Donating 5 minutes of your time to help the LVFS

For about every 250 bug reports I recieve I get an email offering to help. Most of the time the person offering help isn’t capable of diving right in the trickiest parts of the code and just wanted to make my life easier. Now I have a task that almost anyone can help with…

For the next version of the LVFS we deploy we’re going to be showing what was changed between each firmware version. Rather than just stating the firmware has changed from SHA1:DEAD to SHA1:BEEF and some high level update description provided by the vendor, we can show the interested user the UEFI modules that changed. I’m still working on the feature and without more data it’s kinda, well, dull. Before I can make the feature actually useful to anyone except a BIOS engineer, I need some help finding out information about the various modules.

In most cases it’s simply googling the name of the module and writing 1-2 lines of a summary about the module. In some cases the module isn’t documented at all, and that’s fine — I can go back to the vendors and ask them for more details about the few we can’t do ourselves. What I can’t do is ask them to explain all 150 modules in a specific firmware release, and I don’t scale to ~2000 Google queries. With the help of EDK2 I’ve already done 213 myself but now I’ve run out of puff.

So, if you have a spare 5 minutes I’d really appreciate some help. The shared spreadsheet is here, and any input is useful. Thanks!

Updating the firmware on new Dell Docks

Yesterday Dell unveiled their new range of docking stations. I’ve had a WD19TB for a few months, and it seems to work fine; you can plug one thunderbolt cable into my XPS 13 and it turns it into a workstation, driving two screens, connecting me to wired Ethernet and connecting all my USB stuff. When I want to run away, I just unplug one thing and my workstation turns back into a portable laptop. The dock also randomly has a headphone out socket, although I like to drive my sound through a USB sound card and S/PDIF anyway.

The impressive bit for me is that Dell wanted firmware upgrading to work perfectly from day 1 – there has been testable firmware embargoed on the LVFS for many weeks. Although the dock is one physical thing, internally it’s made up of different components and subsystems, all with slightly different quirky flashing protocols. Behind the scenes and without great fan-fair, Dell added the “composite firmware” support to fwupd, so not only do the devices look logically correct when using fwupdmgr get-topology it means you can update all the different technology on the device with one .cab file.

This means, to update to the dock I don’t need to tell you lots of technical information about how to update to some super new version of something. Just click on the upgrade button in GNOME Software when the firmware update has been downloaded for you. This is exactly how firmware updates should work – you buy the hardware you need from the shop, plug it in, get the latest bug fixes and features automatically with no “googling” or using crazy commands on the command line.

I’ve also been working with another OEM on their next generation of docking stations. This work can of course piggy-back onto the composite feature when there is hardware ready for test. In my opinion they’re about 9 months behind Dell at this point, so I guess if you want a docking station that’s supported on the LVFS you know what to buy…

Remember the extra metadata if you change a desktop ID!

This is important if you’re the upstream maintainer of an application: If you change the desktop ID then it’s like breaking API. Changing a desktop ID should be done carefully and in a development branch only — and then you need to communicate it and give the distros a chance to adapt to the new name.

If you’re just changing the desktop ID and not forking development, you also need to add something like this in your metainfo.xml file:


GNOME Software gets lots of bugs about showing “duplicate” search results, but there’s no reliable way it can know that calibre-gui.desktop is the same app as com.calibre_ebook.calibre without some help. If you’re a packager building an application for something like Flathub you only need to include the extra provides line if you’re adding a new metainfo.xml file rather than just using rename-appdata-file in the JSON file.

Using a client certificate to set the attestation checksum

For a while, fwupd has been able to verify the PCR0 checksum for the system firmware. The attestation checksum can be used to verify that the installed firmware matches that supplied by the vendor and means the end user is confident the firmware has not been modified by a 3rd party. I think this is really an important and useful thing the LVFS can provide. The PCR0 value can easily be found using tpm2_pcrlist if the TPM is in v2.0 mode, or cat /sys/class/tpm/tpm0/pcrs if the TPM is still in v1.2 mode. It is also reported in the fwupdmgr get-devices output for versions of fwupd >= 1.2.2.

The device checksum as a PCR0 is slightly different than a device checksum for a typical firmware. For instance, a DFU device checksum can be created using sha256sum firmware.bin (assuming the image is 100% filling the device) and you don’t actually have to flash the image to the hardware to get the device checksum out. For a UEFI UpdateCapsule you need to schedule the update, reboot, then read back the PCR0 from the hardware. There must be an easier way…

Assuming you have a vendor account on the LVFS, first upload the client certificate for your user account to the LVFS:

Then, assuming you’re using fwupd >= 1.2.6 you can now do this:

fwupdmgr refresh
fwupdmgr update
fwupdmgr report-history --sign

Notice the –sign there? Looking back at the LVFS, there now exists a device checksum:

This means the firmware gets the magic extra green tick that makes everyone feel a lot happier:

New AppStream Validation Requirements

In the next release of appstream-glib the appstream-util validate requirements got changed, which might make your life easier, or harder — depending if you already pass or fail the validation. The details are here but the rough jist is that we’ve relaxed a lot of the style rules (e.g. starts with a capital letter, ends with a full stop, less than a certain number of chars, etc), and made stricter some of the more important optional parts of the specification. For instance, requiring <content_rating> for any desktop or console application.

Even if you don’t care upstream, the new validation will soon be turned on for any apps built in Flathub, and downstream “packagers” will be pestering you for details as updates are now failing. Although only a few apps fail, some of the missing metadata tags are important enough to fail building. To test your app right now with the new validator:

$ flatpak remote-add --if-not-exists gnome-nightly
$ flatpak install gnome-nightly org.gnome.Sdk
$ flatpak run --command=bash --filesystem=home:ro org.gnome.Sdk//master
# appstream-util validate /home/hughsie/Code/gnome-software/data/appdata/
# exit

Of course, when the next tarball is released it’ll be available in your distribution as normal, but I wanted to get some early sanity checks in before I tag the release.

