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Working on the BeagleBone Kernel

18 Jun 2016

Once you’ve built a basic BeagleBone Black system with the Yocto Project tools, you will probably want to customize the kernel or the device tree that gets loaded at boot.


The default Linux kernel is referred to as virtual/kernel when building with bitbake.

For example to build the kernel and modules

~/bbb/build$ bitbake virtual/kernel

or to clean the build

~/bbb/build$ bitbake -c cleansstate virtual/kernel

Which kernel to use comes from this line in meta-bbb/conf/machine/beaglebone.conf

PREFERRED_PROVIDER_virtual/kernel = "linux-stable"

The kernel recipes are found here meta-bbb/recipes-kernel/linux/

If you had multiple linux-stable recipes, maybe

then the highest revision number, 4.6 in this case, would be used.

To specify an earlier version, you could use a line like this in build/conf/local.conf

PREFERRED_VERSION_linux-stable = "4.4"

The 4.4 kernel is the latest LTS kernel, so that is the default kernel I am using for projects.

Kernel patches and config file are searched for under meta-bbb/recipes-kernel/linux/linux-stable-4.4/ because of this line in the kernel recipe

FILESEXTRAPATHS_prepend := "${THISDIR}/linux-stable-4.4:"

The kernel config file is meta-bbb/recipes-kernel/linux/linux-stable-4.4/beaglebone/defconfig.

When Yocto builds the linux-stable-4.4 kernel, it does so under this directory


The r14 revision comes from this line in the kernel recipe

PR = "r14"

It is a good idea to update the PR value if you make any changes to the kernel recipe. This will force a rebuild of the kernel the next time you build an image.

Here’s a look at that kernel work directory after a build

scott@fractal:~/bbb/build/conf$ ls -l /oe7/bbb/tmp-krogoth/work/beaglebone-poky-linux-gnueabi/linux-stable/4.4-r14/
total 228
-rw-rw-r--   1 scott scott   704 Jan 17 22:59 0001-spidev-Add-a-generic-compatible-id.patch
-rw-rw-r--   1 scott scott  1955 Jan 17 22:59 0002-dts-Revoke-Beaglebone-i2c2-definitions.patch
-rw-rw-r--   1 scott scott 15051 Jan 17 22:59 0003-Add-ft5x06_ts-touchscreen-driver.patch
-rw-rw-r--   1 scott scott 27885 Jan 17 22:59 0004-dts-Add-custom-bbb-dts-files.patch
-rw-rw-r--   1 scott scott 97256 Jan 17 22:59 defconfig
drwxr-xr-x   3 scott scott  4096 Jun  8 08:06 deploy-ipks
drwxr-xr-x   2 scott scott  4096 Jun  8 08:05 deploy-linux-stable
lrwxrwxrwx   1 scott scott    57 Jun  8 08:03 git -> /oe7/bbb/tmp-krogoth/work-shared/beaglebone/kernel-source
drwxr-xr-x   5 scott scott  4096 Jun  8 08:05 image
drwxrwxr-x   3 scott scott  4096 Jun  8 08:03 license-destdir
drwxr-xr-x  22 scott scott  4096 Jun  8 08:05 linux-beaglebone-standard-build
drwxr-xr-x   4 scott scott  4096 Jun  8 08:05 package
drwxr-xr-x 114 scott scott  4096 Jun  8 08:06 packages-split
drwxr-xr-x   7 scott scott  4096 Jun  8 08:05 pkgdata
drwxrwxr-x   2 scott scott  4096 Jun  8 08:05 pseudo
drwxrwxr-x   2 scott scott  4096 Jun  8 08:05 sstate-build-deploy
drwxr-xr-x   2 scott scott  4096 Jun  8 08:06 sstate-build-package
drwxrwxr-x   2 scott scott  4096 Jun  8 08:06 sstate-build-packagedata
drwxr-xr-x   2 scott scott  4096 Jun  8 08:06 sstate-build-package_qa
drwxr-xr-x   2 scott scott  4096 Jun  8 08:06 sstate-build-package_write_ipk
drwxrwxr-x   2 scott scott  4096 Jun  8 08:03 sstate-build-populate_lic
drwxrwxr-x   2 scott scott  4096 Jun  8 08:05 sstate-build-populate_sysroot
drwxr-xr-x   3 scott scott  4096 Jun  8 08:05 sysroot-destdir
drwxrwxr-x   2 scott scott 12288 Jun  8 08:06 temp

The patches and defconfig are the same files from meta-bbb/recipes-kernel/linux/linux-stable-4.4/

The files under git are the Linux source after the kernel recipe patches have been applied.

The build output happens under linux-beaglebone-standard-build and this is where the defconfig is copied to a .config.

