Should OpenWrt/LEDE support devices with only 4MB Flash?

The main issue is that there's no official roadmap in general which splits the community.
Unless there's enough people to maintain pretty much everything in base distribution as a fork (~like Debian) since one wouldn't be able to follow upstream due to legacy support it's simply not a solution if the goal is to move forward. Looking at patches/PRs in general they are related to backporting or updating software so one would assume that the driving force is to keep up with upstream and optimize it as much as possible within reasonable amounts. There are very few that involves backporting to release branches and most of that work is done by a very small amount of developers. I guess a good indicator of the this is the package repo, compare the amount of broken packages in the latest release to master which is more or less only maintained by contributors. Looking at the openwrt repo I think that's where we're going in the end as more and more platforms are gaining support for 4.19 which more or less would be a death blow to all 4/32 (*/32) devices. But as mentioned before, if someone wants to fork and maintain a legacy branch there's nothing stopping you from doing so but to my knowledge no one as stepped up.

Thank you for having clarified that!

They were talking about a different type of use. OpenWrt supports many thousands of additional packages to add various functionality to the device, and there is a large amount of people that can't do so in 8/64 devices and complains in the forums. For this type of use the minimum requirements are 16/128.

If you are just using them as a pure network device (even if something more special like mesh wifi) then you aren't going to need much more than 8/64.

https://openwrt.org/toh/linksys/e1700
https://openwrt.org/toh/tp-link/tl-wr1043nd (rev 2.0 onwards, basically the blue ones with white antennas, use tftp recovery method to install OpenWrt)

@tatel Thank you again for the great set of questions. They come at a good time, and address a conversation going on elsewhere that talks about this issue.

In particular, a lot of the folks who volunteer time on the forums get weary of answering questions from people who try to install OpenWrt on underpowered devices, then ask for help. It's hard to say, again and again, "No way ... Sorry" for people whose technical skills aren't up to making it work.

We were looking for some way to help newcomers avoid a purchase they'll regret, while remaining friendly and supportive to all who use OpenWrt.

Our conclusion was to note the difference between support (getting help) and suitability (how easy/hard it is to install OpenWrt on a particular device.) We've put up a draft page https://openwrt.org/playground/richb/support-suitability to explain our thinking.

On to your questions:

1- Yes, please do it, as long as possible, and please make a (very) clear statement about it. Perhaps it would be easier to make a statement addressed to those (few, I guess) of us that are used to build our own images, that to explain all possible cases to a newcomer who wants to download some cool firmware.

Our policy is that all OpenWrt devices (even old hardware or releases) get support. That is, you can read the docs, go to the forum and ask questions, etc. There will be more people who know about and can answer questions about newer stuff, but all (polite) questions are welcome.

2- Please consider it is still possible to buy new 4/32 hardware. I actually bought four TP-Link WR940N v6.0 last November and I could buy right now some 800 at my usual store. It is an ath79 4/32 device. I think it would be a little bit shocking if a free software distro could not be deployed on new hardware.

The page above talks about how easy/hard it is to install the current OpenWrt with three tiers: Recommended, Limited, and Difficult.

A 4/32 device will be considered Difficult, since you need to know a lot to get OpenWrt installed. That doesn't mean it won't work, or that you'll be unhappy, just that it'll be harder to install than on other devices.

3- Please consider that price and features are not always the motive to buy some hardware. I bought those 4/32, ath79 WR940Ns because WR841N v13, which is an 8/64 ramips device, and is 25% cheaper (15 vs 20 € ) has bad wifi.

I knew for sure that ath79 is rock-solid because all our devices (remember, some 50) are ath79 and last year they gave 0 incidences, even if most of them are close to be 7 year-old.

These three tiers make no judgement about quality, price performance, reliability, or additional features of routers. They only discuss how easy or hard it will be to get started with OpenWrt.

I want them rock-solid and long-lasting because if one of them fails, it could be that I need to drive some kilometers off road to reach the farm where it is deployed, and that is not cheap, neither in time nor money. So I got the WR940Ns, because, in the long run, they cost the less, even if they are 4/32, even if they cost 25% more, even if there are (seemingly) "better deals". Remember, out organization is a not-for-profit.

