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Using the CFE

bcm47xx CFE

CFE on bcm47xx devices allows running/installing firmware using a lot of different methods. Usually only few of them are available, depending on the choice of manufacturer who compiled and installed CFE. Most of the methods require access to the CFE console which means you need to attach a serial console. To get a prompt just keep CTRL+C pressed (or ESC for some models) while powering the device up.

Below is the (hopefully) completed list of methods. The best idea is to find a one looking the best/easiest and check if it works on your device.

Using auto-starting CFE TFTP server

Some CFEs start TFTP server for few seconds right after hardware initialization. This is probably the only method of installing firmware with CFE that doesn't require serial console. You simply have to give CFE 1-3 seconds to initialize the switch and then set your IP and start sending the firmware. If you have a serial console, you can identify TFTP server running with the following messages:

_tftpd_open(): retries=0/3
_tftpd_open(): retries=1/3
_tftpd_open(): retries=2/3

Unfortunately even if this method is available for you, it may not work. For example on Linksys E900 it fails after uploading firmware with the:

CMD: [boot -raw -z -addr=0x80001000 -max=0x1851e50 -fs=memory :0x807ae1b0]
Loader:raw Filesys:memory Dev:eth0 File::0x807ae1b0 Options:(null)
Loading: PANIC: out of memory!

Please note that CFE may require a device specific firmware image (with a special header), otherwise (when using a generic .trx) it may fail with the:

CMD: [flash -ctheader -mem -size=0x4c1000 0x807ae1b0 flash1.trx]
Reading from 0x807ae1b0: CODE Pattern is incorrect! (E900)
The file transferred is not a valid firmware image.

Using CFE TFTP manually

CFE almost always contains flash command that may behave like both: TFTP client and server. The generic usage is following:

flash [options] source-file [destination-device]

This is very important to pass [destination-device] argument or CFE will write to the flash0 device overwriting the CFE! To see a list of available devices try show devices command.

Regarding [options] there is one important one called -noheader and if you happen to be Linksys owner, there is also -ctheader:

-noheader    Override header verification, flash binary without checking
-ctheader    Check header of CyberTAN
By default CFE validates received firmwares checking if they contain a device-specific header. That won't allow installing firmware created for a different device. If you want to install trx firmware directly (image without an extra device-specific header), you may use -noheader option.

TFTP client

In this scenario we will tell CFE to connect to the remote TFTP server, download firmware and install it on the flash. This means that source-file should be set to host:path/firmware.bin format. Example usage:

flash -noheader flash0.trx
flash -ctheader flash0.trx

Unfortunately on some devices this method makes CFE hang right after downloading the firmware and it gets never written to the flash.

TFTP server

It's also possible to make flash start a TFTP server that will accept firmware for few seconds. The trick is to put : as a source-file. Example usage:

					Example file to send:
flash -noheader : flash0.trx		openwrt-brcm47xx-squashfs.trx
flash -ctheader : flash0.trx		openwrt-e900_v1-squashfs.bin

Using upgrade command

Some manufacturers provide an upgrade command that is usually just an alias to the parametrized flash executed in a loop. Of course it's much less flexible that the flash command, but also has some advantages like:

  • Setting parameters automatically
  • Running in a loop, so you have much more time to start sending the firmware (not only few seconds)

The most common (and probably safe) usage is to call it with code.bin parameter:

CFE> upgrade code.bin
CMD: [upgrade code.bin]
CMD: [flash -ctheader : flash1.trx]
Reading :: _tftpd_open(): retries=0/3

Another possible parameters:

boot.bin		Usually works the same way as code.bin
linux.bin		Doesn't always work ("flash0.0: Device not found")
cfe.bin			WARNING! Writes to the flash1.boot, you don't want to use it!

Using web (http) server

Unfortunately only few manufacturers decide to enable it, but it's probably the most user friendly way of installing firmware.

Changing CFE defaults

Every bcm47xx CFE has a small NVRAM backup that is used to restore the main NVRAM when it gets deleted or corrupted. If you want to modify that backup NVRAM, see changing defaults page.

bcm63xx CFE

bcm63xx CFE is totally different when compared with bcm47xx. The NVRAM is totally different, without any settings stored outside the CFE partition, they are totally embedded into CFE. The CLI has different commands, probably with less options. And almost always there is a web server available for flashing. Less options but more fool-proof.

To access CFE you need to attach a serial console. To get a prompt just press any key while powering the device up.

This is a typical output when starting up the CFE and entering the CLI:

DGND3700 Boot Code V1.0.8 CFE version 1.0.37-104.4 for BCM96368 (32bit,SP,BE) Build Date: Mon Feb 21 17:59:46 CST 2011 (finerain@moonlight) Copyright (C) 2000-2009 Broadcom Corporation. Parallel flash device: name AM29LV320MT, id 0x2201 size 32768KB Total Flash size: 32768K with 256 sectors ethsw: found bcm53115! Chip ID: BCM6368B2, MIPS: 400MHz Main Thread: TP0 Total Memory: 134217728 bytes (128MB) Boot Address: 0xb8000000 Board IP address : Host IP address : Gateway IP address : Run from flash/host (f/h) : f Default host run file name : vmlinux Default host flash file name : bcm963xx_fs_kernel Boot delay (0-9 seconds) : 1 Board Id (0-11) : 96368MVWG Number of MAC Addresses (1-32) : 10 Base MAC Address : 20:4e:7f:c0:b5:4c PSI Size (1-64) KBytes : 24 Enable Backup PSI [0|1] : 0 System Log Size (0-256) KBytes : 0 Main Thread Number [0|1] : 0 * Press any key to stop auto run (1 seconds) * Auto run second count down: 1 CFE> CFE>

Using CFE web (http) server

It's probably the most user friendly way of installing firmware. But sometimes some manufacturers decide to disable it (very uncommon).

