Replicant 6.0 released

Over the last one and a half years, a lot of work has been done to move Replicant to a new version and to add new features. Everything started with a (now archived) forum post in January 2016 that documented the initial efforts to get Replicant 6.0 somehow working on a Galaxy S3. Development continued through the first half of 2016, however by far most of the work was done from September 2016 onwards.

Replicant 4.2, the last release, was based on CyanogenMod 10.1 and Android 4.2 respectively. Replicant 6.0 is based on LineageOS 13.0 which is based on Android 6.0. Replicant 6.0 includes all the improvements that were made since CyanogenMod 10.1. Have a look at the changelog for an overview of the new features and changes that were additionally made on our side.

This initial release supports the Galaxy S2, Galaxy S3 and Galaxy Note 2. The Galaxy S3 4G was added as an incomplete device for now as support for telephony and mobile data is missing. The status page shows which functionalities are supported on the individual devices. The previous blog post details the reasons why no SDK is provided as part of the release.

Unfortunately, this release only supports a subset of the devices that were previously supported by Replicant 4.2. So adding support for more devices has the highest priority for the next update. Thanks to device donations from the community, it will be possible to get Replicant 6.0 working on the GTA04, Galaxy Nexus, Galaxy Tab 2 7.0, Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 and Galaxy Note. Please consider donating to Replicant to help development.

As an additional release goal, a complete wiki overhaul was completed over the last two months. Besides updating outdated pages and a general cleanup, a lot of new documentation is now available for users and developers alike. We hope the new release will attract more developers, so that we can tackle some of the tasks we have been facing for a long time.

There won’t be a Replicant 6.0 SDK because there is already something better

And you can help making it accessible to more GNU/Linux users!

We have decided not to create a Replicant 6.0 SDK as part of the upcoming Replicant 6.0 release. For three previous Replicant versions (2.2, 4.0 and 4.2), a SDK was provided.

Replicant offered its own SDK because the Android SDK released by Google is distributed under a non-free license and suggests installing non-free plug-ins such as the Google APIs. For a long time, Replicant has provided the only Android SDK that is available under a free license and that doesn’t offer to install non-free software.

Android SDK in Debian

However, for some time, the Android SDK is available in Debian and it will be possible to build Android apps in Debian Stretch, the upcoming release. The Debian packages suffice to build an app that only has a minimal set of dependencies. Not all libraries that might be needed for building an app are already packaged, but it seems that nothing is missing that would otherwise be available in a Replicant SDK. The packaged Android SDK in Stretch even has the same target API as a Replicant 6.0 SDK would have.

The packaged Android SDK in Debian has many advantages over a Replicant SDK. Build tools should be installable from the package manager of the distribution you are using and not be distributed in a binary archive outside of it. Android SDK packages are provided in Debian alongside other Android build tools like Gradle. The packages can be built reproducibly. We only have very limited time and resources to work on the SDK. Debian has its own team, the Debian Android Tools team, that focuses on packaging more libraries and target APIs, among other things.

Packaging for more distributions

For these reasons, rather than spending time and development efforts on a Replicant 6.0 SDK, we encourage you to work with maintainers to get the Debian Android packages included in more distributions. As Replicant itself is  a fully free software distribution, we would be especially happy to see the packages included in fully-free GNU/Linux distributions, like Parabola or Trisquel.

The Debian Android Tools team is available to answer questions and they are interested in having cross-distro collaboration to solve remaining issues. They can be reached via their mailing list or in the IRC channel #debian-mobile. Their wiki page provides useful documentation.

Of course, we are available as well to answer questions and to coordinate these efforts.

Replicant 6.0 development updates

Replicant 6.0 is moving forward and quite some work has been done over the last months.

Galaxy S2

Only the Galaxy S3 was supported for a very long time. Recently, support for the Galaxy S2 was added. This was made possible because two community members, Grim Kriegor and dllud, sent me a device. The initial work on the device by another community member, Jookia, also gave me a head start for the port.

GTA04

In December, I attended the 8th Open Hard- and Software Workshop which was a great opportunity to discuss and work on various topics related to the GTA04. I assisted Lukas Märdian from Goldelico with porting Replicant 6.0 to the GTA04 and at the end of the workshop, we were able to boot Replicant 6.0 and had basic functionality working. Lukas continues to work on the port and I’m planning to integrate his changes and get Replicant 6.0 ready for the GTA04.

