Beagle from scratch, or: adventures in JTAG, part 1

Sat 26 April 2014

Below is a story of what I've learned about what it takes to boot a Beagleboard.

BeagleBoard XM on reset - a barren wasteland

Without boot code such as U-Boot running first, very little is actually working. Most noticeably, there is no usable UART or external RAM, and quite a lot of initialization is necessary before they are both in a usable state. The only available RAM is 128kB that is on the SOC itself. There is also some ROM that contains code which is the first thing that starts executing on reset.

How initialization can be done

The usual case is that on reset, the ROM boot code searches boot devices to find the second-stage bootcode to be executed from the 128kB RAM. Its only task is to initialize RAM and other necessary peripherals so that the next stage bootloader can be loaded and executed. This executable is called MLO in TI parlance and it can be fulfilled by an SPL build of U-Boot. The ROM boot code is smart enough to parse a partition table and FAT filesystem and load the MLO to the 128kB on-SOC RAM if there is an MLO on the MMC. Other boot devices are possible also.

What MLO then does

The U-Boot MLO initializes whatever PLLs, clocks, controllers and RAM is necessary to get a working UART, external RAM and MMC device. It is then able to load the full U-Boot from the MMC device into RAM and execute it. Full U-Boot has much more peripheral support and other supporting features to load the next step, i.e. the operating system or application.

What we want so we can test RTEMS

As mentioned, I am working on a BSP for the Beagle family of products for RTEMS. In other words, a port of RTEMS to the beagles; specifically the BeagleBoard XM, BeagleBone 'White,' and the BeagleBone Black.

My friend Chris, in testing my BSP, has introduced me to the powerful notion of what I might call running-from-scratch. Specifically, getting the hardware, after reset, into a state where it can load and run an RTEMS binary, absent a boot loader. This eliminates a lot of dependency on what kind of state a bootloader might leave the hardware in. And it also eliminates needing any external software to load & run RTEMS for unattended testing. We have taken to doing this with JTAG.

Running without boot code affords us full control. The full system state is known, which has as advantage that once it works for us, it should work everywhere. The bootloader is eliminated as a dependency in determining the system state once the RTEMS binary starts running. The disadvantage is that we have to figure out how to load the RTEMS executable, and how to get the hardware into a usable state without the help of MLO or U-Boot. We can do all this with JTAG.

Initializing the board with JTAG

My approach has been to duplicate the initialization procedure that U-Boot SPL (i.e. their MLO) does with JTAG. I executed it in qemu and traced all memory i/o operations it uses to initialize the hardware. Then I could recreate then in OpenOCD as a series of writes and so reset the board and initialize it on every GDB attachment. Now we can run RTEMS executables over JTAG without any additional software needed!


The RTEMS code is here. It contains the OpenOCD configuration to initialize the beagleboard.

The RTEMS tester code is here. It contains the gdb configuration necessary to control OpenOCD properly to load & execute binaries, while also setting the proper breakpoints to let the tests pass.

I will post a full tutorial on how to build and run everything in the future.

Running RTEMS tests

The next step is to build and run all RTEMS tests on the Beagleboard XM unattended. I will also post an update on how the tests are running.

Category: Blog Tagged: beagle jtag rtems