7. Advanced Topics¶
The RAUC bundle format consists of a squashfs image containing the images and the manifest, which is followed by a public key signature over the full image. This signature is stored in the CMS (Cryptographic Message Syntax, see RFC5652) format. Before installation, the signature is verified against the keyring already stored on the system.
We selected the CMS to avoid designing and implementing our own custom security mechanism (which often results in vulnerabilities). CMS is well proven in S/MIME and has widely available implementations, while supporting simple and as well as complex PKI use-cases (certificate expiry, intermediate CAs, revocation, algorithm selection, hardware security modules…) without additional complexity in RAUC itself.
RAUC uses OpenSSL as a library for signing and verification of bundles.
A PKI with intermediate CAs for the unit tests is generated by the
test/openssl-ca.sh shell script available from GitHub, which may also
be useful as an example for creating your own PKI.
In the following sections, general CA configuration, some use-cases and corresponding PKI setups are described.
7.1.1. CA Configuration¶
OpenSSL uses an
openssl.cnf file to define paths to use for signing, default
parameters for certificates and additional parameters to be stored during
Configuring a CA correctly (and securely) is a complex topic and obviously
exceeds the scope of this documentation.
As a starting point, the OpenSSL manual pages (especially ca, req, x509, cms,
verify and config) and Stefan H. Holek’s pki-tutorial are useful.
7.1.2. Single Key¶
You can use
openssl req -x509 -newkey rsa:4096 -keyout key.pem -out
cert.pem -days 365 -nodes to create a key and a self-signed certificate.
While you can use RAUC with these, you can’t:
- replace expired certificates without updating the keyring
- distinguish between development versions and releases
- revoke a compromised key
7.1.3. Simple CA¶
By using the (self-signed) root CA only for signing other keys, which are used for bundle signing, you can:
- create one key per developer, with limited validity periods
- revoke keys and ship the CRL (Certificate Revocation List) with an update
With this setup, you can reduce the impact of a compromised developer key.
7.1.4. Separate Development and Release CAs¶
By creating a complete separate CA and bundle signing keys, you can give only specific persons (or roles) the keys necessary to sign final releases. Each device only has one of the two CAs in its keyring, allowing only installation of the corresponding updates.
While using signing also during development may seem unnecessary, the additional testing of the whole update system (RAUC, bootloader, migration code, …) allows finding problems much earlier.
7.1.5. Intermediate Certificates¶
RAUC allows you to include intermediate certificates in the bundle signature that can be used to close the trust chain during bundle signature verification.
To do this, specify the
--intermediate argument during bundle creation:
rauc bundle --intermediate=/path/to/intermediate.ca.pem [...]
Note that you can specify the
--intermediate argument multiple times to
include multiple intermediate certificates to your bundle signature.
7.1.6. Resigning Bundles¶
RAUC allows to replace the signature of a bundle. A typical use case for this is if a bundle that was generated by an autobuilder and signed with a development certificate was tested successfully on your target and should now become a release bundle. For this it needs to be resigned with the release key without modifying the content of the bundle itself.
This is what the
resign command of RAUC is for:
rauc resign --cert=<certfile> --key=<keyfile> --keyring=<keyring> <input-bundle> <output-bundle>
It verifies the bundle against the given keyring, strips the old signature and attaches a new one based on the key and cert files provided.
18.104.22.168. Switching the Keyring – SPKI hashes¶
When switching from a development to a release signature, it is typically required to also equip the rootfs with a different keyring file.
While the development system should accept both development and release certificates, the release system should accept only release certificates.
One option to perform this exchange without having to build a new rootfs would be to include both a keyring for the development case as well as a keyring for the release case.
Doing this would be possible in a slot’s post-install hook, for example. Depending on whether the bundle to install was signed with a development or a release certificate, either the production or development keyring will be copied to the location where RAUC expects it to be.
To allow comparing hashes, RAUC generates SPKI hashes (i.e. hashes over the entire public key information of a certificate) out of each signature contained in the bundle’s trust chain. The SPKI hashes are invariant over changes in signature meta data (such as the validity dates) while allowing to securely compare the certificate ownership.
