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Debian m68k Port Resurrected 145

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the just-a-flesh-wound dept.
After two years of work, Debian m68k has working build servers, and is slowly working through the backlog of stale packages. "Contrary to some rumours which I've had to debunk over the years, the m68k port did not go into limbo because it was kicked out of the archive; instead, it did because recent versions of glibc require support for thread-local storage, a feature that wasn't available on m68k, and nobody with the required time, willingness, and skill set could be found to implement it. This changed a few years back, when some people wrote the required support, because they were paid to do so in order to make recent Linux run on ColdFire processors again. Since ColdFire and m68k processors are sufficiently similar, that meant the technical problem was solved. However, by that time we'd fallen so far behind that essentially, we needed to rebootstrap the port all over again. Doing that is nontrivial, and most of the m68k porters team just didn't have the time or willingness anymore to work on this; and for a while, it seemed like the m68k port was well and truly dead." The tales of acquiring the needed hardware are pretty interesting (one machine is an Amiga in a custom tower case).
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Debian m68k Port Resurrected

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    what about a linux kickstart rom??

    • by mirabilos (219607)

      I'm not good with details on Amiga, but I think the procedure is:

      You boot some sort of Kickstart/Workbench, then run an AmigaOS program which is the Linux bootloader and pass it the kernel and, if needed, the initrd from the AmigaOS filesystem, it will load them and make them usable, then jump into Linux. From then onwards, that one will be the OS in charge, making ext4 available etc.

      Sadly, no kexec yet. Having to copy out the kernel instead of being able to load it directly from ext4 (or whatever you choos

  • by Anonymous Coward

    besides the obvious "because we can" that is ?

    • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

      It says right in the summary:

      because they were paid to do so in order to make recent Linux run on ColdFire processors again.

      Do you have the attention span of a gnat?

      • CodeSourcery was paid to implement TLS for the coldfire. Debian wasn't paid to resurrect the m68k port.
      • It says right in the summary:

        because they were paid to do so in order to make recent Linux run on ColdFire processors again.

        Do you have the attention span of a gnat?

        Do you have the reading comprehension of a gnat? The 'Why' that was postulated was 'why resurrect the m68k port'. It had nothing to do with someone else paying to port it to Coldfire. The latter just gave the m68k geeks an opening. The rest of the 'Why' is 'because we can.'

    • by vlm (69642)

      besides the obvious "because we can" that is ?

      You'll have to ask them for sure.

      Something I know, that hasn't been mentioned, is freescale released at least some cores under an at least sorta-free license near a decade ago, so I would think it amusing to make a multi-machine build farm out of a big FPGA (or board full of FPGAs...) At least way back then, there were not many options for running linux on a (official released) FPGA soft core. I would imagine there are more options now if you want to run linux on a (official) soft core.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    am pleased with this turn of events. To this day, m68k remains an important architecture; not every application needs multi-gigaFLOP/second performance or even an integrated FPU.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      "not every application needs multi-gigaFLOP/second performance or even an integrated FPU"
      Well yeh, not everybody does. But do they even sell cheap 68k chips? And if they do, don't they sell *cheaper* ARM chips! Just because you don't need it, doesn't mean there's any advantage in using this.

      If they make it will they come? Because if nobody uses it, it isn't properly tested, and if it isn't properly tested, nobody will use it.

      68k has had it's day, it's dead, let it go.

      • by MightyYar (622222)

        It may very well be on it's way out, but right now you can still get a ColdFire microcontroller for under $5 with motor control circuitry built-in.

        • microcontrollers don't run linux though. Linux requires a MMU and a megabyte or so of memory neither of which microcontrollers have.

          The question is do them68K/CF chips that can run linux offer any compelling advantage over arm or mips soloutions that would make up for the far lower software support?

          • uCLinux, a port of Linux, does run on architectures without MMUs, especially the m68k.

            m68k may be on the way out but what I want to run Linux on my Sega Genesis or Atari Jaguar, or any number of old arcade boards?

