Jumpnow Technologies


Building Raspberry Pi Systems with Buildroot

13 Jul 2020

Warning: This is an old post and the repository referenced has not been updated in several years.

This post is about building Linux systems for Raspberry Pi boards using Buildroot.

Buildroot is a popular alternative to Yocto for building custom embedded Linux systems.

With a few exceptions you can build a similar Linux system with either tool.

I am using a Buildroot clone I created in Github.

The [master] branch of the repository is a mirror of the official Buildroot repository.

The default [jumpnow] branch has a few additions on top of [master] for my own customizations and is what I am using for these examples.

I am using a 4.14 kernel from the official RPi repo.

The demo images I am building include Qt5 support, since many of the projects I work on use it. Qt is big and if you don’t need it you should remove it from the config.

Buildroot offers two versions of Qt5, 5.9.4 and 5.6.x. I’m using 5.9.4 for the demos. I am building both the Qt EGLFS and linuxfb platform plugins.

I have also included PyQt5.

Here are some of the changes to Buildroot [master] in my [jumpnow] branch.

The defconfig is where non-default build information is stored. You will want to create a custom defconfig for your project.

The two custom defconfigs I am using in the demos are

These configs add Qt5 (no QML), PyQt5 and Python3 including Numpy.

To build a system, run the following (see the ccache notes below)

~$ git clone -b jumpnow https://github.com/jumpnow/buildroot
~$ cd buildroot
~/buildroot$ make jumpnow_rpi3_defconfig
~/buildroot$ make

Note: Don’t run make with a -jN argument. The main Makefile is not designed to be run as a parallel build. The sub-projects will be run in parallel automatically.

If you are missing tools on your workstation, you will get error messages telling you what you are missing. The dependencies are nothing out of the ordinary for a developer workstation and you can search the web for the particular packages you need to install for your distro.

The command

make jumpnow_rpi3_defconfig

created a .config file that completely describes to Buildroot how to generate the system.

When the build is done, insert an SD card and copy the image like this

~/buildroot$ sudo dd if=output/images/rpi3-sdcard.img of=/dev/sdb bs=1M

Replace /dev/sdb with the location the SD card shows up on your workstation.

Customizing the Build

The Buildroot Documentation is good and you should probably be reading that first.

One easy optimization is use ccache to reduce redundant work by the C/C++ preprocessor.

Make sure your workstation has ccache installed, then run the Buildroot configuration tool after you have your initial .config generated.

~/buildroot$ make menuconfig

Under Build options select Enable compiler cache and then save the configuration. This will update your .config.

You will need the ncurses development package for your distribution before you can run menuconfig.

After that run make as usual to build your system.

Another option I’ve been using is to save the downloaded source files to a location outside the buildroot repository.

The download location is determined by the BR2_DL_DIR variable in the config


Or it can be set as an environment variable in the shell

export BR2_DL_DIR=${HOME}/dl

This allows you to share common downloads among different builds and if you ever delete the Buildroot repository you won’t lose the downloads.

Another option is to build externally outside of the Buildroot repository.

You can specify it this way when you do the first make <some_defconfig>.

~/buildroot$ make O=/br5/rpi3 jumpnow_rpi3_defconfig

After that, go to the directory you chose to run the Buildroot make commands

~/buildroot$ cd /br5/rpi3
/br5/rpi3$ make menuconfig (optional)
/br5/rpi3$ make

In this particular case I have /br5/rpi3 on a drive partition separate from my workstation rootfs and my home directory.

So what does the resulting system look like?

I uploaded some sdcard.imgs here if you want a quick look.

Here’s a short run through.

The RPi serial console console is configured and I’m running the following commands using that.

Welcome to Buildroot
rpi3 login: root

The password is jumpnowtek. You should change it.

# uname -a
Linux rpi3 4.14.26-v7 #1 SMP Wed Mar 14 17:00:40 EDT 2018 armv7l GNU/Linux

# free
              total        used        free      shared  buff/cache   available
Mem:         949476       16888      878480         228       54108      919040
Swap:             0           0           0

The SD card is not fully utilized because I used the sdcard.img and in the config set the rootfs size to 2G.

# df -h
Filesystem                Size      Used Available Use% Mounted on
/dev/root                 1.8G    222.2M      1.5G  13% /
devtmpfs                459.1M         0    459.1M   0% /dev
tmpfs                   463.6M         0    463.6M   0% /dev/shm
tmpfs                   463.6M    116.0K    463.5M   0% /tmp
tmpfs                   463.6M    112.0K    463.5M   0% /run

The system is pretty big at 220M but that’s because of all the Qt5 and Python stuff I threw in.

# ls -l /var/log
lrwxrwxrwx    1 root     root             6 Aug 23 07:46 /var/log -> ../tmp

Logs are going to a tmpfs which is what you normally want on an embedded system.

The expected interfaces are present. The default /etc/network/interfaces brings up eth0 using dhcp.

I have verified the wifi interface works.

