Common Tasks

Installing and Running Debian Linux on a SATA Disk

These instructions will result in a system that boots u-boot and the Linux kernel from the internal microSD slot, then loads the rootfs and entire userland operating system from an ext4 partition on a SATA hard disk.

In addition to increased disk capacity, using a SATA disk as a rootfs should vastly improve disk I/O and thus general system performance.

Connect the SATA disk while the system is powered down, then boot up from the microSD card. Note that there are two SATA-like connectors on the Novena mainboard: one is for power from the battery board, and the other is the actual SATA connection. It isn’t possible to connect to the wrong port because the polarities are flipped. It’s strongly recommended to use some form of an enclosure or mechanical support to prevent the SATA disk from coming detatched while in use, which could obviously result in data loss.

First make sure required tools are installed:

sudo apt-get install parted debootstrap

We’re going to assume that the SATA disk is blank and unpartitioned, and all data on the disk will be overwritten.

We’re going to use the offical install script. Checkout out xobs’ novena-image repo:

sudo apt-get install apt-cacher-ng
git clone

You’ll almost certainly want to install apt-cacher-ng and change the mirror setting (in to --mirror "" (the default is a debian mirror in Hong Kong). We recommend copying to and making changes there. See the documentation for more details.

To configure the kosagi repositories by default, you can download the kosagi-repo debian package and kosagi signing key with:

# WARNING: this isn't a secure way to verify the signing key
gpg --keyserver --recv-keys 03C7B7EC
gpg --export 03C7B7EC > kosagi.key
# WARNING: https is not available for this server
# NOTE: these URLs may need to be updated

If you are running from the microSD card and have limited space, you’ll probably want to cull down the default installed package list significantly. Here is an example

if [ -z $1 ]
        echo "Usage: $0 [device]"
        echo "E.g. $0 /dev/sda"
        exit 1

echo "Constructing a disk image on $1"
exec sudo ./ \
        -d $1 \
        -m "" \
        -t sata \
        -s jessie \
        -k kosagi.key \
        -a kosagi-repo_1.2-r1_all.deb \
        -a novena-eeprom_2.3-1_armhf.deb \
        -a novena-firstrun_1.6-r1_all.deb \
        -a pulseaudio-novena_1.1-r1_all.deb \
        -a irqbalance-imx_0.56-1ubuntu4-rmk1_armhf.deb \
        -a novena-debian-support_1.1-1_all.deb \
        -a novena-disable-ssp_1.1-1_armhf.deb \
        -a novena-usb-hub_1.3-r1_armhf.deb \
        -l "sudo openssh-server ntp ntpdate vim powermgmt-base i2c-tools \
            libcap-ng0 libglib2.0-0 libbluetooth3 libusb-1.0-0"

When looks good, run the script:

sudo ./ /dev/sda

To actually boot from SATA you must set a flag in EEPROM. Run novena-eeprom and take note of the Features list, then add sataroot to the list and write it:

# Edit this list for your board
novena-eeprom -f es8328,pcie,gbit,hdmi,eepromoops,sataroot -w

The script should have taken care of setting the SATA disk’s ID correct, so you’re ready to reboot!

After booting into this fresh system, you might want to loop back to the Quickstart: Just the Board page. A few errata and things that might pop up:

  • need to fix /etc/apt/sources.list to remove localhost prefix (from apt-cacher-ng)
  • run apt-get install -f to fix any outstanding apt issues
  • need to add deb jessie main to get kosagi updates (if kosagi-repo wasn’t installed)
  • if they aren’t already installed, run apt-get install novena-eeprom kosagi-repo novena-disable-ssp novena-usb-hub (etc)
  • need to create a user (adduser, then usermod -G to add to sudo group)
  • need to install a fuller set of packages if only a subset were installed to save disk space earlier

Flashing Factory Image to microSD Card


This section is a work-in-progress stub.

Fetch the factory microSD image over (insecure!) HTTP:

Because this was downloaded over HTTP, it’s important to verify the checksums:

SHA256: 26d368cb4b3aa43e411703f8c659d3e229deacfe75af38c1f82489dd9af80dbb
MD5:    6923a145cbdc75b420408fc2d09ba4f8

Connect the microSD card to your machine, eg via USB adapter. The microSD card must be at least as large as the disk image (2.3GB for r1 of the image).