      • by solidraven (1633185) on Wednesday December 26, 2012 @01:34PM (#42395979)
        ARM isn't always the right choice and it does have its problems. Additionally if you have to interface with an old system it's often easier to just grab a M68K or an old Intel 8xxx series device. The interface was already designed in a lot of cases for the older devices. And the M68K is advanced and fast enough to easily interface with modern hardware. So it actually does make for a pretty good bridge when you have to make two incompatible systems work together and don't want to go through the trouble of starting from scratch. Not to mention that the M68K is a great device to introduce people to the hardware side of embedded system design. Fairly cheap, comes in easy to solder packages unlike most ARM processors, robust, well documented, loads of software has been written for it, ...

        Totally worth the effort! It's not because something is old that it's not worth using anymore. Look at the Intel 8051 architecture. You'll find several microcontrollers based on that architecture in your house on this very moment. Sure it's an ancient 8 bit CISC architecture, but most designers are very familiar with it and it's one of the cheapest microcontrollers available so it still sees quite a lot of use. Fun fact is that it's commonly used as USB host controller.
        • 6809xxxxxx (Score:4, Interesting)

          by fyngyrz (762201) on Wednesday December 26, 2012 @05:13PM (#42398117) Homepage Journal

          I keep hoping someone will take the 6809 architecture, extend it to 64 bits wide per register, add an MMU, implement underneath a modern microcoded engine (the original was random logic), and throw an FPU on-board. Maybe add a few megs of register pages for context switching, a few instructions to give it supervisor/user smarts.

          It was *so* easy to write code for that thing; it had pretty much the perfect mix of instructions -- way better than the 68000, for instance. The 6809 was the best 8 bit uP ever from a programming POV. I wrote a couple of compilers for it over the years, it felt like the uP designers totally knew what I was going to need.

          Probably never happen.


          • Sadly the needs of software designers often differ from what delivers high performing hardware :(
            • by fyngyrz (762201)

              Yes, that's true. But if the software is 10x faster because the instruction set allows the compiler to produce excellent code, but the hardware is 1/2 as fast, you end up with software that is "only" 5x as fast.

              Just throwing numbers, admittedly, because I don't really have deep familiarity with today's machine code, but in the 6809's day, it could do with one instruction what took several on the 6800 or many on the 6502, and the register capabilities were such that you didn't need to be constantly storing t

              • Thing is, we have been avoiding microcode. It's slow, RISC makes for faster designs that are easier to design and optimize. You can make a simple hardware fsm that gets the job done. Uses less area as well. We don't quite care anymore about assembly programmers I guess. This leads to ugly but fast instructions. RISC also makes pipelining damn easy, the gain of that outweighs your coding efficiency increase by an astronomical margin. And in the end the compilers don't seem to mind much if they use good opti
                • by fyngyrz (762201)

                  Yeah, I probably just don't really understand the difference. Looking at the code the GCC compiler produces, all I can think is "that's awful"... but if it's some crazy factor faster -- like twenty or so -- then yeah, it'd come out ahead of something that took 2...6 clocks per instruction (which is where most of the 6809's instructions landed.) Also, the 6809 was random logic... one of the reasons they said they couldn't really speed it up much.

                  • Well yes, but you have levels of complication in that. I'd hardly call the 6809 a RISC architecture. Complicated asynchronous logic becomes rather unreliable if you keep demanding faster speeds from it.
          • Your proposal sounds like a perfect Kickstarter project. If you can make an adequate sales pitch to IC designers and other such people, it shouldn't be that hard of a goal to realise.
        • by dosius (230542)

          A friend of mine wrote a PC emulator on top of an 8051-compatible microcontroller. xD


      • by gsnedders (928327)

        The TI-89 is 68k based to this day.

