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Althea Firmware Builder

This repo is dedicated to building custom OpenWRT firmware for Althea routers. Similar to LibreMesh's Lime-SDK or SudoMesh's SudoWRT firmware builder. All of these perform much the same function, maintaining a series of config files, patches, and packages to insert into a OpenWRT firmware image.

The Althea firmware builder deviates from existing efforts with a heavy reliance on Ansible instead of bash. This creates a pretty readable workflow and makes it very easy to apply delta changes onto a modified build directory. Allowing a dramatic reduction in build time as well as very flexible build options.

Althea itself is an incentivized mesh system. This build system creates a firmware image preconfigured with Althea's fork of the Babeld mesh software as well as various utilities and tools to automatically pay mesh nodes for bandwidth.


Is this where I get Althea?

If you are an Althea user, talk to your local network organizer or contact us to buy a pre-flashed device. This page is for advanced users and network organizers.

If you are an advanced user or a network organizer yes, this is where you get the firmware images to install Althea on routers. For supported devices we have special supported images, these firmware images send some non-identifying data such as bug reports, crashes, and mesh status logs to Althea.

Please see the flashing and what do I do now? sections for details on what to expect flashing and using a firmware.

Supported device targets

These devices recieve first class citizen testing and support

Hardware Config Target Name Full model name Price Features/Comments Flashing Difficulty Buy Link Latest Release Firmware Download Latest Release Plus Remote Monitoring/Support Firmware Download OpenWRT Wiki / Flashing Instructions Special Firmware to escape factory stock
x86_64 x86_64 Any 64 bit x86 processor varies Essentially any desktop or laptop Moderate, USB N/A link link Unzip, write to flash drive, boot from flash drive N/A
mikrotik_hap-ac2 ipq40xx Mikrotik HAP-AC2 $70 new AC wifi, 200mbps perf Moderate, TFTP Amazon, Baltic link link Same as OpenWRT link
glb1300 ipq40xx GL.iNet GL-B1300 $90 new AC wifi, 200mbps perf, easy to find Easy, webpage Amazon link link link N/A
ea6350v3 ipq40xx Linksys EA 6350 v3 $70-100 new AC wifi, 200mbps perf Easy, webpage, hard to find Amazon link link link very similar N/A
mr8300 ipq40xx Linksys MR 8300 $140 new 250mbps, solid construction Easy, webpage Amazon, Linksys, Best Buy, B&H, Staples link link similar to OpenWRT go to https://192.168.1.1/fwupdate.html login with admin:admin link
wrt3200acm mvebu Linksys WRT 3200 ACM $205 new Fast (500mbps), solid construction Easy, webpage Amazon, B&H link link link link
wrt32x mvebu Linksys WRT 32x $290 new Fast (500mbps), solid construction Easy, webpage Amazon, Walmart, newegg link link link link
pi4-64 bcm2711 Raspberry PI 4 B $35 new good to start with Moderate, USB Adafruit link link Unzip, write to sd card, insert into pi and boot N/A
nanopi-r2s rockchip FriendlyElec NanoPi R2S $55 new 500mbps perf Moderate, SD card China link link Gunzip, flash to class10 SD (more info) N/A
edgerouter-x ramips Ubiquiti Edgerouter X $59 new 150mbps, no wifi, many ports Hard, CLI, SSH Amazon, UI link link guide, link link
edgerouter-x-sfp ramips Ubiquiti Edgerouter X SFP $99 new 150mbps, no wifi, many ports Hard, CLI, SSH Amazon, UI link link guide, link link

Best best effort device targets

These devices have hardware profies and are confirmed to have worked at least once. But they may or may not work now.

