This document describes the SPMC (S-EL1) implementation for OP-TEE. More information on the SPMC can be found in the FF-A specification can be found in the FF-A spec.

SPMC Responsibilities

The SPMC is a critical component in the FF-A flow. Some of its major responsibilities are:

  • Initialisation and run-time management of the SPs:

    The SPMC component is responsible for initialisation of the Secure Partitions (loading the image, setting up the stack, heap, …).

  • Routing messages between endpoints:

    The SPMC is responsible for passing FF-A messages from normal world to SPs and back. It also responsible for passing FF-A messages between SPs.

  • Memory management:

    The SPMC is responsible for the memory management of the SPs. Memory can be shared between SPs and between a SP to the normal world.

This document describes OP-TEE as a S-EL1 SPMC.

Secure Partitions

Secure Partitions (SPs) are the endpoints used in the FF-A protocol. When OP-TEE is used as a SPMC SPs run primarily inside S-EL0.

OP-TEE will use FF-A for it transport layer when the OP-TEE CFG_CORE_FFA=y configuration flag is enabled. The SPMC will expose the OP-TEE core, privileged mode, as an secure endpoint itself. This is used to handle all GlobalPlaform programming mode operations. All GlobalPlatform messages are encapsulated inside FF-A messages. The OP-TEE endpoint will unpack the messages and afterwards handle them as standard OP-TEE calls. This is needed as TF-A (S-EL3) does only allow FF-A messages to be passed to the secure world when the SPMD is enabled.

SPs run from the initial boot of the system until power down and don’t have any built-in session management compared to GPD TEE TAs. The only means of communicating with the outside world is through messages defined in the FF-A specification. The context of a SP is saved between executions.

The Trusted Service repository includes the libsp libary which export all needed functions to build a S-EL0 SP. It also includes many examples of how to create and implement a SP.

Secure Partition formats

OP-TEE specific ELF format

OP-TEE uses an ELF format for its Trusted Applications. It has an OP-TEE specific section which contains a header structure for describing the Trusted Application. A very similar format can be used for Secure Partitions. The same ELF format allows OP-TEE to use the built-in ELF loader (ldelf) with all its features like handling relocations or ASLR. In this case a different section is used for the header structure to distinguish between Trusted Applications and Secure Partitions.

SPMC agnostic flat binary format

This simple binary format aims for maximum portability between SPMC implementations by removing the dependency on an ELF loader and implementation specific metadata in the SP image. The SPMC can simply copy the binary into the memory and start running it. The relocations, the stack setup and any further initialization steps should be handled by the startup code of the secure partition. The access rights for different sections of the binary can be configured either by adding load relative memory regions to the SP manifest or by using the FFA_MEM_PERM_SET interface in the startup code.

SPMC Program Flow

SP images are either embedded into the OP-TEE image or loaded from the FIP by BL2. This makes it possible to start SPs during boot, before the rich OS is available in the normal world.

Starting SPs

SPs are loaded and started as the last step in OP-TEE’s initialisation process. This is done by adding sp_init_all() to the boot_final initcall level.

autoactivate on
thread_optee_smc_a64.s -> boot_final
boot_final -> secure_partition.c:                       sp_init_all()
loop for each SP
secure_partition.c -> secure_partition.c:               sp_init_uuid()
autoactivate off
thread_optee_smc_a64.s -> thread_optee_smc_a64.s:       thread_ffa_msg_wait()
thread_optee_smc_a64.s -> thread_optee_smc_a64.s:       ffa_msg_loop()
autoactivate off
thread_optee_smc_a64.s -> SPMD:                         SMC


Initialise all SPs which have been added by the SP_PATHS compiler option and run them


All SPs are loaded and started. A FFA_MSG_WAIT message is sent to the Normal World.