        • by epyT-R (613989)

          so where's my sonic the hedgehog port? (I kid, the speed came from the custom gfx support, not the cpu itself)

          • Right here:

            Sonic MisAdventures []

            I don't have the patience to try and find a USB->serial adapter to use my ancient GraphLink, otherwise I'd load it on my 89 and see how true-to-life it is.

            The REAL challenge would be to make a passable port of Sonic The Hedgehog to the Z80. Sega did this [] both as a last hurrah for the Sega Master System, and a port to promote the Game Gear.

  • by King_TJ (85913) on Wednesday December 26, 2012 @01:16PM (#42395779) Journal

    I doubt I'll *ever* make use of this project myself, but I'm inspired by the tale of how it went from "left for dead" to a full-on revival, based on something as unexpected as a rather unrelated 3rd. party software project (Atari emulator that happened to allow the m68k developers to work on their code from any laptop computer they happened to be using), as well as a single motivated individual bent on making his shell run on all known variants of Debian.

    • by Spaseboy (185521)

      I still have many 68k Macs that could be put to some kind of use if they could run a modern OS. The issue is that everything that sits on top of the Linux kernel has unfortunately followed the Windows and Mac OS trend of requiring GPU support. I don't know (yes, I could Bing it) if LXDE requires compositing to run decently...

      • You could try e17. Since it was designed for mid-90s era computers.
      • by mirabilos (219607)

        Actually, I got KDE 4.8 working (to prove my patches against gcc-4.6 and qt4-x11 were correct). As long as you don't start KDEPIM (Kontact), it's actually decent fast (in tightvncserver): []

        Funnily enough, a sole GTK+ application (xchat) in a light-weight window manager (IceWM, otherwise much faster than KDE) was slower.

        Of course, once I started Kontact, all bets were off, but then, whenever I do that on the company desktop at work (where we're forced to use it for Groupware

      • Ever heard of NetBSD []? That and A/UX are the only *nixen I've ever run on my 68k Macs.
    • by mirabilos (219607)

      Not just Debian. Another two persons interested in porting mksh to anything possible and then some, as well as I, are trying to get an A/UX box running.

      Also, whatâ(TM)s the leading GNU/Linux distribution on cris (ETRAX 100)? Debian doesnâ(TM)t support that⦠(also, I dab in klibc and dietlibc a bit, and the formerâ(TM)s got cris support code that warrants testing.)

      • That's pretty cool. I was trying to port the pkgsrc framework to A/UX at one point. Nice to see lingering enthusiasm for A/UX out there. If you succeed, let me know, I'll update the FAQ.
  • by dgatwood (11270) on Wednesday December 26, 2012 @01:25PM (#42395889) Journal

    The metaphor is all wrong. It's Christmas, not Easter. You're supposed to say that an updated version of the Debian m68k port was delivered by Santa, or that Rudolph helped them find their way back to the main branch, or that wise men brought Debian gifts of gold, frankincense, and m68k ports.

    • by greg1104 (461138)

      They've decorated and lit an old tree that no one else cared about. Probably by standing around it waving their arms, like in the Charlie Brown Christmas special.

    • by mirabilos (219607)

      The motto in the IRC channel (#debian-68k on OFTC) was actually "Go away Santa. We're hacking code."

  • the Linux kernel.

    I have fond memories of 68k hardware but I am surprised people even bother with stuff like this in 2012.

    • by Predius (560344)

      I'm still curious if 386 support would be accepted back in if it was done as a separate arch to keep it from mucking up the regular/later x86 branch?

      • by ledow (319597) on Wednesday December 26, 2012 @01:41PM (#42396065) Homepage

        Like anything - if someone does the hard work, and it's supported enough, and it doesn't break OTHER architectures, there's no reason why not.

        It just seems that m68k (and other projects along the same lines) have people willing to do all that work, whereas the 386 architecture doesn't (yet?).

        This is the thing I actually quite like about Linux. MCA support? Few used it, fewer wanted it enough to do the so, so bye-bye. But other buses? They are still around. Applies to buses, architectures, drivers, features, even "helper code" of one type or another.