The LVFS is now a Linux Foundation project

The LVFS is now an official Linux Foundation project! I did a mini-interview if you want some more details about where the project came from and where it’s heading. I’m hoping the move to the Linux Foundation gives the project a lot more credibility with existing LF members, and it certainly takes some of the load from me. I’ll continue to develop the lvfs-website codebase as before, and still be the friendly face when talking to OEMs and ODMs.

In the short term, not much changes, although you might start see some rebranding of the website itself. The server is also moving from a little VM in AMS to a fully scalable orchestrated thing maintained by people who actually understand how to be a sysadmin. If you’re interested in what’s happening on the LVFS, be sure to join the announcement mailing list. We’re averaging about 450,000 firmware downloads a month, and still growing steadily, with more and more vendors joining every month.

In related news, there’s lots of new firmware on the LVFS, much of it addressing serious CVEs on lots of different laptop models. If you’ve not updated recently, now is the time to fix that.

Even more fun with SuperIO

My fun with SuperIO continues, and may be at the logical end. I’ve now added the required code to the superio plugin to flash IT89xx embedded controllers. Most of the work was working out how to talk to the hardware on ports 0x62 and 0x66, although the flash “commands” are helpfully JEDEC compliant. The actual flashing process is the typical:

  • Enter into a bootloader mode (which disables your keyboard, fans and battery reporting)
  • Mark the internal EEPROM as writable
  • Erase blocks of data
  • Write blocks of data to the device
  • Read back the blocks of data to verify the write
  • Mark the internal EEPROM as read-only
  • Return to runtime mode

There were a few slight hickups, in that when you read the data back from the device just one byte is predictably wrong, but nothing that can’t be worked around in software. Working around the wrong byte means we can verify the attestation checksum correctly.

Now, don’t try flashing your EC with random binaries. The binaries look unsigned, don’t appear to have any kind of checksum, and flashing the wrong binary to the wrong hardware has the failure mode of “no I/O devices appear at boot” so unless you have a hardware programmer handy it’s probably best to wait for an update from your OEM.

We also do the EC update from a special offline-update mode where nothing else than fwupd is running, much like we do the system updates in Fedora. All this work was supported by the people at Star Labs, and now basically everything in the LapTop Mk3 is updatable in Linux. EC updates for Star Labs hardware should appear on the LVFS soon.

A fwupd client side certificate

In the soon-to-be-released fwupd 1.2.6 there’s a new feature that I wanted to talk about here, if nothing else to be the documentation when people find these files and wonder what they are. The fwupd daemon now creates a PKCS-7 client self-signed certificate at startup (if GnuTLS is enabled and new enough) – which creates the root-readable /var/lib/fwupd/pki/secret.key and world-readable /var/lib/fwupd/pki/client.pem files.

These certificates are used to sign text data sent to a remote server. At the moment, this is only useful for vendors who also have accounts on the LVFS, so that when someone in their QA team tests the firmware update on real hardware, they can upload the firmware report with the extra --sign argument to sign the JSON blob with the certificate. This allows the LVFS to be sure the report upload comes from the vendor themselves, and will in future allow the trusted so-called attestation DeviceChecksums a.k.a. the PCR0 to be set automatically from this report. Of course, the LVFS user needs to upload the certificate to the LVFS to make this work, although I’ve written this functionality and am just waiting for someone to review it.

It’ll take some time for the new fwupd to get included in all the major distributions, but when practical I’ll add instructions for companies using the LVFS to use this feature. I’m hoping that by making it easier to securely set the PCR0 more devices will have the attestation metadata needed to verify if the machine is indeed running the correct firmware and secure.

Of course, fwupd doesn’t care if the certificate is self-signed or is issued from a corporate certificate signing request. The files in /var/lib/fwupd/pki/ can be set to whatever policy is in place. We can also use this self-signed certificate for any future agent check-in which we might need for the enterprise use cases. It allows us send data from the client to a remote server and prove who the client is. Comments welcome.

Making the LVFS and fwupd work in the enterprise

I’ve spent some time over the weekend thinking about how firmware updates should work when you’re an enterprise, i.e. when you’re responsible for more than about 100 broadly similar computers. Some companies using fwupd right now are managing over a 100,000 devices (!) using a variety of non-awesome workarounds. So far we’ve not had a very good story on how to make firmware updates for corporate or IoT “just work” as we’ve been concentrating on the desktop use-cases.

We’ve started working on some functionality in fwupd to install an optional “agent” that reports the versions of firmware installed to a central internal web service daily, so that the site admin can see what computers are not up-to-date with the latest firmware updates. I’d expect there the admin could also approve updates after in-house QA testing, and also rate-limit the flow of updates to hardware of the same type. The reference web app would visually look like some kind of dashboard, although I’d be happy to also plug this information into existing system management systems like Lenovo XClarity or even Red Hat Satellite. The deliverable here would be to provide the information and the mechanism that can be used to implement whatever policy the management console defines.

This stuff isn’t particularly relevant to the average Linux user, and enabling this special “enterprise mode” would involve spinning up a web app on the internal network, manually enabling a systemd timer on all clients in the enterprise and also perhaps setting up a LVFS mirror. The console certainly isn’t the kind of thing you’d run on the Internet or be provided by the LVFS.

If this sounds interesting, I’d love to hear some comments, feedback and wish list items. We’re at the pre-alpha stage right now and are just prototyping some toy code. Thanks!