This website describes elbe v0.5.x

If you're looking for informations about current elbe, have a look at


  • Rootfilesystem is defined by a single XML File
  • produces target images that can be flashed to the target without conversions
  • a virtual Buildenvironment matching the target file system is generated
  • well tested Debian Binary Packages can be used
  • a License file is generated
  • Target Image generation doesn't depend on the configuration of the host running ELBE

Supported Architectures

ELBE supports the following target architectures:
  • amd64
  • armel
  • powerpc
  • x86

Output Formats

ELBE supports the following formats to distribute the root file system:
  • tar.gz
  • cpio image
  • UBI images
  • Harddisk / SDCard images

Why should you use ELBE to create an embedded root file system?

Well, first we should look at embedded devices to see what they used to look like and how some of them look like today.

The first devices, that were initially called embedded Linux, had about 4MiB flash and around 16MiB of RAM. With these constrains in mind people started to hack a root file system for their devices. If they had bad luck you had to start with building a cross toolchain first. Once that part was over you could focus on the user land. Busybox is a good tool to start with since it contains most of the required programs in a small single binary. Those programs and a few configurations files on top and you were done. Maybe you had to compile your "added value" binary or something else that was not part of busybox but that was it.

Now sum up the single steps which were required to create a root file from scratch and create a tool to ease your life. This is when tools like OpenEmbedded, EDLK were born. Those tools are still good as long as they are well maintained. They aren't just projects that are that small these days. A lot of them are getting very complex. This includes hardware that has much more RAM and a GiBs of NAND flash if not replaced by a disk or mmc card and the software, that is used, is more extensive. A lot of libraries are used to ease the development of a system. A toolkit for GUI development, several libraries for multimedia support just to name a few.

Depending on the build environment that is used, it is more or less difficult to add a package that is not yet included. It depends on the scripting language that is used, the format keeping the build instructions and the user's ability to understand it and make changes. Adding a debug version of a package to the root file system means a rebuild or restart of the build process to create this piece of the rootfile system assuming that a debug version can be selected (and not added to the build process). Even then the debug version isn't installed in a jiffy.

There is usually one person in charge of the root file system and a few others that are developing the application or a component of the application. One of the application developers has a problem and wants just to install a debug version of the library in question or replace it with a later version of it or a substitute library just to see if his problem goes away or not. He doesn't necessarily know how to handle the build environment to make such changes. So he has to ask the person in charge of the root filesystem to make this change and send him the new filesystem.

The application developer never did this kind of work because the Linux distribution on his desktop computer takes care of these things for him. The same distribution runs a test suite (if available) of the package after it has been built to spot problems in the compiled binaries which can't be run if the package is cross compiled.

Another missing feature is the bug tracking against all packages in the root file system including security updates. This can be a full time job for one person even just by looking after 10 packages with a reasonable size. So why try to do a lot of work alone while this work is already done by large communities around Linux distribution like Debian?

Instead of doing the work again we tried to figure out how Debian could be reused in a way that will fulfill our needs:

  • First we aimed to automate the Debian installer so it can work without user interaction.
  • The next step was to integrate a custom list of packages which should be part of the resulting image and add custom files like configuration files.
  • files which are part of the file system but not needed on embedded devices will be deleted (like documentation).
  • The processes is finalized by packaging the target root file system in a tarball, cpio image or flashable UBI image.

The individual steps which were required to create the image can be archived as the "recipe".

This is how ELBE started.

The recipe can be used later to create a reproducible image. It only needs the packages on a mirror, or a ISO image containing all Packages (created by a previous ELBE run) can be used.

Once a security update is available it can be obtained by recreating the complete image or by calling "apt-get update" from a live system. The Debian way simplifies a lot of things here. A package can be quickly installed by using the package management system. Each package is already built by the Debian community and contains a build log. An appropriate source package is also available so the user can rebuild the package if requested. Debian's security team evaluates security threats and updates packages. Debian users file bugs in the bug tracking system if a package does not work as expected.

All licenses from a package are summarized in a single file which can be used for an overview of the licenses used in the system.

ELBE isn't yet another attempt to create a distribution for embedded devices. It reuses the available Debian distribution for embedded needs.