Building boot software and Debian from sources for a RISC-V board (Sipeed Lichee RV with D1 processor)

Table of Contents

The short story

The objective of the work described below was for me:

  1. to have a bootable SD card for the Sipeed Lichee RV (a RISC-V board with the single core D1 processor = compute module (CM) + a carrier board (Lichee RV Dock) with HDMI interface, Wifi, BT, etc - see specification) that was generated from source that I know,
  2. to learn how to build from sources the boot software for a new hardware target, and assemble and boot a Linux distribution for RISC-V.

There is a long description below for those interested on how to generate the binaries for the RISC-V board and produce the root fs containing Debian Linux. For those who don't want to exercise the steps below, I have generated tar archives for the boot software binaries and Linux kernel and the rootfs with which you can quickly generate an SD card to boot the board and run Debian Linux.

Create the SD card

Unpack the first tar archive (the boot software binaries and Linux kernel) in a new directory and copy/move the rootfs tar archive into the same directory.

Check that the SD card connected to the computer is not mounted. If so, unmount it. 

Executed the following steps as root (replace sdX by the correct device of your SD card):

dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/sdX bs=1M count=200
parted -s -a optimal -- /dev/sdX mklabel gpt
parted -s -a optimal -- /dev/sdX mkpart primary ext2 40MiB 100MiB
parted -s -a optimal -- /dev/sdX mkpart primary ext4 100MiB -1GiB
parted -s -a optimal -- /dev/sdX mkpart primary linux-swap -1GiB 100%
mkfs.ext2 /dev/sdX1
mkfs.ext4 /dev/sdX2
mkswap /dev/sdX3
dd if=sun20i_d1_spl/nboot/boot0_sdcard_sun20iw1p1.bin of=/dev/sdc bs=8192 seek=16
dd if=u-boot.toc1 of=/dev/sdc bs=512 seek=32800
mkdir -p /mnt/sdcard_boot
mkdir -p /mnt/sdcard_rootfs
### boot partition
mount /dev/sdX1 /mnt/sdcard_boot
cp linux-build/arch/riscv/boot/Image.gz /mnt/sdcard_boot
cp boot.scr /mnt/sdcard_boot
umount /mnt/sdcard_boot
### rootfs partition
mount /dev/sdX2 /mnt/sdcard_rootfs
tar xfJ licheerv-debian-rootfs_2022-03-11.tar.xz -C /mnt/sdcard_rootfs
umount /mnt/sdcard_rootfs
rm -rf /mnt/sdcard_boot
rm -rf /mnt/sdcard_rootfs

You can either use the board via the serial interface (via GPIO connector) or you set-up the wifi as desribed below and the board will connect with the name "licheerv" to the wifi network.

Wifi setup

Create wpa supplicant config file with your SSID and passphrase:

# mount /dev/sdX2 /mnt/sdcard
# sudo sh -c 'wpa_passphrase myssid my_very_secret_passphrase > /mnt/sdcard/etc/wpa_supplicant/wpa_supplicant.conf'
# sudo sh -c 'printf "ctrl_interface=/run/wpa_supplicant\nupdate_config=1\n" >> /mnt/sdcard/etc/wpa_supplicant/wpa_supplicant.conf'

Update in /mnt/sdcard/etc/network/interfaces the wpa-ssid and wpa-psk with the information from the wpa_supplicant.conf above, and unmount /dev/sdX2.

Boot-up the board

Put the SD card into the board and connect power. After 60s, you can connect via ssh with the  board. Check your router which IP address was given to a computer called licheerv. The login via ssh is rv/licheerv and via serial interface root/rootpwd.

Welcome to a RISC-V board with software created from sources!

Open issues


There seems to be a HDMI kernel driver available in the D1-tina-linux-5.4 for the Lichee RV carrier board, but I haven't had time to work on this yet. Hopefully this will allow to have a full graphical system.

sun6i-rtc kernel driver issue

If the ntp daemon is installed, one will get, after a few minutes, every second a message in the message log like this:

licheerv kernel: [  121.658384] sun6i-rtc 7090000.rtc: rtc is still busy.