        If someone's willing to put in the back-breaking to get it up to standard, there's no reason to NOT let it in. Unfortunately, that standard has to be high for a number of reasons (e.g. legal obligations like licensing, coding quality, support, ongoing maintenance etc.). And for some, it's so high it doesn't justify the work.

        Linux is a meritocracy, like more open-source code. If there's a reason to do so, and it's done well, it happens. If not, it doesn't. If only parts of law and government were like that.

        • by (886486)

          I'd say most representative democracies are exactly meritocratic. Unfortunately, the merits judged by are not transparent..

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Megane (129182)

        The specific reasons to drop 386 support from the kernel were because 1) its MMU is substandard compared to 486 and later and causes a lot of complications in the kernel, 2) it doesn't have CMPXCHG which is used for semaphores (in glibc, not just the kernel), and 3) it doesn't have the byte swap instruction which makes a big difference in network code.

        Dropping 386 support is like dropping 68000 and 68010 support. It's the oldest sub-architecture, lacking a lot of good improvements that came in the next gen

        • by Predius (560344)

          As a matter of fact, I do have gear in use that is affected by the removal of 386 support. (The linux terminal server project crowd in particular is affected by this also.) If I was trying to troll I think I'd have been a bit more... obnoxious with my wording? Back to the topic at hand, my understanding was that it wasn't the 386's shortcomings that doomed it, it was that they had to invoke workarounds in the x86 branch for them, and THAT was where the hardship came from when trying to move the ball forw

        • by kjs3 (601225)
          > Nobody uses anything anymore that won't work a 486 build and thus requires 386, aside from someone with a 20-year old PC.

          This is factually untrue. The chip was in production until 2007 and shows up in all sorts of odd/interesting things. There's an entire ecosystem of STD-BUS and Multibus 386 systems that are still supported and could run Linux, not to mention things like the Nokia 9000.

    • Because 68k chips are still used for embedded work like the ColdFires mentioned in the summary.

      • I'm somewhat surprised they go to the trouble to resurrect and upgrade Amigas to do this work. There are plenty of recent ColdFire dev boards that could be used, if they can get someone to donate the board. Coworker tells me the default install for some of those boards is dicey and could stand to benefit from some attention.
        • by wouterke (653865)

          We (author of article being quoted here ;-) actually do own ColdFire V4E boards, which were donated by Freescale at some point. Unfortunately they can't be used for the plain m68k port without some substantial work.

          While the ColdFire is sufficiently similar to the m68k so that code written to support one processor (at least in userspace) benefits the technical situation for the other, unfortunately they are also sufficiently different that you can't just take binaries for one processor and try to run them o

    • My recollection (and no, I'm not going back to RTFA) is that it was the odd-ball 386's (386SX?) that was removed, not the entire 386 tree.
      • There was no meaningful software level difference between 386SX and 386DX - it was basically just a difference in hardware bus width that normal programs, even kernel level, wouldn't care about.

        In 486 land, the SX/DX was there to show whether the 486's internal math coprocessor was allowed to be used or not.

  • As a former m68k user, I can tell you this is a very good distro.

    You can really breath new life into older computers. The results are often startling and better than their intel cousins from the same era. Not to say that this is a good "production environment" strategy, but if you have old macs collecting dust, and you'd like to learn some real linux-fu, install m68k linux on them. You will end up with useful computers, sometimes even useful for light desktop. Definitely useful for low-volume web servers,

    • by mirabilos (219607)

      Needless to say that, even *if* there's an exploit for say, the webserver, out there: nobody's going to write shellcode for m68k.

      For the same reason, Miod Vallat of OpenBSD fame runs his website on a VAX, and the BSI is said to still use BS/2000 somewhere. Even if not unbreakable, nobody's going to be able to use it ;-) At least not your average 08/15 skriptkiddie.

