a1b9c4197d9786df3894332c1685

Working configuration files for this Linux kernel revision are included in this repository. (working-rpi2-linux-config.txt and working-rpi3-linux-config.txt).

If you want to generate the default .config file that is also working on the Raspberry, execute

For a RPi2:

For a RPi3:

Whichever .config file you have at this point, if you want to get more control as to what is enabled in the kernel, you can run the graphical configuration tool at this point:

For a RPi2:

For a RPi3:

Before compiling the kernel, back up your .config file so that you don’t lose it after the next make mrproper:

Compiling the kernel

Clean the sources:

Optionally, copy your previously backed up .config:

Find out how many CPU cores you have to speed up compilation:

Run the compilation on all CPU cores. This takes about 10 minutes on a modern PC:

For a RPi2:

For a RPi3:

Verify that you have the required kernel image.

For a RPi2 this is:

For a RPi3 this is:

 

U-Boot bootloader compilation

Confirmed working revision: b24cf8540a85a9bf97975aadd6a7542f166c78a3

Let’s increase the maximum kernel image size from the default (8 MB) to 64 MB. This way, u-boot will be able to boot even larger kernels. Edit ./u-boot/include/configs/rpi.h  and add above the very last line (directly above “#endif”):

Find out how many CPU cores you have to speed up compilation:

Compile for a RPi model 2 (32 bits):

Compile for a RPi model 3 (64 bits):

Verify that you have the required bootloader file:

Pre-download Raspberry firmware

The Raspberry Pi still needs some binary proprietary blobs for booting. Get them:

Confirmed working revision: bf5201e9682bf36370bc31d26b37fd4d84e1cfca

Build the system!

This is where you call the rpi23-gen-image.sh script.

For example:

You may want to modify the variables according to the section “Command-line parameters” below.

The file example.sh in my github repostory contains a working example.

Install the system on a SD card

Insert a SD card into the card reader of your host PC. You’ll need two partitions on it. I’ll leave as an exercise for the reader the creation of a partition table according to the following output of fdisk for a 64GB card:

The following commands will erase all contents of the SD card and install the system (copy via rsync) on the SD card:

Note about SD cards: Cheap (or sometimes even professional) SD cards can be weird at times. I’ve repeatedly noticed corrupt/truncated files even after proper rsync and proper umount on different brand new SD cards. TODO: Add a method to verify all file checksums after rsync.

Try booting the Raspberry

Insert the SD card into the Raspberry Pi, and if everything went well, you should see a console-based login prompt on the screen. Login with the login details you’ve passed into the script (USER_NAME and PASSWORD).

Alternatively, if you have included “avahi-daemon” in your APT_INCLUDES, you don’t need a screen and keyboard and can simply log in via SSH from another computer, even without knowing the Rasberry’s dynamic/DHCP IP address (replace “hostname” and “username” with what you have set as USER_NAME and HOSTNAME above):

Finishing touches directly on the Raspberry

Remember to change usernames, passwords, and SSH keys!

Check uber-low RAM usage

Running top shows that the freshly booted system uses only 23 MB out of the availabl 1GB RAM! Confirmed for both RPi2 and RPi3.

Network Time Synchronization

The Raspberry doesn’t have a real time clock. But the default systemd conveniently syncs time from the network. Check the output of timedatectl. Confirmed working for both RPi2 and RPi3.

Hardware Random Number Generator

The working device node is available at /dev/hwrng. Confirmed working for both RPi2 and RPi3.

I2C Bus

Also try I2C support:

Confirmed working for both RPi2 and RPi3.

Test onboard LEDs

As of the kernel revision referenced above, this only works on the RPi2. The RPi3 has only the red PWR LED on all the time, but otherwise is working fine.

By default, the green onboard LED of the RPi blinks in a heartbeat pattern according to the system load (this is done by kernel feature LEDS_TRIGGER_HEARTBEAT).

To use the green ACT LED as an indicator for disc access, execute:

To toggle the red PWR LED:

Or use the red PWR LED as heartbeat indicator (kernel option for this must be enabled):

Notes about systemd

systemd now replaces decades-old low-level system administration tools. Here is a quick cheat sheet:

Reboot machine:

Halt machine (this actually turns off the RPi):

Show all networking interfaces:

Show status of the Ethernet adapter:

Show status of the local DNS caching client:

Install GUI

Successfully tested on the RPi2 and RPI3.

If you want to install a graphical user interface, I would suggest the light-weight LXDE window manager. Gnome is still too massive to run even on a GPU-accelerated Raspberry.

Reboot, and you should be greeted by the LightDM greeter screen!

Test GPU acceleration via VC4 kernel driver

Successfully tested on the RPi2 and RPI3.

Glxinfo should output:

Kernel compilation directly on the Rasberry

Only successfully tested on the RPi2. Not yet tested on the RPI3.

In case you want to compile and deploy another Mainline Linux kernel directly on the Raspberry, proceed as described above, but you don’t need the ARCH and CROSS_COMPILE flags. Instead, you need the -fno-pic compiler flag for modules. The following is just the compilation step (configuration and installation omitted):

Follow-up articles

Setting I2C bus speed on a Raspberry Pi via Device Tree

Reading Raspberry Pi chip temperature with mainline Linux kernel

Zero Client: Boot kernel and root filesystem from network with a Raspberry Pi2 or Pi3

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28 Responses to Raspberry Pi2 and Pi3 running pure Debian 9 (“Stretch”) and the Linux Mainline/Vanilla Kernel

  1. rpi3 November 4, 2016 at 5:26 am #

    Will this work on a Raspberry Pi 3?

    Thanks

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    • Michael Franzl November 4, 2016 at 7:51 am #

      I don’t know, but I believe the chances are very good.

