Meeting Point at FOSDEM

The Replicant Community Meeting will take place on Sunday, the 3rd of February at 11:00 AM in room J.1.106 at ULB, Brussels Belgium.
We have successfully booked a BoF room at FOSDEM, so we will have a quiet, heated and comfortable place where we can all sit together.

Access is public and free as in beer.
We encourage everyone to participate and contribute their opinion.
This meeting will be essential to the future arrangement of Replicant as a structured Project.

Any schedule update or other info can be tracked on the event’s dedicated page on FOSDEM’s website.
Replicant’s blog will also be updated accordingly.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: This announcement is about the community meeting. The time schedule for the workshop hasn’t been decided yet.
Interested people are encouraged to write to the mailing list to help organize it.
Also, the related poll is still open.


The Replicant project will receive a mobile device from Necuno Solutions

The Replicant project has been looking forward to support devices with free software bootloaders. While Replicant is a fully free software Android distribution, many freedom, privacy and security issues are orthogonal to the operating system. The hardware design of each computer (smartphone, tablet, laptop, etc.) people use, and the architecture of the cellular network also have their set of issues. For more information on these issues, the Replicant project has some documentation on the topic.

So far all the devices that are (or have been) supported by Replicant use a nonfree boot software (the bootloader). These devices also use hardware restrictions to deny users the freedom to replace them completely with free software, effectively forcing them to run nonfree software. This is a very serious freedom issue that prevents users from being in control of their devices.

There were several attempts to add support for devices with free software bootloaders in Replicant:

  • The LG Optimus black: this smartphone doesn’t prevent users from replacing the bootloader. Paul Kocialkowsky did a lot of work to add support for this device in upstream u-boot (a free software bootloader) and added minimal support for it in the upstream Linux kernel. However support for some of its most important hardware components like the display are still missing in the Linux kernel. This device can probably still be found second hand
  • The GTA04 smartphone from Golden Delicious: this smartphone has a free software bootloader which is based on u-boot. The smartphone was designed to run GNU/Linux and has almost complete support in upstream Linux. There were attempts to add support for it in Replicant 6.0, however a lot of time was spent to try to make suspend to RAM work with Android. However older Replicant 4.2 images are available. Several hardware revisions of the GTA04 have been made and shipped to customers and developers over the years. However this has stopped due to manufacturing issues. Another issue is that the revisions before A5 only have 512M of RAM and a high DPI display: This combination makes running Android 9 potentially challenging. Fortunately the A5 revision has 1G of RAM, but not a lot of working units were produced.

There is also some ongoing work to specifically add support for smartphones that are currently supported by Replicant like the Galaxy SIII (i9300), the Galaxy Note 2 (n7100) and their 4G versions (i9305 and n7105). The 4G versions could also be supported by Replicant if the work to support their modem (through QMI-RIL) is resumed.

The Replicant project will receive a mobile device, the NC_1 (formerly called Necuno Mobile) from its manufacturer (Necuno Solutions), which will have a free software bootloader

This device has the size of a smartphone, but doesn’t have a broadband modem: while users will not be able to use a built-in modem for phone calls, SMS or to access the Internet, it is still the best way to be completely sure of avoiding any freedom privacy and security issues related to broadband modems and the cellular network. It will also require less work to add support for this device in Replicant.

Even if it’s possible to disable the modem on some of the mobile devices currently supported by Replicant by not loading the modem’s code, some nonfree software still run on these mobile devices. This includes the bootloader and potentially any other nonfree software that it may load. Because of that we cannot be 100% sure that the modem is completely disabled.

The Necuno Mobile will use an I.MX6 Quad system on a chip (which is a chip that contains the main CPU, the microSD card controller, the GPU, etc.). Its free software support is better than for many other system on a chip: the only functionality of the I.MX6 Quad that requires nonfree software is the video decoding acceleration. The article on single board computers has more details on freedom issues affecting various system on a chip and by extension the single board computers that use such components.

A Replicant developer (Joonas Kylmälä) will receive a Necuno Mobile to work on it.

The Necuno Mobile should have a Linux kernel that is very close to upstream: this is a good opportunity for a new attempt to enable Replicant to use upstream kernels. This has many advantages. One of them is that in the long run, it should decrease the amount of work required to maintain the devices and potentially increase their lifetime.

This should also enable the Replicant project to more easily add support for other devices that can use an upstream kernel, like the GTA04, or devices like the Galaxy SIII (i9300) and the Galaxy Note 2 (n7100) that are starting to have good support in upstream Linux.