Hence I use ntpdate, instead of ntp, to update the clock once at boot. Should be sufficient, but not ideal.


The long story

The documentation of the process is not only meant to reproduce the binaries I have made available above, but also to have this as a reference for future work on RISC-V boards.

All the steps below have been executed on Debian Bullseye, but should also be possible with Debian derivatives like Ubuntu or Raspberry Pi OS. However, it is recommended to have at least 2GB of RAM, since the cloning of the Linux kernel needs quite some RAM, and 25GB of disk space for all the files created in the process below.

There are two steps:

  1. The build of all the binaries needed to boot and the Linux kernel itself, and
  2. Creation of the root file system of Debian.

(i) Building the binaries

Create a directory (e.g. build-boot-sw-for-licheerv) and enter into it and executed all the below in this folder.

# cd build-boot-sw-for-licheerv

Building the RISC-V gnu toolchain

To build the RISC-V gnu toolchain, the following packages should be installed:

# sudo apt install autoconf automake autotools-dev curl python3 libmpc-dev libmpfr-dev libgmp-dev gawk build-essential bison flex texinfo gperf libtool patchutils bc zlib1g-dev libexpat-dev swig libssl-dev python3-distutils python3-dev

Building the toolchain (might take 1-2h):

# export cwd=`pwd`
# git clone --recursive
# cd riscv-gnu-toolchain
# git checkout 63f696c8f23f3eebf5f1af97fd8c66f6483a6393
# ./configure --prefix=$cwd/riscv64-unknown-linux-gnu --with-arch=rv64gc --with-abi=lp64d
# make linux -j `nproc`
# export PATH=$cwd/riscv64-unknown-linux-gnu/bin:$PATH
# cd ..

The riscv64 compiler is now installed in the folder riscv64-unknown-linux-gnu.

NB: it can happen that the cloning fails. In this case, go into the directory and execute:

# cd riscv-gnu-toolchain
# git submodule update --init --recursive


Building the Boot0 binary:

# git clone
# cd sun20i_d1_spl
# git checkout 0ad88bfdb723b1ac74cca96122918f885a4781ac
# make CROSS_COMPILE=$cwd/riscv64-unknown-linux-gnu/bin/riscv64-unknown-linux-gnu- p=sun20iw1p1 mmc
# cd ..

The binary is located here: sun20i_d1_spl/nboot/boot0_sdcard_sun20iw1p1.bin


Building the opensbi binary:

# git clone
# cd opensbi
# git checkout d1-wip
# make CROSS_COMPILE=$cwd/riscv64-unknown-linux-gnu/bin/riscv64-unknown-linux-gnu- PLATFORM=generic FW_PIC=y FW_OPTIONS=0x2
# cd ..

The binary is located here: opensbi/build/platform/generic/firmware/fw_dynamic.bin


Building the u-boot binary:

# git clone
# cd u-boot
# git checkout d1-wip
# make CROSS_COMPILE=$cwd/riscv64-unknown-linux-gnu/bin/riscv64-unknown-linux-gnu- nezha_defconfig
# make -j `nproc` ARCH=riscv CROSS_COMPILE=$cwd/riscv64-unknown-linux-gnu/bin/riscv64-unknown-linux-gnu- all V=1
# cd ..

