diff options
authorThomas Petazzoni <>2012-12-29 04:42:27 (GMT)
committerPeter Korsgaard <>2012-12-29 21:42:23 (GMT)
commitd21a858792e4646d7b366387608400ff29bca575 (patch)
parent6a497e3d8c07d816ec5b8d612d4f7563dff9e756 (diff)
docs/manual: add a new 'Details on Buildroot configuration' section
As discussed with Samuel Martin, there are a few questions about some Buildroot configuration aspects that come very often on the IRC channel and on the mailing-list. Topics such as the /dev management and init systems are often raised. Therefore, this patch adds a new section that provides details about the Buildroot configuration possibilities. It does not aim at replacing the help text of each configuration option, but rather to complement them by providing more background. Having those informations in the manual will also make it easier for us to point newcomers to the right place in the documentation when they have questions. Note that this section will replace the "Embedded basics" section that comes way too late in the manual. This is done in a followup commit. Signed-off-by: Thomas Petazzoni <> Acked-by: Samuel Martin <> Signed-off-by: Peter Korsgaard <>
2 files changed, 153 insertions, 0 deletions
diff --git a/docs/manual/configure.txt b/docs/manual/configure.txt
new file mode 100644
index 0000000..2c7987d
--- /dev/null
+++ b/docs/manual/configure.txt
@@ -0,0 +1,151 @@
+// -*- mode:doc -*- ;
+Details on Buildroot configuration
+All the configuration options in +make *config+ have a help text
+providing details about the option. However, a number of topics
+require additional details that cannot easily be covered in the help
+text and are there covered in the following sections.
+/dev management
+On a Linux system, the +/dev+ directory contains special files, called
+_device files_, that allow userspace applications to access the
+hardware devices managed by the Linux kernel. Without these _device
+files_, your userspace applications would not be able to use the
+hardware devices, even if they are properly recognized by the Linux
+Under +System configuration+, +/dev management+, Buildroot offers four
+different solutions to handle the +/dev+ directory :
+ * The first solution is *Static using device table*. This is the old
+ classical way of handling device files in Linux. With this method,
+ the device files are persistently stored in the root filesystem
+ (i.e they persist accross reboots), and there is nothing that will
+ automatically create and remove those device files when hardware
+ devices are added or removed from the system. Buildroot therefore
+ creates a standard set of device files using a _device table_, the
+ default one being stored in +system/device_table_dev.txt+ in the
+ Buildroot source code. This file is processed when Buildroot
+ generates the final root filesystem image, and the _device files_
+ are therefore not visible in the +output/target+ directory. The
+ +BR2_ROOTFS_STATIC_DEVICE_TABLE+ option allows to change the
+ default device table used by Buildroot, or to add an additional
+ device table, so that additional _device files_ are created by
+ Buildroot during the build. So, if you use this method, and a
+ _device file_ is missing in your system, you can for example create
+ a +board/<yourcompany>/<yourproject>/device_table_dev.txt+ file
+ that contains the description of your additional _device files_,
+ and then you can set +BR2_ROOTFS_STATIC_DEVICE_TABLE+ to
+ +system/device_table_dev.txt
+ board/<yourcompany>/<yourproject>/device_table_dev.txt+. For more
+ details about the format of the device table file, see
+ xref:makedev-syntax[].
+ * The second solution is *Dynamic using devtmpfs only*. _devtmpfs_ is
+ a virtual filesystem inside the Linux kernel that has been
+ introduced in kernel 2.6.32 (if you use an older kernel, it is not
+ possible to use this option). When mounted in +/dev+, this virtual
+ filesystem will automatically make _device files_ appear and
+ disappear as hardware devices are added and removed from the
+ system. This filesystem is not persistent accross reboots: it is
+ filled dynamically by the kernel. Using _devtmpfs_ requires the
+ following kernel configuration options to be enabled:
+ charge of building the Linux kernel for your embedded device, it
+ makes sure that those two options are enabled. However, if you
+ build your Linux kernel outside of Buildroot, then it is your
+ responsability to enable those two options (if you fail to do so,
+ your Buildroot system will not boot).
