Upstream Linux

Tracking upstream patches

We have a new issue tracker for tracking upstream status of various patches.

Benefits of using Upstream Linux

Currently, Replicant uses device specific Hardware Abstraction Layers, because device manufacturers implemented non-standard kernel interfaces. However, Android works with upstream kernels and supports plug-n-play hardware nowadays, so it makes sense to have generic Hardware Abstraction Layers for the standard interfaces of the Linux kernel (ALSA, V4L2, etc).

  • It would allow supporting external WiFi dongles such as the ones supported by the ath9k_htc driver and free firmwares without the need for a specific application or configuration.
  • It would make devices last longer by alleviating the device specific maintenance burden: If LineageOS stops supporting a Replicant supported device, Replicant would need to maintain it by its own. This would require a lot of work, unless the device is already supported the upstream Linux kernel and generic hardware abstractions layers. This would also enable Replicant to support devices that are not currently supported by LineageOS with a lot less work.
  • It would enable the support for devices that are or will be added to upstream Linux.
As GNU/Linux expects standard kernel interfaces, this would also enable to run GNU/Linux out of the box on such devices.
This has some interesting outcomes:
  • The device specific work could be shared between GNU/Linux communities and Replicant communities. This could result in less work to do to support individual devices. Since Android libraries depends on Android's libc, non-standard proprietary libraries might be harder to reuse than the free software implementations, so we might get even more collaboration thanks to that.
  • It would enable GNU/Linux distributions to more easily support smartphones and tablets, which would hopefully enable FSDG distributions to be able to focus on usability instead of hardware support. This way, if one day Android devices stop using the Linux kernel, stops being free software, or if the code takes directions that are too much problematic, already having GNU/Linux based Android alternatives would reduce the amount of work needed to be able to get again a fully free software distribution for smartphones and tablets.
  • Older devices with less amount of RAM than Replicant current minimum requirements could be used with GNU/Linux and possibly repurposed for other usages, reducing the amount of electronic devices waste.


  • For the other standard interfaces (like ALSA, etc) a device running a upstream Linux Kernel with as few patches as possible is required.


It is best to use a device that requires the least amount of work to be functional under Replicant.
More precisely we want to minimize:
  • The work needed to have the device usable with upstream Linux.
  • The work porting or writing Android hardware abstractions layers.
To achieve that we can choose a device that:
  • requires no or very minimal work to be fully supported by Linux.
  • have less hardware features (so we don't need to support them in Linux and in the HALs).
  • is easy to buy, so the work can be shared among multiple people.
  • doesn't have more freedom flaws than the devices currently supported by Replicant

It is also a good idea to keep one image per device at first, as trying to make a single image that
would work on all ARM device supported by upstream Linux is complicated: Even GNU/Linux
distributions have a hard time doing that for ARM devices.

Linux upstream status

In some cases, even if the upstream status looks good, nonfree bootloaders can get in the way. We have a list of stock bootloaders incompatible with upstream Linux in this page: BootloadersIncompatibleWithLinux.

See LinuxSupportedDevices in the upstreaming sub project for the upstream status for various devices.


Bootloader status

See the BootloaderStatus page on the upstream subproject.