Careful! It’s easy to overwrite your primary disk image at this step instead of the microSD card.

Assuming you are on a UNIX machine, check which block device (/dev/sde, /dev/sdf, /dev/mmcblk0, etc) your card is, ensure that the card is unmounted, and then dd the image to your card with something like the below; replace XYZ with your actual block device:

sudo dd if=novena-mmc-disk-r1.img bs=1M of=/dev/sdXYZ

After the sync command completes you can disconnect the card.

If you like, you could increase the size of the rootfs partition using a tool like gparted. If you do so, note that the UUID of the boot partition of the microSD card must be 4e6f764d-03 to work as “Recovery Mode”. If you resize any partitions you might need to reset the UUID for the whole disk. For MBR partition tables, do this by running, eg, fdisk /dev/mmcblk0, hit x (expert mode), i (“Change ID”), enter 0x4e6f7653, then hit r (“Return to Menu”), and finally w (“Write to disk``). Careful! If you just dd the image and don’t touch the parition table this isn’t necessary.

For other platforms (Windows, LISP Machine, etc), search around for generic directions on writing SD card images.

Pairing a Bluetooth Keyboard

First you need to install the firmware-atheros package followed by a reboot:

sudo apt-get install firmware-atheros

After rebooting, you need to enable bluetooth and pair it with your keyboard:

bluetoothctl -a
power on
scan on

If everything goes correctly, your bluetooth keyboard should be listed:

pair <tab>

Pressing tab will auto-complete for you (if a bluetooth device has been found). A number will appear on your screen which you need to type on your keyboard and press enter. Now you can connect to your keyboard and trust it so that in the future the keyboard will be connected to automatically:

connect <tab>
trust <tab>

Creating a Simple WiFi Access Point (Hotspot)


Unfortunately, the shipped Novena kernel (3.17.0-rc5-00217-gfd79638) does not include netfilter support, which is required for iptables to no NAT IPv4 masquerading. The below instructions will only partially work, and clients won’t have actual internet access.

Upgrading to the 3.19 linux-novena kernel should resolve this problem, as the necessary modules are compiled in by default. You can test by running sudo iptables -L; if this returns an error about kmod and insmod, you need to upgrade.

The PCIe 802.11 WiFi card that ships with the Novena supports Access Point mode (AP, also known as ‘master’ mode), so in addition to connecting to wireless gateways and routers as a client, Novena can share connections or even act as a router/gateway itself.

If you aren’t using the included PCIe card for WiFi (eg, using a USB dongle), you’ll need to check that your hardware supports AP mode:

sudo iw list | less
# must have 'AP' in "Supported interface modes"

The included PCIe card is based on the Atheros AR9462 chipset.

As background, creating a wireless station and allowing clients to connect is relatively simple. Sharing an upstream internet connection (eg, from the wired ethernet jacks) is a bit more complicated. There are at least two common methods to do so. The first is network bridging, where the Novena routes packets between the two network connections without acting as a gateway in any other way. In this configuration a pre-existing router would act as a DHCP server and gateway to the outside network. In the second configuration Novena would act as a router/gateway itself and do NAT (Network Address Translation). In this configuration clients would get DHCP and DNS from Novena on a private subnetwork. The Novena would translate the IP addresses on any packets going to and from connected clients to the upstream internet.

NetworkManager is an easiest way to create an access point, and it uses the NAT scheme by default, with dnsmasq and iptables behind the scenes supplying DNS/DHCP and NAT rewriting respectively. These directions assume you have network-manager already installed.


These directions describe a simple mechanism for sharing an internet connection. This is not intentended to be a way to have the Novena run as a secure or robust wireless gateway. In particular, no firewall is in place, your Novena may not be very security hardened by default, the default settings may not play well with some devices or networks, etc, etc.

If you have a headless (no GUI) system, you can control NetworkManager using nmtui, otherwise you can use the Gnome GUI.

First make sure you have a working wired (ethernet) connection to the internet. Then create a new shared WiFi connection. It’s recommended to give the connection (distinct from the SSID) a short name like “wlan0-ap” instead of the default “Wi-Fi connection 1”. Select or enter wlan0 as the hardware device. In WiFi settings choose an SSID and set the Mode to “Access Point”. Add WPA2 security if you like. In the IPv4 network section change the configuration from “Automatic” to “Shared”. The other settings can be left as defaults. Make sure “Automatically connect” is selected. Save and exit.