+ * The third solution is *Dynamic using mdev*. This method also relies
+ on the _devtmpfs_ virtual filesystem detailed above (so the
+ requirement to have +CONFIG_DEVTMPFS+ and +CONFIG_DEVTMPFS_MOUNT+
+ enabled in the kernel configuration still apply), but adds the
+ +mdev+ userspace utility on top of it. +mdev+ is a program part of
+ Busybox that the kernel will call every time a device is added or
+ removed. Thanks to the +/etc/mdev.conf+ configuration file, +mdev+
+ can be configured to for example, set specific permissions or
+ ownership on a device file, call a script or application whenever a
+ device appears or disappear, etc. Basically, it allows _userspace_
+ to react on device addition and removal events. +mdev+ can for
+ example be used to automatically load kernel modules when devices
+ appear on the system. +mdev+ is also important if you have devices
+ that require a firmware, as it will be responsible for pushing the
+ firmware contents to the kernel. +mdev+ is a lightweight
+ implementation (with fewer features) of +udev+. For more details
+ about +mdev+ and the syntax of its configuration file, see
+ * The fourth solution is *Dynamic using udev*. This method also
+ relies on the _devtmpfs_ virtual filesystem detailed above, but
+ adds the +udev+ userspace daemon on top of it. +udev+ is a daemon
+ that runs in the background, and gets called by the kernel when a
+ device gets added or removed from the system. It is a more
+ heavyweight solution than +mdev+, but provides higher flexibility
+ and is sometimes mandatory for some system components (systemd for
+ example). +udev+ is the mechanism used in most desktop Linux
+ distributions. For more details about +udev+, see
+The Buildroot developers recommandation is to start with the *Dynamic
+using devtmpfs only* solution, until you have the need for userspace
+to be notified when devices are added/removed, or if firmwares are
+needed, in which case *Dynamic using mdev* is usually a good solution.
+init system
+The _init_ program is the first userspace program started by the
+kernel (it carries the PID number 1), and is responsible for starting
+the userspace services and programs (for example: web server,
+graphical applications, other network servers, etc.).
+Buildroot allows to use three different types of init systems, which
+can be chosen from +System configuration+, +Init system+:
+ * The first solution is *Busybox*. Amongst many programs, Busybox has
+ an implementation of a basic +init+ program, which is sufficient
+ for most embedded systems. Enabling the +BR2_INIT_BUSYBOX+ will
+ ensure Busybox will build and install its +init+ program. This is
+ the default solution in Buildroot. The Busybox +init+ program will
+ read the +/etc/inittab+ file at boot to know what to do. The syntax
+ of this file can be found in
+ (note that
+ Busybox +inittab+ syntax is special: do not use a random +inittab+
+ documentation from the Internet to learn about Busybox
+ +inittab+). The default +inittab+ in Buildroot is stored in
+ +system/skeleton/etc/inittab+. Apart from mounting a few important
+ filesystems, the main job the default inittab does is to start the
+ +/etc/init.d/rcS+ shell script, and start a +getty+ program (which
+ provides a login prompt).
+ * The second solution is *systemV*. This solution uses the old
+ traditional _sysvinit_ program, packed in Buildroot in
+ +package/sysvinit+. This was the solution used in most desktop
+ Linux distributions, until they switched to more recent
+ alternatives such as Upstart or Systemd. +sysvinit+ also works with
+ an +inittab+ file (which has a slightly different syntax than the
+ one from Busybox). The default +inittab+ installed with this init
+ solution is located in +package/sysvinit/inittab+.
+ * The third solution is *systemd*. +systemd+ is the new generation
+ init system for Linux. It does far more than traditional _init_
+ programs: aggressive parallelization capabilities, uses socket and
+ D-Bus activation for starting services, offers on-demand starting
+ of daemons, keeps track of processes using Linux control groups,
+ supports snapshotting and restoring of the system state,
+ etc. +systemd+ will be useful on relatively complex embedded
+ systems, for example the ones requiring D-Bus and services
+ communicating between each other. It is worth noting that +systemd+
+ brings a fairly big number of large dependencies: +dbus+, +glib+
+ and more. For more details about +systemd+, see
+The solution recommended by Buildroot developers is to use the
+*Busybox init* as it is sufficient for most embedded
+systems. *systemd* can be used for more complex situations.
diff --git a/docs/manual/working-with.txt b/docs/manual/working-with.txt
index 4ea9239..b62bacd 100644
--- a/docs/manual/working-with.txt
+++ b/docs/manual/working-with.txt
@@ -6,6 +6,8 @@ Working with Buildroot
This section explains how you can customize Buildroot to fit your