Exploring the Arrow SoCKit Part II - Installing Linux

In my last post, I showed you how to get a simple FPGA example working on the Arrow SoCKit dev board. In this post, we will explore the CPU side of the Cyclone V SoC and install a custom Linux kernel and root filesystem using Buildroot. This tutorial will focus on booting via SD card, so make sure you have a microSDHC card handy. If your computer doesn’t have a microSD port, you will also need a microSD - SD and possibly an SD - USB adapter. Also, these instructions assume you are running some form of Linux. It should be possible to do all these things on Windows or OSX as well, but you’ll have to figure that out yourself (or switch to a real operating system).

RocketBoards.org has some articles on booting Linux on the SoCKit, but they are focused on booting Altera’s Yocto Linux distribution. If you don’t feel like going through compiling everything yourself, you can always just follow their instructions for booting from a pre-built image. However, if you’re a Linux nerd like me and want to get the educational benefits of doing things the hard way, read on!

Warning! Here there be dragons! Getting Linux running on an embedded system can be something of a dark art. One semester in my days as an undergraduate, I took on a research project that involved booting Android on an Arndale development board. It took two months of banging my head against the problem before I finally gave up and asked for help on a kernel dev mailing list. Turns out I was just using the wrong versions of the kernel and bootloader. So what am I trying to say here? I'm saying that you shouldn't get discouraged if things don't work and for the love of all that is holy, ask for help if you get stuck!!!! Don't do the same thing I did and try the same things over and over again. If it's not working, there's probably some information you're missing. Go open an issue on the Github repo for this site with your question and I'll try to answer it. If that doesn't work (and it probably won't, since I'm just figuring all of this out as I go along), you can try asking your question on the RocketBoards.org mailing lists.

Step 1 - Configuring the Board

To boot Linux from the SD Card, you will first need to set the jumpers and switches on the board correctly. Follow the instructions on the RocketBoards.org article to do this.

Step 2 - Partitioning the SD Card

To partition the SD card, use the fdisk program. Plug the SD card into your computer and delete any existing partitions if there are any. Then, run the command fdisk /dev/sdX. Replace /dev/sdX with whatever device file your OS recognizes the SD card as (it’ll probably be /dev/sdb). This will bring you into the fdisk command prompt. Enter the following commands (note: when I type <enter> it means just hit enter without entering a command).


Once you enter “w”, the partition table will be written to the SD card.

Step 3 - Installing the bootloader

The bootloader used for embedded ARM systems is called u-boot. Unfortunately, this is the one part that I couldn’t figure out how to install from source. There seems to be a problem with the stage 1 bootloader in the rocketboards.org git repo. Fortunately there is a (rather hacky) way around this. Simply extract the bootloader from the pre-built image. I’ve uploaded the bootloader image for you so that you don’t have to go and download a 1.9 GB image in order to extract a single megabyte from it. Once you’ve downloaded it, you can write it to the SD card like so.

sudo dd if=bootloader.img of=/dev/sdX3 bs=512
sudo sync

Don’t forget to replace the “X”.

Step 4 - Installing the kernel

Clone the sources of the kernel for the SoCKit from RocketBoards.org.

git clone git://git.rocketboards.org/linux-socfpga.git
cd linux-socfpga
git checkout -b sockit ACDS13.1_REL_GSRD_PR

You will also need to download the Linaro ARM toolchain to get the C cross-compiler. Find the latest release tarball for your system here. If you are on Linux, you are looking for the tarball named something like “gcc-linaro-arm-linux-gnueabihf-some-version-number_linux.tar.xz”

Extract the tarball anywhere on your system and then add the “bin” subdirectory of the extracted folder to your path. If you’ve done this properly, you should be able to run the following command.

arm-linux-gnueabihf-gcc --version

Now that you have the cross-compiler, you can start building the kernel. First, make sure to choose the correct configuration.

make CROSS_COMPILE=arm-linux-gnueabihf- ARCH=arm socfpga_defconfig

You’ll probably want to add an alias for the first part of the command to your .bashrc or .zshrc. For instance, I have

alias armmake='make CROSS_COMPILE=arm-linux-gnueabihf- ARCH=arm'

Now we can build the kernel image itself. To do this, you will first need to install the U-boot “mkimage” tool. On Ubuntu and Debian, just install the “uboot-mkimage” package. On Arch, install the “uboot-mkimage” package from the AUR. The Linux kernel takes a long time to build. You can speed things up a bit by using multiple threads. The command I use is…

armmake -j4 uImage LOADADDR=0x8000

You should replace 4 with the number of cores you have on your computer.

