Getting started with Snappy Ubuntu Core on the Raspberry Pi 2

[UPDATE: Note that the version of Snappy described in this post is now obsolete – I have a new post describing a newer version which works better, and slightly differently.]

This post consists of a few notes which may be helpful for people trying to get started with Snappy Ubuntu Core on the new Raspberry Pi 2. First of all note that Ubuntu requires ARM7 so it won’t run on any model of Raspberry Pi prior to the Raspberry Pi 2 (model B), released February 2015.

The Ubuntu Core image can be downloaded from the Raspberry Pi downloads page, and written to uSD card in the usual way, just as you would a Raspbian image. From my Ubuntu laptop, I use a command like:

% sudo dd bs=1M if=pi-snappy.img of=/dev/mmcblk0

Be very careful to get the device name correct for of, as this command will completely trash the output device.

Once you have an image on a uSD card, you can insert it into your Pi 2 and boot it up as usual. If you have a keyboard and display hooked up you can log in on the console, but note that Ubuntu Core can be used headless from first boot via ssh. The default username and password are both ubuntu. I ssh in to my device with a command like ssh ubuntu@raspi08.home. Ubuntu Core uses the new containerised “snappy” system for managing packages, so “apt” doesn’t work. To get an idea of how snappy works, you can read through the snappy tour from Canonical, but note that much of this tour won’t actually work on the Pi 2 right now. Here’s a console session:

ubuntu@localhost:~$ snappy info
release: ubuntu-core/devel
ubuntu@localhost:~$ snappy versions
Part         Tag   Installed  Available  Fingerprint     Active  
ubuntu-core  edge  2          -          f442b1d8d6db3f  *              
This command needs root, please run with sudo
ubuntu@localhost:~$ snappy search docker
No matching packages found: docker

You will note that Docker isn’t currently available for Ubuntu Core on the Pi 2, though hopefully that will change soon. However, at the time of writing you may also find that the final command bombs with a certificate error. This turns out to be due to the fact that the system time is incorrect. You can verify this by running date. You can manually set it with a command like

sudo date -s "Sat Feb  7 09:57:32 GMT 2015"

where you paste in the output from running date on a system which does have the correct time. You can also automate this by instead using a command like

sudo date -s "`ssh username@linuxserver date`"

where username and linuxserver are replaced appropriately. At the time of writing there are very few Snappy packages available, but one useful package is webdm. You can search for it with snappy search webdm and install it with

sudo snappy install webdm

Running snappy info will confirm that it has installed correctly. This runs a web based package manager on port 4200, so, for example, I can connect to this from a web browser on the local network using the URL http://raspi08.home:4200/. This allows the browsing of available frameworks and apps.

There currently isn’t any app or framework for Java, but manually downloading and installing Oracle’s JDK8 for ARM works fine, and runs code at the same speed as using the JVM which ships with Raspbian. It would be very easy to package up the JDK8 as a Snappy app or framework, but I guess that there are licensing issues, so I’ll leave that to others to sort out! You can find out more about how Snappy works by reading Canonical’s snappy guides.

I quite like the Snappy system, and running Ubuntu Core on a Pi 2 is potentially a great way to learn about Cloud computing in a very cheap, simple and safe way. However, we need a few key apps and frameworks before it will become genuinely useful. Ubuntu Core certainly isn’t about to replace Raspbian as the main OS for the Raspberry Pi 2 any time soon.