Martin Michlmayr
SheevaPlug in my hand

Manually unpacking a tar ball of Debian on SheevaPlug

Since the Debian installer can only be used to install Debian testing (squeeze), here is a description of how to manually unpack a tar ball of Debian stable (lenny, version 5.0) for the SheevaPlug. You need a PC running Linux to perform this installation but you can use a Linux live CD, such as Knoppix or Debian Live, if Linux is not installed on your PC.

The SheevaPlug has 512 MB flash memory and a USB and SD card interface. Debian can, in theory, be installed to any of them but currently only installations to a USB stick or disk as well as to an SD card are described here. Please note that while USB sticks work fine, the current version of u-boot (the boot loader on the SheevaPlug) seems to have some trouble with USB hard disks... they will work but you may have to restart the device several times so u-boot will find the disk. There are also problems booting from USB when more than one USB device is connected.

In order to proceed, you will either need a USB stick (or disk) or an SD card with at least 512 MB storage. If you're running a version of u-boot older than 3.4.19 you have to upgrade u-boot before proceeding with this installation! Version 3.4.19 adds SD support and improves USB support.

Preparing the USB stick or SD card

First, you have to partition the USB stick or SD card. (Note: if you want to install to SD card but don't have an SD card reader in your PC, you can install to a USB stick and then use the SheevaPlug to prepare the SD card.) I have used a small partition for /boot, one large partition for the system and other data and one for swap. Therefore, you need to create three partitions: the first physical partition (something like /dev/sda1 for USB and /dev/mmcblk0p1 for SD) for the boot partition, /dev/sda2 (or /dev/mmcblk0p2) for the system partition and the third physical partition (/dev/sda3 or /dev/mmcblk0p3) for swap. You can use a different layout but in this case you need to adapt /etc/fstab after unpacking the tar ball (and later adapt the command line passed to the kernel). If you change the layout, I suggest you still create a small /boot partition because otherwise u-boot might have trouble loading Debian.

I used the following layout:

   Device Boot      Start         End      Blocks   Id  System
/dev/sda1   *           1          14      112423+  83  Linux
/dev/sda2              15         210     1574370   83  Linux
/dev/sda3             211         251      329332+  82  Linux swap

Use fdisk to partition your disk (let's call the disk sda for now; remember, if you want to use an SD card, you have to use /dev/mmcblk0). Mark sda1 as a bootable partition (press the key a in fdisk) and make sure that the partition is labelled as a Linux partition (type 83). Mark the third partition as a swap partition (type 82). Now format the drive:

% mkfs.ext2 -I 128 /dev/sda1
% mkfs.ext2 /dev/sda2
% mkswap /dev/sda3

Mount the disk somewhere:

% mount /dev/sda2 /mnt
% mkdir /mnt/boot
% mount /dev/sda1 /mnt/boot

Downloading and installing the Debian base system

Download the compressed base system (about 125 MB; it will require about 365 MB of disk space when you unpack it). This contains a basic system with a standard set of packages of Debian 5.0.4 (lenny, 2010-06-13).

% wget
% wget

Verify that the GPG signature matches:

% gpg --keyserver --recv-key 68FD549F
% gpg --verify base.tar.bz2.asc base.tar.bz2

Now untar this system onto the USB stick or SD card as the root user:

% cd /mnt
% tar -xjvf ~/base.tar.bz2

If you're using an SD card, you have to edit /mnt/etc/fstab and replace /dev/sdaX with /dev/mmcblk0pX (for each partition). If you're using a USB stick, you don't have to edit this file.

Finally, unmount the device:

% cd /
% umount /mnt/boot
% umount /mnt

Boot the system

Now connect the USB stick to your SheevaPlug or enter the SD card and connect a mini-USB connector in order to access the serial console. Start your SheevaPlug and a few seconds later you should be able to connect to /dev/ttyUSB1 with 115200 baud. If you need help accessing the serial console, check out this guide on the Plug Computer wiki.

When you get serial output, press a key to interrupt the boot process. We now have to configure the boot loader. First of all, you have to change a setting so the device will boot the kernel which is used by Debian:

setenv mainlineLinux yes
setenv arcNumber 2097

These command will put in the correct settings and then restart the device so the changes will take effect. Now you can configure your machine to boot. If you're using a USB device, execute these commands so it will boot:

setenv bootargs_console console=ttyS0,115200
setenv bootargs_root 'root=/dev/sda2 rootdelay=10'
setenv bootcmd_usb 'usb start; ext2load usb 0:1 0x00800000 /uImage; ext2load usb 0:1 0x01100000 /uInitrd'
setenv bootcmd 'setenv bootargs ${bootargs_console} ${bootargs_root}; run bootcmd_usb; bootm 0x00800000 0x01100000'

If you're using an SD card, use these commands instead:

setenv bootargs_console console=ttyS0,115200
setenv bootargs_root 'root=/dev/mmcblk0p2'
setenv bootcmd_mmc 'ext2load mmc 0:1 0x00800000 /uImage; ext2load mmc 0:1 0x01100000 /uInitrd'
setenv bootcmd 'setenv bootargs ${bootargs_console} ${bootargs_root}; run bootcmd_mmc; bootm 0x00800000 0x01100000'

Your SheevaPlug is now ready to boot Debian from the USB stick or SD card and it will automatically do so whenever you turn on the SheevaPlug. Before you start Debian for the first time, I suggest you disconnect the Ethernet cable. This is because Debian has been configured with a default root password, so it is a good idea to change the password before you connect the machine to the network.

Disconnect the Ethernet cable and then type the following command to boot:

run bootcmd

Your SheevaPlug will now boot Debian. Please note that you will see some scary errors about mtdblock1 during the boot process. You can simply ignore those errors.

When Debian has started, you can login as user root with the password root. Please change the password and then plug the Ethernet cable back in. SSH is installed and remote root logins are allowed. The RSA key of the host is:


What to do now

You now have a working system. There are a few things you should do, though:

Go back to my Debian on SheevaPlug page.

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