Support for external WiFi dongles with the AR9271 chipset

After you have installed Replicant on one of the supported devices, you will notice that WiFi doesn’t work. The reason is that the WiFi chips on all supported devices need a proprietary firmware to be loaded onto the chip. As Replicant only ships free software, this firmware is not included in an image.
An alternative is to use an external WiFi dongle with an USB OTG cable. A free firmware exists for the AR9271 chipset and various WiFi adapters use this chipset. Tehnoetic provided patches for initial support in Replicant 4.2. For Replicant 6.0, I went a different way and backported the necessary changes from the 3.4 Linux kernel to the kernel for the Galaxy S2 and S3. Such dongles are now operable with these two devices. Fil Bergamo is working on scripts to make it easy to use WiFi adapters. You can find more information in this forum thread.

Graphics rendering

The previous blog post already metioned that I’m working on the graphics acceleration. Mesa llvmpipe can now be used as an alternative to the Android software renderer. Unfortunately, llvmpipe is still too slow and the Android software renderer stays the default graphics renderer for now. But it’s possible to use some more apps like Firefox-based browsers with llvmpipe that wouldn’t work with the Android software renderer. Llvmpipe also makes it possible to use a recent webview. For now, Replicant 6.0 is stuck with the last webview version that worked with the Android software renderer. Optimizing llvmpipe for ARM likely would make it fast enough. Any help in this regard would be greatly appreciated!
Another long-standing issue is related to the software rendering: QR code scanning or in general barcode scanning didn’t work with Replicant because the software renderer requires a camera preview format that is incompatible with barcode scanner apps. I was able to fix it by doing the neccessary conversions of preview frames that are requested by barcode scanner apps.

Toolchain

I moved the build system from Debian Jessie to the upcoming Debian release with the codename Stretch. The Debian Android Tools team has packaged quite a few more build tools in Stretch which can now be used instead of prebuilt binaries from the default Android toolchain. The whole effort makes the Replicant build process more trustworthy and ensures that all build tools are verifiable and built using only free software.

Security/privacy enhancements

Besides fixing various bugs, I’m especially committed to making Replicant more secure. Originally, I started contributing to Replicant by submitting patches for known security issues in Replicant 4.2. Security updates for the kernel and the Android system are included in Replicant 6.0 as quickly as possible, but delays can always happen due to various reasons. Furthermore, I started to include some security/privacy enhancements from CopperheadOS.

Current work and future plans

Porting Replicant 6.0 to more devices is a priority right now. Besides devices that are already supported by Replicant 4.2, some new targets are evaluated. An interesting target is the LTE variant of the Galaxy S3 (GT-I9305). Currently, only the non-LTE variant (GT-I9300) is supported by Replicant and Replicant doesn’t support any 4G-enabled phone yet. It’s possible to build a Replicant 6.0 image for the LTE variant, but it lacks support for the modem. The main task of the port will be to write a free implementation of the modem interface for telephony, SMS and mobile data.
I also played with the mainline kernel on the Galaxy S3 and I was able to boot Replicant 6.0 on top of the Linux 4.8 kernel with a few patches so that it was usable with very limited functionality. I will share more results from this endeavor in the future.
Replicant is based on CyanogenMod 13.0. As the CyanogenMod project was discontinued, future Replicant 6.0 versions will be based on its successor, LineageOS 13.0.

Replicant 6.0 early work, upstream work and F-Droid issue

Replicant 6.0 early work and associated efforts: At Replicant, things are moving again: Replicant is being updated from Android 4.2 to Android 6.0 by Wolfgang Wiedmeyer. The status and feedback takes place in the forums before it is reviewed and integrated in the official Replicant repositories. This work is currently being done for the Galaxy S 3 (I9300).

At the same time, Wolfgang Wiedmeyer is also working on the following for Replicant 6.0:

  • Graphics acceleration with mesa and llvmpipe: while this still uses the CPU, it should be faster and more feature-complete than the default implementation. This will hopefully fix some of the previously non-working applications in F-Droid.
  • Building the toolchains: Replicant has always used some pre-built toolchains and utilities. Building such tools and/or using the ones from GNU/Linux distributions will make Replicant more trustworthy.