Each ELF format SP is loaded into the system using ldelf and started. This is based around the same process as loading the early TAs. For each binary format SP a simpler method is used to copy the binary into a suitable memory area. All SPs are run after they are loaded and run until a FFA_MSG_WAIT is sent by the SP.

autoactivate on
secure_partition.c -> secure_partition.c:       sp_init_uuid()
secure_partition.c -> secure_partition.c:       sp_open_session()
secure_partition.c -> secure_partition.c:       find_sp()
secure_partition.c -> secure_partition.c:       sp_create_session()
alt OP-TEE specific ELF format
        secure_partition.c -> secure_partition.c:ldelf_load_ldelf()
        secure_partition.c -> secure_partition.c:ldlelf_init_with_ldelf()
else SPMC agnostic flat binary format
        secure_partition.c -> secure_partition.c:load_binary_sp()
secure_partition.c -> secure_partition.c:       sp_init_set_registers()
secure_partition.c -> secure_partition.c:       enter_sp()
secure_partition.c -> secure_partition.c:       sp_msg_handler()


Load the OP-TEE specific ELF format SP


Load the SPMC agnostic flat binary format SP


Initialise the struct ffa_init_info. The struct ffa_init_info is passed to the SP during it first run.


Initialise the registers of the SP


Handle the SPs FF-A message

Once all SPs are loaded and started we return to the SPMD and the Normal World is booted.

SP message handling

The SPMC is split into 2 main message handlers:

thread_spmc_msg_recv() thread_spmc.c

Used to handle message coming from the Normal World.

sp_msg_handler() spmc_sp_handler.c

Used to handle message where the source or the destination is a SP.

When a FFA_MSG_SEND_DIRECT_REQ message is received by the SPMC from the Normal World, a new thread is started. The FF-A message is passed to the thread and it will call the sp_msg_handler() function.

Whenever the SPMC (sp_msg_handler()) receives a message not intended for one of the SPs, it will exit the thread and return to the Normal World passing the FF-A message.

Currently only a FFA_MSG_SEND_DIRECT_REQ can be passed from the Normal World to a SP.

skinparam backgroundcolor transparent
participant "None-secure world" as None_secure_world

box "S-EL3"
participant SPMD
end box

box "S-EL1"
participant thread_spmc
participant spmc_sp_handler
end box

box "S-EL0"
participant SP
end box

autoactivate on
None_secure_world -> SPMD: FFA_MSG_SEND_DIRECT_REQ \n <font color=red>SMC
SPMD -> thread_spmc: thread_spmc_msg_recv() \n <font color=red>ERET

thread_spmc -> spmc_sp_handler : spmc_sp_start_thread()
== thread ==
spmc_sp_handler -> spmc_sp_handler : sp_msg_handler()

loop FF-A dst != NSW
        spmc_sp_handler -> spmc_sp_handler: ffa_handle_sp_direct_req()
        spmc_sp_handler -> spmc_sp_handler: enter_sp()
        spmc_sp_handler -> spmc_sp_handler: sp_enter_invoke_cmd()
        autoactivate off
        spmc_sp_handler -> SP: __thread_enter_user_mode() \n <font color=red>ERET
        activate SP

        SP -> spmc_sp_handler : (FF-A message) sp_handle_svc() \n <font color=red>SVC
        deactivate SP
        activate spmc_sp_handler
        spmc_sp_handler -> spmc_sp_handler: Store SP context
        spmc_sp_handler -> spmc_sp_handler: return to sp_enter_invoke_cmd()
        deactivate spmc_sp_handler
        spmc_sp_handler -> spmc_sp_handler: Retrieve FF-A message from SP context
== End of thread ==
return \n <font color=red>SMC
return FFA_MSG_SEND_DIRECT_RESP \n <font color=red>ERET

Every message received by the SPMC from the Normal World is handled in the thread_spmc_msg_recv() function.

When entering a SP we need to be running in a OP-TEE thread. This is needed to be able to push the TS session (We push the TS session to get access to the SP memory). Currently the only possibility to enter a SP from the Normal world is via a FFA_MSG_SEND_DIRECT_REQ. Whenever we receive a FFA_MSG_SEND_DIRECT_REQ message which doesn’t have OP-TEE as the endpoint-id, we start a thread and forward the FF-A message to the sp_msg_handler().