You also need to build the device tree for the SoCKit board.

armmake dtbs

Now that the kernel and device tree are built, you need to copy them onto the boot partition. First, format the partition as FAT32 and mount it.

sudo mkfs.vfat /dev/sdX1
sudo mount /dev/sdX1 /mnt

If you don’t have the mkfs.vfat program on your computer, you can probably get it by installing the “dosfstools” package from your distribution’s package repository.

Then copy kernel and device tree onto the filesystem and unmount it.

sudo cp arch/arm/boot/uImage /mnt
sudo cp arch/arm/boot/dts/socfpga_cyclone5.dtb /mnt/socfpga.dtb
sudo umount /mnt

Step 5 - Installing the Root Filesystem

For our root filesystem, we will use Buildroot. Buildroot is a set of buildscripts that can produce a Linux filesystem for an embedded platform. First, download and extract the tarball. Go into the extracted folder and run make menuconfig. Here, you can configure the filesystem image that Buildroot will produce. I suggest you choose the following options.

First, go to “Target options” and set the following options

Then, go to “Build Options” and change “Number of jobs to run simultaneously” to the number of cores you have.

Go to “Toolchain” and do the following

Go to “System configuration” and change the following.

Go to “Target packages” and select any extra packages you want. I suggest you select “Package managers” -> “opkg”. This will allow you to install packages later if you want.

Go to “Filesystem images” and make sure “tar the root filesystem” is selected.

Save and exit menuconfig, then run make to build everything. If everything works out, you will see the root filesystem image generated under “output/images/rootfs.tar”. You will need to untar this onto the root partition.

sudo mkfs.ext2 /dev/sdX2
sudo mount /dev/sdX2 /mnt
sudo tar xf output/images/rootfs.tar -C /mnt

This will format the root partition and extract the files onto it. Don’t unmount the partition just yet, we’ll need to add some more files.

Note - Recent releases of the linaro toolchain can cause an issue in which init cannot find libc.so.6. If you get a problem like this, follow the workarounds described in this Github issue. To summarize, create symlinks on the partition from /lib to /lib/arm-linux-gnueabihf and /usr/lib to /usr/lib/arm-linux-gnueabihf. Running the following commands should do the trick.

sudo ln -s /lib /mnt/lib/arm-linux-gnueabihf
sudo ln -s /usr/lib /mnt/usr/lib/arm-linux-gnueabihf

Step 6 - Install the kernel modules

The kernel has been installed on the boot partition, but you will also need to build the kernel modules and install them on the root partition. Go back to your kernel folder and run the following.

armmake -j4 modules
sudo make ARCH=arm INSTALL_MOD_PATH=/mnt modules_install
sudo umount /mnt

Now, finally, your SD card is ready. You can now try booting it. But to see what the OS is doing, you will need to use the serial port.

Step 7 - Setup the serial port

You will use a USB serial connection to communicate with the board. First, you should install “minicom”, a serial terminal program for Linux. Then, you’ll have to configure minicom with the correct settings for the SoCKit’s serial line. To enter the configuration menu, run sudo minicom -s. Go to “Serial port setup”. Change the “Serial Device” to “/dev/ttyUSB0”. In the same submenu, open “Bps/Par/Bits”. Set the speed to 57600. You will probably have to hit “<next>” or “<prev>” a bunch of times. Set parity to “None”, data to 8, and stop bits to 1. In the end, “Current” should be “57600 8N1”. Go back to the “Serial port setup” menu and make sure “Hardware Flow Control” and “Software Flow Control” are both off. Then exit this menu by hitting enter and hit “Save setup as dfl”, followed by “Exit from minicom”.

Now, plug your microSD card into the microSD slot on the board (it’s on the bottom underneath the push buttons). Plug the microUSB cable into the USB UART port (it’s the microUSB port farthest to the left), and connect it to your computer. Press the red button to switch on the board and then run “minicom” without arguments in your terminal. If you leave it for a while, the kernel will start booting. If everything is successful, you will eventually be presented with a login prompt.

If you hit some buttons when the board was first booting up, you may see a prompt reading “SOCFPGA_CYCLONE5”. This is the U-boot console. To boot the kernel, just type in “boot” and hit enter.


Congrats, you just booted Linux on the SoCKit! If this is your first time booting Linux on an ARM development board, this is actually a pretty major accomplishment. You’ve now learned the general flow of how to get Linux working on an embedded platform (excluding building and installing U-boot). Next time, we’ll look at how the CPU and FPGA can communicate.

<- Part 1 Part 3 ->