7. Advanced Topics

7.1. Security

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 signing. 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 (espcially 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. 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 relase 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 variable RAUC_BUNDLE_SPKI_HASHES that will be set by RAUC when invoking the hook script. This variable will contain a space-separated list of the hashes in the same order they are listed in rauc info. 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




              # 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
                      # 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


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 writeable 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 Partions

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 /etc/passwd) to 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. 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 system.conf by setting exactly one of the keys variant-dtb, variant-file or variant-name.


The variant-dtb is a boolean that allows (on device-tree based boards) to use the systems compatible string as the board variant.


A more generic alternative is the variant-file key. 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 breaks. 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.


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:



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 booloader 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.

7.4. 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. For example eMMCs have two dedicated boot partitions (see the JEDEC standard JESD84-B51 for details), one of which can be enabled atomically via configuration registers in the eMMC.

As a further example, 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.

Currently, independent of whether you are able to update your bootloader with fallback, atomically or with some risk of an unbootable system, our suggestion is to handle updates for it outside of RAUC. The main reason is to avoid booting an old system with a new bootloader, as this combination is usually not tested during development, increasing the risk of problems appearing only in the field.

One possible approach to this is:

  • 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.
    • Reboot
  • 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.

7.5. 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.

7.6. 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 sytem. 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 interpretate and appropriately handle a bundle with the latest options

7.7. 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?

7.7.1. 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.

7.7.2. 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. 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: