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7.4. Boot Arguments Unleashed

Passing command line arguments to the Linux kernel allows for very flexible and efficient configuration which is especially important in Embedded Systems. It is somewhat strange that these features are nearly undocumented everywhere else. One reason for that is certainly the very limited capabilities of other boot loaders.

It is especially U-Boot's capability to easily define, store, and use environment variables that makes it such a powerful tool in this area. In the examples above we have already seen how we can use for instance the root and ip boot arguments to pass information about the root filesystem or network configuration. The ip argument is not only useful in configurations with root filesystem over NFS; if the Linux kernel has the CONFIG_IP_PNP configuration enabled (IP kernel level autoconfiguration), this can be used to enable automatic configuration of IP addresses of devices and of the routing table during kernel boot, based on either information supplied on the kernel command line or by BOOTP or RARP protocols.

The advantage of this mechanism is that you don't have to spend precious system memory (RAM and flash) for network configuration tools like ifconfig or route - especially in Embedded Systems where you seldom have to change the network configuration while the system is running.

We can use U-Boot environment variables to store all necessary configuration parameters:

=> setenv ipaddr 192.168.100.6
=> setenv serverip 192.168.1.1
=> setenv netmask 255.255.0.0
=> setenv hostname canyonlands
=> setenv rootpath /opt/eldk-4.2/ppc_4xx
=> saveenv

Then you can use these variables to build the boot arguments to be passed to the Linux kernel:

=> setenv nfsargs 'root=/dev/nfs rw nfsroot=${serverip}:${rootpath}'

Note how apostrophes are used to delay the substitution of the referenced environment variables. This way, the current values of these variables get inserted when assigning values to the "bootargs" variable itself later, i. e. when it gets assembled from the given parts before passing it to the kernel. This allows us to simply redefine any of the variables (say, the value of "ipaddr" if it has to be changed), and the changes will automatically propagate to the Linux kernel.

ALERT! Note: You cannot use this method directly to define for example the "bootargs" environment variable, as the implicit usage of this variable by the "bootm" command will not trigger variable expansion - this happens only when using the "setenv" command.

In the next step, this can be used for a flexible method to define the "bootargs" environment variable by using a function-like approach to build the boot arguments step by step:

=> setenv ramargs setenv bootargs root=/dev/ram rw
=> setenv nfsargs 'setenv bootargs root=/dev/nfs rw nfsroot=${serverip}:${rootpath}'
=> setenv addip 'setenv bootargs ${bootargs} ip=${ipaddr}:${serverip}:${gatewayip}:${netmask}:${hostname}::off'
=> setenv ram_root 'run ramargs addip;bootm ${kernel_addr} ${ramdisk_addr} ${fdt_addr} '
=> setenv nfs_root 'run nfsargs addip;bootm ${kernel_addr} - ${fdt_addr} '

In this setup we define two variables, ram_root and nfs_root, to boot with root filesystem from a ramdisk image or over NFS, respecively. The variables can be executed using U-Boot's run command. These variables make use of the run command itself:

This method can be easily extended to add more customization options when needed.

If you have used U-Boot's network commands before (and/or read the documentation), you will probably have recognized that the names of the U-Boot environment variables we used in the examples above are exactly the same as those used with the U-Boot commands to boot over a network using DHCP or BOOTP. That means that, instead of manually setting network configuration parameters like IP address, etc., these variables will be set automatically to the values retrieved with the network boot protocols. This is explained in detail in the sections about the respective U-Boot commands.

7.3. Passing Kernel Arguments 1. Abstract 7.5. Networked Operation with Root Filesystem over NFS
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