Replicant 6.0 should also bring full device encryption and SELinux support.

Future directions: In the future we also want to be able to support the upstream Linux kernel for devices with a minimal amount of effort. This was made possible thanks to:

  • Android becoming more standard: it now requires very few changes to the upstream Linux to work. Linux also received changes that made it possible.
  • The fact that the amount of work required to mainline a device in Linux has drastically been reduced, for some of the devices we target.

Devices such as the GTA04 and the Optimus Black are good targets for upstream Linux kernel support. They also allow running free bootloaders.

In a similar fashion, we also want to be able to support upstream bootloaders, such as U-Boot.

We hope that this will allow us to have longer term support for such devices. Even if Replicant is unable to continue to support such devices in the future, having them supported by upstream software will potentially enable users to use them with other free software distributions.

We have thus started the work to support devices such as the Optimus Black and the Kindle Fire (first generation) in upstream Linux and U-Boot. Other projects and individuals are also very actively adding support for other devices, such as Allwinner tablets, that will benefit Replicant eventually.

Helping Replicant by contributing to F-Droid: Replicant is supported, recommended by the FSF and listed as a fully free software distribution that respects the GNU Free System Distribution Guidelines, along with other GNU/Linux distributions such as Trisquel or Parabola. Replicant
ships the F-Droid package manager in its images.

F-droid is committed to distributing only free software, and it does. However some of it does not comply with the GNU Free System Distribution Guidelines.

Practically speaking some of the applications F-Droid distributes:

While the list of such anti-features is displayed in red when selecting an application in F-Droid, applications with anti-features are still listed aside compliant ones. This is also quite confusing since free software isn’t expected to contain
such anti-features in the first place.

It took Replicant a long time to realize the issue, this is due
to its developers being very busy, to the fact that the anti-feature
display is confusing and that there was no clear smoking gun.

After an investigation, that was delayed due to the lack of time, a
smoking gun was finally found, and a bug report was opened on the Replicant side.

At FOSDEM 2016, the issue was discussed with F-Droid developers in order to find a way to fix it. On their side, F-Droid developers also opened a bug report. Due to various reasons, progress was very slow and we recently learned that efforts to fix this issue came to a stall.

Replicant developers are more dedicated and used to working on system programming than writing or modifying Android applications. They are also really busy doing so. However, some individuals wanting to help Replicant may be able to work on Android applications, with some time to do so. This is exactly the kind of skills required to solve this issue in F-Droid. Getting it fixed is crucially important for Replicant.

If you’re interested to jump-in and help resolve this issue, please get in touch with us or with F-Droid developers directly to get directions on how to get started.

Media from 2016 Replicant talks

Various media, including slides and video recordings, from recent talks about Replicant are available on the Replicant wiki Conferences page, including :

Some of these presentations are great ways to get an overview of the freedom and privacy/security issues associated with mobile devices, either in English or French. They also offer an introduction to Replicant within that context. Other presentations cover specific technical aspects related to liberating devices at the lower levels.

Replicant at PSESHSF 2016

Replicant will take part in PSESHSF on Saturday July 2 near Paris, France for both a talk (in French), entitled Replicant : appareils mobiles, logiciels libres et vie privée and a workshop focused on Replicant (but possibly other aspects related to freedom at the lower levels).

The talk will be a great opportunity to learn about freedom and privacy/security in mobile devices. The Replicant workshop will showcase devices running Replicant and will be the occasion to get help installing Replicant, verify the project’s release key or just come by and have a chat!

As usual, we are looking forward to meeting you there!

Coliberator 2016: keynotes and workshops

Replicant will take part in Coliberator, the free software conference organized by Fundația Ceata in Bucharest, Romania on June 4-5 2016. Fundația Ceata is the Romanian foundation for Free Software and Free Culture, that proposed to host both a keynote and a workshop about Replicant at Coliberator this year. The keynote will be a great opportunity to learn about freedom and privacy/security in mobile devices. The Replicant workshop will showcase devices running Replicant and will be the occasion to get help installing Replicant, verify the project’s release key or just come by and have a chat! The Tehnoetic team will also take part in the workshop, with Replicant devices available for sale and more!