The binary is located here: u-boot/arch/riscv/dts/sun20i-d1-lichee-rv-dock.dtb

Generate u-boot toc

Create a file licheerv_toc1.cfg with the following contents:

file = opensbi/build/platform/generic/firmware/fw_dynamic.bin
addr = 0x40000000
file = u-boot/arch/riscv/dts/sun20i-d1-lichee-rv-dock.dtb
addr = 0x44000000
file = u-boot/u-boot-nodtb.bin
addr = 0x4a000000

and then execute:

# ./u-boot/tools/mkimage -T sunxi_toc1 -d licheerv_toc1.cfg u-boot.toc1

which produces the file: u-boot.toc1

Build the Linux kernel

Build the linux kernel with the default configuration licheerv_linux_defconfig:

# git clone
# mkdir -p linux-build/arch/riscv/configs
# cp licheerv_linux_defconfig linux-build/arch/riscv/configs/licheerv_defconfig
# cd linux
# git checkout 06b026a8b7148f18356c5f809e51f013c2494587
# cd ..
# make ARCH=riscv -C linux O=$cwd/linux-build licheerv_defconfig
# make -j `nproc` -C linux-build ARCH=riscv CROSS_COMPILE=$cwd/riscv64-unknown-linux-gnu/bin/riscv64-unknown-linux-gnu- V=1

On the last make execution you will be ask some questions. Just take the defaults (i.e. press Enter). 

The kernel image is located in: linux-build/arch/riscv/boot/Image.gz

Build the wifi chip kernel module (Realtek 8723DS)

Build the driver for the wifi chip Realtek 8723DS, the wifi chip on the carrier board, with the  following commands:

# git clone
# cd rtl8723ds
# make -j `nproc` ARCH=riscv CROSS_COMPILE=$cwd/riscv64-unknown-linux-gnu/bin/riscv64-unknown-linux-gnu- KSRC=$cwd/linux-build modules
# cd ..

The kernel modules for the wifi is located here: rtl8723ds/8723ds.ko


(ii) Creation of the rootfs of Debian.


Before being able to create the chroot for RISC-V, one has to install some packages:

# sudo apt install debian-ports-archive-keyring qemu-user-static qemu-utils qemu-system-misc binfmt-support

We create the rootfs of Debian using debootstrap. Since the base system is not sufficient, additional packages are requested to be installed:

# sudo debootstrap --arch=riscv64 --keyring /usr/share/keyrings/debian-ports-archive-keyring.gpg --components main,contrib,non-free --include=debian-ports-archive-keyring,pciutils,autoconf,automake,autotools-dev,curl,python3,libmpc-dev,libmpfr-dev,libgmp-dev,gawk,build-essential,bison,flex,texinfo,gperf,libtool,patchutils,bc,zlib1g-dev,wpasupplicant,htop,net-tools,wireless-tools,firmware-realtek,ntpdate,openssh-client,openssh-server,sudo,e2fsprogs,git,man-db,lshw,dbus,wireless-regdb,libsensors5,lm-sensors,swig,libssl-dev,python3-distutils,python3-dev,alien,fakeroot,dkms,libblkid-dev,uuid-dev,libudev-dev,libaio-dev,libattr1-dev,libelf-dev,python3-setuptools,python3-cffi,python3-packaging,libffi-dev,libcurl4-openssl-dev,python3-ply,iotop,tmux,psmisc unstable rootfs

The root filesystem is now in the folder rootfs. A few additional configurations are needed:

Install kernel modules

Install the kernel modules in rootfs/lib/modules/5.17.0-rc2-379425-g06b026a8b714:

# cd linux-build
# sudo make modules_install ARCH=riscv INSTALL_MOD_PATH=../rootfs KERNELRELEASE=5.17.0-rc2-379425-g06b026a8b714
# cd ..

Copy the wifi kernel module (8723ds.ko):

# sudo install -D -p -m 644 rtl8723ds/8723ds.ko rootfs/lib/modules/5.17.0-rc2-379425-g06b026a8b714/kernel/drivers/net/wireless/8723ds.ko

Remove references to build and sources:

# sudo rm rootfs/lib/modules/5.17.0-rc2-379425-g06b026a8b714/build
# sudo rm rootfs/lib/modules/5.17.0-rc2-379425-g06b026a8b714/source

and then run depmod:

# sudo depmod -a -b rootfs 5.17.0-rc2-379425-g06b026a8b714

Finally register the wifi kernel modules to be loaded at boot in /etc/modules by adding a new line with 8723ds.