See also

GNU/Linux components

Modem support

Protocols Implmentation comments
QMI Android <-> RIL <-> libqmi-ril to be completed <-> libqmi
* AT
* Other
Android <-> RIL <-> libraries to be written
android_frameworks_opt_telephony_ril_ofono + ofono + ofono backend (AT, QMI, etc) * Using ofono would enable us to share more effort with upstream GNU/Linux and support many other protocol like AT for the GTA04 or qmi-ril for the Galaxy SIII 4G (I9305) or the Galaxy Note II 4G (N7105)
* According to the README, it has already been tested with most of Replicant 6 code but on a smartphones not yet supported by Replicant. Calls, Audio, SMS, etc are known to work.
* seems to use introspection to automatically generate the API between the Framework Java RIL and itself (which replaces rild) (See the official documentation for background information on the Android architecture)
* Replicant and oFono based Java RIL video presentation
samsung-ipc Ofono (rilmodem backend/driver) <-> rild <-> libsamsung-ril <-> libsamsung-ipc * Might be usable for GNU/Linux distributions with libhybris
* Could be usable for testing Replicant as ofono could run on the host computer and the rild socket could be exported with adb
* Some forks exist: check if they still have interesting patches
Android <-> rild <-> libsamsung-ril <-> libsamsung-ipc * Currently in use in Replicant
* Well integrated with Android
* Potentially usable by other distributions
* No known way to support different modems protocols in the same Replicant image with that
Android <-> Ofono <-> libsamsung-ipc * An ofono fork with libsamsung-ipc support is available
Patches to add that upstream were refused because upstream didn't want to make the project become GPLv3 (libsamsung-ipc was GPLv3 at the time) but now libsamsung-ipc has been relicensed to GPLv2+
* Could be used to have generic a Replicant image supporting many devices with very different modems protocols (like libsamsung-ipc or QMI based ones) and have ofono do the modem detection
FSO <-> libsamsung-ipc * Probably not easily usable in Replicant
* Is FSO still actively maintained?
* Was used by SHR and potentially other GNU/Linux distributions supporting the Openmoko GTA04 smartphones

Upstream userspace hardware support libraries

Usage Replicant GNU/Linux comments
Bluetooth stack BlueDroid Bluez
GPS hardware support ? gpsd

Upstream non-hardware specific userspace

Usage Replicant GNU/Linux comments
Unix command line tools ? * Busybox
* Coreutils
* Busybox already has Android specific code in it but no
* Busybox build is very similar to Linux, and Linux can be built by Android


  • look at to see if it can be integrated in Android. It is known to work with the upstream kernel.
  • Also compare with other implementation, including the Android one.


Feature Advantages Disadvantages sustainability
glibc + libhybris * You just need an to compile GNU/Linux software * You need to link the Android part that need bionic functions to libhybris TODO: Evaluate how close to bionic is libhybris
bionic Android default * You spend lot of time trying to run GNU/Linux debug tools like evtest on Android:
* Parabola cannot be used on old kenrels (FATAL: kernel too old)
* GuiX and libreCMC might not have the package and might need tweaking to be recompiled with an old glibc and kernel headers
* TODO: try crosstool-ng
* Most of the other GNU/Linux distributions are not FSDG compliant or do not support ARM
* The software might not work on Android due to missing bionic functions like versionsort(...)

Other projects interested in using upstream Linux and/or contributing to it

pmOS wiki: upstream kernel
pmOS wiki: i9305 with upstream kernel







GNU/Linux distributions

See GNULinuxDistributions for more details.

Android distributions

There is a community that include various project (distributions, HAL, etc) meant to reduce code duplication between projects working with AOSP.


We definitely need to collaborate with them.

For distributions review, see AndroidDistributions for more details.

Design decisions

Some decisions have been taken by upstream projects, for instance the the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) is pushing device manufacturers to use signed bootloaders and not give the users the ability to replace those bootloaders. Therefor it is best to revisit such decisions and decide whether or not to implement a given feature.


Feature Advantages Disadvantages
adb and root at boot Easier to debug:
* We get the logs at boot
* May be able to diagnose non-booting devices (partition not mountable, etc)
Way less secure:
* Vulnerable to Juice_Jacking
* Vulnerable to an attacker that just connect an usb cable to a running phone
* Breaks the user's expectation of security (lock screen etc)

We can get both: we can enable users to get logs at boot while avoiding any security issues.

To do that we can keep disable adb and root disabled at boot, and enable users to add it back by editing the boot.img or recovery images. We have a tutorial for that in the AddingADBRootToAnImage page and we are working on script to automate it even more.

root filesystem related

Feature Advantages Disadvantages sustainability
System as root * The kernel size can be bigger
* You have to hardcode the root partition in the cmdline or use PARTLABEL which might be a security issue: if a microSD has a partition named SYSTEM, the kernel may boot on it instead
having an initramfs adds some flexibility:
* Selecting partitions can potentially be more flexible
System as root + dm-verity + dm-init * The kernel size can be bigger
* The partition selection is flexible and secure
read-only /system * more secure and more easily understandable by users and developers * need to ship in replicant user-scripts or add them to vendor/

Gatekeeper HAL backend

Background information: Gatekeeper is a daemon that is used to store passwords and other secrets.