Scheduling details are still being worked out by the organization team and will be available soon. Either way, note that a GNU Libreboot keynote and workshop will be held as well during Coliberator. This year’s edition of the conference will thus highlight freedom at the lower levels in various ways! Note that Coliberator is organized by the Ceata team from small individual donations, so any contribution to fund the conference is welcome!

As usual, we are looking forward to meeting you there!

Replicant at FOSDEM 2016

Just like previous years, Replicant will be at FOSDEM, during the last weekend of January in Brussels, Belgium.

A lightning talk about the road to liberating software at the lower levels will be given at 18:40 on Saturday, in room H.2215 (Ferrer). This talk will be broader than the scope of Replicant. It will detail how liberating the software running at the lower levels can prove to be quite challenging. Those considerations will be made not only regarding the main processor, but also regarding controllers, peripherals and auxiliary processors.

As usual, there will also be plenty of other interesting things to see and nice people to meet!

This year, devices from Tehnoetic with Replicant preinstalled will be available for sale on the FSFE booth, as well as other Replicant goodies, such as 3D-printed keychains! Remember that part of the sales will go to Replicant.

We will also organize an informal Replicant developer meeting at some point during the event, so people interested in contributing to the project are welcome to join in!

In addition, note that Richard M. Stallman, launcher of the GNU project and founder of the Free Software Foundation, will be giving a talk about Free/Libre/Vrije Software: The Goal and the Path on Friday evening (the day before FOSDEM), at Brussels Campus Etterbeek, VUB.

Shops selling devices pre-installed with Replicant

A few months ago, we were contacted to discuss the endorsement of an online shop selling mobile devices pre-installed with Replicant: Qibre Computer Hardware. While we’re very happy to see such initiatives being developed, we asked for some conditions to be met before endorsing the shop, especially conditions that have to do with informing final users:

  • Users should not be mislead into believing that the devices are fine for freedom and privacy/security. There are plenty of issues remaining, that are explained in general on the Freedom and privacy/security issues page of the website and in greater details on each device’s wiki page (when documented). Those are out of the scope of free software support in Replicant, but it is crucial to mention them when selling a full device. Linking to these resources is a fine way to ensure that customers have access to that information.
  • The devices should ship with the official version of Replicant, not a version that was built from source and signed with different keys. However, it is fine to pre-install free applications originating from F-Droid on top of the system, as long as users are made aware of it.

Qibre has now stopped its activity until further notice.

A few weeks ago, Tehnoetic started selling devices pre-installed with Replicant and was featured on the FSF’s Ethical Tech Giving Guide and FSFE’s Free Your Android campaign. At this point, the following devices can be bought pre-installed with Replicant from Tehnoetic:

Tehnoetic donates a part of the phone sales profits to Replicant and F-Droid projects. In December, Tehnoetic donated Replicant $101 USD.

Thus, buying devices actually helps Replicant move forward! Buying from these shops rather than third-party resellers also helps them secure money to get stocks of Replicant-supported devices in large quantities, so that it remains possible to buy them for a long time!

Upcoming events for Replicant in October/November 2015

Even though development on Replicant is still moving forward at a pretty slow pace, we believe it is crucial to spread the word about the project in order to encourage more people to get involved but also to teach people about the underlying problems for freedom and privacy/security on mobile devices.

During the next two months, Replicant will take part in various free software conferences and events in France. A talk about Replicant, freedom and privacy/security will be given at each event, sometimes with a workshop or some form of public discussion, such as participation in a round table.

Starting next week-end, Replicant will be at the following events:

Those talks will be opened by Benjamin Bayart, iconic figure in the French free software community and long time activist for electronic liberties and net neutrality.

We hope to see as many of you as possible, to help spread the word about Replicant, freedom and privacy/security on mobile devices! As usual, each event will be an occasion to verify the Replicant release key and get some help installing the system on your device! Donations are also welcome, as they make it possible for me to attend such events at all.

See you soon!

November update: Due to the recent attacks in Paris, Capitole du Libre was canceled and Bazar du Libre is taking place in Toulouse on November 21-22. The talk about Replicant was rescheduled in Mix’art Myrys, room 2 at 3:00 pm.