A simple call of
rauc info will list the SPKI hashes for each certificate
contained in the validated trust chain:
Certificate Chain: 0 Subject: /O=Test Org/CN=Test Org Release-1 Issuer: /O=Test Org/CN=Test Org Provisioning CA Release SPKI sha256: 94:67:AB:31:08:04:3D:2D:62:D5:EE:58:D6:2F:86:7A:F2:77:94:29:9B:46:11:00:EC:D4:7B:1B:1D:42:8E:5A 1 Subject: /O=Test Org/CN=Test Org Provisioning CA Release Issuer: /O=Test Org/CN=Test Org Provisioning CA Root SPKI sha256: 47:D4:9D:73:9B:11:FB:FD:AB:79:2A:07:36:B7:EF:89:3F:34:5F:D4:9B:F3:55:0F:C1:04:E7:CC:2F:32:DB:11 2 Subject: /O=Test Org/CN=Test Org Provisioning CA Root Issuer: /O=Test Org/CN=Test Org Provisioning CA Root SPKI sha256: 00:34:F8:FE:5A:DC:3B:0D:FE:64:24:07:27:5D:14:4D:E2:39:8C:68:CC:9A:86:DD:67:03:D7:15:11:16:B4:4E
A post-install hook instead can access the SPKI hashes via the environment
RAUC_BUNDLE_SPKI_HASHES that will be set by RAUC when invoking the
This variable will contain a space-separated list of the hashes in the same order
they are listed in
This list can be used to define a condition in the hook for either installing
one or the other keyring file on the target.
Example hook shell script code for above trust chain:
case "$1" in [...] slot-post-install) [...] # iterate over trust chain SPKI hashes (from leaf to root) for i in $RAUC_BUNDLE_SPKI_HASHES; do # Test for development intermediate certificate if [ "$i" == "46:9E:16:E2:DC:1E:09:F8:5B:7F:71:D5:DF:D0:A4:91:7F:FE:AD:24:7B:47:E4:37:BF:76:21:3A:38:49:89:5B" ]; then echo "Activating development key chain" mv /etc/rauc/devel-keyring.pem /etc/rauc/keyring.pem break fi # Test for release intermediate certificate if [ "$i" == "47:D4:9D:73:9B:11:FB:FD:AB:79:2A:07:36:B7:EF:89:3F:34:5F:D4:9B:F3:55:0F:C1:04:E7:CC:2F:32:DB:11" ]; then echo "Activating release key chain" mv /etc/rauc/release-keyring.pem /etc/rauc/keyring.pem break fi done ;; [...] esac
7.2. Data Storage and Migration¶
Most systems require a location for storing configuration data such as passwords, ssh keys or application data. When performing an update, you have to ensure that the updated system takes over or can access the data of the old system.
7.2.1. Storing Data in The Root File System¶
In case of a writable root file system, it often contains additional data, for example cryptographic material specific to the machine, or configuration files modified by the user. When performing the update, you have to ensure that the files you need to preserve are copied to the target slot after having written the system data to it.
RAUC provides support for executing hooks from different slot installation stages. For migrating data from your old rootfs to your updated rootfs, simply specify a slot post-install hook. Read the Hooks chapter on how to create one.
7.2.2. Using Data Partitions¶
Often, there are a couple of reasons why you don’t want to or cannot store your data inside the root file system:
- You want to keep your rootfs read-only to reduce probability of corrupting it.
- You have a non-writable rootfs such as SquashFS.
- You want to keep your data separated from the rootfs to ease setup, reset or recovery.
In this case you need a separate storage location for your data on a different partition, volume or device.
If the update concept uses full redundant root file systems, there are also good reasons for using a redundant data storage, too. Read below about the possible impact on data migration.
To let your system access the separate storage location, it has to be mounted
into your rootfs.
Note that if you intend to store configurable system information on your data
partition, you have to map the default Linux paths (such as
your data storage. You can do this by using:
- symbolic links
- bind mounts
- an overlay file system
It depends on the amount and type of data you want to handle which option you should choose.
7.2.3. Application Data Migration¶
Both a single and a redundant data storage have their advantages and disadvantages. Note when storing data inside your rootfs you will have a redundant setup by design and cannot choose.
