Shallow Thoughts

Akkana's Musings on Open Source, Science, and Nature.

Tue, 15 May 2007

Etch: Blacklisting Modules, Udev, and Firewire Networking

The new Debian Etch installation on my laptop was working pretty well. But it had one weirdness: the ethernet card was on eth1, not eth0. ifconfig -a revealed that eth0 was ... something else, with no IP address configured and a really long MAC address. What was it?

Poking around dmesg revealed that it was related to the IEEE 1394 and the eth1394 module. It was firewire networking.

This laptop, being a Vaio, does have a built-in firewire interface (Sony calls it i.Link). The Etch installer, when it detected no network present, had noted that it was "possible, though unlikely" that I might want to use firewire instead, and asked whether to enable it. I declined.

Yet the installed system ended up with firewire networking not only installed, but taking the first network slot, ahead of any network cards. It didn't get in the way of functionality, but it was annoying and clutters the output whenever I type ifconfig -a. Probably took up a little extra boot time and system resources, too. I wanted it gone.

Easier said than done, as it turns out.

I could see two possible approaches.

  1. Figure out who was setting it to eth1, and tell it to ignore the device instead.
  2. Blacklist the kernel module, so it couldn't load at all.

I begain with approach 1. The obvious culprit, of course, was udev. (I had already ruled out hal, by removing it, rebooting and observing that the bogus eth0 was still there.) Poking around /etc/udev/rules.d revealed the file where the naming was happening: z25_persistent-net.rules.

It looks like all you have to do is comment out the two lines for the firewire device in that file. Don't believe it. Upon reboot, udev sees the firewire devices and says "Oops! persistent-net.rules doesn't have a rule for this device. I'd better add one!" and you end up with both your commented-out line, plus a brand new uncommented line. No help.

Where is that controlled? From another file, z45_persistent-net-generator.rules. So all you have to do is edit that file and comment out the lines, right?

Well, no. The firewire lines in that file merely tell udev how to add a comment when it updates z25_persistent-net.rules. It still updates the file, it just doesn't comment it as clearly.

There are some lines in z45_persistent-net-generator.rules whose comments say they're disabling particular devices, by adding a rule GOTO="persistent_net_generator_end". But adding that in the firewire device lines caused the boot process to hang. There may be a way to ignore a device from this file, but I haven't found it, nor any documentation on how this system works.

Defeated, I switched to approach 2: prevent the module from loading at all. I never expect to use firewire networking, so it's no loss. And indeed, there are lots of other modules loaded I'd like to blacklist, since they represent hardware this machine doesn't have. So it would be nice to learn how.

I had a vague memory of there having been a file with a name like /etc/modules.blacklist some time back in the Pliocene. But apparently no such file exists any more. I did find /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist, which looked promising; but the comment at the beginning of that file says

# This file lists modules which will not be loaded as the result of
# alias expsnsion, with the purpose of preventing the hotplug subsystem
# to load them. It does not affect autoloading of modules by the kernel.
Okay, sounds like this file isn't what I wanted. (And ... hotplug? I thought that was long gone, replaced by udev scripts.) I tried it anyway. Sure enough, not what I wanted.

I fiddled with several other approaches before Debian diva Erinn Clark found this helpful page. I created a file called /etc/modprobe.d/00local and added this line to it:

install eth1394 /bin/true
and on the next boot, the module was no longer loaded, and no longer showed up as a bogus ethernet device. Hurray!

This /etc/modprobe.d/00local technique probably doesn't bear examining too closely. It has "hack" written all over it. But if that's the only way to blacklist problematic modules, I guess it's better than nothing.

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[ 18:10 May 15, 2007    More linux | permalink to this entry ]

Debian "Etch": a Sketch

Since I'd already tried the latest Ubuntu on my desktop, I wanted to check out Debian's latest, "Etch", on my laptop.

The installer was the same as always, and the same as the Ubuntu installer. No surprises, although I do like the way Debian gives me a choice of system types to install (Basic desktop, Web server, etc. ... though why isn't "Development" an option?) compared to Ubuntu's "take the packages we give you and deal with it later" approach.

Otherwise, the install went very much like a typical Ubuntu install. I followed the usual procedures and workarounds so as not to overwrite the existing grub, to get around the Vaio hardware issues, etc. No big deal, and the install went smoothly.

The good

But the real surprise came on booting into the new system. Background: my Vaio SR-17 has a quirk (which regular readers will have heard about already): it has one PCMCIA slot, which is needed for either the external CDROM drive or a network card. This means that at any one time, you can have a network, or a CDROM, but not both. This tends to throw Debian-based installers into a tizzy -- you have to go through five or more screens (including timing out on DHCP even after you've told it that you have no network card) to persuade the installer that yes, you really don't have a network and it's okay to continue anyway.

That means that the first step after rebooting into the new system is always configuring the network card. In Ubuntu installs, this typically means either fiddling endlessly with entries in the System or Admin menus, or editing /etc/network/interfaces.

Anticipating a vi session, I booted into my new Etch and inserted the network card (a 3COM 3c59x which often confuses Ubuntu). Immediately, something began spinning in the upper taskbar. Curious, I waited, and in ten seconds or so a popup appeared informing me "You are now connected to the wired net."

And indeed I was! The network worked fine. Kudos to debian -- Etch is the first distro which has ever handled this automatically. (I still need to edit /etc/network/interfaces to set my static IP address -- network manager

Of course, since this was my laptop, the next most important feature is power management. Happily, both sleep and hibernate worked correctly, once I installed the hibernate package. That had been my biggest worry: Ubuntu was an early pioneer in getting ACPI and power management code working properly, but it looks like Debian has caught up.

The bad

I did see a couple of minor glitches.

First, I got a lot of system hangs in X. These turned out to be the usual dri problem on S3 video cards. It's a well known bug, and I wish distros would fix it!

I've also gotten at least one kernel OOPS, but I have a theory about what might be causing that. Time will tell whether it's a real problem.

It took a little googling to figure out the line I needed to add to /etc/apt/sources.list in order to install programs that weren't included on the CD. (Etch automatically adds lines for security updates, but not for getting new software). But fortunately, lots of other people have already asked this in a variety of forums. The answer is:

deb etch main contrib non-free

My husband had suggested that Etch might be lighter weight than Ubuntu and less dependent on hal (which I always remove from my laptop, because its constant hardware polling makes noise and sucks power). But no: Etch installed hal, and any attempt to uninstall it takes with it the whole gnome desktop environment, plus network-manager (that's apparently that nice app that noticed my network card earlier) and rhythmbox. I don't actually use the gnome desktop or these other programs, but it would be nice to have the option of trying them when I want to check something out. So for now I've resorted to the temporary solution: mv /usr/sbin/hald /usr/sbin/hald-not

The ugly

Etch looks fairly nice, and I'm looking forward to exploring it. I'm mostly kidding about the "ugly". I did hit one minor bit of ugliness involving network devices which led me on a two-hour chase ... but I'll save that for its own article.

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[ 13:29 May 15, 2007    More linux | permalink to this entry ]