Petter Reinholdtsen

More flexible firmware handling in debian-installer
22nd May 2010

After a long break from debian-installer development, I finally found time today to return to the project. Having to spend less time working dependency based boot in debian, as it is almost complete now, definitely helped freeing some time.

A while back, I ran into a problem while working on Debian Edu. We include some firmware packages on the Debian Edu CDs, those needed to get disk and network controllers working. Without having these firmware packages available during installation, it is impossible to install Debian Edu on the given machine, and because our target group are non-technical people, asking them to provide firmware packages on an external medium is a support pain. Initially, I expected it to be enough to include the firmware packages on the CD to get debian-installer to find and use them. This proved to be wrong. Next, I hoped it was enough to symlink the relevant firmware packages to some useful location on the CD (tried /cdrom/ and /cdrom/firmware/). This also proved to not work, and at this point I found time to look at the debian-installer code to figure out what was going to work.

The firmware loading code is in the hw-detect package, and a closer look revealed that it would only look for firmware packages outside the installation media, so the CD was never checked for firmware packages. It would only check USB sticks, floppies and other "external" media devices. Today I changed it to also look in the /cdrom/firmware/ directory on the mounted CD or DVD, which should solve the problem I ran into with Debian edu. I also changed it to look in /firmware/, to make sure the installer also find firmware provided in the initrd when booting the installer via PXE, to allow us to provide the same feature in the PXE setup included in Debian Edu.

To make sure firmware deb packages with a license questions are not activated without asking if the license is accepted, I extended hw-detect to look for preinst scripts in the firmware packages, and run these before activating the firmware during installation. The license question is asked using debconf in the preinst, so this should solve the issue for the firmware packages I have looked at so far.

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Tags: debian, debian edu, english.

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