The decision about how to set up a configuration storage and how to handle it depends on several aspects:
- May configuration formats change over different application versions?
- Can a new application read (and convert) old data?
- Does your infrastructure allow working on possibly obsolete data?
- Enough storage to store data redundantly?
The basic advantages and disadvantages a single or a redundant setup implicate are listed below:
|Single Data||Redundant Data|
|Setup||easy||assure using correct one|
|Migration||no backup by default||copy on update, migrate|
|Fallback||tricky (reconvert data?)||easy (old data!)|
7.3. RAUC casync Support¶
casync support is still experimental and lacks some unit tests.
When evaluating, make sure to compile a recent casync version from the git for testing.
Using the Content-Addressable Data Synchronization tool casync for updating embedded / IoT devices provides a couple of benefits. By splitting and chunking the update artifacts into reusable pieces, casync allows to
- stream remote bundles to the target without occupying storage / NAND
- minimize transferred data for an update by downloading only the delta to the running system
- reduce data storage on server side by eliminating redundancy
- good handling for CDNs due to similar chunk sizes
RAUC supports using casync index files instead of complete images in its bundles. This way the real size of the bundle comes down to the size of the index files required for referring to the individual chunks. The real image data contained in the individual chunks can be stored in one single repository, for a whole systems with multiple images as well as for multiple systems in different versions, etc. This makes the approach quite flexible.
7.3.1. Creating casync Bundles¶
Creating RAUC bundles with casync index files is a bit different from creating ‘conventional’ bundles. While the bundle format remains the same and you could also mix conventional and casync-based bundles, creating these bundles is not straight forward when using common embedded build systems such as Yocto, PTXdist or buildroot.
Because of this, we decided use a two-step process for creating casync RAUC bundles:
- Create ‘conventional’ RAUC bundle
- Convert to casync-based RAUC bundle
RAUC provides a command for creating casync-based bundles from ‘conventional’ bundles. Simply call:
rauc convert --cert=<certfile> --key=<keyfile> --keyring=<keyring> conventional-bundle.raucb casync-bundle.raucb
The conversion process will create two new artifacts:
- The converted bundle casync-bundle.raucb with casnyc index files instead of image files
- A casync chunk store casync-bundle.castr/ for all bundle images. This is a directory with chunks grouped by subfolders of the first 4 digits of their chunk ID.
7.3.2. Installing casync Bundles¶
The main difference between installing conventional bundles and bundles that contain casync index files is that RAUC requires access to the remote casync chunk store during installation of the bundle.
Due to the built-in network support of both casync and RAUC, it is possible to directly give a network URL as the source of the bundle:
rauc install https://server.example.com/deploy/bundle-20180112.raucb
By default, RAUC will assume the corresponding casync chunk store is located at
the same location as the bundle (with the
.castr extension instead of
.raucb), in this example at
The default location can also be configured in the system config to point to a
generic location that is valid for all installations.
When installing a bundle, the casync implementation will automatically handle the chunk download via an unprivileged helper binary.
22.214.171.124. Reducing Download Size – Seeding¶
Reducing the amount of data to be transferred over slow connections is one of the main goals of using casync for updating. Casync splits up the images or directory trees it handles into reusable chunks of similar size. Doing this both on the source as well as on the destination side allows comparing the hashes of the resulting chunks to know which parts are different.
When we update a system, we usually do not change its entire file tree, but only update a few libraries, the kernel, the application, etc. Thus, most of the data can be retrieved from the currently active system and does not need to be fetched via the network.
For each casync image that RAUC extracts to the target slot, it determines an appropriate seed. This is normally a redundant slot of the same class as the target slot but from the currently booted slot group.
Depending on your targets processing and storage speed, updating slots with casync can be a bit slower than conventional updates, because casync first has to process the entire seed slot to calculate the seed chunks. After this is done it will start writing the data and fetch missing chunks via the network.
7.4. Handling Board Variants With a Single Bundle¶
If you have hardware variants that require installing different images (e.g. for the kernel or for an FPGA bitstream), but have other slots that are common (such as the rootfs) between all hardware variants, RAUC allows you to put multiple different variants of these images in the same bundle. RAUC calls this feature ‘image variants’.
