3. PTXdist User’s Manual

This chapter should give any newbie the information he/she needs to be able to handle any embedded Linux projects based on PTXdist. Also the advanced user may find new valuable information.

3.1. How does it work?

PTXdist supports various aspects of the daily work to develop, deploy and maintain an embedded Linux based project.

Objectives in a project

Fig. 3.1 Objectives in a project

The most important part is the development. For this project phase, PTXdist provides features to ensure reproducibility and verifiability.

PTXdist’s perception of the world

PTXdist works project centric. A PTXdist project contains all information and files to populate any kind of target system with all required software components.

  • Specific configuration for

    • Bootloader

    • Kernel

    • Userland (root filesystem)

  • Adapted files (or generic ones) for run-time configuration

  • Patches for all kind of components (to fix bugs or improve features)

Some of these information or files are coming from the PTXdist base installation (patches for example), but also can be part of the project itself. By this way, PTXdist can be adapted to any kind of requirement.

Most users are fine with the information and files the PTXdist base installation provides. Development of PTXdist is done in a way to find default settings most user can work with. But advanced users can still adapt it to their special needs.

As stated above, a PTXdist project consists of all required parts, some of these parts are separated by design: PTXdist separates a platform configuration from userland configuration (root filesystem). So, platforms can share a common userland configuration, but use a specific kernel configuration in their own platform configuration.

Collecting various platforms into one single project should help to maintain such projects. But some platforms do need special userland (think about graphic/non graphic platforms). To be able to also collect this requirement into one single project, so called collections are supported. With this feature, a user can configure a full featured main userland, reduced via a collection by some components for a specific platform where it makes no sense to build and ship them.

A different use case for collections could be the security of an application. While the development is ongoing all kind of debugging and logging helpers are part of the root filesystem. But the final production root filesystem uses collections to omit all these helpers and to reduce the risk of security vulnerability.

PTXdist can handle the following project variations:

  • one hardware platform, one userland configuration (common case)

  • one hardware platform, various userland configurations

  • various hardware platforms, one userland configuration (common case)

  • various hardware platforms, one userland configuration, various collections

  • various hardware platforms, various userland configuration

  • various hardware platforms, various userland configuration, various collections

PTXdist’s build process

When PTXdist is building one part (we call it a package) of the whole project, it is divided into up to six stages:


The package will be obtained from its source (downloaded from the web for example)


The package archive gets extracted and patched if a patch set for this package exists


Many packages can be configured in various ways. If supported, this stage does the configuration in a way defined in the menu (project specific)


The package gets built.


The package installs itself into a project local directory. This step is important at least for libraries (other packages may depend on)


Relevant parts of the package will be used to build an IPKG archive and the root filesystem

For each single package, one so called rule file exists, describing the steps to be done in each stage shown above (refer section Rule File Layout for further details).

Due to the get stage, PTXdist needs a working internet connection to download an archive currently not existing on the development host. But there are ways to prevent PTXdist from doing so (refer to section Source Archive Location).


PTXdist tries to prevent downloads outside of the get stage by setting certain widespread proxy environment variables to an inexistent host name.

3.2. First steps with PTXdist

PTXdist works as a console command tool. Everything we want PTXdist to do, we have to enter as a command. But it’s always the same base command:

$ ptxdist <parameter>

To run different functions, this command must be extended by parameters to define the function we want to run.

If we are unsure what parameter must be given to obtain a special function, we run it with the parameter help.

$ ptxdist help

This will output all possible parameters and subcommands and their meaning.

As the list we see is very long, let’s explain the major parameters usually needed for daily usage:


This starts a dialog based frontend for those who do not like typing commands. It will gain us access to the most common parameters to configure and build a PTXdist project.


Starts the Kconfig based project configurator for the current selected userland configuration. This menu will give us access to various userland components that the root filesystem of our target should consist of.

menuconfig platform

Starts the Kconfig based platform configurator. This menu lets us set up all target specific settings. Major parts are:

  • Toolchain (architecture and revision)

  • boot loader

  • root filesystem image type

  • Linux kernel (revision)

Note: A PTXdist project can consist of more than one platform configuration at the same time.

menuconfig kernel

Runs the standard Linux kernel Kconfig to configure the kernel for the current selected platform. To run this feature, the kernel must be already set up for this platform.

menuconfig barebox

Runs the standard Barebox bootloader Kconfig to configure the bootloader for the current selected platform. To run this feature, the bootloader must be already set up for this platform.

menuconfig collection

If multiple platforms are sharing one userland configuration, collections can define a subset of all selected packages for specific platforms. This is an advanced feature, rarely used.


Sets up the path to the toolchain used to compile the current selected platform. Without an additional parameter, PTXdist tries to guess the toolchain from platform settings. To be successful, PTXdist depends on the OSELAS.Toolchains installed to the /opt directory. If PTXdist wasn’t able to autodetect the toolchain, an additional parameter can be given to provide the path to the compiler, assembler, linker and so on.