Backend used Advantages Disadvantages
simple userspace implementation * Fast to do
* Simple to understand
* Good enough for most use cases
kernel keyring (man 7 keyrings) * Secure
* The Linux kernel is well known and updated regularly
* Some users are already used to the userspace/kernel security model
* Probably fun to implement, can learn how to implement Android daemons and how to use the keyring along the way
Free software Trusted Execution Environment (TEE) * Android does it * Require access to TrustZone, which doesn't work for all SOCs
* Unfamiliar to users and developers (it's supposed to tick in suspend, knowledge about TrustZone is less spread than Linux, etc)
* Probably requires to port a TrustZone OS to every SOC or phone
* The Linux kernel is well known and updated regularly
Proprietary software Trusted Execution Environment (TEE) None: we really want to get rid of it if possible
Cannot be trusted:
* Not free software
* Not under the user control

Handling dynamic major/minor /dev/ nodes

Background information: We can manage to avoid this use case for now.

Backend used Advantages Disadvantages sustainability
Android default + Upstream Linux * does not work by default, probably impossible to make it work as-is
Android default + Upstream Linux + very dirty userspace scripts * Minimal changes * Not robust
* Might eat up resources
* Already implemented cleanly in mdev
Android default + hacked drivers to use fixed major/minor * Minimal changes in Linux
* No changes required on Android side
* Require to change userspace software (libsamsung-ipc) * Not upstreamable in Linux
devtmpfs + hacked Android init * Minimal changes if upstreamed
* Init is hard to debug
* Complex to do as debugging at this stage is complicated * Need to be upstreamed in Android
Stock Andrdroid init + mdev (busybox) * Bad integration in the Android build system * Changes are minimal * Android build system integration need to be upstreamed or maintained

Firmware loading

Backend used Advantages Disadvantages sustainability
system/core/init/firmware_handler.cpp * Stock Android implementation None Already upstream in Android
Something else None The stock Android implementation is good enough and firmware loading is trivial anyway Not upstream in Android

Embeddable web engine

The Android API for embedding a web engine is WebView.

Project Comments
AOSP WebView API implemented with Chromium * Built from Chromium compiled for WebView
* Latest additions to the API seem more and more tied to Chromium (e.g. getWebViewRenderProcess, getWebChromeClient)
Old AOSP WebView API implemented with WebKit * Not used anymore, since Android 4.4
* Does not implement the current WebView API
GeckoView * Not the same API as WebView
* Could be used to implement WebView
* Would need to be modified to expose more features from Gecko (e.g. zoom) while others are straightforward
Qt WebEngine * Not the same API (C++ instead of Java)
* Probably the smallest subset of Chromium available
Wine Internet Explorer implementation * Uses Gecko under the hood
* Might be interesting to look at how they did it

Web engine backend

We have an issue with webview (bug #1780):
  • Using a recent webview based on chromium would create freedom issues as we don't know the license of chromium
  • Using and old webview based on webkit would bring back many security issues

To solve that we need to find a solution that depends on a good upstream as we are not going to write a web browser engine ourselves.

Upstream web browser engine comparison

This lists upstream projects that are not forks tracking another upstream project.

Project Comments
Gecko * Clear licensing
* Friendly upstream: The tor-browser project works with Mozilla to upstream privacy features in Firefox. So we could probably work with them as well too.
Chromium * Unclear licensing
* Google has goals for Chromium that are directly opposed to our goals (tracking, linked to google)
* Probably unfriendly upstream because of the opposed goals
Webkit ?

Forked web browser engine comparison

TODO: Add various chromium versions here.