  • I have a stash of retrocomputers and consoles, and for everyone of them that i can get to run *nix it's always cool. Amiga now has DebianM68k and NetBSD in new versions, PS2 has the kernelloader live cd, My old Mac PPC has Linux Minut, and my Sam460 has Debian too. As for the Speccy - well at least it got esxdos:)
    • by eclectro (227083)

      I'm glad there is an apparent consensus on "cool." I just went through a recent horrible forced move and I was thinking how much of an idiot I could be for hanging onto all the really old mac stuff plus documentation.

  • Not too long ago, WinUAE added MMU support. And it didn't take the community long to get Linux running on it. []

    It's nice seeing Linux run in WinUAE, but the distro is rather dated. It would be nice to have something recent running in WinUAE. And before you ask, I have no idea why this is so cool to me and why I want this so much. I just know that I do. Having a recent distro running in WinUAE is for some odd reason very nifty.

    Can't explain it. Still though, I'm just very happy about this news.

    • by Bert64 (520050)

      Would be more interesting to get it to run AMIX tho...
      Linux/m68k can already run under emulation on qemu (generic 68k, not amiga specific), and there is very little (if anything) available for linux/68k that doesn't run on linux/x86. I never understood why so many hardware emulators only seem able to run linux (which the emulator itself generally runs on anyway), and cannot run whatever was the native os of the time for these hardware types.

      • by mirabilos (219607)

        Last time I looked, qemu-system-m68k lacked MMU support.
        Someone recently said qemu-user-m68k was usable, but that does syscall level translation (I wonder what they do about the TLS and atomic-cmpxchg syscalls that are recent-m68k specific) and thus doesn't suffice.

      • By the way, if you get AMIX running and with an ANSI C compiler, join the IRC channel #!/bin/mksh (yes, that's really its name) on Freenode, so we can port mksh to it ;-)

        If you are interested, that is.

        • by Bert64 (520050)

          Haha wow i used to use an irc channel called #!/bin/sh

          I have a working AMIX system, a genuine Amiga 3000UX although it don't keep it powered up all the time... It comes with an old version of GCC (1.4.x if i remember) so it may be possible (albeit time consuming) to compile mksh on it. I will give it a try once i finish moving house.

          • by mirabilos (219607)

            Cool, thanks!

            GCC 1.42 is fine (we run that on BSDi BSD/OS 3.1 as well, and RT compiled it on Minix-vmd since the shipped GCC 1.40 was broken); mksh is amazingly portable.

            Do come over to the channel though ;) We've got a few tricks.

            • by mirabilos (219607)

              Sorry, confused that. He built it on Linux 0.13 or something like that; Minix-vmd has ACK that works fine. On 386BSD 0.0 even GCC 1.39 was usable ;-)

              But we're getting off-topic slowly... though that's probably normal.

    • by mirabilos (219607)

      cbmuser already issued an Intent To Package FS-UAE to Debian, which makes use of WinUAE's "accurate emulation".

      I believe that you should be able to use wouter's d-i build from [] to install an m68k system from unstable (with the usual caveats, i.e. installing or debootstrapping unstable does not always work). Note that the build is still "fresh" and nobody has tested it yet, so a failure would not mean an emulation problem.

      Once FS-UAE is in Debian, I'll likely publish a di

      • You sir, are a scholar and a gentleman. Thanks for the info!

        Been following the MMU development on WinUAE for a while and I think you'd be pleased to know the base MMU code was lifted from Aranym in the first place. A few bugs were found that were corner cases that Toni found. [] I believe there was some effort to back-port those fixes to Aranym, or at least let their devs know about them. If you're interested you could drop a message to him and I'm sure he would point them out.

        If I get some spare time

        • by mirabilos (219607)

          Ah, thanks for the additional background. Yes, a pointer to the problems would probably be appreciated by the ARAnyM developers.

          The d-i will not work right now, not with the normal mirrors at least, due to debootstrap being unable to cope with needing to pull packages from *two* distributions (unstable and unreleased), we think. We're working on it.

