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How To Install Additional Software On Your Home Router (DD-WRT)

Opkg3

Have you ever wanted to have additional functionality like Email, Bit-torrent or even MySQL directly on your router? Well maybe now you can. How-To Geek dives into how-to install Opkg software on DD-WRT.

Image by Jean Spector and Aviad Raviv

If you haven’t already, be sure and check out previous articles in the series:

Assuming you are familiar with those topics, keep reading. Keep in mind that this guide is a little more technical, and beginners should be careful when modding their router.

Tribulations

I’ve recently bought a new Buffalo WZR-HP-AG300H which comes with a re-branded version of DD-WRT. Due to the fact that this router has a USB port, I immediately connected an HD and tried to use the “Optware, The Right Way” wiki guide. Unfortunately I’ve quickly found that the router that I got, is Atheros based and the script from that wiki page, doesn’t support it. So I’ve started digging (as i always do) and came across several guides (123 and 4) that aimed to explain how to get Opkg working manually. While their contribution (among other sources on the web) to this guide was invaluable, some of the instructions are (IMHO) simply not straight forward enough. For example, giving you the “lib” files fish, but don’t teach you how to fish it from the source. Also having to make use of a Linux formatted HD or at least a partition of one (which actually doesn’t even work on the firmwares I’ve tested with). That is why, I felt the need to create the below concise, simple to follow and reproducible procedure for getting the OpenWRT Opkg package manager to work on such routers.

Update: The mounting partitions capability has been reintroduced into the re-branded version on the 17798 alpha build.

What is Opkg?

Opkg is a package manager like apt/aptitude and yum. It acts as a replacement for the Ipkg package manager, and can be used to install software such as: the Transmission BitTorrent daemon, the ssmtp email sender and Knockd a daemon that execute scripts after a specified port triggering sequence, to name a few. From the OpenWRT site:

The opkg utility (an ipkg fork) is a lightweight package manager used to download and install OpenWrt packages from local package repositories or ones located on the Internet. Opkg attempts to resolve dependencies with packages in the repositories – if this fails, it will report an error, and abort the installation of that package.

So using Opkg we can install things like we did with Ipkg on the “Unleash Even More Power from Your Home Router” guide. The major differences, are:

  1. In order to give the examples of SSMTP and Knockd, yours truly, had to figure out the dependencies manually. The procedure to do this manually is bothersome and not very straight forward. Opkg does this automatically.
  2. This time we will be adding software on top of the firmware that’s in place, rather then replacing it. While replacing it was an excellent geek exercise, it was without a doubt: dangerous, prone to problems, irreversible and worst of all router specific. Needless to say that this is way simpler and safer.

Prerequisites

In order to complete this guide note the following:

  1. As stated above, this guide was created and tested on Buffalo WZR-HP-AG300H with Buffalo’s “Pro” firmware version 17135. It should work on any Atheros (ar71xx) based routers with any version of DD-WRT of the same revision or above, but your mileage may very.
  2. You will need to enable SSH on the router, as well as install and use WinSCP  to connect to it. This was explained in the “How to Remove Advertisements with Pixelserv on DD-WRT” guide. In fact, it will be assumed that you are able to do everything that is explained in that guide.
  3. You need to be able to connect to the router using a terminal (SSH is recommended). Some pointers on how to do this, are on the DD-WRT wiki.
  4. Space for JFFS and about 4MB of post formatted space for the base setup. JFFS space is not only a prerequisite, it is a show stopper. This is because, If your router doesn’t have at least the above mentioned 4MB of post formatted space, you will not gain any real benefit from this guide, and will be better off using the “Unleash Even More Power from Your Home Router” guide to install Ipkg packages directly into the firmware or installing the Ipkg packages manually. Follow the instructions on the “How to Remove Advertisements with Pixelserv on DD-WRT” guide to enable JFFS, and see how much free space you actually have after it is formatted.

Note: It is possible to do this with only 2MB of space for the setup, but then we would lose the upshot of “/etc” becoming read-writable and would have to invoke Opkg, while specifying the configuration file manually every time… which is like sooo lame… 

Lets get cracking

At this point you should have enabled JFFS and are able to SSH/WinSCP into the router.

