Using an Upstream Kernel on Chrome OS


This page aims to document how to use an Upstream Kernel on Chrome OS.  It's aimed at helping people with upstreaming for the Samsung ARM Series 3 Chromebook (AKA snow) and uses that in many examples.  However, it's useful in other cases, too.

In general this documentation assumes that you've got the Chrome OS source tree synced down and have a build environment (and chroot) setup.  It assumes you've built packages and an image for your board (like BOARD=daisy for the snow board).  See the Developer Guide if you haven't done that.

Obtain source code and recent patches

The whole point here is to use the upstream kernel, so these instructions will direct you to linux-next.  ...but linux-next is pretty darn bleeding edge.  If you get stuck and things won't boot, you could always try a known-good state.  In fact, many of the needed patches have now landed on even landed on the main linux tree now.  See the section below "Patches relevant to the Samsung ARM Chromebook" for the last known good state.

The easiest way to get source code is to just add a remote git server to your normal kernel tree, fetch things, and then use patchwork to apply some patches.

Here's some steps to do that and start a new work branch on linux-next.  WARNING: The fetch might be slow.

cd ~/trunk/src/third_party/kernel/files
git remote add linuxnext git://
git fetch linuxnext
git checkout -b my_branch linuxnext/master

Installing pwclient

Now that you've got the source code you should apply a few patches.  In this case we'll use pwclient to get things out of  

First we need to install pwclient.

One way to install the patchwork client in the cros chroot is via its ebuild:

sudo emerge pwclient

Alternatively, you can install the latest pwclient directly from

sudo bash -c "curl '' > /usr/local/bin/pwclient"
sudo chmod +x /usr/local/bin/pwclient

Next, setup the .pwmclientrc for the LKML project on

# The following will clobber any existing ~/.pwclientrc you have (!)
curl '' > ~/.pwclientrc

Patches relevant to the Samsung ARM Chromebook

This section should go away eventually once patches are upstream...

Relevant patch series that I've tested (as of 12/19/12)

Quick way to apply:

for id in 1966801 1966931 1966871 1966781 1966811; do
  pwclient git-am $id
pwclient git-am 1966911
pwclient git-am 1840211
Status on linux/master:
  • Tested on 12/18 ae664dba2724e59ddd66291b895f7370e28b9a7a: Merge branch 'slab/for-linus' of git://
    • Needed revert of 1974a042dd15f1f007a3a1a2dd7a23ca0e42c01d.  Fix is in discussion upstream.
    • Applied patches (1823551 1823621 1823561 1823591 1781931 1840211 1894081)
    • Boots to command line
  • Tested on 12/19 74779e22261172ea728b989310f6ecc991b57d62: Merge tag 'for-3.8-rc1' of git://
    • Needed revert of 1974a042dd15f1f007a3a1a2dd7a23ca0e42c01d.  Fix is in discussion upstream.
    • Applied patches (1823551 1823621 1823561 1823591 1781931 1840211)
    • To fix DEPMOD step when doing emerge-daisy chromeos-kernel-3_8: Apply patch 2794701
    • Boots to command line
Status on linux-next/master:
  • Tested on 12/6: cfc4410f5d3de0f68139ddffe065b9889a41d3c0: Add linux-next specific files for 20121206
    • Applied above patches (1823551 1823621 1823561 1823591 1781931 1840211)
    • Boots to command line
  • Tested on 12/18: ff430f8aa011716b8274381e31b0bc8d49d4f4be: Add linux-next specific files for 20121218
    • Applied patches (1823551 1823621 1823561 1823591 1781931 1840211 1894081)
    • Boots to command line

Building and installing the kernel

Certainly there are lots of ways to build and install the kernel.  I'm not going to copy them all here but I'll just point you at the Kernel FAQ.  Specifically read the How to quickly test kernel modifications (the fast way) section carefully.

