Sunday, December 14, 2008

Debian on iPhone Linux

NAND writing is now semi-reliable (although one has to be VERY careful not to interrupt the device in the middle of a write operation), but it is enough to have something akin to a full-functional OS, backed by non-volatile storage.

People interested in the project should be familiar with the myriads of Linux "distributions" floating around. An operating system consists of two major domains: one is the kernel, which is what manages the hardware, and one is the userland which contains things like shells and other UIs, package managers, etc. Software that help users install and run useful programs. Ubuntu is a popular distribution that I run on my personal machine. Android could also be considered a distribution (though I believe it has some apparently messy kernel patches).

I decided that Debian would be an interesting thing to try, since we would then instantly have a userland and a pool of ready-compiled applications. Using a slightly dated root filesystem here:, a initrd and further kernel configurations were sufficient to get it to run. Thus, we can now compile programs for iPhone Linux on iPhone Linux. The process is rather slow due to the processor and inefficient NAND device driver (pending a real FTL), but at least theoretically, iPhone Linux is now self-hosting.

This should be pretty much enough for those who are more into the userland development side of things to come in, possibly using Debian as a base to build anything else (as I believe it is standard enough).

I will be offering instructions on how to get this all to work soon. The (modified for gadget serial terminal) rootfs is fairly hefty (around 130 MB), so I'm not sure how we'll handle distribution of that.