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The ultimate guide to software updates on embedded linux devices

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Slides from my talk at NDC Techtown 2019.


Software updates has for a long time been a mess, consisting of “homegrown” solutions specific to a certain project and there was very little re-usage between projects and very little collaboration in our community to solve these complex problems. Luckily for us that time is over and the community around this topic has grown over last couple years and still is growing as the demand increases with the growth of IoT and OTA firmware updates (which introduces even more complexity).

There are now well established open-source solutions that have been “battle tested” that we can collaborate on to make the complexity of software updates manageable. We are heading for a time where a quality Board Support Package should provide an software update implementation because it really should be solved at this level instead of handing this over to application developers which have limited knowledge of low lever architecture on a embedded device.

In this talk Mirza will present some of the challenges of doing software updates on embedded system. He will also present the available open-source projects that can be used to solving these challenges. Projects such as, SWupdate, RAUC and more.

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The ultimate guide to software updates on embedded linux devices

  1. 1. Mirza Krak Embedded Linux Solutions Architect NDC Techtown 2019 The ultimate guide to software updates on embedded Linux devices
  2. 2. Session Overview ● Introduction ● Embedded Linux overview and use-case ● Software update methods ● Existing solutions Goal: Present an overview of software update techniques used in embedded Linux and present existing solutions for software updates
  3. 3. About Me Mirza Krak ○ 8 years in embedded Linux ○ Background in automotive ○ Board Support Package development ○ Linux kernel contributor ○ Over-the-air update solution for embedded Linux ○ Open source (Apache 2.0 License) ○ Remote deployment management (server) ○ Under active development
  4. 4. Embedded Linux
  5. 5. Embedded Linux
  6. 6. Embedded Linux - areas of usage ● Transportation ○ Public transport ○ Fleet management ○ Tracking ○ Predictive maintenance ● Infrastructure ○ Power and water grids ○ Metropolitan areas ● Buildings ○ Monitoring ○ Energy optimization ○ Access control ○ Security ● Automotive ○ Infotainment ○ Telematics and connectivity ● “Things” ○ Appliances, Routers, TV’s...
  7. 7. Internet of Things (IoT) The Internet of things (IoT) is the extension of Internet connectivity into physical devices and everyday objects. Embedded with electronics, Internet connectivity, and other forms of hardware (such as sensors), these devices can communicate and interact with others over the Internet, and they can be remotely monitored and controlled Source: WikipediaIt means taking all the things in the world and connecting them to the internet
  8. 8. The embedded environment ● Remote ○ Expensive to reach physically ● Long expected lifetime ○ 5 - 10 years ● Unreliable power ○ Battery ○ Suddenly unplugged ● Unreliable network ○ Intermittent connectivity ○ Low bandwidth ○ Insecure What can go wrong?
  9. 9. Must be updatable There will be bugs, vulnerabilities … and new features … after the device is deployed to the field
  10. 10. Cost savings by using open source platforms Embedded System Stack Cost 10% 30% 60% Product Differentiation Use open source here to: Lower layers are expensive and provides no differentiation HMI Applications Middleware OTA update Operating System Board Support Package Hardware ● Lower cost on non-differentiating components ● Shorten time-to-market ● Reallocate development to differentiation: ○ Applications and HMI
  11. 11. Software update on-site ● No connectivity ● Technician ○ USB flash drive ● Does not scale
  12. 12. Software update Over-The-Air (OTA) ● No easy access to the device ● Deployment management server ○ Traceability ○ Status reports ○ Current versions ○ Controlled roll-outs
  13. 13. Anatomy of embedded Linux Bootloader: system initialization code starting with the reset vector. ● Initialize and scrub RAM ● Setup power rails and clocks ● Load the “rest” of the system Bootloader Linux kernel Device Tree (ARM) Root filesystem Kernel: core operating system functionality ● Resource management ● Process control ● Device drivers Device Tree: hardware description (ARM) Root filesystem: all files, executables, data, etc for the system
  14. 14. Anatomy of embedded Linux (Image) Linux kernel Distribution / Applications Update Client Devicetree File system image
  15. 15. Requirements (minimal) ● Able to update all components ○ Normally unsafe to update bootloader ● Never render the device unusable (brick) ○ Fail-safe / roll-back ● Atomic updates ○ No partial install ● Integrity check ● Signed images ○ Trusted images ● Compatibility check
