Saturday, September 2, 2023

Deprecation and introduction of interfaces

Specifications may appear to be static codifications set in stone, but they are often evolutionary species. One of the challenges in evolving a specification includes when, if ever, to deprecate content in lieu of new additions. Sometimes technology may fall out of use or be deemed by the market not to be the most viable. Often, though, this class of information is not elided from specifications unless they are hard scientific reasons, like elision of MD5 or SHA1 from specifications 

because of pre-image attacks I recall one person telling me that about 40% of the Wifi specification was relevant; the key was knowing 'which' 40% merited attention.

This blog will talk about a few specifications, such as the UEFI, PI and Intel SDM, that weigh in at several thousands of pages. To be with the UEFI and PI specification, one area that has potential for deprecation is Itanium support. The EDKII upstream has already removed Itanium related code from the various packages. There are vestiges of Itanium in chapter 2 of the UEFI Specification for the calling conventions, though. Similarly, support for the Itanium reset paths and extended SAL services can be found in the PI specification. The latter of which was the EDKII adaptation of calling the Itanium System Abstraction Layer (SAL) (SAL) interfaces from a UEFI environment. 

As a quick background, Itanium had a platform scoped SAL and processor scoped Processor Abstraction Layer (PAL) set of firmware layers designed to provide both boot and runtime services. The RISC-V Supervisor Binary Interface (SBI) is sort of an amalgam of SAL and PAL since it provides both core, SOC and (potential) platform capabilities. SAL is interesting in that unlike UEFI, that goes into a virtual-only calling mode after SetVirtualAddressMap(), the SAL calls could be called in either physical or virtual mode throughout the life of the platform. This posed some challenges for writing UEFI code since position independent code (PIC) options for C compilers haven't been universally supported across all of the EDK toolchains, especially in the early days with Visual Studio, or for IA32 with its inability to read the instruction pointer address as possible in other architectures. For assembly-language Itanium code it was pretty simple to write PIC code. So the Extended SAL (ESAL) of the PI spec and EDKII provided a way to have non-fixed up and fixed up C code that would use a common data area. 

In addition to the SAL support, another fascinating aspect of Itanium was the support for floating point exceptions in the Floating-Point Software Assist (FPSWA) driver, as described in 

This driver was loaded from the EFI System Partition during boot and would provide runtime support for floating point exceptions. Regrettably soft-loading critical flows from disk like the FPSWA have not been pervasive, even in the face of relatively expensive $/byte of semiconductor NOR SPI flash. This stems from the supply chain challenge where the motherboard and fixed disk media may be provisioned, secured, and recovered by alternate parts of the ecosystem, namely OEM/ODM for the board versus OEM/ODM/integrator/VAR/IT for the disk and its bootloader and OS images, respectively.  

Another area that is an interesting artifact from the past is the BIOS interface in the Intel Software Developer Manual This interface is an Int15h API to manage microcode patches.

Starting in the early 1980s, the PC/AT BIOS exposed services through 16-bit 'int' calls or software traps, which the most famous being Int13h for disk access, Int 10h for video, etc. These API's all have correlatives in UEFI, with Int13h having the equivalent in EFI_BLOCK_IO_PROTOCOL, for example. The Intel Framework Compatibility Support Model (CSM) specification provided a bridge from EFI into BIOS calls in the early days where there were few EFI native drivers, for example. But the CSM support was not introduced into the UEFI PI specification since the idea with PI commencing in 2006 would have UEFI-spec-defined APIs. In fact, Intel declared the PC/AT BIOS interfaces to be end-of-life in 2020 


That's where the Int15h API mentioned above is interesting. It can either go away as its the only BIOS API in the SDM, or it could be complemented by/replaced with a UEFI equivalent. To that end, the design reads on this capability 

The mapping of the UEFI interfaces to the Int15h included

with the specific capsule itself having the following layout

The generic capsule overview flow is described in the UEFI specification 

and other write-ups and As the code-base has been re-arranged in the open, the most recent location to find the FMP DXE Microcode Capsule support is and of course

This builds upon the generic FMP 

and capsule update flow 

widely deployed today. Maybe avoiding putting something 'post-Int15h' in the SDM is a wise move, though, considering the plurality of interfaces for firmware updates, from to to to to.... It's a veritable embarrassment of riches.