Nov 25, 2015

Replacing built-in RTC with i2c battery-backed one on BeagleBone Black from boot

BeagleBone Black (BBB) boards have - and use - RTC (Real-Time Clock - device that tracks wall-clock time, including calendar date and time of day) in the SoC, which isn't battery-backed, so looses track of time each time device gets power-cycled.

This represents a problem if keeping track of time is necessary and there's no network access (or a patchy one) to sync this internal RTC when board boots up.

Easy solution to that, of course, is plugging external RTC device, with plenty of cheap chips with various precision available, most common being Dallas/Maxim ICs like DS1307 or DS3231 (a better one of the line) with I2C interface, which are all supported by Linux "ds1307" module.

Enabling connected chip at runtime can be easily done with a command like this:

echo ds1307 0x68 >/sys/bus/i2c/devices/i2c-2/new_device

(see this post on Fortune Datko blog and/or this one on minix-i2c blog for ways to tell reliably which i2c device in /dev corresponds to which bus and pin numbers on BBB headers, and how to check/detect/enumerate connected devices there)

This obviously doesn't enable device straight from the boot though, which is usually accomplished by adding the thing to Device Tree, and earlier with e.g. 3.18.x kernels it had to be done by patching and re-compiling platform dtb file used on boot.

But since 3.19.x kernels (and before 3.9.x), easier way seem to be to use Device Tree Overlays (usually "/lib/firmware/*.dtbo" files, compiled by "dtc" from dts files), which is kinda like patching Device Tree, only done at runtime.

Code for such patch in my case ("i2c2-rtc-ds3231.dts"), with 0x68 address on i2c2 bus and "ds3231" kernel module (alias for "ds1307", but more appropriate for my chip):


/* dtc -O dtb -o /lib/firmware/BB-RTC-02-00A0.dtbo -b0 i2c2-rtc-ds3231.dts */
/* bone_capemgr.enable_partno=BB-RTC-02 */
/* */

/ {
  compatible = "ti,beaglebone", "ti,beaglebone-black", "ti,beaglebone-green";
  part-number = "BB-RTC-02";
  version = "00A0";

  fragment@0 {
    target = <&i2c2>;

    __overlay__ {
      pinctrl-names = "default";
      pinctrl-0 = <&i2c2_pins>;
      status = "okay";
      clock-frequency = <100000>;
      #address-cells = <0x1>;
      #size-cells = <0x0>;

      rtc: rtc@68 {
        compatible = "dallas,ds3231";
        reg = <0x68>;

As per comment in the overlay file, can be compiled ("dtc" comes from "dtc-overlay" package on ArchLinuxARM) to the destination with:

dtc -O dtb -o /lib/firmware/BB-RTC-02-00A0.dtbo -b0 i2c2-rtc-ds3231.dts

And then loaded on early boot (as soon as rootfs with "/lib/firmware" gets mounted) with "bone_capemgr.enable_partno=" cmdline addition, and should be put to something like "/boot/uEnv.txt", for example (with dtb path from command above):


Docs in repository have more details and examples on how to write and manage these.

That should ensure that this second RTC appears as "/dev/rtc1" (rtc0 is an internal one) on system startup, but unfortunately it still won't be the first one and kernel will already pick up time from internal rtc0 by the time this one gets detected.

Furthermore, systemd-enabled userspace (as in e.g. ArchLinuxARM) interacts with RTC via systemd-timedated and systemd-timesyncd, which both use "/dev/rtc" symlink (and can't be configured to use other devs), which by default udev points to rtc0 as well, and rtc1 - no matter how early it appears - gets completely ignored there as well.

So two issues are with "system clock" that kernel keeps and userspace daemons using wrong RTC, which is default in both cases.

"/dev/rtc" symlink for userspace gets created by udev, according to "/usr/lib/udev/rules.d/50-udev-default.rules", and can be overidden by e.g. "/etc/udev/rules.d/55-i2c-rtc.rules":

SUBSYSTEM=="rtc", KERNEL=="rtc1", SYMLINK+="rtc", OPTIONS+="link_priority=10", TAG+="systemd"

This sets "link_priority" to 10 to override SYMLINK directive for same "rtc" dev node name from "50-udev-default.rules", which has link_priority=-100.

Also, TAG+="systemd" makes systemd track device with its "dev-rtc.device" unit (auto-generated, see systemd.device(5) for more info), which is useful to order userspace daemons depending on that symlink to start strictly after it's there.

"userspace daemons" in question on a basic Arch are systemd-timesyncd and systemd-timedated, of which only systemd-timesyncd starts early on boot, before all other services, including systemd-timedated, and (for early-boot clock-dependant services).

So basically if proper "/dev/rtc" and system clock gets initialized before systemd-timesyncd (or whatever replacement, like ntpd or chrony), correct time and rtc device will be used for all system daemons (which start later) from here on.

Adding that extra step can be done as a separate systemd unit (to avoid messing with shipped systemd-timesyncd.service), e.g. "i2c-rtc.service":

Before=systemd-timesyncd.service ntpd.service chrony.service

DeviceAllow=/dev/rtc rw
ExecStart=/usr/bin/hwclock --hctosys


Note that Before= above should include whatever time-sync daemon is used on the machine, and there's no harm in listing non-existant or unused units there jic.

Most security-related stuff and conditions are picked from systemd-timesyncd unit file, which needs roughly same access permissions as "hwclock" here.

With udev rule and that systemd service (don't forget to "systemctl enable" it), boot sequence goes like this:

  • Kernel inits internal rtc0 and sets system clock to 1970-01-01.
  • Kernel starts systemd.
  • systemd mounts local filesystems and starts i2c-rtc asap.
  • i2c-rtc, due to Wants/After=dev-rtc.device, starts waiting for /dev/rtc to appear.
  • Kernel detects/initializes ds1307 i2c device.
  • udev creates /dev/rtc symlink and tags it for systemd.
  • systemd detects tagging event and activates dev-rtc.device.
  • i2c-rtc starts, adjusting system clock to realistic value from battery-backed rtc.
  • systemd-timesyncd starts, using proper /dev/rtc and correct system clock value.
  • activates, as it is scheduled to, after systemd-timesyncd and i2c-rtc.
  • From there, boot goes on to, and starts all the daemons.

udev rule is what facilitates symlink and tagging, i2c-rtc.service unit is what makes boot sequence wait for that /dev/rtc to appear and adjusts system clock right after that.

Haven't found an up-to-date and end-to-end description with examples anywhere, so here it is. Cheers!

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