Raspberry Pi Firmware Update

raspberry pi firmware update linux raspbian ubuntu digtvbg

Raspberry Pi fw updating

Firmware updates are not a mandatory step in system administration. They however might contain improved or fixed broken functionality, even added new functionality or the so beloved security patches etc. In the case of Raspberry Pi the firmware is made of not yet fully upstreamed linux kernel and closed source binary files (referred to as blobs) from Broadcom. Raspberry Pi kernel has almost made its way to the upstream linux source but those closed source parts will never go this way. This firmware is free of charge and it’s available for download from their git page Raspberry Pi in its most simple booting setup is build on 1 microSD card , 1st small fat32 partition (around 100-150mb) and 2nd bigger ext4 (linux type filesystem) partition for the actual linux distro. On the smaller partition you will find config files, kernel image and device tree files + bootcode + camera firmware.

On the bigger partition you will find in the “/opt/vc” folder many other interesting closed source parts of the firmware – raspistill, raspivid and the most famous tool – vcgencmd. In “/lib/modules” there will be the kernel modules (while the kernel image is located in the fat32 partition). There are various linux distributions for this board and among the many of them there is only one official called Raspbian and the others can be considered unofficial. In Raspbian the fat32 partition is mounted on the “/boot” folder while in the unofficial rpi linux distros it’s usually found in “/boot/firmware” folder. Having that in mind let’s see how to update the firmware. From what I know there are two obvious ways – manually which involves more time and technical expertise and automatically which involves a bit of know how + set it and forget it. Let’s say a few words on each of these two methods then:

  1. Manually updating firmware (actually might be a good failsafe option if something goes so ugly that the board won’t boot and you transfer the sdcard to a PC to try to bring it back to life) : download the firmware archive from github – git clone or download zip/tar.gz who cares. Once downloaded in a folder you simply copy and overwrite a couple of files and reboot – done. Copy the contents of the entire “boot” folder of the downloaded firmware package to /boot/ (if on Raspbian) or in /boot/firmware , then copy the contents of the “hardfp/opt/vc” folder to “/opt/vc/” on the device and finally, copy the contents of “modules” folder to “/lib/modules” , sync and reboot – done. Firmware version can be checked with this command “vcgencmd version” or the generic way with “uname -a”.
  2. Automatically updating Raspberry Pi firmware using a script. The script is very famous, nothing to be reinvented here – rpi-update. This script can be found on github too. If running Raspbian then a simple “sudo rpi-update” would be enough to correctly start the update procedure, agree to the prompt, wait, reboot when instructed and that’s all. If running any unofficial distro (as I am): first make sure of the firmware location on the device – /boot/firmware or somewhere else – check with “cat/etc/fstab” or “cat /proc/mounts”. If we wanna use rpi-update to update the firmware in “/boot/firmware” folder then the proper way to start this script would be: “sudo ROOT_PATH=/ BOOT_PATH=/boot/firmware rpi-update” and the rest is just like on plain Raspbian.

Bonus information: 

Permissions on Raspberry specific kernel devices are in udev config. Mine is like this, feel free to adapt to your scenario:

cat /etc/udev/rules.d/10-vchiq-permissions.rules
SUBSYSTEM==”vc-sm”, GROUP=”video”, MODE=”0660″
SUBSYSTEM==”bcm2708_vcio”, GROUP=”video”, MODE=”0660″

Famous vcgencmd examples:

vcgencmd version, vcgencmd measure_temp, vcgencmd get_throttled, vcgencmd otp_dump – if you need more of these you can visit the full reference here.

If you happen to own raspberry camera then raspivid and raspistill (from the firmware package) will be very valuable tools especially when coupled with something like that – RPi-Cam-Web-Interface

It is in fact possible to boot Raspberry Pi 3 with usb only without having to use sdcard for initialization. Modifying chip otp with “program_usb_boot_mode=1” in config.txt and rebooting the board does the job done – usb mode is active. More details here.

Some better understanding of the board boot flow combined with a wire with a resistor connected to 2 gpio pins of the board will set you up with even faster usb boot.

Raspberry Pi Firmware Update
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