Developing with Fuchsia packages

Almost everything that exists on a Fuchsia system is a Fuchsia package. Even the contents of /system are backed by a Fuchsia package. Whether it is immediately apparent or not almost everything you see on Fuchsia lives in a package. This document will cover the basics of a package-driven workflow where you build a package and push it to a Fuchsia device which is reachable via IP from your development host.

Pre-requisites and overview

The host and target must be able to communicate over IP. In particular it must be possible to SSH from the development host to the target device, and the target device must be able to connect via TCP to the development host on port 8083. The SSH connection is used to issue commands to the target device.

The development host will run a simple, static file, HTTP server which makes the updates available to the target. This HTTP server is part of the Fuchsia source code and built automatically.

The target is instructed to look for changes on the development host via a couple of commands that are run manually. When the update system on the target sees these changes it will fetch the new software from the HTTP server running on the host. The new software will be available until the target is rebooted.


TODO(jmatt): improve to talk about wider variety of build options

To build a package containing the required code, a package type build rule is used. If one of these needs to be created for the target package, consult the reference page for this. Some build rule types are actually extensions of the package rule type, for example flutter_app extends the package type. The rule must also not set deprecated_system_image to true, things in the system image can only be updated by paving.

Once an appropriate build rule is available the target package can be re-generated by running fx build or fx build <target_name>.

Connecting host and target

The Fuchsia source contains a simple HTTP server which serves static files. The build generates a TUF file tree which is served.

The update agent on the target does not initially know where to look for updates. To connect the agent on the target to the HTTP server running on the development host, it must be told the IP address of the development host. The host HTTP server is started and the update agent is configured by calling fx serve -v or fx serve-updates -v. fx serve will run both the bootserver and the update server and is often what people use. fx serve-updates runs just the update server. In both cases, -v is recommended because the command will print more output which may assist with debugging. If the host connects successfully to the target you will see the message Ready to push packages! in the shell on your host.

The update agent on the target will remain configured until it is repaved or persistent data is lost. The host will attempt to reconfigure the update agent when the target is rebooted.

Triggering package updates

In the future certain updates may happen automatically, but today the update agent on the target must be told to look for an update. To accomplish this a SSH connection is made from the host to the target and a command is run to tell the update agent to look for a new package. To trigger the update invoke fx build-push <package_name>. The <package_name> argument can be repeated to push multiple packages. The <package_name> argument can also be omitted to cause all packages, except the system package, to be pushed. The number of packages is typically large and the build-push mechanism doesn't scale well. To update all the packages on a target it will be faster to do an OTA.

The update package(s) will be available until the target is rebooted. Following a reboot the package data will still be on local storage, but will be inaccessible. This is a limitation of the current implementation which will improve over time. When doing an OTA the result of the OTA is persistent across reboots.

Triggering an OTA

Sometimes there may be many packages changed or the kernel may change or there may be changes in the system package. To get kernel changes or changes in the system package an OTA or pave is required, fx build-push isn't capable of updating these things. An OTA update will usually be faster than paving. When updating a large number of packages an OTA update will be faster than fx build-push because of its more optimized implementation.

The command fx ota asks the target device to perform an update from any of the update sources available to it. To OTA update a build made on the dev host to a target on the same LAN, first build the system you want. If fx serve [-v] isn't already running, start it so the target can use the development host as an update source. The -v option will show more information about the files the target is requesting from the host. If the the -v flag was used there should be a flurry of output as the target retrieves all the new files. Following completion of the OTA the device will reboot.

Just the commands

  • fx serve -v (to run the update server for both build-push and ota)
    • fx serve-updates -v (to run only the update server, not the bootserver)
  • fx build-push <package_name> (each time a change is made you want to push)
  • fx shell "killall sysmgr" (optional, depending on your component)
  • fx ota (to trigger a full system update and reboot)

Issues and considerations

You can fill up your disk

Every update pushed is stored in the content-addressed file system, blobfs. Following a reboot the updated packages may not be available because the index that locates them in blobfs is only held in RAM. The system currently does not garbage collect inaccessible or no-longer-used packages (having garbage to collect is a recent innovation!), but will eventually. Until then, the easiest solution is to re-pave the device, which will clear out blobfs.

Restarting without rebooting

If the package being updated hosts a service managed by Fuchsia that service may need to be restarted. Rebooting is undesirable both because it is slow and because the package will revert to the version paved on the device. In this case ‘fuchsia’ can be restarted. More accurately, sysmgr can be restarted. sysmgr can be restarted by running fx shell "killall sysmgr".

Updating things in the system package

If a package is part of the system image (because its package rule sets deprecated_system_image = "true") then it can not be updated with the package update flow. To update the system package, an OTA is required which requires a reboot at present.

The system package is intended for a few key pieces of code and data that are involved in booting the system. There are very few reasons that code should need to live in the system package. Being a driver, for example, is not a reason something should live in the system package. If there is an architectural reason for something to be in the system package it is likely that either the architecture is expected to change or a redesign should be considered to remove the system package constraint.

Packaging code outside the Fuchsia tree

Packaging and pushing code that lives outside the Fuchsia tree is possible, but will require more work. The Fuchsia package format is quite simple. It consists of a metadata file describing the package contents which is described in more detail in the Fuchsia package documentation. The metadata file is added to a TUF file tree and each of the contents are named after their Merkle root hash and put in a directory at the root of the TUF file tree called ‘blobs’.