Better living through software

Ben Hutchings's diary of life and technology

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Sat, 23 Apr 2011

Recent changes in Debian Linux packages

Linux 2.6.38 and 2.6.39

As you've probably seen, the testing suite finally got a new upstream kernel version (Linux 2.6.38) and is currently synchronised with unstable. I'm just about to upload a new version of linux-2.6 based on upstream stable update

Linux 2.6.39 is well on its way to release, so 2.6.39-rc4 should soon be in experimental. The Debian source package will add support for the new armhf (ARM with hardware floating-point) architecture.

Splitting linux-2.6

The linux-base package, introduced to handle transitions and other support functions for 'image' packages, is now built from a separate source package. It won't be changed very often, so you will no longer need to upgrade linux-base every time you upgrade an 'image' package. (This doesn't apply within 'squeeze', but I may have a way to work around that.)

The firmware-linux-free package, containing a few firmware and configuration blobs from Linux that are DFSG-compliant, is also now built from a separate source package. These blobs have not changed for a very long time, so again you will no longer be recommended to upgrade this package every time you upgrade an 'image' package. Secondly, this allows us to remove the entire 'firmware' directory from the upstream source rather than carefully removing and patching to leave just the DFSG-compliant bits.

Wireless regulations

The '2.4 GHz' and '5 GHz' ISM bands used for wifi are not defined identically around the world. The exact frequency ranges and maximum permitted power levels vary between countries. Radio equipment manufacturers have a legal responsibility to ensure their equipment operates within these regulations. Since it is expensive to implement such regulations in hardware (including many different variants for different regions), these restrictions are usually implemented in the driver using a country code retrieved from the hardware's EEPROM or flash. So this is now our responsibility.

We need to be able to look up regulations by country codes, and we also need to support the case where a device sold in one country is used in another country with tighter regulations. For some time, the wifi configuration library (cfg80211) included regulatory information for a small number of countries and regions. However, the default since Linux 2.6.34 has been to build-in only the 'world' domain (intersection of all the restrictions) and to request information from user-space. In Debian, we didn't have anything to provide this information, so for example channels 12-13 became unavailable for users in Europe.

The regulatory information should be provided by the Central Regulatory Domain Agent (CRDA) from a current database. These are now packaged as crda and wireless-regdb respectively. Drivers that do not use cfg80211 (mostly those from the 'staging' area) will not be affected, and may or may not implement correct regulations.

When you travel to another country or use an imported wifi device with an incorrect country code (I hear 'CN' is common), you can use iw reg set to ensure that your wifi devices operate within the regulations of the country you are in. Set the REGDOMAIN variable in /etc/default/crda to make this persistent. These will be intersected with the regulations specified by the hardware.

posted at: 18:40 | path: / | permanent link to this entry