View source for Flashing the Neo FreeRunner

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Return to Flashing the Neo FreeRunner.

Personal tools

Openmoko regularly releases updated versions of the Openmoko root filesystem, the kernel, and the U-Boot as binary images. These may be programmed into the Flash memory (NAND) of Neo FreeRunner. For that, you can use the USB cable and another computer which will run an Openmoko provided tool to flash the Neo FreeRunner "through" USB.


All the components of the software in the FreeRunner are bundled together into binary images.

On a desktop computer when you want to replace the operating system (OS), you would boot it from a CD-ROM drive, then copy OS files from the CD to the internal hard drive. The FreeRunner does not have a CD-ROM drive and files must typically be re-written/flashed directly into internal storage (NAND flash). It is also possible to load all the OS files to and boot from a microSD.

The FreeRunner has two kinds of internal program storage: NOR flash and NAND flash. The NOR flash is small and stores only a special boot program used when you need to re-write the contents of the NAND flash. NAND flash acts more like a hard drive.

The NAND Flash is divided into 3 partitions for the bootloader, kernel, and root filesystem - so each of these components can be flashed separately. For example if you are trying to install a modified kernel, you only have to follow the steps to flash the kernel image.

  • bootloader: a small program that runs first and starts everything else when the FreeRunner is powered on or reset (depending on how you reset it, the version from NOR or NAND is booted).
  • kernel: the central component in the Linux operating system.
  • root filesystem: contains all the files that make up the commands and applications that you can run.

Before you start: Erasing the root filesystem or flashing the uboot are radical measures. Take the time to ponder the necessity. Sometimes problems can be fixed by updating only the kernel.

Alternative : running from microSD card

You may install this distribution on the microSD card, in order to boot from microSD card. That allows you to keep another distribution installed in NAND (for instance to test 2008.08 while still having 2007.2 for default boot).

Collect the things you need

Download the DFU-util program

You will download that program on your desktop computer. It will allow you to connect to the FreeRunner through the USB cable and control its bootloader. That connection uses a special protocol which addresses the bootloader's interface, and differs from USB networking. There is a separate page to describe it in more detail: dfu-util.

Note: dfu-util seems to consistently fail with a "-62" error on 64-bit Linux. If you have access to a 32-bit machine, use it instead!

MacOS X: MacOS_X#Graphical_Flashing_with_Openmoko_Flasher


Make sure it is executable by setting the permissions with this command: chmod a+x dfu-util


See additional driver installation instructions for Windows at Dfu-util-windows

Download the image files that you will need

Exactly what files you need depends on what you are trying to install. In most cases you will need to install a Kernel (uImage) and a Root Filesystem (rootfs). In rare cases, when there is a bug you need fixed, you will also install a new bootloader.

Please read Distributions for choosing the distribution which fits your needs, and then see Download for downloading.

Boot the FreeRunner from NOR Flash

Booting from NOR Flash
  1. Read the other sections of this page first, because you will have 30 seconds to enter the flashing commands, come back here when ready.
  2. Do not connect the USB cable from the PC to your Neo FreeRunner yet (disconnect it).
  3. Boot your Neo Freerunner into the NOR uBoot menu for flashing.
    1. Press and hold AUX button
    2. Press the Power button until the boot menu comes up
    3. This menu is labelled *** BOOT MENU (NOR) ***
    4. See also Booting the Neo FreeRunner
  4. Stay in NOR uBoot menu, do not to select or enter any item in menu. Now you will be able to flash, make backups of your Freerunner or query the Freerunner with dfu-util.
  5. The FreeRunner only stays at the NOR boot prompt for about 30 seconds and then shuts off unless you do something.
  6. Connect your Neo to the GNU/Linux or Windows host via a USB cable.
  7. Now you can enter the dfu-util commands on your PC as described below.
  8. If the Neo FreeRunner turns off before you press start flashing (screen goes black), go back to step 2. If you start flashing in time, the phone will not turn off meanwhile.