I would strongly suggest that you boot from a fast SD card rather than directly messing with what you have on eMMC.  That way you can always get back to a running system.  The quick set of steps for that is:

  • Switch to developer mode.
  • At the command prompt (VT2), enable USB (and SD card) booting with crossystem dev_boot_usb=1.
    Note: the exact method might differ between boards; see the Developer Information for Chrome OS Devices page for specific details.
  • Insert an SD card with an image that you installed with cros flash.
  • Reboot your Chromebook and press Ctrl-U at the BIOS prompt to boot from your SD card.
You might also want to look at Using nv-U-Boot on the Samsung ARM Chromebook.

The kernel config

One especially weird thing when working with the upstream kernel is that standard ChromeOS kernel splitconfig system isn't in place.  The kernel ebuild used by ChromeOS will realize that and will pick up a backup config from chromiumos-overlay.  On snow it will pick up the exynos5_defconfig in particular.

If you need to make changes to the kernel config locally the easiest thing to do is to just override that config.  Here's a set of commands that might suit you:


cd ~/trunk/src/third_party/kernel/v3.8
cp ${DEFCONFIG} .config
ARCH=arm make menuconfig

# Make your changes

ARCH=arm make savedefconfig
cp defconfig ${DEFCONFIG}

make mrproper

If you have changes to the config that you think is relevant to others working on the upstream kernel then feel free to submit a patch!

Making sure other configs compile

It's hard to make 100% sure that your change won't break anyone else.  ...but it's usually considered courtesy to make sure that some other boards compile.  If you want to see if the exynos4_defconfig compiles you could use a recipe like this:

cd ~/trunk/src/third_party/kernel/v3.8
ARCH=arm CROSS_COMPILE=armv7a-cros-linux-gnueabi- make exynos4_defconfig
ARCH=arm CROSS_COMPILE=armv7a-cros-linux-gnueabi- make -j16

make mrproper

The exynos4_defconfig is particularly interesting when you're modifying exynos code because it is a non-device tree enabled board that shares a lot of code with the exynos config that we're using (so it's easy to break).  It's actually broken at the git hash I listed above because I didn't run it before submitting my last patch.  :(

Sending your change upstream

This is documented over at the Kernel FAQ, which will soon (hopefully) include the use of patman.

What is known to work (and known to not work)

As of 11/30/12:


  • Serial over UART3 (if you've got a servo2 debug board hooked up).  ...though remember that the default BIOS will try to disable serial console by mucking with the kernel command line.
  • i2c (all busses except the very important i2c bus 4)
  • power button and lid switch
  • EMMC and SD

Known not to work yet:

  • X (so ui will crash a whole lot at bootup)
  • USB 2.0 - Can almost do this with patches posted, expect it real soon now.
  • USB 3.0
  • i2c4 (which means no keyboard and no tps65090 PMIC)
  • Display
  • HDMI
  • WiFi
  • max77686 RTC + 32KHz
  • Trackpad
  • Audio


A few random thoughts:

  • If you end up flashing a bad kernel a lot, it's a lot easier to use the "nv-U-Boot" (formerly known as legacy U-Boot).  There's now documentation for how to do this at Using nv-U-Boot on the Samsung ARM Chromebook.  Pay special attention to the Booting from a backup kernel section, which is really helpful when dealing with lots of nonbooting kernels.
  • If you have access to a servo board (probably only people at Google will have these) you also have the option of using cros_bundle_firmware to load up a kernel.  The magic command line I've used for this is as follows.  Note that this won't get you kernel modules, just the main kernel.
    • cros_bundle_firmware -b daisy -d exynos5250-snow -w usb --kernel /build/daisy/boot/vmlinux.uimg 


Patches are certainly appreciated as are reviews of patches posted upstream.  In general most people on the Chrome OS team wouldn't object to people taking patches from the Chrome OS kernel tree, adjusting them, and posting them upstream (check with the author, though, since people may be midway through doing that themselves).