Flashing the Neo FreeRunner

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Most of the software on the Neo FreeRunner can be updated or changed. The root filesystem, the kernel, and the Bootloader can be modified with the program dfu-util from a computer. This page does not describe flashing the NOR Flash which requires a debug board. See Flashing NOR for this procedure.

The NAND Flash is divided into 3 partitions for the bootloader, kernel, and root filesystem. Each component can be flashed separately.

The bootloader is a small program that runs first and starts everything else when the FreeRunner is powered on. The bootloader is independent of the distribution you use. The kernel and the root filesystem are provided by the distribution.

Before you start: Erasing the root filesystem or flashing the bootloader are radical measures. Take the time to ponder the necessity. Sometimes problems can be fixed by only updating the kernel.


Image files to flash into FreeRunner memory

There are separate image files for all 3 software components. In most cases you will need to install a Kernel (uImage) and a Root Filesystem (rootfs). In rare cases, when there is a bug you need fixed, you will also install a new bootloader.

Please read Distributions for choosing the distribution which fits your needs, and then see Download for downloading.

Do a backup

If you have a working image that you're happy with but want to try something different, you should probably do a Backup.

Using dfu-util

Dfu-util is a command-line tool to flash the FreeRunner. It is available for Linux, MacOS X, and Windows. DFU-util allows you to connect to the FreeRunner through the USB cable and control its bootloader. That connection uses a special protocol which addresses the bootloader's interface, and differs from USB networking. For more details, see the separate dfu-util page.

See Manuals/Dfu-util

NeoTool (GUI)

Instead of the command-line-based DFU-util, you can use NeoTool, a graphical tool for flashing the FreeRunner: see the NeoTool page.

DFUScript - A command line script to simplify dfu-util

DFUScript was developed to assist users who have multiple devices in using dfu-util via the command line. Information on where to download and use DFUScript can be found on DFUScript.

Alternative: using nandwrite

This approach involves writing the rootfs into nand directly on the phone from a system already running on it, not necessarily via usb from a computer.

If you have a system running from a different partition that you intend to flash (for example sd card), you can use nandwrite to do the work, which is much faster (it takes about 30s to write a 59MB jffs2 image).

See Nandwrite for more information.

Optional: Verifying boot-loader version

(Optional) After an upgrade, you may wish to check that the u-boot version matches the one you have just flashed. You can use 'grep Bootloader /dev/mtdblock1' from a shell on the FreeRunner (and possibly the 1973 as well) to get the NAND u-boot version, like this:

  root@om-gta02:~# grep Bootloader /dev/mtdblock1
  Neo1973 Bootloader U-Boot 1.3.2+gitr18+64eb10cab8055084ae25ea4e73b66dd03cc1a0cb

You can grep for the same string in /dev/mtdblock0 to retrieve the NOR u-boot version:

  root@om-gta02:~# grep  Bootloader /dev/mtdblock0
  Neo1973 Bootloader U-Boot 1.3.2-moko12


Okay, so you just reflashed. The splash screen pops up, but uBoot fail to load the kernel, and return to boot menu. WTF?

  • It is likely that the wrong bits went to the wrong place. Try reflashing just the kernel, double checking that you select the uImage.bin kernel file, not the u-boot.bin bootloader file.
  • Try redownloading and reflashing the kernel, checking file integrity with the MD5 hash sums.

Quick Step-By-Step Summary

  1. Press AUX button first, hold it and press Power button. Wait until NOR flash U-Boot menu appears. You recognize it from the orange Openmoko logo. On the top it should usually say "U-Boot 1.3.2-moko12 (May 9 2008 - 10:28:48)".
  2. Attach USB cable
  3. Type the following commands, before the Neo automatically powers down
  # Flash u-boot
  dfu-util -a u-boot -R -D /path/to/u-boot_image
  # Flash the kernel
  dfu-util -a kernel -R -D /path/to/uImage.bin
  # Flash the rootfs
  dfu-util -a rootfs -R -D /path/to/rootfs.jffs2

If needed, specify extra device specifying parameter -d 0x1d50:0x5119 to the dfu-util.

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