# sudo sh -c 'echo "8723ds" >> rootfs/etc/modules'

Root passwd

Setting the root passwd by generating first the hash 

# openssl passwd -1 -salt root rootpwd

and then insert it in rootfs/etc/shadow in the line with root:*:... replacing the *

sudo nano rootfs/etc/shadow


Setting boot and root file system as rw in rootfs/etc/fstab and adding the swap (see above where we created a partition for swap):

# <device>        <dir>        <type>        <options>            <dump> <pass>
/dev/mmcblk0p1 /boot ext2 rw,defaults,noatime 1 1
/dev/mmcblk0p2 / ext4 rw,defaults,noatime 1 1
/dev/mmcblk0p3 swap swap defaults,noatime 0 0


Create wpa supplicant config file with your SSID and passphrase:

# sudo sh -c 'wpa_passphrase myssid my_very_secret_passphrase > rootfs/etc/wpa_supplicant/wpa_supplicant.conf'

Recommendation: Remove the line with the plain text of you passphrase (psk="my_very_secret_passphrase") in wpa_supplicant.conf.

Since wpa_supplicant v2.6, you need to add following in your rootfs/etc/wpa_supplicant/wpa_supplicant.conf:


Add wlan0 to rootfs/etc/network/interfaces and configure it to use DHCP (use the PSK from rootfs/etc/wpa_supplicant/wpa_supplicant.conf).

allow-hotplug wlan0
iface wlan0 inet dhcp
    wpa-ssid myssid
  wpa-psk my_very_secret_passphrase_PSK


Set the hostname in rootfs/etc/hostname to licheerv (the same as used during the build of the kernel) so that you can identify the board in your (wifi) network.

Set date via ntpdate

The Lichee RV board doesn't have a battery buffered clock, hence one has to get the date via ntp at boot. This can be done via crontab by adding in rootfs/var/spool/cron/crontabs/root the following:

# sudo sh -c 'echo "@reboot for i in 1 2 3 4 5; do /usr/sbin/ntpdate && break || sleep 15; done" >> rootfs/var/spool/cron/crontabs/root'
# sudo chmod 600 rootfs/var/spool/cron/crontabs/root

Add new user "rv"

Finally we add a new user with login rv:

# sudo useradd -R `pwd`/rootfs -s /bin/bash rv
# sudo mkdir -p rootfs/home/rv
# sudo chown 1000:1000 rootfs/home/rv

Set the password of rv to licheerv by creating the hash

# sudo openssl passwd -1 -salt rv licheerv

and then insert it in rootfs/etc/shadow in the line with rv:!:... replacing the !.

Copy the default config files for a new user into the home folder:

# sudo cp rootfs/etc/skel/.bash* rootfs/home/rv/
# sudo cp rootfs/etc/skel/.profile rootfs/home/rv/

Add rv to the sudo group in rootfs/etc/group so that the line in this file looks like this:


u-boot script

To automatically boot Debian, we create a u-boot script (licheerv_u-boot-bootscr.txt) with the following contents:

echo "Loading kernel from mmc 0:1 to address $kernel_addr_r"
load mmc 0:1 ${kernel_addr_r} Image.gz
setenv bootargs "earlycon=sbi console=ttyS0,115200n8 root=/dev/mmcblk0p2 delayacct slub_debug"
echo "Booting kernel with bootargs as $bootargs; and fdtcontroladdr is $fdtcontroladdr"
booti ${kernel_addr_r} - ${fdtcontroladdr}

And then generate the boot script:

u-boot/tools/mkimage -T script -O linux -d licheerv_u-boot-bootscr.txt boot.scr


...later on in Debian

To get rid of an error message that might come ("platform regulatory.0: Direct firmware load for regulatory.db failed with error -2"), execute:

# sudo update-alternatives --set regulatory.db /lib/firmware/regulatory.db-upstream

and update:

# sudo apt update
# sudo apt upgrade


This article was updated on 24 March 2022