Changing the kernel config

You can invoke the standard kernel configuration editor using bitbake

~/bbb/build$ bitbake -c menuconfig virtual/kernel

After you make your changes and save them, the new configuration file can be found here


Copy that .config file to


Then rebuild your kernel

~/bbb/build$ bitbake -c cleansstate virtual/kernel && bitbake virtual/kernel

If that is successful, you then want to rebuild your image to get the new kernel and modules included in the rootfs for installation.

Working outside of Yocto

I usually find it more convenient to work on the kernel outside of the Yocto build system.

A little setup is required.


The Yocto tools will build a cross-compiler with headers and libraries that you can easily install on multiple machines including the Yocto build machine which is where I’ll be using it.

First, choose the architecture where you’ll be running the cross-compiler by setting the SDKMACHINE variable in your local.conf file.

SDKMACHINE = "x86_64"

The choices are i686 for 32-bit build workstations or x86_64 for 64-bit workstations.

Then after the normal setting up of the Yocto build environment

~$ source poky-krogoth/oe-init-build-env ~/bbb/build

build the sdk installer with the populate_sdk command, usually specifying the same image file you are using in your project

~/bbb/build$ bitbake -c populate_sdk console-image

When finished, the sdk installer will end up here


If you run it and accept the defaults, the cross-tools will get installed under /opt/poky/2.1.

Fetch the Linux source

The kernel recipe linux-stable_4.4.bb has the repository location, branch and commit of the kernel source used in the Yocto build.

These lines have the details

# v4.4.13
SRCREV = "ba760d4302e4fce130007b8bdbce7fcafc9bd9a9"
SRC_URI = " \
    git://git.kernel.org/pub/scm/linux/kernel/git/stable/linux-stable.git;branch=linux-4.4.y \

Be sure to pay attention to the branch.

Here are the commands to checkout that same kernel source

$ cd ~/bbb
$ git clone git://git.kernel.org/pub/scm/linux/kernel/git/stable/linux-stable.git
$ cd linux-stable

Switch to the correct branch

$ git checkout -b linux-4.4.y origin/linux-4.4.y

That gets you to the correct git branch, but depending on whether I’ve kept the meta-bbb repository up-to-date, the current commit on the branch may or may not match the SRCREV in the recipe. If they don’t match, you can checkout a particular older commit explicitly or you can modify the recipe to use the latest commit. Checking out the same branch is usually sufficient.

Apply existing patches

Currently the meta-bbb/recipes-kernel/linux/linux-stable_4.4.bb recipe has a number of patches that I’ve included to add support for spidev, i2c, uart4 and a few touchscreens. These are all completely optional and you probably want your own patches instead.

Whatever patches you decide to use when building with Yocto, you can use git to apply these same patches to the Linux source repository outside of Yocto.

I usually start by creating a working branch

~$ cd ~/bbb/linux-stable
~/bbb/linux-stable$ checkout -b work

And if you wanted to apply all of the patches at once

~/bbb/linux-stable$ git am ../meta-bbb/recipes-kernel/linux/linux-stable-4.4/*.patch

Or you could apply selective patches individually.

Default kernel config

Copy the kernel config file that Yocto used to the new linux-stable repository.

cp ~/bbb/meta-bbb/recipes-kernel/linux/linux-stable-4.4/beaglebone/defconfig ~/bbb/linux-stable/.config

If you make changes to the config that you want to keep, make sure to copy it back to meta-bbb/.../defconfig


Source the cross-tools environment

~$ cd bbb/linux-stable
~/bbb/linux-stable$ source /opt/poky/2.1/environment-setup-cortexa8hf-vfp-neon-poky-linux-gnueabi

Build a zImage, unset LOCALVERSION so modules already on the bbb rootfs will still load

~/bbb/linux-stable$ make LOCALVERSION= -j8 zImage

The -jN argument is optional and depends on your workstation.

Build the modules

~/bbb/linux-stable$ make LOCALVERSION= -j8 modules

Build the device tree binaries

~/bbb/linux-stable$ make bbb-hdmi.dtb
  DTC     arch/arm/boot/dts/bbb-hdmi.dtb

The device tree source files are found under arch/arm/boot/dts/


For development, deployment consists of copying over to a running beaglebone system and rebooting. I usually use scp.

The new zImage file can be found here arch/arm/boot/zImage. Copy it to the beaglebone /boot/ directory.

~/bbb/linux-stable$ scp arch/arm/boot/zImage root@<bbb-ip-address>:/boot

I’m typically only working on one particular module at a time and therefore would only copy that particular *.ko module over to the appropriate bbb /lib/modules location.

Device tree binaries also go in /boot.

For example

~/bbb/linux-stable$ scp arch/arm/boot/dts/bbb-hdmi.dtb root@<bbb-ip-address>:/boot

Modify uEnv.txt to specify which dtb file to load.