  1. Open a terminal session to the router.
  2. Create a temporary directory that we will be working in:

    mkdir /tmp/1
    cd /tmp/1

Use Ipkg to install Opkg
While we are going to replace Ipkg as the package manager, we will be using it to manually install the Opkg installation package.

  1. To do this, download the Opkg installation package for the ar71xx architecture from the OpenWRT project trunk:

    wget http://downloads.openwrt.org/snapshots/trunk/ar71xx/packages/opkg_618-2_ar71xx.ipk

    Note1: At the time of this writing, 618 is the latest version, this may be subject to change in the future, so adjust accordingly.
    Note2: It may be possible that the only difference in getting this guide to work for other architectures is to get the Opkg installer from the applicable architecture for your router… however this is untested by yours truly.

  2. Invoke Ipkg to manually install Opkg using:

    ipkg install opkg_618-2_ar71xx.ipk

    Note: You can, if you wanted too, install every package in the repository manually this way. However this would mean that you will have to resolve the dependencies on your own… and what would be the fun in that?

Obtaining the dynamic library files (“lib”s)
The required “lib” files to make Opkg work, are part of the OpenWRT distribution. To obtain them, one has to extract them from the “Root FileSystem” of said distribution.

  1. To do This, download the latest basic “Root FileSystem” for the openWRT distrebution which containes the required “lib”s from the OpenWRT project trunk:

    wget http://downloads.openwrt.org/snapshots/trunk/ar71xx/openwrt-ar71xx-generic-rootfs.tar.gz

  2. Extract it using:

    tar xvzf openwrt-ar71xx-generic-rootfs.tar.gz

  3. Copy the “libs” files from the “rootfs” we’ve extracted above to the “libs” directory on our JFFS, while preserving their attributes and symbolic links:

    cp -Pp /tmp/1/lib/* /jffs/usr/lib/

    Note: You will get messages saying that the sub-directories are being omitted. As we don’t need anything but the “lib” files, this is fine and you can safely ignore these messages.

Fixing the LD_LIBRARY “PATH”
We need to tell the router, where to look for the shared libraries (libs) we’ve just “installed” and that it needs to do this before the ones that came with the firmware.

  1. To do this set the LD_LIBRARY environment variable manually (for now), to make it so the location where we copied the new lib files will be the first one in the “PATH”:

    export LD_LIBRARY_PATH=/jffs/usr/lib:$LD_LIBRARY_PATH

Read-writable “/etc”
We are going to copy “/etc” to JFFS and then make the regular “/etc” mount point, point to it. Doing so, will both open up a world of possibilities, because “/etc” will become read-writeable (which I personally have been waiting for give or take 7 years now) and enable packages that expect this behavior, to work correctly.

  1. Create the directory that will hold “/etc”:

    mkdir -p /jffs/geek/etc

  2. Recursively copy the entirety of “/etc” while preserving all subdirectories, file attributes and symbolic links.

    cp -a /etc/* /jffs/geek/etc/

  3. Manually (for now) “bind mount” the “/etc” directory to the JFFS one:

    mount -o bind /jffs/geek/etc/ /etc/

Set the Optware directory (“/opt”)
Opkg from OpenWRT, expects to be used when the router’s firmware is built. As at such time, the FileSystem isn’t on the router yet, and thus still subject to change, there is no problem installing to any location on the FileSystem. That is why the Opkg configuration file points packages to install to the “root” (/) of the FileSystem. However, we are using Opkg after the firmware was built and installed on the router, and as we can’t change the root of the filesystem to be read-writeable, we will point all installations to be installed under “/opt”. However Currently “/opt” also points to a read-only location on the router’s firmware. To overcome this, we will make “/opt” point to JFFS, which is read-writable.

  1. To do this, Create the directory that will contain the Optware packages:

    mkdir -p /jffs/opt

  2. Manually (for now) “bind mount” the “/opt” directory to the JFFS one:

    mount -o bind /jffs/opt/ /opt/

    Note: While beyond the scope of this guide, more advanced users may want to change this mount point, to point to an HD.