The mips64 targets won't work without a special Rust target see this error

Hardware Config Target Name Full model name Price Features/Comments Flashing Difficulty Buy Link Latest Release Download OpenWRT Wiki / Flashing Instructions Special Firmware to escape stock
aircube ath79 Ubiquiti airCube ISP $30 new Slow CPU 20mbps max, flexible Moderate, webpage Ubiquiti link link intermediary link
aclite ar71xx UniFi AP AC LITE $85 new great for clients not for much else Hard, ssh Amazon link link N/A
edgerouterlite octeon Ubiquiti EdgeRouter Lite $95 new HW acceleration not enabled 50mbps Medium, drive image Amazon link link N/A
n750 ar71xx WD My Net N750 Model: C3 $30 new Slow CPU 30mbps max, good for dev Easy, webpage Rakuten link link link
tplinkc7v2 ar71xx TP Link Archer C7 V2 $85 new great wifi range, slow cpu Easy, webpage Ebay link link N/A
ea3500 kirkwood Linksys ea3500 'audi' $30 refurb Low ram, may or may not work now Moderate, webpage Amazon link link intermediary link
ea7300v2 ramips Linksys EA 7300 v2 $80-130 new AC wifi, 120mbps perf, easy to find Easy, webpage Amazon, Linksys link link link very similar
ea7500v2 ramips Linksys EA 7500 v2 unavailable AC wifi, 200mbps perf, easy to find Easy, webpage Amazon link link link very similar
wrt1900acs mvebu Linksys WRT 1900 ACS $180 new Fast (430mbps), solid construction Easy, webpage Amazon, B&H link link link
pi2 brcm2708 Raspberry PI 2B/3B/+ $35 new good to start with Moderate, USB Amazon link Unzip, write to sd card, insert into pi and boot N/A
pi3-64 brcm2710 Raspberry PI 3B+ $35 new good to start with Moderate, USB Amazon link Unzip, write to sd card, insert into pi and boot N/A
x86 i386_pentium4 Any 32 bit x86 processor varies Essentially old desktops or laptops Moderate, USB N/A link Unzip, write to flash drive, boot from flash drive N/A
tplinka6v3 ramips TP-Link Archer A6 V3 $50 new AC wifi, 120mbps perf, easy to find Easy, webpage Amazon, B&H, newegg link link TODO
linksys_e5600 ramips Linksys E5600 $50 new AC wifi, 120mbps perf, easy to find Easy, webpage Amazon, Linksys, Walmart link link TODO

Getting Started Building Firmware

First off you need a Linux machine with at least 15gb of free disk space, 4gb of free ram and Ansible >=2.5.

On Ubuntu < 18.04 and Debian:

curl https://bootstrap.pypa.io/get-pip.py -o get-pip.py

python get-pip.py

pip install --user ansible

On Ubuntu >= 18.04:

sudo apt-get install ansible

On Fedora:

sudo dnf install ansible

On Centos and RHEL:

sudo yum install ansible

Once you have Ansible you can use it to manage the rest of the dependencies:

git clone https://github.com/althea-mesh/althea-firmware
cd althea-firmware
ansible-playbook first-time-setup.yml -bK

Type in your password to give Ansible permissions to install the required packages. This will also install Rust and add it to your PATH in your bashrc.

If you have a nonstandard setup, or just don't trust Ansible with root you may want to install dependencies manually using these commands.

Debian:

sudo apt-get install build-essential libncurses5-dev gawk git subversion libssl-dev gettext unzip zlib1g-dev file python systemtap-sdt-dev npm time curl which ansible rsync

Ubuntu:

sudo apt-get install build-essential subversion libncurses5-dev zlib1g-dev gawk gcc-multilib flex git-core gettext libssl-dev unzip systemtap-sdt-dev npm time curl which ansible rsync

Centos:

sudo yum install subversion binutils bzip2 gcc gcc-c++ gawk gettext flex ncurses-devel zlib-devel make patch unzip perl-ExtUtils-MakeMaker glibc glibc-devel quilt ncurses-libs sed intltool bison wget git-core openssl-devel xz systemtap-sdt-devel npm time curl which ansible rsync genisoimage qemu-img