How and if to implement a webview compatible API


Tools and build systems

Replicant has an issue with licensing (bug #1973) where we don't know under which license is Replicant. This due to the fact that the Android build system doesn't use a package manager during the build, and so it doesn't have license definition for each repositories.

A good way to fix that and also gain the ability to natively build GNU/Linux components like MESA or ofono would be to use a build system that use a package during at least during the build.

Some other communities have issues that do or could also benefit from that:
  • GNU/Linux distributions need to package Android tools which are built with the custom Android build system
  • Some distributions mixes GNU/Linux and Android


Project use case Comments
Android - Build images
- Build the Android NDK and SDK
- Build the Android tools
- Wrapping build systems (like autotools, cmake, etc) is way too primitive:
-- In LineageOS (not AOSP) The kernel is wrapped with .mk files, but the downside is that it runs make inside Linux source each time it needs to compile something
-- In AOSP there is no infrastructure for building software with other build systems, still mesa is built in it, but not the kernel
Archlinux - Build and package Android tools(Fastboot, adb, etc) - relies on a fragile script
- The package for Android tools is self contained and doesn't have its dependencies (like liblog, libcutils, etc) splited in other packages
Debian relies on custom Makefiles
Guix - Build android tools
- Build the android ndk
- Guix uses android-make-stub to wrap
- We have real packaging of dependencies, however not all dependencies are exported, most are though
- The Android build system is wrapper in a ndk-android-build-system function
- The package definition needs very light and straigtforward patching. See Guix for more details.
Robotnix - Build AOSP images with Nix with package definitions This project is being funded by NLnet.
Once completed it has the potential to replace the Android build system.
Since it uses package definitions it could fix many issues we have in Replicant but we will need to understand how much maintenance from our side it would need (probably not a lot)
- It depends on NixOS: inherit (inputs) nixpkgs nixpkgsUnstable androidPkgs; (from pkgs/default.nix). => We need to also look at how much work it would be to cleanup the nixOS dependencies (if we just have a toolchain we might just need to replace linux-headers by linux-libre-headers and remove what is not used). Alternatively it might be possible to reuse NixOS packages definition and create guix packages from them through guix import.
The GNU/Linux distribution of quectel-modems Mix an Android kernel with GNU/Linux userspace
AsteroidOS Mix an Android kernel with GNU/Linux userspace
openembedded-android Build the Android NDK? strongly outdated version of openembedded


Keep the Android build system + Reduced maintenance cost
- Hard to integrate software with other build systems (linux, mesa)
- Hard to audit the licenses
Package everything in Guix + Fixes the licensing situation
+ Fixes prebuilt situation
/!\ Replicant is dead if we can't maintain all the packages
/!\ Replicant is dead if we depend on non-bootstrapable software
Wrap Android build system to
enable other build systems
like autotools
- Cannot use native Android build commands (they are wrapped)
+ Can use more build systems
? Unknown if solves the licensing issue
Make guix produce tarball
packages with Android.bp to
import the prebuild and
extract it in Android build
+ Integrated well enough in Android
+ Fixes the licensing situation
+ Incremental steps that can be reverted more easily
than packaging everything in Guix
/!\ We need to make sure to only depend on things that are buildable
with AOSP build system if we want to be able to revert to that
build system

Coding standards and style

Language Stadards Used in Tools Comments
C Kernel coding style * Linux kernel
* libsamsung-ipc
* Has scripts/ to check that can easily be imported
C curl3 * curl * Has scripts/ in (lib)curl source code
C GNU coding style GNU projects (GRUB, etc) ?
C pep71 * Python C code ?
C sysexits.h * libsamsung-ipc tools ? used to standardize exit codes
Guile ? * Guix * Has guix style (and guix lint)
Having a code style is good because:
  • Having inconsistent style makes it harder to read the code, spot bugs, etc
  • Fixing inconsistent style too late results in commits that are extremely hard to review2.
  • Fixing inconsistent style in unrelated commits makes rebasing code painful

fn2. Example:

Updated by Denis 'GNUtoo' Carikli over 1 year ago ยท 434 revisions

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