 [] in the meantime has an ext2fs image you can use / boot into, and kernels.

  • There's a big difference between being a hobbyist developer for an old platform and maintaining a ported operating system for it. It's time to let it go, folks. I have quite a bit of nostalgia for my old 8088, but it doesn't mean I'm going to put weeks or months of my life into writing code for it anymore. There's quite a lot of low-power modern architectures out there that a person could spend their time porting software to instead.

  • FWIW, latest NetBSD 6.0 still supports mac68k [] fine, and has never ceased to do.
    • by hson (78256)
      There are many more m68k platforms supported by NetBSD.
      The full list: amiga, atari, cesfic, hp300, luna68k, mac68k, mvme68k, news68k, next68k, sun3 and x68k.
      • by mirabilos (219607)

        Right, but I recently tried to install NetBSD/atari on AtariFrosch's box, and the installer died on itself. I, having BSD experience, managed to still install it by manually untarring the sets, running MAKEDEV, etc. but the kernel seems to have hardcoded booting into securelevel -1 and single user, so the system doesn't come up afterwards without some manual effort on each boot.

        No NetBSD® person I asked could help, and the mailing list was dead as well.

        Granted, the software works, but it's less r

        • by manu0601 (2221348)

          the kernel seems to have hardcoded booting into securelevel -1 and single user, so the system doesn't come up afterwards without some manual effort on each boot.

          No NetBSD® person I asked could help

          Some help from an unexpected place: I suspect it cannot find the root filesystem, then drop into single user and asks you where it is. Is that the case? If this is your problem, you can patch the kernel with gdb (or rebuild a kernel, but that takes longer) in order to hardcode the right root. Send me a private message if you need assistance.

          • by mirabilos (219607)

            IIRC, that wasn't it: it did find the root filesystem but was hardcoded to single user and securelevel -1 (I should note that this is the same kernel as was used for the installation).

            But thanks for the offer anyway ;-)

            Since I can't find an eMail in the archives, I assume I only asked in IRC :( but I did the installation attempt at a conference, so...

            Ask Atari-Frosch in #atari-home on OFTC for details, it's her computer, and she can power it on and look. (I think Linux failed due to too few ST-RAM for the k

            • by manu0601 (2221348)

              IIRC, that wasn't it: it did find the root filesystem but was hardcoded to single user and securelevel -1 (I should note that this is the same kernel as was used for the installation).

              The INSECURE kernel option does that, and indeed all atari kernels in the distribution have it, but it should not drop you in single user at boot time.

              • by mirabilos (219607)

                Mhm. Can the kernel image be changed, like with config(8) -ef /bsd on MirBSD/OpenBSD, to not do that?

                I think something in /etc/rc drops me to single user when INSECURE is set, but itâ(TM)s been quite an amount of months, so I do not remember precisely.

                • by manu0601 (2221348)

                  Mhm. Can the kernel image be changed, like with config(8) -ef /bsd on MirBSD/OpenBSD, to not do that?

                  You would need to rebuild the kernel (it is easy to cross-build from any POSIX system, it would save some time). But I do not think this is the reason for the single user drop

                  I think something in /etc/rc drops me to single user when INSECURE is set, but itâ(TM)s been quite an amount of months, so I do not remember precisely.

                  Then it would be easier to patch /etc/rc, but it would definitively help to see your boot messages

                  • by mirabilos (219607)

                    I've asked Atari-Frosch to power on the machine and then comment here, so we will have boot messages.

                    Thanks for the help!

                    • by ragnar76 (918810)
                      I have her TT atm. and i can run the test. right now the 29c3 is running. it could take a few hours for reply (have to keep our hackerspace open).
  • It also had ultra advanced sprite scaling chips to allow me to play outrun, powerdrift, galaxy force and space harrier as seen in the arcades.

    Unfortunately, it never happened.

Mathematics deals exclusively with the relations of concepts to each other without consideration of their relation to experience. -- Albert Einstein