Adjusting the Opkg configurations file
We want the Opkg configuration file to be where Opkg searches for it by default (which is “/etc”) and adjusted to install to “/opt”.

  1. To do this, move the opkg configuration file installed by the Opkg package to the read-writable “/etc” location:

    mv /jffs/etc/opkg.conf /etc/

  2. Change the destination for Optware installations to be “/opt” instead of “root” (/).
    To do this, with the “vi” editor or WinSCP navigate to “/etc/” and make the “opkg.conf” file’s content:

    vi /etc/opkg.conf

    Make it look like:

    src/gz snapshots http://downloads.openwrt.org/snapshots/trunk/ar71xx/packages
    dest root /opt
    dest ram /tmp
    lists_dir ext /var/opkg-lists
    option overlay_root /overlay

    Note: You can change the “lists_dir” directive to point to a location that isn’t in RAM, but rather on JFFS. While this would relieve you from updating the lists, before you can install additional software (if your router is rebooted from the last time), you would lose about 1.5MB of the scarce JFFS space and you would be compounding to its erosion.

Hello baby
You should be able to see that Opkg is working by issuing the update and lists commands.

  1. If all went well you should be seeing that the Opkg lists have been updated without error and you are ready to implement the script in the next step:

    opkg update; opkg list

  2. Take the time to start exploring the packages available on the repository….

StartUp script
We now need to make it so all of the required mounting and path-ing will happen automatically when the router boots. To that end, we’ve created for you, this initialization geek-init script.

  1. Download, then extract it and place it under “/jffs/geek/etc/”. (Consider doing this with WinSCP).
  2. Make the script executable by going into its properties with WinSCP or executing:

    chmod +x /jffs/geek/etc/geek-init.sh

  3. Make the script execute on the router’s startup, using the WebGUI. Under Administration -> Commands, in the text box, put:

    /jffs/geek/etc/geek-init.sh web-gui

    And Click “Save Startup”.

Kicking the tires
If all went well, you should now be able to reboot the router and still use the Opkg package manager. That is to update, list and install applications.
Lets test that everything is working by installing the “netstat” command, which for some reason has been omitted from DD-WRT’s builds lately. Before we do this, execute the netstat command in the terminal and you will see that you’re grated by an error from the shell, saying “-sh: netstat: not found”.

  1. Your first step will always be, to update the Opkg lists, as to have the latest packages listing from the repository:

    opkg update

  2. If you don’t know which package contains the “netstat” command, you can filter the results using.

    opkg list | grep netstat

  3. And now install “netstat” using:

    opkg install net-tools-netstat

    And now, when you execute the netstat command again it works… neat ha? :)

Until the future articles in which we will install and configure software packages using this method, may you have tons of geek fun exploring the vast amount of software that is now right at your finger tips.


If such a machine is a virtual impossibility, it must logically be a finite improbability. So all I have to do in order to make one is to work out how exactly improbable it is, feed that figure into the finite improbability generator, give it a fresh cup of really hot tea and turn it on… … … . .. … .. .. The one thing they really don’t like, is a “Smart-Ass”.

Aviad Raviv, is an agile IT implementer that has reached the level of "Bankai" and is now working on incorporating the "hollow" side.

  • Published 12/9/11

Comments (12)

  1. chess

    sweet! weekend project here i come. i got the dlink from office dept on BF and wanted to try this.

  2. Tom C.

    Nice article, but with my DLink DIR-615 Rev. H I am off -neither DD-WRT nor openWRT are working with this … product :(

  3. Anonymous

    Does anyone know if flashing a router with DD-WRT (assuming your router is even “supported”) is going to affect the ability to use IPv6 standards? I mean, most of us are going to need new routers anyway once IPv6 takes off. Right?! So why bother?

    This router flashing fad with DD-WRT, Tomato, etc. is all well and great as far as IPv4 goes. But I think I’ll hold off with any more router projects until I see more support for IPv6.

    FYI: Almost all of us are still using IPv4 and you can tell you’re using IPv4 by the simple fact that addresses are (at least translated) in the form of “octets” such as: 208.43.115.82. But when the great digital gods in the ether decide to switch over to IPv6 – which they’ve already said they are going to do and are even doing! (since we’re almost out of current IPv4 addresses) – I’m not so sure if any of these router upgrades will even work.

