fwupd and DFU

For quite a long time fwupd has supported updating the system ‘BIOS’ using the UpdateCapsule UEFI mechanism. This open specification allows vendors provide a single update suitable for Windows and Linux, and the mechanism for applying it is basically the same for all vendors. Although there are only a few systems in the wild supporting capsule updates, a lot of vendors are planning new models next year, and a few of the major ones have been trialing the LVFS service for quite a while too. With capsule updates, fwupd and the LVFS we now have a compelling story for how to distribute and securely install system BIOS updates automatically.

It’s not such a rosy story for USB devices. In theory, everything should be using the DFU specification which has been endorsed by the USB consortium, but for a number of reasons quite a few vendors don’t use this. I’m guilty as charged for the ColorHug devices, as I didn’t know of the existance of DFU when designing the hardware. For ColorHug I just implemented a vendor-specific HID bootloader with a few custom commands as so many other vendors have done; it works well, but every vendor does things a slightly different way which needs having vendor specific update tools and fairly random firmware file formats.

With DFU, what’s supposed to happen is there are two modes for the device, a normal application runtime which is doing whatever the device is supposed to be doing, and another DFU mode which is really just an EEPROM programmer. By ‘detaching’ the application firmware using a special interface you can program the device and then return to normal operation.

So, what to do? For fwupd I want to ask vendors of removable hardware to implement DFU so that we don’t need to write code for each device type in fwupd. To make this a compelling prospect I’ve spent a good chunk of time of last week:

  • Creating a GObjectIntrospectable and cancellable host-side library called libdfu
  • Writing a reference GPLv3+ device-side implementation for a commonly used USB stack for PIC microcontrollers
  • Writing the interface code in fwupd to support DFU files wrapped in .cab files for automatic deployment

At the moment libdfu supports reading and writing raw, DFU and DfuSe file types, and supports reading and writing to DFU 1.1 devices. I’ve not yet implemented writing to ST devices (a special protocol extension invented by ST Microsystems) although that’s only because I’m waiting for someone to lend me a device with a STM32F107 included (e.g. DSO Nano). I’ve hopefully made the code flexible enough to make this possible without breaking API, although the libdfu library is currently private to fwupd until it’s had some proper review. You can of course use the dependable dfu-util tool to flash firmware, but this wasn’t suitable for use inside fwupd for various reasons.

Putting my money where my mouth is, I’ve converted the (not-yet-released) ColorHug+ bootloader and firmware to use DFU; excluding all the time I spent writing the m-stack patch and the libdfu support in fwupd it only took a couple of hours to build and test. Thanks to Christoph Brill, I’ll soon be getting some more hardware (a Neo FreeRunner) to verify this new firmware update mechanism on a real device with multiple implemented DFU interfaces. If anyone else has any DFU-capable hardware (especially Arduino-style devices) I’d be glad of any donations.

Once all this new code has settled down I’m going to be re-emailing a lot of the vendors who were unwilling to write vendor-specific code in fwupd. I’m trying to make the barrier to automatic updates on Linux as low as possible.

Comments welcome.

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hughsie

Richard has over 10 years of experience developing open source software. He is the maintainer of GNOME Software, PackageKit, GNOME Packagekit, GNOME Power Manager, GNOME Color Manager, colord, and UPower and also contributes to many other projects and opensource standards. Richard has three main areas of interest on the free desktop, color management, package management, and power management. Richard graduated a few years ago from the University of Surrey with a Masters in Electronics Engineering. He now works for Red Hat in the desktop group, and also manages a company selling open source calibration equipment. Richard's outside interests include taking photos and eating good food.

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