Setting up a cross compilation environment is quite tedious and it is much easier to rebuild a software natively on raspberry pi, but what if you don’t have on pi spare next to you or if you want to automate the build process on a generic x86 server.

Hopefully, the binfmt_mis Linux kernel module allows to register interpreters for various binary formats based on a magic number. In conjonction with the qemu-user-static user-space emulator for arm, it allows us to create a docker image of the arm raspbian distribution which can run on a directly x86 desktop or server.

Installing Docker on an Ubuntu x86 host

Fist install binfmt-support and qemu-user-static on the x86 host. On Ubuntu LTS 14.04:

sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install -y binfmt-support qemu qemu-user-static 

# check your ability to emulate the binary formats by checking for ARM support 
sudo update-binfmts --enable qemu-arm
sudo update-binfmts --display | grep arm

Building arm/raspbian docker image for x86 with qemu

Use the following script to download the image from and convert if to a docker image.

Get the rpi-build-docker-img script.

#     Create a docker image raspbian distribution image for raspberry-pi
# Change the SRC path if needed:

set -e
sudo echo Info: Need root access to mount the image to extract the content
mkdir raspbian-tmp
cd raspbian-tmp
echo Download image...
wget --trust-server-names $SRC
unzip *.zip && rm *.zip
DISK_IMG=$(ls *.img | sed 's/.img$//')
OFFSET=$(fdisk -lu $DISK_IMG.img | sed -n "s/\(^[^ ]*img2\)\s*\([0-9]*\)\s*\([0-9]*\)\s*\([0-9]*\).*/\2/p")
mkdir root
sudo  mount -o loop,offset=$(($OFFSET*512)) $DISK_IMG.img root
# Disable preloaded shared library to get everything including networking to work on x86
sudo mv root/etc/ root/etc/

# Copy qemu-arm-static in the image be able to interpret arm elf on x86
if /usr/bin/qemu-arm-static -version | grep 2.0.0; 
	# Fix crash with `tcg.c:1693: tcg fatal error` by using a more recent version
	chmod 755 ./qemu-arm-static
	sudo cp ./qemu-arm-static        root/usr/bin
	sudo cp /usr/bin/qemu-arm-static root/usr/bin

# Create docker images
cd root
sudo tar -c . | sudo docker import - jguiraudet/raspbian-lite-for-x86_64:$DISK_IMG
cd ..

# Clean-up
sudo umount root
rmdir root
rm $DISK_IMG.img
sudo docker images | grep raspbian

echo Test the image with:
echo docker run -ti --rm jguiraudet/raspbian-lite-for-x86_64:$DISK_IMG /bin/bash -c \'uname -a\'
if docker run -ti --rm jguiraudet/raspbian-lite-for-x86_64:$DISK_IMG /bin/bash -c 'uname -a' | grep armv7l; then echo OK; else echo FAIL; fi



The raw CPU performance on the emulation is slightly slower that when running on the native but has the great advantage to be able to run on any server to automate build or image modification.

I used sysbench as descripbe bellow to benchmark the three configuration.

sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install -y sysbench
sysbench --test=cpu --cpu-max-prime=2000 run
grep Revision /proc/cpuinfo

(See table to interpret the /proc/cpuinfo on raspberry-pi)


system sysbench Total time
Host native (i7 6 cores) 1.1145s
raspeberry-pi native (Model B+ ARMv6/512MB) 54.3638s
qemu-arm 60.7251s



Update: I encounter a crash with tcg.c:1693: tcg fatal error while cloning a git tree with qemu-user-static 2.0.0+dfsg-2ubuntu1.22. This is apparently a known issue. See: The issue doesn’t occurs with qemu-arm-static of Ubuntu 15.10 (A copy is stored at