# ifconfig -a
eth0      Link encap:Ethernet  HWaddr B8:27:EB:7B:E8:32
          inet addr:  Bcast:  Mask:
          inet6 addr: fe80::ba27:ebff:fe7b:e832/64 Scope:Link
          RX packets:198 errors:0 dropped:0 overruns:0 frame:0
          TX packets:161 errors:0 dropped:0 overruns:0 carrier:0
          collisions:0 txqueuelen:1000
          RX bytes:17701 (17.2 KiB)  TX bytes:21539 (21.0 KiB)

lo        Link encap:Local Loopback
          inet addr:  Mask:
          inet6 addr: ::1/128 Scope:Host
          UP LOOPBACK RUNNING  MTU:65536  Metric:1
          RX packets:0 errors:0 dropped:0 overruns:0 frame:0
          TX packets:0 errors:0 dropped:0 overruns:0 carrier:0
          collisions:0 txqueuelen:1
          RX bytes:0 (0.0 B)  TX bytes:0 (0.0 B)

wlan0     Link encap:Ethernet  HWaddr B8:27:EB:2E:BD:67
          BROADCAST MULTICAST  MTU:1500  Metric:1
          RX packets:0 errors:0 dropped:0 overruns:0 frame:0
          TX packets:0 errors:0 dropped:0 overruns:0 carrier:0
          collisions:0 txqueuelen:1000
          RX bytes:0 (0.0 B)  TX bytes:0 (0.0 B)

The ssh server is listening. I have one connection going.

# netstat -an | grep tcp
tcp        0      0    *               LISTEN
tcp        0     64      ESTABLISHED
tcp        0      0 :::22                   :::*                    LISTEN

I also added an ntp package and set the timezone to EST5EDT in the defconfig and that is working.

# date
Thu Mar 15 06:49:21 EDT 2018

My Qt Widgets touchscreen test application tspress works fine.

# tspress
Unable to query physical screen size, defaulting to 100 dpi.
Down: 667 554
Up  : 671 554
Down: 893 671
Up  : 893 671
Down: 976 482
Up  : 976 486

See the /etc/profile.d/qt5-env.sh script for setting Qt5 environment variables like WIDTH and HEIGHT.

I have a USB Bluetooth mouse and a USB keyboard/mouse with trackpad attached as well as a 1080p HDMI touch display.

All input devices work.

You can see from the Qt messages that the eglfs plugin is being used.

I did include the linuxfb plugin in the build just for testing.

# ls -l /usr/lib/qt/plugins/platforms/
total 960
-rwxr-xr-x    1 root     root          9568 Mar 14 17:02 libqeglfs.so
-rwxr-xr-x    1 root     root        315012 Mar 14 17:02 libqlinuxfb.so
-rwxr-xr-x    1 root     root        133540 Mar 14 17:02 libqminimal.so
-rwxr-xr-x    1 root     root        162612 Mar 14 17:02 libqminimalegl.so
-rwxr-xr-x    1 root     root        146000 Mar 14 17:02 libqoffscreen.so
-rwxr-xr-x    1 root     root        207960 Mar 14 17:02 libqvnc.so

PyQt5 applications work fine. There is small example installed called pytouch.py.

You can run it like this

# pytouch.py

Using the Buildroot cross-toolchain

Some quick notes on using the cross-toolchain.

The toolchain gets installed under the build output/host directory.

In my example where I used an external build directory of /br5/rpi3

~/buildroot$ make O=/br5/rpi3 jumpnow_rpi3_defconfig

my build output ended up here


The cross-compiler and associated tools can be found under


The toolchain is not relocatable. You must use it in place.

To use add the path /br5/rpi3/host/usr/bin to your PATH environment variable and invoke the compiler by name, in this case arm-linux-gcc, arm-linux-g++, etc…

Some quick examples, first add the PATH to the cross-compiler

$ export PATH=/br5/rpi3/host/usr/bin:${PATH}
$ echo $PATH

A simple C, Makefile example

~/projects$ git clone https://github.com/scottellis/serialecho
Cloning into 'serialecho'...

~/projects$ cd serialecho/

~/projects/serialecho$ cat Makefile
TARGET = serialecho

$(TARGET) : serialecho.c
        $(CC) serialecho.c -o $(TARGET)

        rm -f $(TARGET)

~/projects/serialecho$ export CC=arm-linux-gcc

~/projects/serialecho$ make
arm-linux-gcc serialecho.c -o serialecho

~/projects/serialecho$ file serialecho
serialecho: ELF 32-bit LSB executable, ARM, EABI5 version 1 (SYSV), dynamically linked, interpreter /lib/ld-linux-armhf.so.3, for GNU/Linux 4.9.0, not stripped

A Qt5 project, first check our Qt version

~/projects$ which qmake

~/projects$ qmake --version
QMake version 3.1
Using Qt version 5.9.2 in /br5/rpi3/host/arm-buildroot-linux-gnueabihf/sysroot/usr/lib

Fetch and build a project

~/projects$ git clone https://github.com/scottellis/tspress
Cloning into 'tspress'...

~/projects$ cd tspress

~/projects/tspress$ qmake
Info: creating stash file /home/scott/projects/tspress/.qmake.stash

~/projects/tspress$ make
... (build stuff) ...

~/projects/tspress$ file tspress
tspress: ELF 32-bit LSB executable, ARM, EABI5 version 1 (SYSV), dynamically linked, interpreter /lib/ld-linux-armhf.so.3, for GNU/Linux 4.9.0, not stripped