Device Tree Overlays

Since release v2023-02-28-1, Plebian supports using device tree overlays. In short, device tree overlays are snippets to adjust the hardware description used by the kernel to interface with non-self-enumerating devices such as I2C and SPI. This hardware description is called the device tree, and overlays modify this base device tree.

The usual reason to use device tree overlays is to interface with some sensor or output device that uses I2C, I2S or SPI. However, you can also use it for other purposes.


You'll need to be using Plebian release v2023-02-28-1 or newer, and have the devicetrees-plebian-quartz64 package installed. The latter is required for the device trees to have the necessary symbols to be overlaid onto; if you're building a custom kernel, pass DTC_FLAGS="-@" to your invocation of make.

It's also good to have the package device-tree-compiler installed in order to be able to build device tree overlays.

Writing Device Tree Overlays

To learn more about device tree overlays and how to write them, you can find some examples in the CounterPillow/overlay-examples repository on GitHub. Ignore the "Installing" section of that README; it doesn't apply to Plebian in the same way.

To learn more about device trees in general, check out "Device Tree Usage" on

Installing Device Tree Overlays

There are two methods of installing the overlays; implicitly and explicitly. It's important to not mix the two, as implicitly picking up overlays only works when there's none specified explicitly.

Method 1: Implicitly

Simply place the .dtbo file into the /boot/dtbo/ directory, creating said directory if it doesn't already exist. Then run sudo u-boot-update and the device tree blob overlay will be picked up, and included in your extlinux.conf.

Method 2: Explicitly

Method 2 conflicts with Method 1, and is to explicitly specify which device tree overlay files you want to use. You'll still place your .dtbo files into /boot/dtbo/, but edit /etc/default/u-boot to contain the line:

U_BOOT_FDT_OVERLAYS="your-overlay-here.dtbo additional-separated-by-space.dtbo"

Note the lack of a # at the beginning of the line. After editing your file like this, run sudo u-boot-update to regenerate your extlinux.conf.

Method 2 will not pick up any .dtbo files not listed in the U_BOOT_FDT_OVERLAYS variable. Any value of that variable other than it being empty counts as it no longer automatically picking up whatever is in /boot/dtbo/.

Applying The Overlays

Device tree overlays are applied by u-boot. Therefore, it's necessary to reboot in order for them to be applied.