The sp_msg_handler() is responsible for all messages coming or going to/from a SP. It runs in a while loop and will handle every message until it comes across a messages which is not intended for the secure world. After a message is handled by the SPMC or when it needs to be forwarded to a SP, sp_enter() is called. sp_enter() will copy the FF-A arguments and resume the SP.

When the SPMC needs to have access to the SPs memory, it will call ts_push_current_session() to gain access and ts_pop_current_session() to release the access.

Running and exiting SPs

The SPMC resumes/starts the SP by calling the sp_enter(). This will set up the SP context and jump into S-EL0. Whenever the SP performs a system call it will end up in sp_handle_svc(). sp_handle_svc() stores the current context of the SP and makes sure that we don’t return to S-EL0 but instead returns to S-EL1 back to sp_enter(). sp_enter() will pass the FF-A registers (x0-x7) to spmc_sp_msg_handler(). This will process the FF-A message.

RxTx buffer managment

RxTx buffers are used by the SPMC to exchange information between an endpoint and the SPMC. The rxtx_buf struct is used by the SPMC for abstracting buffer management. Every SP has a struct rxtx_buf wich will be passed to every function that needs access to the rxtx buffer. A separate struct rxtx_buf is defined for the Normal World, which gives access to the Normal World buffers.

FF-A compliance


  • Fully supported

  • Partially implemented

  • Not supported

  • Does not apply for the FF-A instance or version

Partition boot protocol

Only FF-A v1.0 partition boot protocol is supported by the SPMC.

Supported partition manifest fields



FF-A v1.0

FF-A v1.1

FF-A version




Partition ID


Auxiliary IDs


Name (description)


Number of execution contexts


Run-time EL


Execution state


Load address


Entry point offset


Translation granule


Boot order


RX/TX information


Messaging method


Primary scheduler implemented


Run-time model




Memory regions

Base address


Load address relative offset


Page count






Stream & SMMU IDs


Stream ID access permissions


Device regions

Physical base address


Page count








Stream IDs


Exclusive access and ownership





  • The values of mandatory but not supported fields are ignored by the SP loader. This means all values are accepted but the SPMC might behave differently than expected.

  • Memory region attributes doesn’t support shareability and cacheability flags.

Supported FF-A interfaces

The table below describes the implementation level of each FF-A interface on different FF-A instances. The two instances are between OP-TEE SPMC and the SPMC and between OP-TEE SPMC and its S-EL0 secure partitions. The FF-A specification uses ‘Secure Phyisical’ and ‘Secure Virtual’ terms for these instances.



OP-TEE <-> S-EL0 SPs

FF-A v1.0

FF-A v1.1

FF-A v1.0

FF-A v1.1




































  • FF-A v1.1 error code NO_DATA is not supported.

  • FFA_SUCCESS is not supported as a response to an FFA_MSG_SEND_DIRECT_REQ message.

  • Non-secure interrupts are not forwarded to the normal world via FFA_INTERRUPT.

  • Interrupts cannot be forwarded to S-EL0 secure partitions.

  • Only FFA_RXTX_MAP feature query is supported by the FFA_FEATURES interface. FFA_MEM_DONATE, FFA_MEM_LEND, FFA_MEM_SHARE and FFA_MEM_RETRIEVE_REQ feature query is not implemented.

  • FF-A v1.1 Flags field in FFA_MSG_SEND_DIRECT_REQ and FFA_MSG_SEND_DIRECT_RESP calls is not supported.

  • Transferring memory transaction descriptors in a buffer distinct from the TX buffer is not supported by the secure virtual instance.

  • Transferring fragmented memory transaction descriptors is not supported by the secure virtual instance.

  • The only supported ‘Memory region attributes descriptor’ value is normal memory, write-back cacheability and inner shareable. All other values are denied on the secure physical instance. The secure virtual instance’s implementation ignores the value of this descriptor but uses the same attributes for the region.

  • The NS flag support in not implemented for ‘Memory region attributes descriptor’.

  • Only read-write non-executable value can be used in the ‘Memory access permissions descriptor’ at the secure phyisical instance.

  • The Flags field of FFA_MEM_RELINQUISH is ignored.