If you want to make use of image variants, you first of all need to say which
variant your specific board is. You can do this in your
setting exactly one of the keys
[system] ... variant-dtb=true
variant-dtb is a boolean that allows (on device-tree based boards)
to use the systems compatible string as the board variant.
[system] ... variant-file=/path/to/file
A more generic alternative is the
It allows to specify a file that will be read to obtain the variant name.
Note that the content of the file should be a simple string without any line
A typical use case would be to generate this file (in
/run) during system
startup from a value you obtained from your bootloader.
Another use case is to have a RAUC post-install hook that copies this file from
the old system to the newly updated one.
[system] ... variant-name=myvariant-name
A third variant to specify the systems variant is to give it directly in your system.conf. This method is primary meant for testing, as this prevents having a generic rootfs image for all variants!
In your manifest, you can specify variants of an image (e.g. the kernel here) as follows:
[image.kernel.variant-1] filename=variant1.img ... [image.kernel.variant-2] filename=variant1.img ...
It is allowed to have both a specific variant as well as a default image in the same bundle. If a specific variant of the image is available, it will be used on that system. On all other systems, the default image will be used instead.
If you have a specific image variant for one of your systems, it is mandatory to also have a default or specific variant for the same slot class for any other system you intend to update. RAUC will report an error if for example a bootloader image is only present for variant A when you try to install on variant B. This should prevent from bricking your device by unintentional partial updates.
7.5. Manually Writing Images to Slots¶
In order to write an image to a slot without using update mechanics like hooks, slot status etc. use:
rauc write-slot <slotname> <image>
This uses the correct handler to write the image to the slot. It is useful for development scenarios as well as initial provisioning of embedded boards.
7.6. Updating the Bootloader¶
Updating the bootloader is a special case, as it is a single point of failure on most systems: The selection of which redundant system images should be booted cannot itself be implemented in a redundant component (otherwise there would need to be an even earlier selection component).
Some SoCs contain a fixed firmware or ROM code which already supports redundant bootloaders, possibly integrated with a HW watchdog or boot counter. On these platforms, it is possible to have the selection point before the bootloader, allowing it to be stored redundantly and updated as any other component.
If redundant bootloaders with fallback is not possible (or too inflexible) on your platform, you may instead be able to ensure that the bootloader update is atomic. This doesn’t support recovering from a buggy bootloader, but will prevent a non-bootable system caused by an error or power-loss during the update.
Whether atomic bootloader updates can be implemented depends on your SoC/firmware and storage medium.
7.6.1. Update eMMC Boot Partitions¶
RAUC supports updating eMMC boot partitions (see the JEDEC standard JESD84-B51 for details), one of which gets enabled atomically via configuration registers in the eMMC (ext_csd registers).
The required slot type is
The device to be specified is expected to be the root device.
The boot partitions are derived automatically.
system.conf could look like this:
[slot.bootloader.0] device=/dev/mmcblk1 type=boot-emmc
A kernel bug may prevent consistent toggling of the eMMC ext_csd boot partition register. Be sure your kernel is >= 4.16-rc7 (resp. >= 4.15.14, >= 4.14.31) or contains this patch: https://www.spinics.net/lists/linux-mmc/msg48271.html
7.6.2. Bootloader Update Ideas¶
The NXP i.MX6 supports up to four bootloader copies when booting from NAND flash. The ROM code will try each copy in turn until it finds one which is readable without uncorrectable ECC errors and has a correct header. By using the trait of NAND flash that interrupted writes cause ECC errors and writing the first page (containing the header) last, the bootloader images can be replaced one after the other, while ensuring that the system will boot even in case of a crash or power failure.
The slot type could be called “boot-imx6-nand” analogous to eMMC.
7.6.3. Considerations When Updating the Bootloader¶
Booting an old system with a new bootloader is usually not tested during development, increasing the risk of problems appearing only in the field. If you want to address this issue do not add the bootloader to your bundle, but rather use an approach like this:
- Store a copy of the bootloader in the rootfs.
- Use RAUC only to update the rootfs. The combinations to test can be reduced by limiting which old versions are supported by an update.
- Reboot into the new system.