The connection may come up automatically after a few minutes. Unlike wired connections, the connection will not show up in the list of available WiFi connections in the nmtui “Active a connection” list. You can check /var/log/daemon.log for status and error messages, or nmcli connection for a list of active connections. You can force NetworkManager to bring up the connection with:

sudo nmcli connection up wlan0-ap
# where 'wlan0-ap' is the connection name you chose earlier

To shutdown the access point and return Novena to client mode, the easiest route seems to be disabling the Auto-connect flag in the wlan0-ap settings, then run sudo nmcli connection down wlan0-ap, wait a minute, then you should be given a list of access points to connect to as usual.

Upgrading the Kernel and u-boot

The Novena kernel developers (aka, xobs) occasionally publish updates to the linux kernel that shipped with the Novena boards. These updates come in the form of apt packges (.deb) in the repository, but they are not automatically installed in the /boot partition of the onboard microSD card, so upgrading these packages and rebooting is not sufficient to upgrade your board.

On the other hand, the u-boot-novena bootloader package will install itself on /boot if it is already mounted.

The following steps will install an updated linux kernel and compiled device tree file (.dtb) to the appropriate location. It assumes that /boot has been mounted with the microSD first partition (aka, /dev/mmcblk0p1), and that the repository is configured and keys are installed. You will also have to change the 3.19.0-00270-g3d69696 filename part to the version of the kernel that has actually been fetched.

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install u-boot-novena linux-firmware-image-novena \
    linux-headers-novena linux-image-novena
# Backup the old files
sudo cp /boot/zimage /boot/zimage.old
sudo cp /boot/novena.dtb /boot/novena.dtb.old
# Copy in the new files; vmlinuz is already in zimage format
sudo cp /usr/share/linux-novena/vmlinuz-3.19.0-00270-g3d69696.dtb /boot/novena.dtb
sudo cp /usr/share/linux-novena/vmlinuz-3.19.0-00270-g3d69696 /boot/zimage
# Flush filesystem data to the card
# Reboot!
sudo reboot

Compiling and Installing the Kernel

Check out the novena kernel tree:

git clone

Check out the version you want to build. For example:

cd novena-linux
git checkout v3.19-novena

Set the default build configuration and compile the kernel:

make novena_defconfig
make -j4

Now that the kernel is compiled, we must install it and its corresponding set of modules. For the time being the kernel needs to be on the small /boot partition on the sd card:

sudo make modules_install
sudo cp arch/arm/boot/dts/imx6q-novena.dtb /boot/novena.dtb
sudo cp arch/arm/boot/zImage /boot/zimage

If you have trouble booting the new kernel, hold down the user (square) button during boot. That should select the kernel in the sd card’s recovery partition. If all else fails, reflash the sd card with a factory image.

Kosagi’s latest kernel build is available in their repo as the ‘linux-image-novena’ package. The ‘u-boot-novena’ package also contains a script to maintain the sdcard card partition, so if this is installed, the traditional debian ‘fakeroot make-kpkg’ method will work without the manual copying above.

Using an External HDMI Monitor

These instructions are oriented towards users of a bare mainboard system, not Desktop or Laptop folks trying to use a secondary display.

Attaching an HDMI monitor should Just Work as a console login; you’ll need a USB keyboard or other input device to log in.

Note that when an external monitor is attached at boottime, the kernel boot and console login stops working on the UART serial connection and is redirected to the monitor instead.

For a simple XFCE-based desktop with common applications, install:

sudo apt-get install task-xfce-desktop xorg-novena \
    xserver-xorg-video-armada xserver-xorg-video-armada-etnaviv iceweasel \
    arandr libetnaviv


As of January 2015, there seems to be an issue with the novena-xorg package that prevents the “armada” driver from working. A workaround is to edit the file /usr/share/X11/xorg.conf.d/60-novena.conf and add the following lines to the top:

Section "Files"
    ModulePath "/usr/lib/xorg/modules/"
    ModulePath "/usr/lib/arm-linux-gnueabihf/xorg/modules/"

If this does not work, you can also try replacing the armada driver in that file with fbdev (and comment out the following option lines) to use a (slow) raw framebuffer device instead.

After future reboots, when the external display is attached you should get a friendly GUI login screen.

To start up X without rebooting, run startxfce4 from the console login.