Note that the dfu-util connection does not use Ethernet over USB - that is, you should not attempt to set up a usb0 network interface on your GNU/Linux host desktop (on Windows, you need a DFU class driver, or you can use the LibUSB-Win32 driver described on the Dfu-util-windows page). The dfu-util utility sets up its own connection to the FreeRunner. In fact, you will not be able to make an Ethernet-over-USB connection to the FreeRunner when it is at the uBoot menu; this type of connection is only available when the FreeRunner has booted fully.

After connecting the FreeRunner to your host via USB cable, you can test whether dfu-util "sees" the FreeRunner by executing:

  dfu-util -l

If you get error messages from the dfu-util command then try again. Often it works on the second try.

Do a backup

If you have a working image that you're happy with but want to try something different, you should probably do a Pre-Flash Backup.

Using dfu-util

dfu-util can be used to read flash memory, write memory, and get information from the device.

This is the general command format to write an image file to a (predefined) "partition name" (referred to as altsetting in dfu-util help/manual) :

dfu-util -a altsetting -R -D file_name

-a altsetting : Specify the altsetting of the DFU interface by name or by number
-R  : Issue USB Reset signalling once we're finished
-D file_name : Write firmware from file_name into device

On Linux, you run dfu-util from a command shell prompt. If you have not put it somewhere on your command path you probably need to prefix it with a "./" like this ./dfu-util. On some systems you need to be root before this will work and on Ubuntu you must preface the command with "sudo" or you will get the following error: "Cannot claim interface: could not claim interface 2: Operation not permitted"

On Windows, you need to open a command window and run from a command line. Use Start-Run Program and type "cmd" to open a Window.

More detailed manual for gfu-util is available here : Dfu-util

Flashing the Kernel

The command format is

dfu-util -a kernel -R -D /path/to/uImage

When flashing succeeds the following will be shown:

status(0) = No error condition is present

Flashing the Root Filesystem

The root filesystem has to be an image in jffs2 format. If the file you downloaded is zipped or compressed (has a .gz or .zip extension) you have to uncompress it first.

The command format is

dfu-util -a rootfs -R -D rootfs_filename.jffs2

where rootfs_filename.jffs2 is the name of the file containing the root filesystem.

When flashing succeeds the following will be shown:

status(0) = No error condition is present

Flashing the boot loader to the NAND

The boot loader (U-boot) file should have a .bin extension. As with the root filesystem, if the file you downloaded is zipped or compressed (has a .gz or .zip extension) you have to uncompress it first.

The command format is

dfu-util -a u-boot -R -D uboot.bin

where uboot.bin is the name of the boot loader binary image file.

Reminder: You should have boot from NOR first, in order to flash the boot-loader in NAND. After flashing succesfully, make sure you reboot from NAND's newly flashed boot loader, to benefit from the updates.

(Optional) After an upgrade, you may wish to check that the u-boot version matches the one you have just flashed. You can use 'grep Bootloader /dev/mtdblock1' from a shell on the FreeRunner (and possibly the 1973 as well) to get the NAND u-boot version, like this:

  root@om-gta02:~# grep Bootloader /dev/mtdblock1
  Neo1973 Bootloader U-Boot 1.3.2+gitr18+64eb10cab8055084ae25ea4e73b66dd03cc1a0cb

You can grep for the same string in /dev/mtdblock0 to retrieve the NOR u-boot version:

  root@om-gta02:~# grep  Bootloader /dev/mtdblock0
  Neo1973 Bootloader U-Boot 1.3.2-moko12

Reboot the FreeRunner from NAND

You should now be able to boot into the new images.

Pay attention to booting from the NAND flash this time, in particular if you upgraded the boot-loader (in short: 1. press and hold power button down, and then 2. press aux button)

The boot menu should be labelled *** BOOT MENU (NAND) *** this time (see booting from NAND for more detailed instructions).