5 minute read

Notice (2020-01-02): In version 19.10, Ubuntu included native support for Raspberry Pi, which makes most of this post obsolete for any Ubuntu release after 19.04.

Over the last two years I got used to have small server at home. The first time I connected my old Pine64 to the net it was just because I wanted to see if I was able to do it. Later on came this web site, my private Gogs repository, and some other fun projects that I have been missing for the last months. Finally, I could not resist longer, and I ordered a new SoC to play with: a Raspberry Pi 3 B+.

The RasPi 3 B+ came out last march, but, despite more than three months have passed, the only Linux distributions that can be run on a RasPi 3 B+ out of the box are NOOBS and Raspbian, which are maintained by the Raspberry Pi.

But I wanted something more general to run on my new RasPi. And, coincidentally, a few days ago, Ubuntu 18.04.1, the first dot update for this LTS release… but still without official support for the RasPi 3 B+. Ubuntu also released the corresponding version of its Server flavor, which in my opinion is just wonderful to run on a RasPi.

Fortunately, there is a page on the Ubuntu website (https://wiki.ubuntu.com/ARM/RaspberryPi) on which it is explained how to adapt a “Classic” official build for the Raspberry Pi 2 B to run on the RasPi 3 B and the 3 B+. Unfortunately, these instructions seem not to be accurate enough: at least, I was not able to get my RasPi to boot by following them. So I started researching, trying, and finally, after a long while, I was able to get it to work (it would probably have taken less time and effort if I was not running the RasPi headless, only through an Ethernet cable, without a monitor or keyboard).

The instructions on how to get it done are the following:

  1. Grab the official build for the RasPi 2 B. I guess the contributed one for the RasPi 3 B would also do, but I wanted to start from an official release.

  2. Go to http://archive.raspberrypi.org/debian/pool/main/r/raspberrypi-firmware/ and grab all the .deb set of files corresponding to the latest date available, and also the matching firmware .tar.gz (or you can just click the links below). For me, those were:
  3. Write the Ubuntu Server 18.04.01 image to a micro SD card. Remember that you will need one that is at least 8 Gb!

  4. Mount the SD card on your favorite linux distro. You will see two partitions: system-boot and cloudimg-rootfs.

  5. Delete everything except config.txt in the system-boot partition. Yes, do it, do not worry.

  6. Extract all the files in the boot directory of raspberrypi-firmware_1.20180910.orig.tar.gz to the system-boot partition of your micro SD.

  7. Add a dtoverlay=vc4-kms-v3d line to your config.txt to enable the VideoCore4 (vc4) kernel module and enable hardware graphics acceleration. Also, you might also want to add a gpu_mem=128 line to increase the memory available to the GPU (I haven’t done it).

  8. Copy all the .deb files to the /root directory of your RasPi (you will need root privileges!).

  9. Unmount the micro SD and put it into the RasPi.

  10. Connect your RasPi either your monitor and keyboard, or Ethernet cable (make sure you have a DHCP server sunning on the other end!). Be warned: wireless will not be working yet, mostly, because the drivers are still not installed. But we will come to it.

  11. Boot it!!

  12. Be patient! The first time it boots, the RasPi may need some time to set some things up before you can access it. If you plugged it into a monitor, you will probably be able to see progress. Else, if you are hardcore and are running it headless, your only indication is the green led: it might pause for some seconds, but it should be lit most of the time during the first 30 seconds or one minute. Also, you can monitor the logs of your DHCP server, and see when the RasPi grabs an IP address, and from there on, ping it and scan port 22 to see when it opens.

    If after a couple of minutes your RasPi has not booted, you can try to turn it on and remount the micro SD on your computer. If it managed past U-Boot and booted into Ubuntu, you will find journalctl’s logs under /[mount point]/cloudimg-rootfs/var/log/journal/. In this directory you will find another one, whose name consists in a long string of letters and digits. Go inside and use journalctl -D . to see the log. Hopefully, you will find something that tells you what went wrong.

  13. Log/ssh in!

  14. Uninstall all packages related with the RasPi 2 B. First of all, sudo -s to become root, then, use dpkg -l | grep raspi2 to see which ones are installed, and then, apt purge them!.

  15. Install all the .debs that you downloaded a while ago. Still being root, cd /root, and then dpkg -i *.deb (I think this last comment was like that… if not Google it!).

  16. Finally, the wireless. Just do as the Ubuntu page says. Or copy and paste these lines into your terminal:
    mkdir wifi-firmware
    cd wifi-firmware
    wget https://github.com/RPi-Distro/firmware-nonfree/raw/master/brcm/brcmfmac43455-sdio.bin
    wget https://github.com/RPi-Distro/firmware-nonfree/raw/master/brcm/brcmfmac43455-sdio.clm_blob
    wget https://github.com/RPi-Distro/firmware-nonfree/raw/master/brcm/brcmfmac43455-sdio.txt
    sudo cp *sdio* /lib/firmware/brcm/
    cd ..

Now your RasPi is almost ready to be used. You just need to customize the configuration to your liking. I would recommend:

  • Set your RasPi’s hostname, both in /etc/hostname and /etc/hosts (do not forget to add your hostname to the localhost line!).
  • Configuring your ethernet and wireless networking under /etc/netplan.
  • Setting your time zone and locales: dpkg-reconfigure tzdata and dpkg-reconfigure locales.
  • Install wpasupplicant, iw and wireless-tools to manage the wireless interface.
  • Apt-purging command-not-found… that thing makes me nervous!
  • Disable some services that you are not going to use: systemctl disable snapd.service, snapd.seeded.service, snapd.core-fixup.service, snapd.autoimport.service, …
  • Install the minimal build tools: apt install build-essential bison flex
  • Enable byobu
  • Am I forgetting something? Recommendations? Leave a comment!

Enjoy your RasPi!

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