The default IP address of CFE is almost always You should use a static IP in your PC since there isn't DHCP server available when running CFE.

For accessing this web interface:

  1. Unplug the power source
  2. Press the RESET button at the router, don't release it yet!
  3. Plug the power source
  4. Wait some seconds
  5. Release the RESET button
  6. Send the new firmware and wait some minutes until the firmware upgrade finish.

Note: The RESET button doesn't work in some routers. There are some alternatives to stop CFE before loading the current firmware when the RESET button didn't work:

  • Attach a serial console (serial TTL cable adapter required). Press any key at the console when starting up the router. This is the better choice.
  • Shortcircuit TX and RX serial pins some seconds when powering on the router to simulate keyboard buttons pressing; this is ugly but it should work.
  • Delete existing firmware, if the current firmware allows to delete partitions.
  • Or upgrade the router with a new fake firmware (filled with zeroes). This will force CFE to stop for requesting a new firmware.

Using CFE TFTP client

If you want to install a firmware using TFTP, follow these steps (as an alternative to the above install process).

  • Connect a serial TTL cable to send commands to CFE via serial console software, for loading the firmware via TFTP.
  • Start a TFTP server in your PC. Copy the firmware.bin file to the TFTP server's directory.
  • Set the IP at your pc to (or any compatible), and connect the ethernet cable to the router.
  • Power ON the router, press any key in the serial console to break into the CFE command line interpreter.
  • Execute the command: f

This is a session of flashing via TFTP:

CFE> f Loading ... Finished loading 2686980 bytes Flashing root file system and kernel at 0xbfc10000: .......................................... . *** Image flash done *** ! Resetting board...\0xff


At the begining of CFE, outside the NVRAM area there exist three interesting parameters:

Offsets parameter possible values size
0x010-0x013 BpGetSdramSize 8MB 1 CHIP
4 bytes
(unsigned long)
0x014-0x017 BpGetCMTThread
(Main Thread)
4 bytes
(unsigned long)
0x570 CFE Version any


The NVRAM is located between offsets 0x580 to 0x97F. The size is 1KB (1024 bytes).

In this pic you can see the NVRAM highlighted:

NVRAM version<5 (usually found in BCM6338, BCM6348, BCM6358)
Offsets parameter size
0x580 NVRAM Version 4 bytes
0x584 BOOT LINE e= (Board IP)
h= (Host IP)
g= (Gateway IP)
r=f/h (run from flash/host)
f=vmlinux (if r=h)
d=3 (delay, 0=forever prompt)
p=0 (boot image, 0=latest, 1=previous)
256 bytes
0x684 Board ID 16 bytes
0x694 reserved 8 bytes
0x69C Number MAC Addresses 4 bytes
0x6A0 Base MAC Address 6 bytes
0x6A6 reserved 2 bytes
0x6A8 CheckSum 4 bytes
0x6AC — EMPTY — 724 bytes
Not all bcm63xx CFEs share this structure, some CFEs seem to have additional parameters like PsiSize, Country, SerialNumber, etc. As a result of this the CheckSum maybe located at different offsets and therefore the calculation is different. The EMPTY space isn't used to calculate the CheckSum
NVRAM version>=5 (usually found in BCM6328, BCM6362, BCM6368, BCM6816)
Offsets parameter size (bytes)
0x580 NVRAM Version 4
0x584 BOOT LINE e= (Board IP)
h= (Host IP)
g= (Gateway IP)
r=f/h (run from flash/host)
f=vmlinux (if r=h)
d=3 (delay, 0=forever prompt)
p=0 (boot image, 0=latest, 1=previous)
0x684 Board ID 16
0x694 Main Thread 4
0x698 Psi size 4
0x69C Number MAC Addresses 4
0x6A0 Base MAC Address 6
0x6A6 reserved 2
0x6A8 old CheckSum 4
0x6AC gpon Serial Number 13
0x6B9 gpon Password 11
0x6C4 wps Device Pin 8
0x6CC wlan Params 256
0x7CC Syslog Size 4
0x7D0 Nand Part Ofs Kb 20
0x7E4 Nand Part Size Kb 20
0x7F8 Voice Board Id 16
0x808 afe Id 8
0x810 Unused 364
0x97C CheckSum 4

NVRAM versions >=5 always have the checksum placed at the end of the NVRAM.


At the end of the flash outside the CFE, there exists a PSI partition (Profile Storage Information), about 16KB size. In Openwrt this area is protected with a partition called nvram. Do not confuse with the CFE NVRAM!!

There isn't any interaction between CFE and PSI except for restoring it to defaults or erasing this area. The settings present in this area are only used by the OEM firmware.

doc/techref/bootloader/cfe.txt · Last modified: 2015/11/07 21:54 by tmomas