Screenly 2 Player issues - Here's what happened

Some Screenly 2 Player users experienced an issue. Here’s what happened.

About a few weeks ago, we received reports from a few customers about a strange crash affecting some of their displays. We took these reports very serious and started investigate the issue. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the bug, we struggled to reproduce it. This meant that we were unable to fully understand the bug. From the description we received from customers, the devices would simply show a strange black screen showing an ‘initramfs prompt’ after reboot. This, of course, was a very serious issue that and went against our selling point of Screenly being a ‘set-and-forget device’.

Since this was a bug in the operating system (Ubuntu Core), and not in our software stack, we escalated the issue to Ubuntu, which whom we have a commercial contract, we escalated this to their engineers immediately. Again, due to the nature of the bug, it was very hard to properly report the issue to their engineering team.

After we finally managed to receive a disk image of one of these broken installations, we we were able to better understand the issue. It turned out to be a rather complex issue to fix. For the tech savvy readers, you can read the technical details in this forum post and bug report. In short, an ‘impossible’ condition happened to the boot partition, which subsequently caused the bootloader to fail.

Even the engineers at Ubuntu were genuinely surprised by this issue and it took them some time to fully wrap their heads around the issue. After some time, they were finally able to issue a fix. However, since this affected an essential part of the update flow and boot process, these changes needed to be tested thoroughly in order not to introduce new issues.

The engineers at Ubuntu issued a fix for the bug in the “beta channel” on May 12. After extensive testing, the fix was promoted to the ‘stable channel’ (i.e. the channel where all our customers receive their updates from) on May 21st.

We subsequently released a new disk image for Screenly 2 that includes the new fix with the same date (2018-05-21). As such, if you are using a disk image older than this, we strongly encourage you to switch to the later image for any new images.

It is however worth pointing out that all devices that are functioning will automatically receive this update. For those affected by the issue, it is unfortunately required to reflash the device in order to restore it.

We sincerely apologize for this issue, but we want to be transparent about what happened.

Picture of Viktor Petersson
Written by Viktor Petersson
CEO and Co-founder of Screenly. Viktor loves taking ideas and turning them into products and services. You can frequently find him on the speaking circuit around the globe. He spent a big part of his adult life as a digital nomad. Viktor is also passionate about DevOps and IoT security. You can find Viktor on Twitter under @vpetersson.
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