Category Archives: FDT

New Device Tree Compiler

This week, I imported a new device tree compiler, dtc(1). This is the tool that is used to translate between different representations of a Flattened Device Tree (FDT), a way of representing boot-time configuration information. The FDT contains more or less the same information as an OpenFirmware device tree, for example the locations of memory-mapped peripherals, reserved sections of RAM, interrupt routing information, and so on.

FreeBSD/ARM makes a lot of use of FDTs, as they’re the standard way of getting information from the bootloader. They are used in two ways. The ideal way is for the bootloader to provide the tree to the kernel at boot time. This allows a single kernel to be used with multiple SoCs. Alternatively, the device tree can be compiled into the kernel.

The device tree in both cases is in the form of a Device Tree Blob (DTB), a binary representation of the tree. The ‘flattened’ in the name comes from the fact that the tree is represented in a linear structured format, like HTML, with explicit delimiters for starts and ends of child nodes, rather than in a format with pointers between elements. The other representation, the Device Tree Source is a human-readable tree using braces to delimit children and is rather similar to the OpenStep property list format or JSON.

The device tree compiler is responsible for converting between these formats. In the FreeBSD tree, we have a number of DTS files that represent supported platforms where the bootloader doesn’t provide the DTB. During the build process, the DTB is generated and linked into the kernel.

Unfortunately, the existing tool was released under the GPL. We try to minimise the amount of GPL’d code installed by default, and intend to remove all of it by 10.0, so dtc was not installed unless your target platform used it (a bit silly, as you want to use it on your host platform when doing embedded device development). The new tool is a (BSD-licensed) from-scratch rewrite that I did over Christmas. It shares no code with the original, but works as a drop-in replacement in our build system.

It is now used by default, although the old GPL’d tool will remain available as an option for a while until I’m confident that we aren’t breaking out-of-tree dtc users. So, if you’re using FDTs and don’t have the DTS in the tree, please test it. Otherwise, this is just another step on the way to a fully GPL-free base system.

Another New Funded Project

Rafal Jaworowski and Semihalf have been awarded a grant to provide FreeBSD with support for the flattened device tree (FDT) technology. This project allows for describing hardware resources of a computer system and their dependencies in a platform-neutral and portable way.

The main consumers of this functionality are embedded systems whose hardware resources assignment cannot be probed or self-discovered.

The FDT idea is inherited from Open Firmware IEEE 1275 device-tree notion (part of the regular Open Firmware implementation), and among other deployments is used as a basis for's embedded platform reference specification (ePAPR).

"Thanks to this project, embedded FreeBSD platforms will grow in a uniform and extensible way of representing hardware devices, compliant with industry standards (ePAPR, Open Firmware), independent of architecture and platform (portable across ARM, MIPS, PowerPC etc.)," said Rafal Jaworowski, FreeBSD Developer.

Semihalf is a privately owned company, based in Krakow, Poland. They specialize in embedded systems design and development, with expertise in both software and hardware. Among their portfolio are FreeBSD ports to high-end embedded processors (including multi-core) with a wide range of peripheral drivers (storage, networking, pattern matching, security engines etc.); most of this work is publicly available from the FreeBSD repository.

This project will complete by February 2010.