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Hacking the Linksys NSLU2 - Debian and more

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It's been nearly two and a half years since I picked up a Linksys NSLU2 on a whim. I found it to be an interesting little Network Attached Storage (NAS) device that gave me the ability to add much-needed disk space to my network. It worked fine, but since there were additional features I wanted, I decided to dig deeper.

After playing around with it a bit, I found a cgi-bin bug that allowed me to turn on a hidden telnet daemon. Then, after hand-editing the NSLU2's password file on my iBook, I was able to gain command-line access to its underlying Linux operating system where I could begin to really investigate its potential.

While I was exploring the internals of the box, I thought there might be just a handful of other people interested, but I was wrong. It turned out there were a lot of people that thought extending an inexpensive, tiny, silent Linux box was a worthwhile project. When word got out that the NSLU2 was extendable, things really took off. In short order, geeky web sites such as LinuxDevices and Slashdot took notice and a busy developers group was founded. I wrote a number of articles detailing how to extend the capabilities of the box and alternate firmware from the development group were being installed all over the world.

In my earlier articles, I described manually downloading, installing and using a cross- compilation tool-chain, hand-editing source code, unpacking and packing firmware images, etc. In short, modifying the little box was not for the technically challenged or faint-of-heart. The instructions could be cryptic and taking a wrong step could easily destroy the device. But that didn't seem to slow the interest down. The developer's group continued to gain members at a rapid pace, and custom firmware images were being released on a near-weekly basis.

My last couple of articles described a safer way to extend the box using the Unslung custom firmware that provided package management so end-users could painlessly install software packages. Contributors were supplying pre-compiled packages such as an iTunes server (Figure 1), Apache, MySql, etc. for free and easy customization of the box now nicknamed the "Slug".

NSLU2 Itunes

Figure 1: NSLU2 Itunes

My last article on the NSLU2 was back in May of 2005, but since then development has continued at a rapid pace. In this article, I'll check out where things stand today in the NSLU2 community, and look forward a bit to see where the development group is going with this versatile little box.

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