Used to select the current userland configuration, which is only required if there is no selected_ptxconfig in the project’s main directory. This parameter needs the path to a valid ptxconfig. It will generate a soft link called selected_ptxconfig in the project’s main directory.


Used to select the current platform configuration, which is only required if there is no selected_platformconfig in the project’s main directory. This parameter needs the path to a valid platformconfig. It will generate a soft link called selected_platformconfig in the project’s main directory.


Used to select the current collection configuration, which is only required in special cases. This parameter needs the path to a valid collection. It will generate a soft link called selected_collection in the project’s main directory. This is an advanced feature, rarely used.


The mostly used command. This will start to build everything to get all the project defined software parts. Also used to rebuild a part after its configuration was changed.


Used at the end of a build to create an image from all userland packages to deploy the target (its flash for example or its hard disk).


Mostly run once per PTXdist revision to set up global paths and the PTXdist behavior.

For a more complete description refer PTXdist parameter reference

All these commands depending on various files a PTXdist based project provides. So, running the commands make only sense in directories that contains a PTXdist based project. Otherwise PTXdist gets confused and confuses the user with funny error messages.

To show the usage of some listed major subcommands, we are using a generic PTXdist based project.

Extracting the Board Support Package

In order to work with a PTXdist based project we have to extract the archive first.

$ tar -zxf OSELAS.BSP-Pengutronix-Example.tar.gz
$ cd OSELAS.BSP-Pengutronix-Example

PTXdist is project centric, so now after changing into the new directory we have access to all valid components.

total 32
-rw-r--r-- 1 jb users 1060 Jul  1 16:33 ChangeLog
-rw-r--r-- 1 jb users  741 Jul  1 15:12 README
drwxr-xr-x 5 jb users 4096 Jul  1 15:17 configs
drwxr-xr-x 3 jb users 4096 Jul  1 16:51 documentation
drwxr-xr-x 5 jb users 4096 Jul  1 15:12 local_src
drwxr-xr-x 4 jb users 4096 Jul  1 15:12 patches
drwxr-xr-x 5 jb users 4096 Jul  1 15:12 projectroot
drwxr-xr-x 3 jb users 4096 Jul  1 15:12 rules

Notes about some of the files and directories listed above:


Here you can read what has changed in this release. Note: This file does not always exist.


If this BSP is one of our OSELAS BSPs, this directory contains the Quickstart you are currently reading in.


A multiplatform BSP contains configurations for more than one target. This directory contains the respective platform configuration files.


Contains files and configuration for the target’s run-time. A running GNU/Linux system uses many text files for run-time configuration. Most of the time, the generic files from the PTXdist installation will fit the needs. But if not, customized files are located in this directory.


If something special is required to build the BSP for the target it is intended for, then this directory contains these additional rules.


If some special patches are required to build the BSP for this target, then this directory contains these patches on a per package basis.


Contains test scripts for automated target setup.

Next we will build the BSP to show some of PTXdist’s main features.

Selecting a Userland Configuration

First we have to select a userland configuration. This step defines what kind of applications will be built for the hardware platform. The OSELAS.BSP-Pengutronix-Example project comes with a predefined configuration we select in the following step:

$ ptxdist select configs/ptxconfig
info: selected ptxconfig:

Selecting a Hardware Platform

Before we can build this BSP, we need to select one of the possible platforms to build for. In this case we want to build for the versatilepb:

$ ptxdist platform configs/platform-versatilepb/platformconfig
info: selected platformconfig:


If you have installed the OSELAS.Toolchain() at its default location, PTXdist should already have detected the proper toolchain while selecting the platform. In this case it will output:

found and using toolchain:

If it fails you can continue to select the toolchain manually as mentioned in the next section. If this autodetection was successful, we can omit the steps of the section and continue to build the BSP.

Selecting a Toolchain

If not automatically detected, the last step in selecting various configurations is to select the toolchain to be used to build everything for the target.

$ ptxdist toolchain /opt/OSELAS.Toolchain-2022.10.0/arm-v7a-linux-gnueabihf/gcc-12.2.1-clang-15.0.2-glibc-2.36-binutils-2.39-kernel-6.0.5-sanitized/bin

Building the Root Filesystem Content

Now everything is prepared for PTXdist to compile the BSP. Starting the engines is simply done with:

$ ptxdist go

PTXdist does now automatically find out from the selected_ptxconfig and selected_platformconfig files which packages belong to the project and starts compiling their targetinstall stages (that one that actually puts the compiled binaries into the root filesystem). While doing this, PTXdist finds out about all the dependencies between the packages and builds them in correct order.

What we Got Now

After building the project, we find even more sub directories in our project.


Contains all packages sources compiled to run on the host and handle target architecture dependent things.


Contains all packages sources compiled to run on the host and handle architecture independent things.


Contains all package sources compiled for the target architecture.


Generated files for the target can be found here: Kernel image and root filesystem image.


Location for all individual packages in ipk format.


Contains everything target architecture dependent (libraries, header files and so on).


Contains everything that is host specific but must handle target architecture data.


