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Kick-starting COM module development
 

Building a prototype system, or a "proof of concept", usually includes gathering relevant hardware and writing some software. In most cases the hardware consists of development boards or very generic versions of the proposed hardware.

 
Building a prototype system, or a "proof of concept", usually includes gathering relevant hardware and writing some software. In most cases the hardware consists of development boards or very generic versions of the proposed hardware.

Since the software might be complex and the amount of time available for prototyping is limited, the software is often reused, either from other projects, or from the open-source community.

The generic recipe to build an embedded Linux system to start COM module development boils down to the following parts:

1. Configure kernel with the correct drivers
2. Add extra/third party drivers for the specific hardware to the kernel
3. Cross compile kernel
4. Write the application to run on the embedded system
5. Create a file system with the application, the appropriate tools, libraries and necessary third party software
6. Download the kernel and file system to the board
7. Power on, boot the system, have a cup of coffee, and behold the wonders!

You would probably like to focus on part 4 (and maybe the coffee part) and leave the rest for someone else to solve.

 
Boot embedded Linux system out of the box
The sample Board Support Package for a Hectronic COM module Starter Kit is a good starting point for application development, since a minimal system that will boot out of the box is included. The kernel is configured with the correct drivers, and any hardware not supported by the standard kernel has already been identified and is supported with drivers from Hectronic.
 
The Helix environment provides three crucial elements for the software development process:
 
• Cross compilers
• Third party applications
• Third party libraries
 
The cross compiler is used to build the kernel, third party libraries, third party applications, and the target application. Using the same compiler for all components minimizes the risk for incompatibilities between libraries and applications.
 
The Helix environment contains a number of construction blocks which makes it easy to build both small and stripped embedded Linux systems. It is also configurable enough to include more complex parts such as X-Windows, encryption, and Wi-Fi. These construction blocks are not only applications, such as http-servers, ssh and ppp, but also a number of libraries which may be used for application development using a COM module.
 
Voila! Parts 1, 2, 3, 5 in the development process completed, leaving inspiring part 4 and uncomplicated parts 6 and 7 to you.
 
Compact system on CompactFlash
The minimal system is very compact.  For a COM module based on an X86 processor, the kernel image is typically about 1.6 Mbyte, and the file system image is about 5 Mbyte. All this fits neatly into a Compact Flash, which makes all shock-intolerant hard drives unnecessary. By the use of the grub boot-loader it is also possible to have several kernel images and file system installed at the same time, allowing fallback boot options if a newly installed kernel/file system would fail.
 
The build process is done in a blink of an eye. The BSP include a Makefile which makes the compilation of the kernel and file system almost trivial. Even the installation process of the kernel and file system to a compact flash is supported through the Makefile.
 
The bottom line is, to create a bootable CF for the COM module to begin testing and evaluation, simply type:
 
$ make kernel
$ make cramfs.img
$ make install CF_DEV=/dev/sdb
 
Move the compact flash to the COM module, get the well-earned cup of coffee, and power on the system.
 

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