      “Rapsberry Pi” in Wikipedia says: “The new BCM2837 [on the RPi 3] based on 64-bit ARMv8 architecture is backwards compatible with the Raspberry Pi 2 as well as the original. While the new CPU is 64-bit, the Pi retains the original VideoCore IV GPU which has a 32-bit design.”

      If you try it out, maybe leave a comment here!

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    • Paul January 6, 2017 at 4:51 pm #

      I kept getting a dtc not found error. I had to add device_tree_compiler to modify the
      Assemble a full, bootable base Debian system
      section. I added device-tree-compiler to the following line.

      APT_INCLUDES=”util-linux,systemd-sysv,avahi-daemon,vim,parted,build-essential,linux-compiler-gcc-5-arm,g++,make,bc,rsync,device-tree-compiler” \

      Thanks.

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  2. rpi3 November 25, 2016 at 10:37 pm #

    Yup, doesn’t boot (no signal on HDMI). I tried your way and tried to download all firmware files from github. Doesn’t work

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    • Michael Franzl November 26, 2016 at 11:00 am #

      A missing HDMI signal doesn’t imply that it’s not booting. Does the ACT LED flash in a heartbeat rhytm? Also check the config.txt documentation regarding HDMI configuration (safe mode etc.)

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      • rpi3 November 27, 2016 at 5:55 pm #

        >Does the ACT LED flash in a heartbeat rhytm

        Nope. Just the red LED turns on. As if there was nothing in the SD slot

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        • Paul January 8, 2017 at 7:17 pm #

          I added the following lines to /etc/rc.local to disable the red LED and change the green LED to flash when writing to the SD card.

          echo 0 > /sys/class/leds/PWR/brightness
          echo mmc0 > /sys/class/leds/ACT/trigger

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    • Michael Franzl March 3, 2017 at 8:29 am #

      I tested on a RPi3 and it works. However, the screen is blank and only the red PWR led is on, like you described. That could be fixed via kernel configuration, which I yet have to test. But I can log in via SSH, and at least the Ethernet interface, I2C bus and USB works.

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  3. rpi3 November 25, 2016 at 10:38 pm #

    Guess I’ have to wait for a semi-official image

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  4. Florian February 20, 2017 at 5:49 pm #

    Hi folks, i used Debian Stretch as the build host and it worked for me after changing ‘linux-compiler-gcc-5-arm’ to ‘linux-compiler-gcc-6-arm’ (+ also added device-tree-compiler).

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    • Michael Franzl February 23, 2017 at 9:28 pm #

      Yes, they changed the version recently. Thanks for pointing this out!

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  5. Greg February 28, 2017 at 3:54 am #

    Hi Michael, this look really cool. Can you maybe upload a .img on github or somewhere, that I can just copy to the SD card? I don’t have a spare computer to install debian on, and I’m trying to use virtualbox on my mac to follow the instructions, but I’m having trouble. Thanks

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    • Michael Franzl February 28, 2017 at 8:22 am #

      No, it’s better if you test the step-by-step instructions yourself, and if you discover any problems, report them.

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  6. Karl March 9, 2017 at 9:44 pm #

    Hi !
    Built the image according to instructions using your working kernel config for rpi3.
    However, image does not boot, u-boot reports “Error: inflate() returned -5”

    Here is a image of the boot log:
    http://www.kashofer.org/owncloud/index.php/s/9s2R3twRstt598B

    Any idea what could be wrong ?

    Cheers,
    KK

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    • Karl March 12, 2017 at 1:19 am #

      btw: adding CONFIG_SYS_BOOTM_LEN=16000000 to u-boot/configs/rpi_3_defconfig followed by re-build did not help.

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      • Michael Franzl March 21, 2017 at 11:31 am #

        I actually could reproduce your issue on my RPi3. But increasing CONFIG_SYS_BOOTM_LENGTH to 64 MB does work. I updated the instructions above, and the README of the github repository. Don’t forget to run make clean before you recompile u-boot. It should work then.

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        • Karl March 26, 2017 at 10:15 am #

          Hi !

          This solved the booting issue !

          Thanks,
          Karl

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  7. Wilhelm MOSER March 21, 2017 at 12:43 pm #

    Hi Michael,
    facing a problem: the generated path of rpi23-gen-image.sh

    http://ftp.debian.org/debian/dists/stretch/main/binary-arm64/Packages is incorrect as th directory Packages is missing.

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  8. Karl March 26, 2017 at 10:24 am #

    Hi again !

    My rpi3 now boots. Yeah !

    Two more issues though:
    It seems the variables for installing xfce directly into the image are ignored, i cant find any reference to xfce in the build.log and no xfce is present once booting the pi. The same is true for console keyboard config, the locale is not generated and the keyboard is not set even though i have included the mentioned settings. Thats a minor issue though.

    Second and more seriously, once installing xfce and logging into the graphical interface the pi soon locks up hard, opening one or two windows is sufficient to break it.

    Here is a dmesg http://kashofer.org/owncloud/index.php/s/pAaqwgnDAqUAVhn

    Any suggestions for issue 2 ?

    Thanks,
    Karl

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    • Michael Franzl March 26, 2017 at 10:54 am #

      I took out all desktop environment options from the script to keep everything minimal and simple. Installation of a desktop environment should be done manually – see “Install GUI” section above.

      As to the hangups after any window is opened in XFCE, I experienced the same on both RPi2 and RPi3. I haven’t investigated what causes it, but I unplugged and re-plugged the USB keyboard and that seemed to fix it. It became responsive after about 10 seconds. It could be unrelated to USB though.

      If you find a fix, let me know it.

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      • Karl March 26, 2017 at 9:23 pm #

        So this is not happening in the other desktop environments ?

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