    Seems to me that this IPv4 to IPv6 issue is shaping up to become the next “Y2K” problem – at least as far as consumers go. There have even been recent problems in the smartphone arenas where some of us are already using IPv6 and probably aren’t even aware of it. Check it out: http://www.h-online.com/security/news/item/IPv6-Smartphones-compromise-users-privacy-1169708.html .

    This IPv6 issue seems to be so “under the radar” for most people that I don’t think even most “geeks” are aware of it. And router manufacturers don’t exactly help either where almost no manufacturer will even say if any of their models (or upgrades) are IPv6 compliant or not. They all keep claiming the latest and greatest in WiFi features (such as “N” compatibility) but fail miserably where any mention of IPv6 is concerned.

    I won’t even go into the almost non-existent standards for IPv6 over wireless mediums is concerned – about the best we have there is “wireless USB.” So aren’t we (all) just burring our heads in the sand when we continue to ignore IPv6?

    …Or did I miss something?

  4. Aviad

    @jklsemicolon

    you are kinda right about the y2k thing… but about the IPv6, the fact is that because it is just software, DD-WRT and other open source projects like it, have a better chance of supporting it… something regular routers would have to wait for the manufacturer to get off his ass to do, if his even gonna at all… in fact, DD and openWRT already supported IPv6 from at least as way back as 2006.

  5. Mace Moneta

    Great article, thanks. One item I think you forgot… You need to edit /etc/profile to change the LD_LIBRARY_PATH so it survives reboot to:

    export LD_LIBRARY_PATH=/jffs/usr/lib:/lib:/usr/lib:/jffs/lib:/jffs/usr/local/lib:/mmc/lib:/mmc/usr/lib:/opt/lib:/opt/usr/lib

  6. Aviad

    @Mace Moneta no i didn’t… the geek init script does just that…

  7. thank you

    first guide to be of any help to me, thanks a lot

  8. minimoto

    So I got the same router used in this guide, and when I go to enter: “ipkg install opkg_618-2_ar71xx.ipk” I get error messages:

    ERROR: File not found: //usr/local/lib/ipkg/lists/whiterussian
    You probably want to run `ipkg update’
    ERROR: File not found: //usr/local/lib/ipkg/lists/non-free
    You probably want to run `ipkg update’
    ERROR: File not found: //usr/local/lib/ipkg/lists/backports
    You probably want to run `ipkg update’
    /bin/ipkg: line 1184: sort: not found
    mkdir: cannot create directory ‘/jffs/tmp/’: Read-only file system

    Then when I try running “ipkg update” I get a message saying:

    mkdir: cannot create directory ‘//usr/local/lib/’: Read-only file system

    How do I make it work? I think I would just have to make “//usr/local/lib” write-able, right?

  9. Aviad

    @minimoto
    because of the “/jffs/tmp” msg, It looks to me that there is a problem with your JFFS for some reason.
    Try “cleaning” it and rebooting the router.

    The errors about “/usr/local/*” are normal… just ignore them…
    Good luck.

  10. minimoto

    @Aviad
    Thank you very much, it’s all working now. It turns out I actually hadn’t enabled JFFS, but I thought I did. I’ll have to peruse the all the packages to find the good stuff.

  11. stefanoanzilotti

    Hi guys,
    I’d like to install Transmission on my router (Buffalo WZR HP AG300H), so i try this guide, but i have some problems. There are no errors when the commands are executed, I think there are some problems relating the startup script: I’ve saved to the startup the line written in the guide ‘/jffs/geek/etc/geek-init.sh web-gui’; opkg works before rebooting, but stops working after. I have a document that contains the commands I have given on the command line, but it is long. If it’s useful, I can share it or post it to pieces.

    Can you tell me where I’m wrong!? thanks

    I’m sorry for my English.

  12. Aviad

    @stefanoanzilotti
    I’m sorry, but as stated earlier, the maintainers of the openWRT OPKGs, have borked something and I am no longer willing to band my head against that wall…

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