Michael W. Lucas
In the previous article, we installed
NetBSD on a HP Jornada 728 palmtop. Anyone who has worked with any BSD
knows that the base operating system doesn't include many programs that most
people use in day-to-day work. Unless you only need
ssh(1), you must install additional software to make your palmtop
useful and comfortable. If you're running a palmtop — or, indeed, any
sort of small hardware with NetBSD installed — you'll probably want to
expand the system.
NetBSD uses a standard BSD-style ports and packages system, making installing generic software painless. You could just download packages from the NetBSD FTP site and install them — this works exactly as it does on any other architecture NetBSD supports. I like to customize my packages, however, and often the latest and greatest versions of software are not available as packages. That leaves the ports system, which is also easy to use — if you have sufficient robust disk space. Flash cards can only withstand a limited number of writes before wearing out, which makes them anything but robust. While I expect flash disks to last for a while, there's no point in pushing my luck. Even though we're running on a palmtop, we have a full UNIX system available, giving us an obvious option for additional write-friendly disk space: NFS.
As NFS maps user accounts by UID, make certain to synchronize the user IDs
on the palmtop with those on the server. This is very simple on a handheld
device; just use
vipw(8) to edit the password file and change the
UID of your regular user, then use
chown(1) to change the
ownership of your home directory to the new UID. If you've done a lot of
customization on your palmtop already, be sure to track down any lingering
remnants of your old UID as well. If, for some reason, you cannot change your
UIDs to match your server, or if you wish to mount files from two different NFS
mount_umap(8) will allow you to map arbitrary UIDs on
Also in Big Scary Daemons:
To enable NFS services on a NetBSD server, set the following in /etc/rc.conf. Any NFS server can provide remote filesystems for your palmtop, but as this is an article about NetBSD, we'll use a NetBSD server as an example.
You also must configure /etc/exports to export your palmtop's remote filesystems. On the NFS server, I support my palmtop in the directory /home/mwlucas/palmtop. To configure a NetBSD NFS server to export the home directory tree to a palmtop at 192.168.1.55, use the following line in /etc/exports. Again, tweak this as appropriate for whatever operating system you're using as a NFS server.
/home -alldirs -maproot=root: 192.168.1.55
The two requirements for building packages on the palmtop are swap space and
pkgsrc tree. The
pkgsrc tree is easy to install;
just download the pkgsrc.tar.gz file from ftp.netbsd.org or a mirror and extract it in the proper place.
# cd /home/mwlucas/palmtop # tar -xzvf pkgsrc.tar.gz
Enabling Swap Space
Swap space is only slightly more complicated. Most UNIX-like operating
systems let you use a file as swap space. We're going to create an empty file
of the proper size, and then configure the palmtop to use that file as swap
dd(1) to create a swap file.
# dd if=/dev/zero of=/home/mwlucas/palmtop/swap bs=4k count=32k
Also set the permissions on your swap file so that nobody but you can read it. While your palmtop is a single-user system, you don't want another user on the NFS server to be able to extract sensitive data from your palmtop's swap space.
# chmod 600 /home/mwlucas/palmtop/swap
Configuring Your Palmtop
Now that the server is ready, configure the palmtop. We'll need mount
points for our
pkgsrc tree and the swap space. Swap is not
normally "mounted," but as we're swapping to a file, the file must be visible to
# mkdir /usr/pkgsrc # mkdir /swap
We need to have the pkgsrc directory mounted
(read/write) to build the software. You could use various
/etc/mk.conf options to have a read-only
but in that case, you'll need another NFS-mounted partition on which to build
the packages. Additionally, using the
options gives the palmtop a chance to recover gracefully, should the network
connection go away. (This isn't guaranteed to work, but it's better than
having no chance whatsoever for graceful recovery.) Finally, be sure that you
noauto option so that the palmtop will boot without a live
network connection! All of this combines to create the following
/etc/fstab entry for /usr/pkgsrc:
nfsserver:/home/mwlucas/palmtop/pkgsrc /usr/pkgsrc nfs rw,soft,intr,noauto 0 0
mount /usr/pkgsrc will now make the package source
tree appear on your system.
The swap file entry is a little different. NetBSD can mount a swap file
directly, rather than requiring a directory containing just the swap file. The
mount point must be a directory, but it magically becomes a file when you
activate it. The boot process will not hang if the network is not available,
so we can skip the
noauto function. Just specify the mount point
as an option:
nfsserver:/home/mwlucas/palmtop/swap none swap sw,nfsmntpt=/swap
You could just hardcode the swap file into /etc/rc.conf and
have the palmtop use it no matter what, but the network might not be available
at boot. Even if you have a wireless network card, an advantage of a palmtop
is that you can carry it everywhere with you. You need to be able to enable
and disable swap at will, turning it on when you want to do something
computer-intensive, such as building packages, and turning it off when you're
checking your shopping list or playing DOOM. Use
To start, list all of your configured swap devices with
# swapctl -l #
As your palmtop booted without swap space configured, this is empty. Use
-A option to tell
swapctl(8) to enable all swap
listed in /etc/fstab.
# swapctl -A swapctl: adding nfsserver:/home/mwlucas/palmtop/swap as swap device at priority 0 #
-l option now gives quite different results.
# swapctl -l Device 512-blocks Used Avail Capacity Priority /swap 262144 0 262144 0% 0 #
Our swap space is idle, but once we start building packages it'll pick up quickly.
Once you integrate NFS into your palmtop, you need manage it carefully. NFS
requires a live network connection. If you are accessing a NFS filesystem and
unplug the network card, your system can hang or freeze. With the
soft,intr NFS mount option your palmtop should eventually recover
from /usr/pkgsrc disappearing, but if swap is in use, that's
another story. Always remove your swap space and unmount your NFS
shares before removing the network card! Disconnect the swap space by using
swapctl -d and the full path to the swap device.
# swapctl -d /swap #
While you're no longer swapping to that file,
df(1) will show
that the /swap file is still mounted. Before disconnecting the
network, be sure to unmount all of your NFS-mounted shares.
# umount /swap # umount /usr/pkgsrc
This all quickly becomes routine. A shell script that would parse /etc/fstab and automatically enable any NFS partitions and swap partitions it finds would be a nice addition for small systems, especially if it could be used to easily unmount and disconnect those partitions in preparation for a network disconnect. Any takers?
Given swap space and the
pkgsrc tree, you can now configure your small NetBSD system in any way you desire, from a game machine to a simple security scanner to a quite unique Internet server.
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