Thursday, October 30, 2008

Porting an OS

I've been getting a lot of questions from people that seem to reflect a basic misunderstanding of what it takes to port an operating system onto a new platform. People seem to think that just by writing, say, a boot menu, means that we can stick Android or Windows or whatever onto a device because we can have a menu option for it.

Here's what it takes for an operating system to run on a device:
  • The code must be designed for the right CPU. (x86, ARM, PPC)
  • The code must be able to interact with the hardware in the way it expects.
Now, there are versions of Linux compiled in ARM (which the iPhone uses), there are even versions of Windows Mobile that are compiled in ARM. Why can't I, then, just stick Windows Mobile or Android (or another flavor of Linux) onto the iPhone and give it a whirl?

Because the code cannot interact with the hardware! That is, there are no Linux drivers or Windows Mobile drivers for the hardware that's on the iPhone. We're not even talking about things like the wi-fi won't work or anything silly like that. We're talking about big things, like not being able to start because it doesn't uncompress itself into RAM properly. We're talking about freezing the first time it has to wait for something to happen because it doesn't know how to run the hardware clocks and timers (which is CRITICAL for computers) and doesn't know when to start again.

Thus , if I tried to take some distribution of Linux or Windows or whatever, stick it in memory and start it, absolutely nothing will happen. That's right: nothing. There will be no output because it doesn't know how to run the display, or the USB, or serial. It probably won't even get to the first line of code that tells it to output something because so many things are broken.

So how can we get Linux to boot on the iPhone?

By teaching it how to run the hardware. We take the knowledge gained from getting that boot menu to display and graft it into the Linux kernel. It took an unbelievable amount of devices just to get the boot menu display: clock, timer, vic, mmu, spi, i2c, gpio, system controller, pmu, nor, uart, usb, lcd, buttons. Some of those may seem obvious to you, some work in the background to support the other devices. But all of those had to be reverse engineered and all of them will have to transplanted into the Linux kernel to even get something half-assed booting.

If all of those devices were required to get something as simple as boot menu up, can you imagine what would happen if you tried to boot an operating system that did not know how to run ANY of those devices?

We cannot modify the Windows Mobile kernel because it's closed source, and so there's no way to get it to run on the iPhone.

The critical misunderstanding, I think, is that people think somehow that the OS "sits on top" of the boot menu, and talks to the hardware through the boot menu. Therefore, you can have an "emulation layer" that lets Windows or Linux or whatever talk to the hardware, without having to alter Windows or Linux itself. This is completely false. An operating system, by definition, has direct access to the hardware. Nothing sits between it and the hardware. Once iBoot has loaded the iPhone OS, you can go ahead and wipe it clean from the NOR and the OS will keep running as usual. It's not "running", it's not used or loaded in any way except during the boot process.

The iPhone will never run Windows Mobile directly (virtualization would be possible albeit it would crawl on the iPhone). It will run Linux once we write the drivers for it based on our knowledge of the hardware. Android uses the Linux kernel, though they do modify it to a certain extent. Since the only really hardware dependent parts of an OS is in the kernel, presumably once we install the necessary drivers, Android will run just as well as Linux runs. However, not having even looked at Android's source yet, I really don't have a truly educated opinion at the moment, but let's just say that it's one of this project's primary goals.

Sorry this is so long, but intelligent explanations tend to be long.

P.S. Another question people ask a lot is how long will it take. I can't truly give a good answer to that, because it's sort of dependent on the schedules of the people who work on it, and it also depends on how fast it'll take to write the Linux drivers, and how many unexpected problems crop up. It could go really unexpectedly fast, or we could hit a roadblock. I think outside observers, just reading the commit logs and reading the blog has as much information as I do on how fast things are progressing, so you're free to come up with your own conclusions on how long it will take.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Boot menu done!

Well, that was quick. See, I can actually get things done pretty quickly when it doesn't consisting of banging my head against machine code until it starts making sense. When I actually have the drivers, things like this are easy.

You can use the Hold button to toggle between the menu items (and the option will be highlighted). You can choose the home button to select it. The "openiboot console" option takes you to the command-line interface similar to the one I demonstrated in the last post (you do have to be plugged in via USB and using the openiboot client to talk to it). The "iPhone OS" option chainloads a copy of iBoot stored in NOR under another identifier ('ibot' becomes openiboot and 'ibox' becomes the actual iBoot). I got that set up with a slightly modified version of the QuickPwn ramdisk, but in the future an installer made from a modified version of LogoMe can be run from userland to install openiboot. It's also possible to get openiboot to install openiboot (much like the way GRUB can do it); I'll probably work on that next.

So if anyone likes living on the bleeding edge, they could do that. =P

Most of the hard part was me failing at GIMP putting together the boot menu graphics. I appealed to you blog readers for graphics before, but basically no one responded. Now that there is a working model of what I sort of want, I hope there will be more of a response.

So, please please please redesign the boot menu for me. And possibly come up with a logo for the project we can stick on there. If you're good at this sort of thing, or know someone who is, please put them in touch. This stuff will obviously get a lot of attention in the future and we need nice eye-candy. Thanks!

Boot menu project is a go!

After a huge amount of effort and in-situ experimentation with iBoot (basically a binary massive binary search through the code, disabling some functions to see if I could figure out why my LCD driver wasn't working properly), I managed to get it fully working. The problem was two-fold: first, I forgot to write the first and last bytes of my gamma tables: oops, but easily fixed. The second problem was that apparently iBoot changes the SDIV of the clock in the middle of the initialization process. I'm not even sure yet how many devices the change in clock frequency affects. It certainly affected the LCD, because before there was all sorts of flickering scanline weirdness as one would expect from a misconfigured clock.

Anyway, I reversed the routine that changed the SDIV and implemented it. Seems to work fine now. It's been ages since I looked into the clock speed stuff (pretty much right when I first started this) so I can't say for certain, but I'm pretty sure doing this increases the clock speed (which would make sense).

The LCD driver worked after those fixes and I went onto write a simple framebuffer in a couple of hours, so we can finally get text-mode output on the iPhone screen. It was pretty important to me to get the screen working because even if we can boot a kernel, I wanted the layman to feel like a full-fledged OS was running on the device, and that means display and I/O of some sort.

For a final hurrah, I also wrote some code that lets us detect when the physical buttons (Home, Hold, etc.) were being pressed down. From these pieces, it will be possible to construct a graphical boot menu controlled by those buttons. You could have one option to boot into the iPhone OS, and one option to go into openiboot command-line mode with that text-mode display.

The photo I posted is the current development snapshot running on a first generation iPhone, with oibc (openiboot client) connected and running on my desktop computer. If you have a 2G iPhone or a first-gen iPod touch, you can try it out yourself by checking out the code from Github and compiling it (It's only designed to be built on a Linux machine. You'll be missing some Linux headers otherwise). I wrote some basic notes on how to get it running inside the source tree, but this is not something you're expected to work with unless you're a fairly experience programmer yourself.

Monday, October 27, 2008

openiboot booting!

Well, it's booting. Sort of.

I had some trouble getting the flashed version of it to work because for some reason, 0x0 was not mapped to 0x18000000 when openiboot was loaded. Since all the exception vectors are at 0x18000000, bad ones were being called whenever there was any sort of interrupt. Basically, I just said screw it and rebased the whole program into 0x0. It will basically overwrite whatever exception vector is currently running without worrying about the MMU and such. However, this basically does imply that I don't really understand how the MMU works, so that will have to be fixed.

The end result is what you see above.

The other major roadblock is that the gamma tables remain broken. Even after I chainload iBEC or iBoot over openiboot (as I have done there). The OS boots and everything... just with some really psychadelic colors. =P

So LCD remains a big problem and so does the MMU. But hey, it boots and works (sort of).

Update: LCD now partially fixed. I still need to figure out how to turn the backlight on, but at least chainloaded iPhone OS has normal colors now. =P

LCD driver done?

I had a lot of trouble getting the LCD driver to work. Everything seems to be fine except that when I try to write to the memory address range reserved for the LCD's gamma tables, it doesn't register. It's as if some clock or some device hadn't gotten turned on or something. Therefore, after loading openiboot from iBoot, the screen gets all screwed up.

However, if you load iBEC from iBoot, the screen doesn't get screwed up: you can still use bgcolor and everything works. I thought that meant at first there was something wrong with my LCD init code. I spent a frustrating day carefully auditing it for errors, and I did find two bugs that I fixed, but unfortunately it did not have any effect on the main problem. I got as far as I could with static methods so I decided to perform a series of experiments.

First, I had some trouble chainloading iBoot and iBEC from openiboot. There was a series of fails that I fixed along the way: trouble with USB send (just a silly typo in the client), trouble getting the resulting thing to execute in memory (you've gotta turn off the CPU caches, disable MMU and interrupts for it to work properly. It also can't be run as part of an ISR because, well, iBoot expects to be able to receive interrupts, so I had to move the command processor onto the main thread and just have the ISR queue up commands for the main thread to process). Anyway, those were eventually fixed.

My experiments showed that after openiboot did its inits, chainloaded iBoot and iBEC was unable to reinit the LCD properly (they had the same problem). I narrowed the problem down to the place in power.c where I "turn off" the LCD controller. This happened in the 114 iBoot, so I thought it was necessary. Analyzing the newer 2.x iBoots, that routine was actually removed. Since I am reasonably confident that my syrah_init is functionally identical to their merlot_init and this that power init that when present, causes LCD init to fail in all cases and when absent, allows LCD init to succeed in all cases, I'm pretty sure that's the problem.

So I went ahead and removed it. This may or may not mean I am actually depending on the iBoot that I chainloaded openiboot from for the LCD init. We'll see after I try to replace iBoot entirely in the bootchain.

Anyway, USB is solid as a rock now seemingly and chainloading seems to be working quite well. I'm actually able to load iBoot from NOR, patch it in memory, and then execute it from openiboot. This probably means I'm ready to try flashing the thing again.

Then we'll see how well it truly works.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

USB fixes

Just a post to indicate things are inching forward slightly. I've been working on debugging USB communications and it seems a lot more stable now. I was basically forced to because my old code only works on computers without usb 2.0, so that ruled out being able to easily work on this project with anything approaching a modern computer. The problem was that I avoided reading the official USB specs (those things are usually overly locutious) and tried to learn instead from sites such as USB in a Nutshell. Unfortunately the driver then failed to properly respond to the device qualifier descriptor which led to epic fail in USB 2.0. The embarrassing thing is iBoot does send this descriptor, but I figured it must be a vendor specific one at the time.

Cmw made me a cable that let's me do serial and USB comm at the same time, which helped a lot in working out the bugs. I'd say it's fairly reliable now; enough for other developers without a serial cable to come in. So how about it, guys?

I've also started to scratch the surface of the NAND driver. Unfortunately, even the lowest level functions are enormously complex. The higher level wear leveling code and data structures even aside. A great deal of it seems to belong to Samsung, since I've found some creepily similar C code lurking around online. Unfortunately, I can't find a complete enough copy of it.

And yes, I'm aware of Android and their source release and yes, I know what you're thinking.