  16. 16. Alternative approaches ● Image/block based updates ○ Easy to implement, test, verify and maintain ○ Can be complemented with binary delta ● Incremental atomic image upgrade mechanism ○ Complexity ● Containers ○ Run applications in containers on device ● Package managers (dpkg, dnf, opkg) ○ Not designed for embedded use-case ○ Not atomic ○ Hard to maintain
  17. 17. Asymmetric Image updates ● Android (pre N) ● Fail-safe ● Downsides ○ Downtime ○ Intermediate storage Bootloader Persistent data Device OS A (active) Recovery OS Main OS
  18. 18. Symmetric Image updates ● Android (post N) ● Seamless updates ● Fail-safe ● Roll-back ● Downside ○ Storage overhead Bootloader Persistent data Device OS A (active) OS B (inactive)OS A (active)
  19. 19. 1. In-place (deb, rpm) 2. Asymmetric 3. Symmetric 4. Containers Atomic (for rollback) Consistent fleet Workflow integration Bandwidth (*) (*) Downtime Comparison of installer strategies (*) Can be mitigated with compression or with “binary delta” transfers
  20. 20. Ecosystem
  21. 21. Categories ● Frameworks ○ SWUpdate (client) ○ RAUC (client) ○ libostree (infrastructure) ○ Hawkbit (standalone server) ● OTA Solutions ○ ○ ● OTA Solutions (SWUpdate + Hawkbit) ○ FullMetalUpdate ○ Update Factory ● Full stack (includes OTA) ○ (libostree and containers) ○ (former, containers) ○ Torizon (based on ○ …. ● Proprietary (Automotive) ○ ….
  22. 22. SWUpdate “SWUpdate is a Linux Update agent with the goal to provide an efficient and safe way to update an embedded system” ● ● C & GPLv2 ● Update agent on device ○ Integration with Hawkbit ● Integrated web server for “local updates” ● Update types: ○ Symmetric/Asymmetric Image Updates (rdiff) ○ In-place (files, tar.gz etc..) ○ Proxy firmware ● Cryptographic signing and verification of updates ● Yocto & Buildroot integration
  23. 23. RAUC “RAUC controls the update process on embedded Linux systems. It is both a target application that runs as an update client and a host/target tool that allows you to create, inspect and modify installation artifacts.” ● ● C & Python ● License: LGPL-2.1 ● Update agent on device ○ Integration with Hawkbit ● Integrated web server for “local updates” ● Update types: ○ Symmetric/Asymmetric Image Updates (casync) ○ In-place (files, tar.gz etc..) ● Cryptographic signing and verification of updates ● Yocto, Buildroot and PTXDist Integration
  24. 24. Hawkbit “Eclipse hawkBit™ is a domain independent back-end framework for rolling out software updates to constrained edge devices as well as more powerful controllers and gateways connected to IP based networking infrastructure.” ● ● Java ● Eclipse Public License 1.0 ● Standalone server ○ Client integrations are provided by users ○ SWUpdate & RAUC are example of clients ● Eclipse Foundation project
  25. 25. Hawkbit - features at glance ● A device and software repository. ● Artifact content delivery. ● Software update and roll out management. ● Reporting and monitoring. ● Interfaces: ○ for direct device control. ○ for IoT solutions or applications to manage the repository and the roll outs. ○ for device management federation (i.e. indirect device control) ○ and a user interface to operators to manage and run the roll outs. ● More on features here
  26. 26. Torizon “Torizon is a new Linux-based software platform that simplifies the process of developing and maintaining embedded software. It allows you to configure the system for your use case quickly and easily, so you can focus on application development instead of Linux builds.”
  27. 27. Mender Mender’s prime directive: robust and secure OTA updates ● Apache 2.0 & Golang ● Asymmetric images updates (binary delta coming soon) ○ Can be extended using the Update Module framework ● Integrity checks to avoid corruption ● Device groupings for controlled rollout management ● Secure TLS communication between server/device ● Signed images ● Yocto, Buildroot, Debian, Ubuntu, Raspbian, OpenWRT
  28. 28. Mender ● Singular complete solution: ○ Fully integrated on-target client and web-based management server ○ Ability to update both your kernel and applications in one mechanism ● Mender supports both managed OTA updates and standalone deployments. ● Interface to adapt the update flow to application-specific use cases, e.g. user confirmation ● Microservices API-based architecture allows simple adaptation to custom requirements. ● Low system overhead
  29. 29. Mender and the value of an OSS community ● Mender is the only end-to-end open source OTA manager (both management server and client) ○ No vendor lock-in ○ Permissive Apache 2.0 license ○ A healthy peer review mechanism with more eyes on the code to increase its security ● Less reliance on tribal knowledge; less expensive than a homegrown system ○ Homegrown systems have unpredictable scope, which leads to more cost and time ○ Reliance on tribal knowledge: if a key person leaves, could cause serious issues ● Mender Hub is the only online community dedicated to enable OTA on any device and OS ○ Get started quickly ○ 40+ board integrations
  30. 30. Mender Hub A community-driven repository to enable OTA updates with Mender on every board and OS!
  31. 31. Thank You! Q&A @KrakMirza @mender_io