Contains everything that is only host specific.


Target’s root filesystem image. This directory can be mounted as an NFS root for example. Refer Using a userland NFS Server for the Target for further details how to make use of it. In case of a debug session, this directory can be used by a modern GDB for its sysroot as well by using set sysroot </path/to/workspace>/platform-versatilepb/root: All binaries are stripped but all debug symbols are saved in special debug files in .debug sub-directories. GDB knows about this and will load these files automatically.


Building every package is divided onto stages. And stages of one package can depend on stages of other packages. In order to handle this correctly, this directory contains timestamp files about finished stages.

And one important file in case of trouble:


Every run of PTXdist will add its output to this file. If something fails, this file can help to find the cause.

Creating a Root Filesystem Image

After we have built the root filesystem content, we can make an image, which can be flashed to the target system or copied on some kind of disk media. To do so, we just run

$ ptxdist images

PTXdist now extracts the content of priorly created *.ipk packages to a temporary directory and generates an image out of it. PTXdist supports following image types:

  • hd.img: contains bootloader, kernel and root files in an ext2 partition. Mostly used for X86 target systems.

  • root.jffs2: root files inside a jffs2 filesystem.

  • uRamdisk: a u-boot loadable Ramdisk

  • initrd.gz: a traditional initrd RAM disk to be used as initrdramfs by the kernel

  • root.ext2: root files inside an ext2 filesystem.

  • root.squashfs: root files inside a squashfs filesystem.

  • root.tgz: root files inside a plain gzip compressed tar ball.

All these files can be found in platform-versatilepb/images if enabled.

3.3. Adapting the OSELAS.BSP-Pengutronix-Example Project

Handling a fully prepared PTXdist project is easy. But everything is fixed to the settings the developer selected. We now want to adapt the project in a few simple settings.

Working with Kconfig

Whenever we modify our project, PTXdist is using Kconfig to manipulate the settings. Kconfig means kernel configurator and was mainly developed to configure the Linux kernel itself. But it is easy to adapt, to use and so popular that more and more projects are using Kconfig for their purposes. PTXdist is one of them.

What is Kconfig

It is a user interface to select given resources in a convenient way. The resources that we can select are given in simple text files. It uses a powerful “language” in these text files to organize them in a hierarchical manner, solves challenges like resource dependencies, supports help and search features. PTXdist uses all of these features. Kconfig supports a text based user interface by using the ncurses library to manipulate the screen content and should work on nearly all host systems.

Meaning of visual feedbacks in Kconfig

  • Submenus to enter are marked with a trailing --->
    Note: Some submenus are also marked with a leading bracket [ ]. To enter them we first must select/enable them [*]
  • Entries with a list of selectable alternatives are also marked with a trailing --->

  • Entries we can select are marked with a leading empty bracket [ ]

  • Entries that are already selected are marked with a leading filled bracket [*]

  • Entries that are selected due to dependencies into other selected entries are marked with a leading -*-

  • Some entries need a free text to enter, they are marked with leading brackets () and the free text in it

Adapting Userland Settings

To do so, we run:

$ ptxdist menuconfig

will show the following console output

Main userland configuration menu

Fig. 3.2 Main userland configuration menu

The main building blocks in the userland configuration menu are:

  • Host Options: Some parts of the project are build host relevant only. For example PTXdist can build the DDD debugger to debug applications running on the target.

  • Root Filesystem: Settings to arrange target’s root filesystem and to select the main C run-time library

  • Applications: Everything we like to run on our target.

At this point it could be useful to walk to the whole menus and their submenus to get an idea about the amount of features and applications PTXdist currently supports.

Note: don’t forget to save your changes prior leaving this menu.

Adapting Platform Settings

To do so, we run:

$ ptxdist menuconfig platform

The main building blocks in the platform configuration menu are:

  • Architecture: Basic settings, like the main and sub architecture the target system uses, the toolchain to be used to build everything and some other architecture dependent settings.

  • Linux kernel: Which kernel revision and kernel configuration should be used

  • Bootloader: Which bootloader (if any) should be built in the project

  • The kind of image to populate a root filesystem into the target system

Note: don’t forget to save your changes prior leaving this menu.

Adapting Linux Kernel Settings

Just run the following command:

$ ptxdist menuconfig kernel

Note: don’t forget to save your changes prior leaving this menu.

Adapting Bootloader Settings

Just run the following command:

$ ptxdist menuconfig barebox

Note: don’t forget to save your changes prior leaving this menu.

Making Changes Real

After a change in whatever menu the next build-run will compile or re-compile the changed parts. Due to complex dependencies between these parts PTXdist might compile or re-compile more than the changed part.

To apply the changes just run:

$ ptxdist go

Note: If nothing was changed, ptxdist go also will do nothing.

But most of the time, a user needs more detailed adaptions to be able to fit all requirements of the new platform. At this point of time we are no longer ordinary users of PTXdist, we become developers now.

So, right now it’s time to read the PTXdist Developer’s Manual