Running a Standard Linux Distribution on a Smartphone

Running a Standard Linux Distribution on a Smartphone

Running a Standard Linux Distribution on a Smartphone

Masterthesis done by Sebastian Reichel.


  • Operating Systems
  • Embedded Systems
  • Smartphones


Today it is common, that one can install a random Linux distribution on ones notebook or desktop computer. Installing it on a smartphone is a completly different issue, though. Currently the Linux kernel does not support a complete smartphone and as a result most Linux distributions do not provide any smartphone support whatsoever.
Having support for a smartphone in a standard (non-Android based) Linux distribution would have a couple of advantages, though. First of all, one would get security updates independently from the vendors via proofed update methods. Next its means, that all related code is available as open source software making it auditable. Apart from that, the platform would profit from improvements gained, because it’s sharing code with the standard desktop software.

This thesis will use the Nokia N900 as hardware base for the following reasons:

  • It’s possible to interact with the bootloader, so custom kernels (or a second bootloader) can be loaded.
  • The serial port for debugging is documented and can be used for low level
    kernel debugging.
  • The mainline kernels already contains drivers for many chips.
    As ”standard Linux distribution” Debian will be used as example, but the
    thesis should easily be applicable to other Linux distributions.


This thesis will analyze, whether it is possible (and useful) to run a standard
Linux distribution on a smartphone. For that a couple of subtasks will be

  1. For description of the hardware architecture, a tool will be written, that
    generates a graphical representation of the device tree file used by the
  2. For accessing the serial port, a small adapter will be built, that provides
    an USB interface.
  3. Even though the mainline kernel already contains support for most of the
    N900’s hardware components, a couple of them are not yet supported.
    For this thesis at least the modem speech data and the camera drivers are
    needed and will be ported to the new kernel.
  4. Last but not least, the thesis will check the userland - what software is
    available to solve typical smartphone problems as seen in the following
  • establishing voice calls
  • sending and receiving short messages
  • web surfing using modem and/or wlan
  • instant messaging using modem and/or wlan
  • photographing and viewing of pictures
  • maps / navigation
  • PIM: calendar and contacts
(Stand: 19.01.2024)  | 
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