Saturday, February 2, 2013

32 versus 64 bit and measuring UEFI Secure Boot

This blog begins with a discussion of the execution mode of the pre-operating system (OS) and the operating system run time (RT).   This is a question that comes up often, so I wanted to given some overview and history.

32v64 - The OS view of the world
We'll being with the OS-visible portion of the pre-OS, or the UEFI boot services (BS) environment.  For today's 64-bit (aka x64) operating systems, you need a 64-bit kernel to be booted from 64-bit UEFI firmware.  Or BS and RT execution modes need to match the kernel execution mode.  Similarly, a 32-bit OS kernel needs a 32-bit RT and 32-bit BS.  For example, x64 (aka x86-64, EM64T, AMD64, Intel64....) Ubuntu or Windows8 need to have x64 UEFI.

On this point UEFI differs from 16-bit PC/AT BIOS where you can boot 16, 32 or 64-bit kernels.  In 1982, BIOS was 16-bit, as was Microsoft DOS.  The I/O subsystem of DOS was the BIOS, so the DOS run time calling into the 16-bit BIOS int-calls worked out well.   DOS was single-threaded, BIOS calls are blocking, and everyone was happy.  This worked through Windows3.1 where DOS was still effectively the kernel.  The tension in this model appeared with 32-bit OS's where the kernel would 'thunk' or make down-calls into BIOS when necessary, alongside the 32-bit native driver model with VxD's.   With NT and beyond, though, the kernel would have native drivers such that the BIOS was only used for booting.  Same story for Linux with its pure native drivers.

And on the point of booting, the first stage OS loader would typically stay in 16-bit mode in order to read the kernel from disk or network using 16-bit BIOS calls.  Then the kernel would trampoline into 32-bit mode in order to run the native OS kernel.  When x64 came on the scene in the mid-2000's, this trampoline process was extended to go from 16-to-32-to-64 bit mode.   

The notable point on PC/AT BIOS and OS run times today is that modern OS kernels do not invoke 16-bit services after the initial loader.   This is distinct from EFI/UEFI with its 'runtime' (RT) services which are by-design intended for OS kernel invocation.

Specifically, UEFI, on the other hand, took a different path.  The original EFI 1.02 specification in 1999 had an IA32 (aka x86) binding that was 32-bit only.  EFI antedated the relase of x64.  EFI1.02 continued having only the IA32 binding.  When x64 became public, it was still prior to 2006 and the standardization of EFI as UEFI.  Intel owned the EFI specification at the time and pondered how to address support of x64.  One side of the EFI house advocated today's behavior where the firmware Instruction Set Architecture (ISA) mode == kernel ISA mode, whereas a smaller group was in the camp of a modal solution.  

Enter the '2-headed firmware.'   The idea of the firmware having two modes or 'heads' was to forever keep EFI as 32-bit and having the ability for a 32-bit or 64-bit set of run time services to be published from the firmware for the kernel (32 or 64) to call.'  

The requirement for the kernel to match the firmware begins with the ISA mode of the EFI RT.  To support run time services, the kernel maps the EFI run time and directly calls into it from ring 0.  Since the EFI run time is defined to be the same as the EFI boot services in the EFI system table, RT and BS must be the same.  This leads to the model where if you want to boot a 64-bit OS, you need 64-bit firmware.   Modern OS eschew 'thunking' or down-calling into 32-bit mode from a 64-bit kernel, unlike the practice of doing this from user mode (e.g., WOW64 in Windows and capability binary support in Linux).

So back to the 2-headed BIOS versus the pure 64-bit firmware.  Both solutions were built, but it was quite tricky to implement the 64-bit RT.  We ended up with building a shim that invoked an SMI so that the bulk of code shared between 64-bit and 32-bit RT was handled by the Framework SMM DXE code (i.e., SMM driver model prior to the UEFI PI).  The 64-bit EFI was cleaner since the mode of EFI is also the mode of DXE, our EFI core.  And with the UEFI 2.0 specification in 2006, the 64-bit work was contributed and became one of the central features of the industry-owned specification.

For a refresher on UEFI versus PI, check out Beyond BIOS or chapter 3 of Hardware Dependent Software

After all of the that, you can see why ACPI and its static tables and interpreted AML byte-codes are the preferred run time interface to the platform for PC/AT BIOS and UEFI systems today.  The co-location of the UEFI RT with the kernel in ring 0 and some of the vagaries listed above in implementation argue for not growing the corpus of UEFI RT capabilities.

32v64 - The platform construction view of the world
You will note above some discussion of DXE along with the EFI ISA mode work.  Just as the UEFI RT dictates the UEFI BS mode of operation, the UEFI BS mode dictates the Driver Execution Environment (DXE) mode of operation since the Framework and UEFI Platform Initialization (PI) DXE forms the core of the EFI and UEFI interface sets, respectively.   The same holds true for Framework and PI SMM in the DXE is the SMM loader, so the ISA mode of DXE boot service-time became the mode of the SMM DXE.   Once the die was cast for 64-bits, almost everything in the pre-OS became 64-bit.

"Almost everything" was the case because there are a couple of modes of operation prior to DXE, namely the SEC and PEI phases.  These two phases commence after a processor reset.  Even with the advent of x64, Intel Architecture CPU's still commence operation in 16-bit mode.  As such, the SEC phase mode switches to the PEI mode of operation.  PEI can execute in 32-bit or 64-bit mode.  Some of the complexities of 64-bit long mode entail larger binaries and having to run with paging enabled.  These can be covered by budgeting for the flash space for larger code images and setting up ROM'd page tables with the AD bits pre-set so that page fault walkers don't panic trying to update read-only PTE's.  The advantages of having the ISA mode of PEI and DXE match also include having codes from PEI that can be passed into DXE and re-used, such as the PE/COFF loader and the report status code logic.  The latter is especially important in that prior to loading the DXE architectural protocols, a HOB proxied report status code pointer can be used to update the boot progress during the grey period between PEI hand-off and DXE start up.  32-bit mode, on the other hand, can run in physical mode without paging.  Since such PEI execute in place (XIP) codes rarely need greater than 32-bit addressing and need to be penurious on code size and data usage because of cache-as-RAM size limitations, today PEI implementations are typically 32-bit and the final PEI, or the DXE IPL PEIM, will mode switch to 64-bit as part of invoking DXE Main.

So in summary, the ISA mode of the firmware and the OS kernel is not so simple of a story, and the story is again distinct from the ISA mode of the early PI phases of execution.

So enough on 32-bit and 64-bit.   

Note (3/4/14):  Matt Fleming has an experimental patch treating booting a 64-bit Linux kernel on a 32-bit UEFI platform 

UEFI Secure Boot - Measuring Policy
The other thing I wanted to mention was a recent publication on MSDN, namely the Trusted Execution Environment (TrEE)  EFI Protocol and measurement updates, which can be found at  This publication is important because the language toward the end around PCR[7] logging of the UEFI 2.3.1c PK, KEK, and DB/DBX addresses one of the architectural gaps of scenarios that employ both measured and secure boot.  Recall that the paper "UEFI Networking and Pre-OS Security" at or describes the relationship of measured and secure boot.  Specifically, on page 94 of the same, "...Measured Boot must include the Allowed, Forbidden, KEK, and PK variables (databases) in its measurements of a Secure Boot-configured platform."  As a result, the measurement language in the TrEE protocol provides a solution for recording the state of the UEFI Secure Boot enforcement policy.   

Post a Comment