It is also very interesting in the long run as we could share some of the work with other smartphones projects like postmarketOS who are also trying to support mobile devices with upstream kernels. It could also enable the Replicant project to more easily support future mobile devices that will have free software bootloaders, as some of them will also use kernels that are meant to run GNU/Linux.

Replicant meeting at FOSDEM 2019

Call for participants

Like every year, FOSDEM will take place the first weekend of february in Brussels, Belgium.

Replicant is organizing a community meeting and a workshop that will take place alongside FOSDEM events.
The main intention behind this is to gather Replicant enthusiasts and contributors together in order to share ideas and discuss Replicant-related key topics.
This is a call for the community to participate and propose arguments to discuss.
A wiki page has been prepared, to collect proposals and schedules.
Proposals and questions can be presented to the mailing list.

Examples topics that have been proposed are:

  • What directions should the project take, what work to prioritize
  • How to fix f-droid to keep Replicant FSDG compliant

Together with the following workshop arguments:

  • How to setup the build environment
  • Hands on libsamsung-ipc and samsung-ril
  • Answer various questions about contributing to Replicant
  • Help contributors who are stuck with specific issues


Two free-software-powered polls have been published, to help us chose the best day and time:

We invite whoever might be interested, to indicate their preferred schedule for the events, in order to help us set up a sensible timetable.

The official meeting point and timetables will be published on this blog and on the mailing list.

Stay tuned!

EDIT:
The meeting report is available: https://redmine.replicant.us/attachments/download/1597/formatted-report.pdf

Final days for the upstream Linux Allwinner VPU support crowdfunding campaign

A crowdfunding campaign was launched over a month ago by Bootlin in order to fund the development of an upstream Linux kernel driver for the Allwinner CedarX VPU. The VPU (Video Processing Unit) is in charge of offloading video decoding and encoding to a dedicated hardware block, relieving the main CPU. While Replicant does not support Allwinner devices at this point, the project has acquired a number of Allwinner tablets a few years ago, that helped with the advancements of Allwinner platforms support in upstream projects such as the U-Boot bootloader and the Linux kernel.

Recently, Replicant was a candidate for the Google Summer of Code program and we came up with a list of tasks for the occasion. Although our application was not accepted, we are still interested in completing the tasks that we picked up. We put a deliberate focus on supporting mobile devices in mainline U-Boot and Linux, with a particular emphasis on Allwinner devices, the Optimus Black and the Kindle Fire (first generation). We believe that supporting mobile devices and using standard driver interfaces in the upstream Linux kernel is the only sustainable way for freedom on mobile devices. Instead of writing device-specific code specifically for Android for each of the supported devices, this would allow using generic Hardware Abstraction layers (HALs), reducing the amount of work for hardware support on the Replicant side in the long run. This also allows running other operating systems that integrate the upstream Linux kernel interfaces, such as standard GNU/Linux distributions.

In spite of this, I have been dedicating more and more time to contributing to upstream projects such as coreboot, U-Boot and Linux for supporting devices of various form factors, including mobile devices, laptops and single-board computers. Thus, I became less and less active on the technical side for Replicant, where Wolfgang and others have picked-up the work. There is still a lot of room for contributions and everyone is warmly encouraged to join-in and help with the upstreaming effort for devices, especially regarding the Optimus Black, Kindle Fire (first generation) and Allwinner devices.

As a student approaching graduation, I have joined Bootlin (formerly Free Electrons) in Toulouse, France for an internship focused on supporting the Allwinner VPU in upstream Linux and userspace. It definitely fits perfectly with the logic behind focusing Replicant towards upstream Linux support. In order to accelerate the development of the driver, Bootlin has decided to start a crowdfunding campaign in order to fund Maxime Ripard, who has been working for the company and maintaining Allwinner platforms in the Linux kernel for a while.

As the main goal of the campaign was reached within its first week, Maxime will be able to work with me on the VPU. His in-depth understanding of the sun4i DRM video driver’s innards will also reveal very useful for accelerating the processing of the frames coming from the VPU (without unneeded copies of buffers) and implementing scaling in hardware. In order to support the VPU hardware efficiently, a number of changes have to be introduced to the Linux kernel. It currently lacks an interface to provide coherency between setting specific controls for the media stream and the input/output buffers that these controls are related to and should apply to. This API has been implemented by Alexandre Courbot (who’s working at Google on the Chromium OS project) as the V4L2 request API, that fits the requirements for the Allwinner VPU driver. Other VPU drivers, such as the tegra-vde driver that supports the Tegra 20 video decoder engine, also require this API in order to implement a proper V4L2 mem2mem driver.