  • The secure phyisical instanced doesn’t implemented the receiving of FFA_MEM_RELINQUISH.

  • Time slicing of memory management operations is not supported.


SPMC config options

To configure OP-TEE as a S-EL1 SPMC with Secure Partition support, the following flags should be set for optee_os:



  • CFG_DT=y


Furthermore TF-A should be configured as the SPMD, expecting a S-EL1 SPMC:

  • SPD=spmd


  • ARM_SPMC_MANIFEST_DTS=<path to SPMC manifest dts>

SP loading mechanism

OP-TEE SPMC supports two methods for finding and loading the SP executable images. Currently only ELF executables are supported. In the build repo the loading method can be selected with the SP_PACKAGING_METHOD option.

Embedded SP

In this case the early TA mechanism of optee_os is reused: the SP ELF files are embedded into the main OP-TEE binary. Each ELF should start with a specific section (.sp_head) containing a struct which describes the SP (UUID, stack size, etc.). The images can be added to optee_os using the SP_PATHS config option, the build repo will set this up automatically when SP_PACKAGING_METHOD=embedded is selected. The images passed in SP_PATHS are processed by ts_bin_to_c.py in optee_os and linked into the main binary. At runtime the for_each_secure_partition() macro can iterate through these images, so a particular SP can be found by UUID and then loaded.

The SP manifest file [1] used by the SPMC to setup SPs is also handled by ts_bin_to_c.py, it will be concatenated to the end of the SP ELF.


In this case the SP ELF files and the corresponding SP manifest DTs are encapsulated into SP packages and packed into the FIP. The goal of providing this alternative flow is to make updating SPs easier (independent of the main OP-TEE binary) and to get aligned with Hafnium (S-EL2 SPMC). For more information about the FIP, please refer to the TF-A documentation [2]. The SP packaging process and the package format is provided by TF-A, detailed description is available at [3]. In the build repo this method can be selected by SP_PACKAGING_METHOD=fip, it covers all the necessary setup automatically. In case of using another buildsystem, the following steps should be implemented:

  • TF-A config SP_LAYOUT_FILE: provide a JSON file which describes the SPs (path to SP executable and corresponding DT, example [4]). The TF-A buildsystem will create the SP packages (using sptool) based on this and pack them into the FIP.

  • TF-A config ARM_BL2_SP_LIST_DTS: provide a DT snippet which describes the SPs’ UUIDs and load addresses (example: [5]). This will be injected into the SP list in TB_FW_CONFIG DT of TF-A, and BL2 will load the SP packages based on this. Note that BL2 doesn’t automatically load all images from the FIP: it’s necessary to explicitly define them in TB_FW_CONFIG (using this injected snippet or manually editing the DT).

  • TF-A config ARM_SPMC_MANIFEST_DTS: provide the SPMC manifest (example: [6]). This DT is passed to the SPMC as a boot argument (in the TF-A naming convention this is the TOS_FW_CONFIG). It should contain the list of SP packages and their load addresses in the compatible = "arm,sp_pkg" node.

At boot optee_os will parse the SP package load addresses from the SPMC manifest and find the SP packages already loaded by BL2. Iterating through the SP packages, based on the SP package header in each package it will map the SP executable image and the corresponding manifest DT and collect these to the fip_sp_list list. Later when initialising the SPs, the for_each_fip_sp macro is used to iterate this list and load the executables, just like for the embedded SP case.

[1] https://trustedfirmware-a.readthedocs.io/en/v2.6/components/ffa-manifest-binding.html

[2] https://trustedfirmware-a.readthedocs.io/en/v2.6/design/firmware-design.html#firmware-image-package-fip

[3] https://trustedfirmware-a.readthedocs.io/en/v2.6/components/secure-partition-manager.html#secure-partition-packages

[4] https://trustedfirmware-a.readthedocs.io/en/v2.6/components/secure-partition-manager.html#describing-secure-partitions

[5] https://github.com/OP-TEE/build/blob/master/fvp/bl2_sp_list.dtsi

[6] https://github.com/OP-TEE/build/blob/master/fvp/spmc_manifest.dts