Fedora:

sudo dnf install subversion binutils bzip2 gcc gcc-c++ gawk gettext git-core flex ncurses-devel ncurses-compat-libs zlib-devel zlib-static make patch unzip perl-ExtUtils-MakeMaker perl-Thread-Queue glibc glibc-devel glibc-static quilt sed sdcc intltool sharutils bison wget openssl-devel systemtap-sdt-devel npm time curl which ansible rsync genisoimage qemu-img perl-FindBin

Arch:

sudo pacman -S subversion binutils bzip2 gcc gcc-libs gawk gettext git flex ncurses zlib automake patch unzip perl glibc quilt sed sdcc intltool sharutils bison wget openssl systemtap npm time curl which ansible rsync

You can then install Yarn using npm

sudo npm -g install yarn

Finally install Rust

curl https://sh.rustup.rs -sSf | sh

Follow the onscreen instructions. Then add Rustup to your PATH. For a default install:

export PATH="$HOME/.cargo/bin:$PATH"

Building the firmware

If there is an existing device profile building the firmware should be pretty simple. See the table at the top of the file for hardware config names.

To simplify the process of building and configuring the firmware we use variable files in the profiles/ directory. These are split into management and device categories. One set contains hardware specific variables for supported routers the other set contain administrator preferences. These are not meant to be taken as gospel, for example if you wanted to have mesh on one of the wireless radios you could edit the device profile. Or if you wanted to insert your own ssh key every time you would edit a management profile (the keys_to_insert list). If you'd like to temporarily overwrite a profile's SSH key list, add -e keys_to_insert="['$(cat <keyfile1>)', '$(cat <keyfile2)', ...]" to your command line when using one of the build* playbooks. Most users might want to set it to -e keys_to_insert=['$(cat ~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub)'].

By default most devices come with all mesh ports and a single lan port, or in cases like the Raspberry pi where only a single port is available they will have that port assigned as mesh and wifi assigned as the only way to access LAN.

Port assignment can be changed live once the router is built. But it does take some time. If you want a device to have a gateway port by default for example you can simply move a given interface from mesh interfaces into the wan interface slot.

All versions of the firmware will connect to a user defined 'exit server' and create a secure Wireguard tunnel over which to route traffic.

Building

To build the firmware for your device run, replacing '<Hardware Config>' with the value from the table above and '<Management Profile>' with a profile that has been customized to your needs:

ansible-playbook firmware-build.yml -e @profiles/devices/<Hardware Config>.yml -e@profiles/management/<Management Profile>.yml

This will take a long time, especially the first run. Nearly an hour on a fast machine and several on a slower one. After the first run things should be much faster due to cached builds. On the order of 5-10 minutes.

If you need to build for another target, just run again with a different profile parameter. The build script will always handle cleanup and updating the source code.

Flashing

When finished building your firmware images will be located in althea-firmware/build/bin/targets/<Target Name>/generic/. You are looking for a file named openwrt-...-\<Router name\>-squashfs-factory.bin or the same start with sysupgrade.bin on the end. For a lot of models it doesn't matter if you use the factory or sysupgrade firmware, but for some (the EdgerouterX for example) it does. See the 'Special firmware to escape stock' column in the above device support table. If it says intermediary then you need to use this factory firmware as a middle step to get to Althea, if the firmware to escape stock is marked as full then it's a full Althea image and you can just use that.

In general consult the OpenWRT wiki link next to each supported device above. Flashing instructions will be available there with known device specific caveats laid out. Everything is a little bit different, but usually not too complicated.

Once your device is running OpenWRT (any version Althea or not) you no longer need to follow the factory firmware method, even though it may still be available (for example a recovery mode), you can simply scp the firmware file to the /tmp/ directory and run sysupgrade -v -n /tmp/<firmware>

If you have already flashed a device and want to do some rapid iteration testing I suggest using the build-and-upgrade.yml playbook. It will ssh into the default router ip and use the appropriate sysupgrade image. Automated flashing from a factory stock device can be done from build-and-factory.yml but only supports devices with emergency room based recovery modes. So the n600, n750, and dir860l.

