Platform System Interface
Design and Evaluation of Computing as a Whole
Could we ever, and can we still, understand computers and how they really work?
Based on many years of research, education, curiosity and experience, this talk
presents and discusses the many aspects of what makes computing what it is:
Hardware, software, operating systems, apps, services, human and machine
interfaces, and the many ideas all around them.
Looking from a high level perspective, we walk through the host of interwoven
facets that make up electronics from gadgets to mobile devices and large
computers, eventually tying everything back to where it came from: The people
who made it, the ones who work and play with it, how they are all but different,
and what drives them.
This is a primer to starting the overarching
Platform System Interface
project, which seeks to document
hardware and software co-design as a whole in prose with
and offer guides, tools, and a framework.
oreboot 2022 status report
on to RISC-V
This year we pivoted the oreboot project, a downstream fork of coreboot
written entirely in Rust, to focus on RISC-V platforms, including the first
version of Beagle-V. We have focused our energies on platforms we can
control from power-on reset, with no binary blobs.
Over the last year, the Allwinner D1 SoC, which offers a Linux-capable 64bit
XuanTie C906 RISC-V core and is found on many boards, has been fully ported,
including DRAM init. In addition, we picked up the work on the JH7100 SoC again
that was found on the BeagleV Starlight SBC, because it is also on the StarFive
VisionFive board, which has been provided to us by RISC-V International for the
developer support program.
In this talk, we present challenges we faced during
the development, including writing DRAM code from C code, not chipset documentation;
how we are taking advantage of the rapid growth of "bare metal" support in
the Rust ecosystem and how it has impacted our code, in ways large and small;
and how the project is growing as new members join.
Finally, we summarize the current status of the oreboot project.
SBoM Annotations and Audits
When firmware is only available in binary form, i.e., the end user or corporate
entity has no access to its source code, quality and security assessment is
limited by legal constraints, and fixing bugs and flaws harder to achieve. While
possible escape hatches have been developed, such as replacing large parts of
the stock firmware with auditable environments like LinuxBoot, some uncertainty
still remains regarding drivers and other components that cannot be removed.
However, there are still options to help oneself where the OEM or other vendor
does not offer the flexibility or assurance one needs: We can build up a
knowledge database of drivers, and offer guidance towards patching or replacing
them, and offer the tooling to automate the process. With Fiedka the firmware
editor, components can be annotated and those annotations
exported for reuse. In this short talk, we will evaluate the necessary workflows
and discuss user experience design considerations around the process.
Speedy Distro Porting via the cpu Command
Last year, I ported oreboot to the Allwinner D1 SoC that is found on
the Nezha SBC and many other boards now. For a boot loader environment,
I chose to embed LinuxBoot, and then partitioned an SD card with two
root filesystems for testing: OpenWrt, which is small and just ran
right away, and openSUSE, which required some extra effort. I was
happy to see a new D1 board advertised with openSUSE support, though
the process of getting there was tedious enough that I wanted to find
an improvement to the workflow.
In this talk, I recap how I modified the openSUSE RISC-V root
filesystem, moving an SD card back and forth, and showcase a faster
approach instead by leveraging the cpu command that lets us do that
iteration over the network. Eventually, we will see how that can be
leveraged to continuously test Tumbleweed on real hardware through
OpenQA and a corresponding setup, which can also be applied to other
hardware, such as ARM.
Drivers From Outer Space
Fast, Simple Driver Development
During the last two years, I have collected ARM and RISC-V gadgets and
development boards. What I realized is that many of them run systems far off
mainline Linux, and quite often do the vendors not publish the sources. However,
when able to get serial output, I can fix that. And that is where many engineers
start with regular development, so we are in the same boat.
Now how do the original drivers work? Applications in existing products often
have userspace or hybrid drivers, which opens up a door. We can emulate the app,
e.g., in QEMU, and monitor I/O accesses. Then we can write our own driver. But
that is a tedious and time consuming process, the most inconvenient step being
testing. Given storage media, we need to physically move things. Over network,
we could `scp` and `ssh` over to the target machine, then run our code. What if
that could be done in one single step?
The solution is cpu, a concept
originating from the Plan 9 research operating system that came out of Bell Labs:
Transparently run a program on another machine in the network as if it was
local. In this talk, I show `cpu` in practice and what I have done myself with
Fiedka the Firmware Editor
Advancing from CLIs to GUIs
This talk presents the birth of Fiedka out of utk-web, a proof of concept
firmware exploration tool that runs on web platforms using WebAsseambly.
utk, Fiedka supports firmware developers and
analysts through quick navigation and ideas from the web development world,
organizing the many different views on the same image in a concise manner.
For example, when looking at a typical AMD platform OEM image, there are UEFI
and PSP parts. Walking through the challenges of building a suitable
graphical interface with a great experience and dealing with specifics, the
talk concludes with where Fiedka is at right now and what the next milestone
will be, what users can do and try out already, and how to contribute on the
various layers of back-end and front-end work as well conceptual ideas and
The LinuxBoot way of multi distro ISO booting
With the growing demand and support for LinuxBoot in firmware, new approaches
to booting operating systems have become possible, based on the Linux kexec
mechanism. This talk walks through the process of creating an environment for
booting a large set of different ISOs from various distributions, covering
different methods tried and ideas that came up, concluding with how webboot
eventually offers a decent and easy to use interface that can be deployed on
a USB stick, tried out in a VM, or even run straight from a mainboard's
In this talk, I will show you how you can approach gadgets running Linux
based embedded systems, such as IP cameras, network video recorders
(NVRs), wireless USB storages, and more. We will look at what typical
boot flows are, ways to repurpose the devices, and go beyond what the
vendors got you stuck with.
Look at ME!
Intel ME Investigation
With Intel's Firmware Support Package (FSP) and the recent release of a
redistributable firmware binary for the Management Engine, it has become
possible to share full firmware images for modern x86 platforms and
potentially audit the binaries. Yet, reverse engineering, decompilation
and disassembly are still not permitted. However, thanks to previous
research, we can have a closer look at the binary data and come to a few
This talk briefly summarizes the fundamentals of developing custom and
open source firmware, followed by a quick guide through the process of
analyzing the binaries without actually violating the terms to
understand a few bits, and finally poses a statement on the political
issues that researchers, repair technicians and software developers
Let Linux do it
Instead of proprietary UEFI firmware or other projects maintained
outside a user's control, we can apply the Linux kernel to develop
modern firmware based on well-tested drivers. That is the idea behind
This talk explains what this means and demonstrates application examples.
Firmware is found in all computing devices, including PCs, laptops, networking
equipment, printers, embedded devices such as IoT and industrial controllers,
mobile phones, tablets, and more. The community around open source firmware has
grown over the last years, allowing for more exchange in the development and
granting freedom to end users. Prominent projects like U-Boot, Tianocore,
coreboot and others teach how firmware works and welcome contributions.
This talk provides an overview of the current state, an end user report, and a
summary of the first Open Source Firmware Conference.