Sunday, 17 June 2007

Yet another Linux embedded device

a few days ago a nice shiny Netgear WGT634U Router arrived to my place and happily started toying with it right away! Though not on sale anymore, it has very good features, like 108Mb/s wireless and a USB port for external hd.

So, i booted it up and tested with the DS and the WII (as I mainly bought this router for its complete compatibility with Nintendo devices) and they were doing really fine! No encryption (just mac filtering) due to the poor DS security system. Anyway this router also proved a nice range and no lags! good! It was time to check its other options!

Unfortunately there were the usual silver linings! I tested the usb capability with my external usb drive, ntfs formatted - no writing allowed - it was readonly... so, since "linux partition" were supported i tried formatting it in xfs, reiserfs, ext3; noone showed up! cool!
Moreover when I tried to upgrade to the latest firmware the connection was refused and the old firmware kept!
Finally, what turned really me down was that there was no NFS support, but just a plain Samba server! ugly!!!

So these three convinced me to try linux on this router! there were two main options: OpenWRT and OpenWGT! The latter should be dedicated for this router,
WGT634U, but it's not really developed any more; so i tried the former, which has a wider support for routers of all kind!

OpenWRT has two main release: White Russian, stable branch, and Kamikaze, development branch. These two version differ mainly on the configuration method! With Russian you have to play with the nice nvram command, with Kamikaze you can swiftly modify files in /etc to change configuration. Kamikaze was the only to support my router so I had very little choice.

That's it! I put it on the router! Wow! What has changed? mmm let's see the web interface! what? no web interface? well, let's try ssh! password required? what password?

ok the panic ended when I tried by chance to access with telnet! I set up a password and ssh was activated! I was really annoyed that there wasn't a web interface but i was soon proved wrong.
On the ssh consolle, it was like any other linux system, with all the most important commands!
After a while i found this little uselful program, ipkg, which acts exactly as apt-get!
With ipkg you can install any program available on the official repositories! And there are a lot! Kernel moduls, servers of any kind (cups, nfs, samba, ftp) along the normal stuff you find on routers (dhcp, firewall, wireless).

Later on, i also found out that there was actually a web interface, not included in the repositories as still in development, called webif (already installed in White Russian) which you can download from the openWRT site. It was really nice, but it was evident that it need much development (still usable though).

Then I wanted to try out the USB expansion port! I read you could use it not only as external hd, but with any usb device compatible in linux! So you could easily plug a hub and have nfs server, bluetooth device, print server and much more! I made some attemps at building a print server, but the wiki are only for White Russian, so the method provided didn't work (actually there was no /dev/usb/lp0, but if you create the node with
mkdir -p /dev/usb && mknod /dev/usb/lp0 c 180 0 it has been reported to work)

However i wasn't happy enough! It was cool having linux on the router but it was too bleeding edge and having Kamikaze didn't help! I was unsure whether to put a plain White Russian or back the original firmware! Since i tought my router was not supported i opted for the second!
And since i wasn't sure if the suggested method worked, i did so using the most unstable web interface!

Erasing linux...
this was the last output i would ever receive from this router! Yep, i bricked it! I could try to repair it with a serial cable but it's too much of a hassle, and so i decided to ask the vendor if they can replace it!

summing up! Linux on the router is nice, but you need to have an advanced level of linux knowledge, and be ready not to come back! If you have enough time to play with it though i would suggest giving a try to it anyway, as long as you don't want to put the original firmware back :-D

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