This would not be a change in your ability to continue to using these devices. You've already learned the technical skills to install OpenWrt. If we state that "it's difficult", it simply warns newcomers that there are easier devices.

4- Please consider, before you say that would give so much more for that 20 €, that before buying those WR841N v13s I checked the forum, I saw the concerns about wifi stability and then I saw somebody stating boldly it worked perfectly for him.

Don't get me wrong, I gratefully take your advice about hardware, there could not be better advice, but I always will be cautious and always, when buying new models, at first time, will purchase just a few ones to test them myself.

As I understand your situation, you are doing exactly the right thing. You support a large number of people (fifty? more?) There is real value in making sure everyone's hardware is similar, just to decrease your support load. And you have the incentive to spend the time to keep your customer's OpenWrt builds up to date.

Perhaps looking for devices that are rock-solid and last more than 6 years (which is quite the double that my LED TV did) is to ask too much, but I don't think so, since it is exactly that those ath79 devices are still doing, while here it does look (sometimes) as if they should be dumped from "day cero".

5- Please don't assume there is any "typical use case" Simply assume there will always be a use case for that "pesky" hardware. While we could look for high throughput in our PtP links, don't look for more that 30 mbps on our PtMP links. So ath79 is still good for us, and I guess it is good for those tens of thousands of freifunk guys, too.

Freifunk has the same problem as you - but multiplied 100-fold. They have a big incentive to continue making builds that fit their needs. OpenWrt, and the ability to use it on older devices, is not going away. We are just providing advice to new people about how easy/hard it will be to try OpenWrt.

6- AFAIK, what OEMs as TP-Link do, is to put an older kernel, etc, in their firmwares. If they can, I can't understand why OpenWrt community could not. It would be a shame to have to get OEM firmware again, and it does look as it being possible, not just for 4/32 devices, but for 8/64 too, in a not-so-far future.

You'll never see me defend vendor firmware. In fact, I believe that, Friends don't let friends run vendor firmware.

While I think it could be too late for 4/32, I think something should be done so 8/64 devices can be supported long after they vanished from stores, as it should be with free software. I can only assume this a a matter of interest (or lack of). So if OpenWrt community thinks monetary support is needed, it is legitimate to say it clearly. Perhaps we could open a new thread about this matter.

That's a separate thread. I don't get the sense that people feel the need for compensation to provide support for OpenWrt - just an end to the frustration of newcomers who try and fail to install OpenWrt on an underpowered device that "looked OK" in the Table of Hardware.

7- I don't think, in any way, that devices that are perfect for the work, known for being rock-solid, long-lasting and can be purchased new right now, should get dumped. I hope that openwrt community does think the same. If this is not the case, or if there is danger this can not be done, or if there is widespread consense that it is not worth, please make a statement so we can start to look for alternatives.

I hope you can see that our new advice (Recommended/Limited/Difficult) mostly benefits newcomers. Experienced and knowledgeable people like you can continue to use OpenWrt as you always have. Thanks for these great questions.

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Consider a new user with a desire to set up their home network using OpenWrt with a regular LAN, a guest Network and a separate network for their 3 gaming devices. Should we tell them to spend more money for an 8/64 device or go with less money and more features on a 16/128 device?

The reason to not get an 8/64 device is that you can get more suitable devices for either less money or just marginally more money depending on your local markets. These users are typically spending as much as the cost of a router per month on the service, and they want some nontrivial performance. We routinely get questions here about running SQM on 200Mbps + connections. It is bad to have people buy hardware that can't meet common performance needs and then need to throw it away and get the more performant device anyway. We are trying to communicate a set of recommendations that avoid this kind of waste. Buying say a 75 dollar 8/64 device that won't meet your needs and then having to upgrade to a $83 device that will... Not good compared to just getting the right device in the first place... I'm sure you agree here in this kind of circumstance. People should get appropriate expectations from the wiki and table of hardware etc

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Respectfully, this is not what is seen in practice in my opinion, and actually requires a cultural/attitude shift in the community to become the reality.
Almost everyone’s default setting is “You have a 4/32 router you won’t get any help <link to wiki/thread>” OR “you should upgrade to you won’t get any help”.