Building the firmware didn't work

Follow the debugging instructions provided by the build playbook. That should give you a proper error message. Drop by our Matrix channel and let us know what happened. We'll be happy to help out.

You might clean the build folder if you've made any changes and are starting over.

There's no hardware config for my router

Making a hardware config is a somewhat involved proccess. If you can read and understand the OpenWRT build system documentation you should be able to manage it.

The core of the concept is that files in the 'files' folder during firmware build will get inserted into the root filesystem of the resulting firmware. Combined with the Make config called a 'diffcofig' setting up the appropriate file is the bulk of the work done by the Althea firmware builder.

To add support for a device download the OpenWRT repository and run make menuconfig select your target device as well as Althea's required packages. Wireguard (the metapackage) , ipset, althea-rust-binaries, althea-babeld, and luci (also the metapackage).

Then run make -j <num cores> to build the firmware, this will take a while. When it's finished flash the resulting image. Login via ssh and copy /etc/config/networkand/etc/config/wireless, you will edit these files into Althea templates that will reside in roles/build-config/templates. Look in that folder for existing examples. The requirements are pretty simple, gateway mode has at least one dhcp wan port, every device must have at least one 'LAN' port if possible. To simplify debugging.

The final piece of the picture is in profiles/devices/<devicename>.yml you need to edit this with a list of proper interface names, target data and other fields that will be used to template not only the network and wireless configs, but also the firewall and ssh config.

After testing that you can make a pull request against our repo to merge your new device support.

If you would like to request support for specific hardware drop by our Matrix channel and let us know. We'll do our best to add support.

So I flashed the firmware, what do I do now?

For typical use cases see the Setting up your Althea router guide.

If you would like to do techncial debugging here are some tips and tricks.

You can ssh into the rotuer using ssh root@192.168.10.1 from the lan port of the WiFi networks. This connection is passwordless and I strongly suggest running passwd and setting a proper password if you plan to use the device for a while.

Once logged into ssh, run the top command and look for a process called rita this is our primary network and payment daemon. If it's crashed you can try to restart it with service rita start (there will be a 30 wait period on startup). If it crashes again after checking top you can use this debugging trick to get a stack trace.

ssh root@192.168.10.1 RUST_BACKTRACE=full RUST_LOG=trace rita --config=/etc/rita.toml --platform=linux &> out.log

What this line does is execude Rita as a one off command over ssh, allow the logging output to be redirected into a local file on your computer for easy inspection.

If Rita is running properly but you can't see any peers on the dashboard (see the setup guide above) then run the command wg you should see at least one active tunnel or several if you have a connection plugged into the WAN port. If you don't you should either debug your WAN connection or your mesh neighbors router respectively.

The meshing, how does that work?

Babel, and by extension Althea works by building a L3 network out of L2 links, 'mesh ports' on your router will have any link plugged into them search for peers and connect. For example if you simply use an ethernet cable to link the mesh ports of a set of routers they will connect to each other and pass connections between each other.

In a real network point to point wireless links will be used. You can find instructions on how to both select radios and set them up in the Althea network getting started guide

While point to point links are insurmountably superior to meshing with the built in device radios there may be some situations where you may want to do that for a hop or two to reduce the number of point to point links or otherwise make life easier. In that case you'll need to ssh in and edit /etc/config/wireless and enable the AltheaMesh SSID by flipping enabled form 0 to 1

followed by wifi restart

We may switch the firmwares to meshing on built in wifi by default if there's a larger demand for that.

Setting up an Exit server

An Althea Exit server is essentially a WireGuard proxy server setup to integrate with the mesh network.

Copy the file profiles/exit/config-example.yml to profiles/exit/config.yml and modify it as needed.

There's a lot of data that goes into the config file for an exit.

If you configure your gateway with a url containing multiple DNS entires for each server Althea clients will automatically connect and failover.