The crowdfunding campaign still has 10 days to go and two stretch goals to meet (while the first stretch goal, about supporting newer Allwinner SoCs was already met):

  • H265 video decoding support
  • H264 encoding support

As I am not directly impacted by the funding received through the crowdfunding campaign, we believe that there is no direct conflict of interest writing this blog post on the Replicant blog.

Third Replicant 6.0 release

A new version (0003) of Replicant 6.0 has been released a few weeks ago.

It fixes an important issue that makes devices end up in a boot loop (the devices were crashing during boot, endlessly) when installing certain applications.

It also fixes a security issue that enables attackers to decrypt and/or modify WiFi traffic.
This can be problematic if your security is relying on the WiFi encryption. This can be the case if you are using WiFi to connect to your device to use applications like Remote Keyboard over telnet. This can also be problematic if you share your Internet connection through WiFi and some services of the phone operator you use are available without authentication.

Because of the above, updating to this new version is strongly recommended.
See the update instructions on the wiki for that.

If your device is affected by the boot loop issue mentioned above, the update instructions won’t work, as they expect you to be able to easily reboot to recovery.
In that case, to reboot to the recovery you have to first boot in safe mode, and then to follow the update instructions to reboot to recovery.

A new Replicant 6.0 release

A few months have passed since the initial Replicant 6.0 release and it’s time for another one. This release more than doubles the number of supported devices and contains a few important fixes and improvements. The latest changes from LineageOS 13.0 are included. They are mostly security fixes, so updating is recommended!

Up to 12 devices now supported by Replicant 6.0

This release makes Replicant 6.0 available to a lot more devices that were already supported by Replicant 4.2. These include the Galaxy Note, Galaxy Nexus, the Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 and Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 models.

There are also two new tablet models that weren’t  yet supported by Replicant: the GSM and Wi-Fi-only version of the Galaxy Note 8.0.  The hardware is very similar to the Galaxy Note 2 and thus it was quite straightforward to add them as new devices. Furthermore, the tablets are not known to have bad modem isolation, as the other supported devices. And the working front and back camera makes them the currently best supported tablets.

Support for the GTA04 was a goal for this release as well. Some work has been done to achieve this goal, but it’s unfortunately not yet ready. It will hopefully be ready when the next release comes around.

Improvements and fixes

USSD

You can now use USSD messages with Replicant (again). USSD messages are the codes you enter to check your available balance, to refill it or to select a certain data plan. Depending on your provider, there may be more codes for other functionality available. Before Paul’s rewrite of Samsung-RIL in 2014, this type of messages could be used, but support for them wasn’t added again after the rewrite, until now. The new implementation features improved decoding, most notably for special characters.

USB Wi-Fi adapters

The initial Replicant 6.0 release already included the RepWifi app that provides a nice interface to use USB Wi-Fi adapters with libre firmware. The app is developed by Fil Bergamo and he added quite a few new features and a graphical restyling for the next version that is shipped with this release. It is now possible to connect to hidden networks, to manually set DNS servers and to auto-connect to a Wi-Fi network, once the adapter is plugged in.

Fil also submitted a patch that provides a fix for a very annoying issue with the Wi-Fi adapters or with reverse tethering. So far, network connections, that were established using a Wi-Fi adapter or reverse tethering, weren’t properly reported to apps. For example, F-Droid wasn’t usable because of this. Thanks to Fil’s patch, this issue is now fixed.

It was possible to make all devices that are supported by Replicant 6.0, including the newly added ones, usable with certain Wi-Fi adapters. Despite the improvements that were made with this release, be advised that connection issues or other instabilities are still possible. Their severity mostly depends on the device you use and the level of battery charge (see the wiki for more details).

Recovery

Another goal for this release was to make the usage of the recovery less error-prone and more intuitive. Devices with touch keys (like the Galaxy S 2 and Galaxy S 3) now have the key backlight enabled at all times which makes it easier to identify the back key. And the buttons are generally bigger to allow better navigation via the touchscreen. Some previously failing installations from internal or external storage (e.g. due to the file system used on the SD card) should now work.

A new Setup Wizard based on the Setup Wizard from LineageOS was added, too. When the device is started for the first time, the Setup Wizard helps with the configuration.

See the changelog for a complete list of all the notable changes and detailed support status of newly added devices.

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.

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.