- On boot, before starting the application, check that the current slot
is ‘sane’. Then check if the installed bootloader is older than the
version shipped in the (new) rootfs. In that case:
- Disable the old rootfs slot and update the bootloader.
- Start the application.
This way you still have fallback support for the rootfs upgrade and need to test only:
- The sanity check functionality and the bootloader installation when started from old bootloader and new rootfs
- Normal operation when started from new bootloader and new rootfs
The case of new bootloader with old rootfs can never happen, because you disable the old one from the new before installing a new bootloader.
If you need to ensure that you can fall back to the secondary slot even after performing the bootloader update, you should check that the “other” slot contains the same bootloader version as the currently running one during the sanity check. This means that you need to update both slots in turn before the bootloader is updated.
7.7. Updating Sub-Devices¶
Besides the internal storage, some systems have external components or sub-devices which can be updated. For example:
- Firmware for micro-controllers on modular boards
- Firmware for a system management controller
- FPGA bitstreams (stored in a separate flash)
- Other Linux-based systems in the same enclosure
- Software for third-party hardware components
In many cases, these components have some custom interface to query the currently installed version and to upload an update. They may or may not have internal redundancy or recovery mechanisms as well.
Although it is possible to configure RAUC slots for these and let it call a script to perform the installation, there are some disadvantages to this approach:
- After a fallback to an older version in an A/B scenario, the sub-devices may be running an incompatible (newer) version.
- A modular sub-device may be replaced and still has an old firmware version installed.
- The number of sub-devices may not be fixed, so each device would need a different slot configuration.
Instead, a more robust approach is to store the sub-device firmware in the rootfs and (if needed) update them to the current versions during boot. This ensures that the sub-devices are always running the correct set of versions corresponding to the version of the main application.
If the bootloader falls back to the previous version on the main system, the same mechanism will downgrade the sub-devices as needed. During a downgrade, sub-devices which are running Linux with RAUC in an A/B scenario will detect that the image to be installed already matches the one in the other slot and avoid unnecessary installations.
7.8. Migrating to an Updated Bundle Version¶
As RAUC undergoes constant development, it might be extended and new features or enhancements will make their way into RAUC. Thus, also the sections and options contained in the bundle manifest may be extended over time.
To assure a well-defined and controlled update procedure, RAUC is rather strict in parsing the manifest and will reject bundles containing unknown configuration options.
But, this does not prevent you from being able to use those new RAUC features on your current system. All you have to do is to perform an intermediate update:
- Create a bundle containing a rootfs with the recent RAUC version, but not containing the new RAUC features in its manifest.
- Update your system and reboot
- Now you have a system with a recent RAUC version which is able to interpret and appropriately handle a bundle with the latest options
7.9. Software Deployment¶
When designing your update infrastructure, you must think about how to deploy the updates to your device(s). In general, you have two major options: Deployment via storage media such as USB sticks or network-based deployment.
As RAUC uses signed bundles instead of e.g. trusted connections to enable update author verification, RAUC fully supports both methods with the same technique and you may also use both of them in parallel.
Some influential factors on the method to used can be:
- Do you have network access on the device?
- How many devices have to be updated?
- Who will perform the update?
7.9.1. Deployment via Storage Media¶
This method is mainly used for decentralized updates of devices without network access (either due to missing infrastructure or because of security concerns).
To handle deployment via storage media, you need a component that detects the plugged-in storage media and calls RAUC to trigger the actual installation.
When using systemd, you could use automount units for detecting plugged-in media and trigger an installation.
7.9.2. Deployment via Deployment Server¶
Deployment over a network is especially useful when having a larger set of devices to update or direct access to these devices is tricky.
As RAUC focuses on update handling on the target side, it does not provide a deployment server out of the box. But if you do not already have a deployment infrastructure, there a few Open Source deployment server implementations available in the wilderness.
One of it worth being mentioned is hawkBit from the Eclipse IoT project, which also provides some strategies for rollout management for larger-scale device farms.
126.96.36.199. The RAUC hawkBit client¶
As a separate project, the RAUC development team provides a Python-based example application that acts as a hawkBit client via its REST DDI-API while controlling RAUC via D-Bus.
For more information and testing it, visit it on GitHub:
It is also available via pypi: