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Device Tree Overlays

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Article updated at 31 Jul 2019
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Device Tree Overlays provide a way to modify the overall device tree without having to re-compile the complete device tree. Overlays are small pieces, or fragments of a complete device tree, and can be added or removed as needed, often enabling/disabling components of hardware in the system. It is because of this flexible nature that overlays provide an advantageous way of describing peripheral hardware, that can be added or removed from the system. It is also useful for tweaking parameters of existing hardware before committing it to a complete device tree. Overlays are described elsewhere, but here are some links that do a good job explaining them:

This article complies to the Typographic Conventions for Torizon Documentation


The Container

To overcome the task of setting-up the environment, modifying and re-compiling a device tree, Toradex provides a container that has tools necessary to build, analyze, and apply both device trees and device tree overlays. This container runs on the TorizonCore Operating System, and is intended to act as a hardware configuration tool.

The bulk of the tools in this container are part of the "dtc" (device tree compiler) project and can therefore be found in the dtc repository on Github, but are also shipped as part of the linux kernel in the scripts/dtc directory.

Overlays in human-readable format (dts files) must be compiled to binary format (dtb for complete device-trees, dtbo for overlays) to be parsed by the kernel.

High-Level description of tools in this container are:


Used to manage device-trees and device-tree overlays running on a system.

Other Features

This container also comes with device-tree and device-tree overlay source files. These files can be used as a base to create new device-trees or device tree overlays.

Default overlays are located inside /usr/src/dts/overlays.

Using the Container

On the computer on module, run the container:

# docker pull torizon/torizon-core-tools-container
# docker run --rm --privileged --tmpfs /run/lock -it -v /dev:/dev -v /boot:/boot torizon/torizon-core-tools-container /bin/bash

dtconf Command Line Options

Usage: dtconf < command > [arguments]
        -h, --help
        -b, --build < dts file(s) > [ dtb/dtbo file ]
        -s, --status
        -v, --validate < dtb file(s) > -c [ active dtb name ]
        -e, --enable <dtb name/all>
        -d, --disable <dtb name/all>
        -a, --activate < dts file(s) > -c [ active dtb name]
        -p, --print <dtb file(s)>
  • The -s/--status option prints out a list of currently active overlays and of the device trees that are available on the device.
  • The -b/--build option compiles a dts code file into a device-tree or device-tree overlay file.
  • The -v/--validate options checks that an overlay file is compatible with a device tree. Depending on the Torizon image and SOC you may have multiple valid device trees on your boot partition, in this case you should specify the one that is currently used with the "-c" additional parameter.
  • The -e/--enable options copies a binary device tree overlay to the boot partition and adds it to the list of overlays that are activated at boot.
  • The -a/--activate options builds a source dts, validates it and enables it in a single step. It's equivalent to run -b -v and -e commands in sequence.
  • The -d/--disable options can be used to remove one overlay from the list of those that are applied at boot. If all is specified, all overlays will be removed.
  • The -p/--print option translate a binary device-tree file back into human readable format, it can be used to debug issues or document the configuration changes performed by active overlays

Overlays are applied at boot, so the options that affect active overlays configuration (-a,-e and -d) will require a reboot to apply the required changes.


Compile device tree or device tree overlay

Build command can be used to convert a dts into a binary device tree file.

## dtconf -b /usr/src/dts/overlays/display_EDT7_parallel_res_touch.dts

NOTE: Both device trees (.dtb) and device tree overlays (.dtbo) are built from the same source file (.dts). In an attempt to determine the output file type, the dtconf script will scan the .dts file for the "fragment@0" string. If this string is found it assumes file is an overlay and names the output with a .dtbo extension, otherwise, it is named with a .dtb.

Enable overlays

You can enable an overlay using a binary dtbo file:

## dtconf -e display_7_parallel_cap_touch.dts touch_cap_colibri_imx6_aster.dts.dtbo

Or directly using dts file, in this case the overlay is first compiled to binary format, then validated and then enabled:

## dtconf -a display_7_parallel_cap_touch.dts /usr/src/dts/overlays/touch_cap_colibri_imx6_aster.dts

On some modules where multiple device-trees are provided (ex: colibri-imx7, apalis-imx6) you'll have to provide an additional parameter, to select the target device tree.

## dtconf -a display_7_parallel_cap_touch.dts /usr/src/dts/overlays/touch_cap_colibri_imx6_aster.dts -c devicetree-imx7d-colibri-emmc-eval-v3.dtb

Verify device tree overlay against base device tree

This simply ensures that the device tree overlay is compatable with a specified device tree. The device-tree parameter is optional, by default it will verify the overlay against the active device tree:

## dtconf -v some-overlay.dtbo

Deactivate an overlay

## dtconf -d display_7_parallel_cap_touch.dts touch_cap_colibri_imx6_aster.dts.dtbo

Note: You should not specify a full path for the overlay because active overlays are stored in the boot partition.

Remove all active overlays

## dtconf -d all

View overall status of device trees and overlays

## dtconf -s

Currently active overlays:
Available device trees:

Modify parameter in an overlay

You can modfiy any of the overlays we provide and then verify them.

First you need to build the overlay:

## dtconf -b modified_overlay.dts

You can then verify that this overlay will apply to the active device tree by executing:

## dtconf -v modified_overlay.dtbo

And finally set it to be active by executing:

## dtconf -e modified_overlay.dtbo

You would now be required to reboot for these changes to take effect.

Creating custom overlays: Enabling GPIOs

In addition to the sample overlays shipped with the Torizon Tools container in /usr/src/dts/overlays, one can also create custom overlays by simply creating a new .dts file and applying it using dtconf according to the instructions above.

The following overlay will enable any given pinctrl node (&pinctrl_my_gpios) as GPIOs:

/ {
	compatible = "toradex";
	fragment@0 {
		target = <&iomuxc>;
		__overlay__ {
			pinctrl-names = "default";
            pinctrl-0 = <

Known Issues

  • Build warnings appear upon building an overlay file. This is due to the compiler assuming the file is a full device-tree instead of an overlay.