The uEnv.txt file is on the boot partition which you’ll normally have to mount first

root@bbb:~# mkdir /mnt/fat
root@bbb:~# mount /dev/mmcblk0p1 /mnt/fat

root@bbb:~# ls -l /mnt/fat
total 466
-rwxr-xr-x 1 root root  64408 Aug 10  2015 MLO
-rwxr-xr-x 1 root root 410860 Aug 10  2015 u-boot.img
-rwxr-xr-x 1 root root    931 Aug 10  2015 uEnv.txt

After that you can edit the uEnv.txt file to change the dtb that is loaded.

Generating a patch for Yocto

After finishing development you will probably want to integrate your changes into the Yocto build system. Yocto works with the standard patches generated by git.

So for instance the patch that allows using the spidev kernel driver in a DTS without the silly warnings


was generated like this

scott@fractal:~/bbb/linux-stable$ vi drivers/spi/spidev.c

Make the changes and save.

Here’s the diff

scott@octo:~/bbb/linux-stable$ git diff
diff --git a/drivers/spi/spidev.c b/drivers/spi/spidev.c
index ef008e5..59b37e9 100644
--- a/drivers/spi/spidev.c
+++ b/drivers/spi/spidev.c
@@ -695,6 +695,7 @@ static struct class *spidev_class;
 static const struct of_device_id spidev_dt_ids[] = {
        { .compatible = "rohm,dh2228fv" },
        { .compatible = "lineartechnology,ltc2488" },
+       { .compatible = "generic,spi" },
 MODULE_DEVICE_TABLE(of, spidev_dt_ids);

Now commit the change to git

scott@fractal:~/bbb/linux-stable$ git add drivers/spi/spidev.c

scott@octo:~/bbb/linux-stable$ git commit -m 'spidev: Add a generic compatible id'
[work 00e179f] spidev: Add a generic compatible id
 1 file changed, 1 insertion(+)

generate a patch

scott@octo:~/bbb/linux-stable$ git format-patch -1

copy the patch to where Yocto will use it

scott@fractal:~/bbb/linux-stable$ cp 0001-spidev-* \

and finally add the patch to the kernel recipe linux-stable_4.4.bb.

Yocto will apply the patches in the order they appear in the recipe, but to make it easier to work with git am outside of Yocto it’s useful to rename (renumber) the patches in the order you want them applied.

External Kernel Modules

You can build external kernel modules by first sourcing the Yocto SDK environment as above and then pointing your Makefile KERNELDIR to the correct location using the -C switch.

For example

scott@fractal:~/projects/hellow$ cat Makefile
# Makefile for the hellow kernel module


    obj-m := $(MODULE_NAME).o
    PWD := $(shell pwd)

        $(MAKE) -C $(HOME)/bbb/linux-stable M=$(PWD) modules

        rm -rf *~ *.ko *.o *.mod.c modules.order Module.symvers .${MODULE_NAME}* .tmp_versions


Build the module with make

scott@fractal:~/projects/hellow$ make
make -C /home/scott/bbb/linux-stable M=/home/scott/projects/hellow modules
make[1]: Entering directory '/home/scott/bbb/linux-stable'
  CC [M]  /home/scott/projects/hellow/hellow.o
  Building modules, stage 2.
  MODPOST 1 modules
  CC      /home/scott/projects/hellow/hellow.mod.o
  LD [M]  /home/scott/projects/hellow/hellow.ko
make[1]: Leaving directory '/home/scott/bbb/linux-stable'

After that you can copy the ko module to the BBB using scp and load it manually with insmod.

Adding a Yocto Recipe for an External Kernel Module

Here’s a working Yocto recipe that pulls the external module source from a private Github repository, builds and then installs the module under /lib/modules/${KERNEL_VERSION/kernel/drivers on the final rootfs.

scott@fractal:~/fit-overo/meta-fit/recipes-kernel/drivers$ cat ads1278_git.bb
DESCRIPTION = "A kernel module for the FIT ads1278"
LIC_FILES_CHKSUM = "file://${COMMON_LICENSE_DIR}/GPL-2.0;md5=801f80980d171dd6425610833a22dbe6"

inherit module

PR = "r23"

SRC_URI = "git://git@github.com/Fluid-Imaging-Technologies/fit-ads1278.git;protocol=ssh"

S = "${WORKDIR}/git"

do_compile() {

do_install() {
  install -d ${D}${base_libdir}/modules/${KERNEL_VERSION}/kernel/drivers/${PN}
  install -m 0644 ads1278${KERNEL_OBJECT_SUFFIX} ${D}${base_libdir}/modules/${KERNEL_VERSION}/kernel/drivers/${PN}

You could then add the driver package, ads128 in this example, to to the IMAGE_INSTALL variable for the Yocto image recipe you are using.