You’re right that there will always be more people able to assist with the latest version/routers, but to be honest a lot of things don’t change significantly to the point where it’s impossible to guide someone on an old version.
A change in the default response to “Your router has low flash/memory which will make what you want to achieve more difficult . With that limitation in mind, can we help you with your original query?” would go a long way.


That thread is a perfect example of what I’m trying to highlight.

I don't think that's true. What usually happens is that they are explained that they need to build their own firmware to make it fit, and to read this page about what can be removed: https://openwrt.org/docs/guide-user/additional-software/saving_space

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The reality is that spending time on one person's 4/32 device is a waste of support resources in almost all cases. In less than a half hour you already burned the cost of an upgrade. The limited response reflects this reality. I don't think we should remove wiki pages etc but actually answering mostly untenable 4/32 requests isn't and shouldn't start happening.

For example the low end of hourly costs for a plumber is about $50, going upwards to $200. So if you can solve a 4/32 problem for $40 of hardware then you shouldn't spend more than around 15 minutes customizing a build for a one off... This is already more than it will take most people to just get a build system working.

If you're building for 100 devices or whatever it's a different story

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There is always the option to just not reply to those postings.
I have seen this in the old OpenWrt forum (more than in this new forum): If a user doesn't get any replies, he will start searching on his own, and if this leads to nothing, eventually give up.

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Yes, but a reply like "4/32 devices are super limited these days, and require you to have expert build-your-own skills, here's the link to the wiki" is more friendly than ignoring imho.

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Only if one person does it and not the whole pitchfork mob...

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There's a proposal in another conversation that we should label devices as Recommended, Limited, and Difficult, with respect to the ease of installing OpenWrt on them. (See https://openwrt.org/playground/richb/support-suitability for a summary.)

The desire would be to let a newcomer know that the device they have in mind might be difficult (or recommended!) and let them decide accordingly. It also allows a single individual on the forum (instead of a mob) to say, "You have chosen a difficult path..."

I would like to hear your thoughts on the proposal above. Thanks.

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Yes a more official thing to point to helps because then there is less assumption about maybe just one person's opinion. Pointing to the official "this stuff is hard" is likely to work better.

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It's a good classification, whether it will make a difference i don't know. Like i said, it needs the community behind it.

I believe this qualification "Pitchfork mob" is uncalled for and does not consider the fact that all forum activity is voluntary.

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Well, the most important community action would, IMHO, be if users that successfully operate 4/32 routers would inject themselves politely and on-topic into threads where they have the feeling that more support is not being given due to the 4/32 challenge.
In a volunteer community one can easily adjust one's own behavior and action, expecting (all) other's to change their behaviour will be glacial at best....

I just don’t see the point in having 2 or 3 people say that same thing (in abrupt ways). i think it is not very polite or welcoming to a new user looking for information.

As one of the volunteers, I’m happy to call it how I see it. If you don’t agree, that’s alright.

And I agree that expecting others to change is an exercise in futility. But if we can’t get people to stop instantly dismissing the 4/32 people’s questions and cries for help (fair and appropriate warnings aside), then what is the point of this whole thread? We just said people can get support in the forum, if we can’t provide that then the “limited” category is a bit pointless.

Good idea, I had similar thoughts.
And make those labels easily noticeable and interpretable.
For example (text label - background color - description):

  • Recommended - Blue/Green - No issues, or some insignificant issues.
  • Limited - Yellow/Orange - Known issues, limited resources, works in general.
  • Difficult - Red/Gray - Major issues, or unsupported.
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What's the problem of MISP? assume 16/128.

The 4/32 devices fall into Difficult territory, not Limited. Limited means something like you can still use opkg but maybe can't install all the packages you might want at the same time, or things like that. Basically 8/64 devices and things with Broadcom chips etc

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