Collection stick

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Note: as of October 2021, OLPC has released Persistent developer key firmware to disable the activation and developer key system on a laptop. You may still use the instructions in the rest of this page if you wish.

A Collection stick is a USB drive with a program on it that collects data in order to request developer keys. Developer keys are the unique cryptographic signatures for XO laptops that permit access to the system firmware.

What you will need:

  • a USB drive, to be used as a Collection stick,
  • a second USB drive, to be used as an Unlock stick,
  • a computer with Internet access, and;
  • the group of XO laptops, which may be nearby or distant.

What you do is:


Choose two USB drives and label them temporarily, as Collection stick and Unlock stick.

Note: you can use one USB drive for both purposes, but be very careful to empty the USB drive before using it as Unlock stick.

The size of the USB drives is not important.

USB flash drives are normally sold with a DOS MBR partition table and a FAT filesystem, and this is sufficient. See more details. You may wish to verify that each USB drive has:

  • a DOS MBR partition table, and if not choose other USB drives or recreate the partition table,
  • a FAT, ext2 or ext3 filesystem, and if not reformat to FAT,

Next, backup any files from the USB drive that you want to keep. In particular, for the purposes of a Collection stick and Unlock stick, you must:

  • Delete any file with name laptops.dat left over from previous use,
  • Delete any directory with name boot.


On the computer with Internet access:

  1. Insert the USB drive to be used as Collection stick,
  2. Create a new directory with name boot in the top level of your USB drive.
  3. Download and into that boot directory.

You should now have a USB drive containing a directory boot which contains two files, and This is a collection stick ready to use.


For each XO in the group:

  • make sure the laptop is off, (e.g. check for a blinking power indicator),
  • plug the Collection stick USB drive into the laptop,
  • turn on the laptop,
  • wait about ten seconds for a short message that looks like this:
SHC016013D1 2023068T121012Z
Laptop data recorded successfully.
Powering off ...
  • wait for the laptop to turn off,
  • remove the USB drive from the laptop.

(The collection stick may do nothing if the laptop is unlocked already, if so hold the '×' game pad key to force "secure" booting.)

When you have done this on all the XOs you need keys for, move to the next step below.

Request keys

Plug the Collection stick USB drive into the computer with Internet access.
has an expired security certificate,
if this hinders you,
read more about it.

For individuals and small groups:

  • open laptops.dat and you will find one line for each laptop, with three values separated by spaces; the first is a serial number, the second is a UUID, and the third is the date and time from the laptop clock,
  • visit the web page OLPC Activation Service, and enter the serial number and the UUID, and click on Request developer key,
  • follow the instructions on that web page to download the developer key,
  • add each of the developer keys into a new file, and name it develop.sig.

For larger groups:

For small requests, the response from the OLPC Activation Service will be either:

  • 24 hours, if this is the first request for a laptop, or;
  • immediate, if a request was already made for a laptop.

For larger requests, the response from OLPC may take several days.

Receive keys

You will receive back one or two files from OLPC after submitting your laptops.dat file.

  1. If you requested a developer key: You will get a file called develop.sig. It contains a developer key for each laptop.
  2. If you requested an activation key: You will get a file called lease.sig. It contains an activation key for each laptop.

You are now ready to make an unlock stick.

Unlock stick

  1. Insert the USB drive to be used as an Unlock stick,
  2. If you are using the same USB drive, empty it, in particular remove the file laptops.dat and the directory boot,
  3. If you have received a file called develop.sig, make a directory called security at the top of the USB drive and copy this file into it.
  4. If you have received a file called lease.sig, copy this file into the top of the USB drive.

You should now have a USB drive containing either a directory security which contains develop.sig, or lease.sig in the top of the drive. This is an unlock stick ready to use.


For each XO in the group:

  1. Make sure the XO is powered off.
  2. Plug the Unlock stick USB drive into the XO, then power it on.

That's it! Note that this process only unlocks your XO for one boot - if you want to unlock your XO permanently without needing to plug in the USB drive every time you boot, see #Permanently unlocking with an Unlock stick.

Activation keys

No action is required. Activation keys are automatically copied to /security/lease.sig on your XO. Keep the activation key around (or copy it to your School Server) in case you later need to reflash the XO.

Developer keys

A laptop will boot normally with a developer key present; you have to do an extra step to take full command:

secured, but unlocked with a developer key on USB drive
  • Shutdown the laptop,
  • Insert the USB drive or SD card containing the developer key, or with the key on the internal storage,
  • Hold down the '✓' (check) game pad key and turn on the laptop, a diagram of the game keys should appear with a message Release the game keys to continue,
  • Release the '✓' (check) game pad key, and within ten seconds a Devel key Signature valid message will appear, with an open padlock icon, followed by Type the ESC key to interrupt automatic startup,
  • Press Esc.png Escape key once, and the 'ok' prompt should appear immediately.

The laptop is now unlocked temporarily.

Permanently unlocking with an Unlock stick

To permanently disable secure booting on each laptop, change the Unlock stick:

  • create a boot directory, and open it,
  • add this text to a file olpc.fth:
\ Open Firmware
  • check that the olpc.fth file is in the boot directory.

Then insert the changed Unlock stick into each laptop and turn it on. Watch. The laptop will reboot once or twice. Wait for the Ok prompt to appear on screen. The laptop is now unlocked permanently.

(It works like this; when the laptop turns on, it searches for the security/develop.sig file, validates it, then switches to unsecure mode, then searches for the boot/olpc.fth file and runs it. The boot/olpc.fth contains the disable-security command, which disables the security system and reboots. On the second boot, with the security system already disabled, disable-security does nothing, and so the Ok prompt appears.)

You can also do this manually by inserting the Unlock stick, obtaining the Ok prompt, and then typing disable-security once or twice. See Activation and developer keys for more detail.

Once you do this, you will not need the Developer key on the laptop, but you can keep it in case security is ever enabled.

Remote Support

See the remote support procedure for unlocking a laptop.

When providing remote support for the owner of a laptop, properly creating directories and files may be a challenge. To alleviate this, prepare a .zip file for them to unpack onto their USB drive:

  • make a directory to work in,
  • make the directories and files that they would have to make,
  • make a .zip of the working directory,
  • check the .zip file carefully,
  • send the file and ask the owner to expand it on a USB drive, insert it in the laptop, power on, and tell you what happens.

For example: we made, with boot and security directories, with the, and olpc.fth files already properly placed. It can be used as part of an e-mail exchange with an owner. See how to use it.

Unlocking only until the next reinstall or upgrade

The firmware checks for the Developer key on all available storage, which is why an Unlock stick works the way it does. But this means you would need to keep the Unlock stick handy to use it.

Alternatively, you can copy Developer key to your laptop's internal flash memory. Copy security/develop.sig from the USB drive into /security/develop.sig on the XO. In a Terminal activity type:

sudo cp /run/media/olpc/USBDRIVE/security/develop.sig /security/develop.sig

Where USBDRIVE is the volume label of the USB drive.

  • (Note that /media was used instead of /run/media/olpc before 12.1.0).

See Also