If you don't want to run multiple servers simply remove that line.

Next are authentication settings, we've included blank SMTP mail auth settings. If you leave mailer true you can fill out those details and have the exit send users emails to authorize. If you turn mailer to false it will disable authentication of new users.
If you set phone to true and include phone_auth_api_key, twillio_account_id, and twillio_auth_token, it will send an auth code from send_number

Finally you need to generate another set of keys and uncomment the appropriate blockchain full nodes and settings. You must also select an arbitrary valid ipv6 address out of the fd00::/8 range

When setting up a new postgres database you'll need to run the migrations here

Installing and running PostgreSQL is a large topic not fully described here. A simple TLDR to install locally on Fedora:

sudo dnf install postgresql-server
sudo /usr/bin/postgresql-setup --initdb
sudo systemctl enable postgresql.service
sudo systemctl start postgresql.service

sudo su - postgres 
psql postgres
postgres=# create database exitdb;
postgres=# create user exituser with encrypted password 'exitpassword';
postgres=# grant all privileges on database exitdb to exituser;
postgres=# exit
nano data/pg_hba.conf

# make sure the following lines end with 'trust' or 'md5'
# "local" is for Unix domain socket connections only
local   all             all                                     trust
# IPv4 local connections:
host    all             all             127.0.0.1/32            trust
# IPv6 local connections:
host    all             all             ::1/128                 trust

# now you should be able to do: 
psql "postgresql://exituser:exitpassword@localhost/exitdb"

Assuming you have PostgreSQL running and a database URL, proceed:

# install rust
curl --proto '=https' --tlsv1.2 -sSf https://sh.rustup.rs | sh

# you may need to install additional dependencies
# fedora
sudo dnf install libpq-devel community-mysql-devel

# install diesel
cargo install diesel_cli
# clone althea_rs
git clone https://github.com/althea-net/althea_rs
# run the migrations
cd althea_rs/exit_db
diesel migration run --database-url=""

Now that everything is finally configured you can run ansible to build your exit server image

ansible-playbook -e @profiles/devices/x86_64.yml -e @profiles/management/althea-managed.yml -e @profiles/exit/config-example.yml firmware-build.yml

Adding your new exit to an Althea client

Currently we ship exits as part of the default config file in the firmware but that's hardly the only way to configure one.

You can manually edit the /etc/rita.toml file on a client and paste in a block like this

[exit_client.exits.test]
registration_port = 4875
description = "The Althea testing exit cluster. Unstable!"
state = "New"
[exit_client.exits.test.id]
mesh_ip = "fd00::1337:1e0f"
eth_address = "0x5aee3dff733f56cfe7e5390b9cc3a46a90ca1cfa"
wg_public_key = "zgAlhyOQy8crB0ewrsWt3ES9SvFguwx5mq9i2KiknmA="

Replace the eth address with the public address of the private key you configured in the exit hosts file and the public key should be the value of the wg_exit_public_key likewise mesh_ip is the value of exit_mesh_ip as configured above. The description is arbitrary so put whatever you like.

You can also use curl to directly insert a new exit

curl -vv -XPOST -H 'Content-Type: application/json' -d
 "test_exit": {
      "id": {
        "mesh_ip": "fd00::1337:e4f",
        "eth_address": "0xe4ad1f9aa23957d294d869b70fc8f28774df896e",
        "wg_public_key": "1kKSpzdhI4kfqeMqch9I1bXqOUXeKN7EQBecVzW60ys=",
      },
      "registration_port": 4875,
      "description": "An arbitrary testing exit",
      "state": "New",
    }
192.168.10.1:4877/exits

Or even direct curl to a remote list of exits over https. This will load a file from the destination and extract a Json formatted list of exits (see the formatting of the previous request as an example).

curl 127.0.0.1:4877/exits/sync -H "Content-Type:application/json" -d '\{"url": "https://somewhere.safe"\}