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= Project ideas =
= Project ideas =
Most of the ideas below are fleshed out, some (laptop support) are not (due to being unrealistic for GSoC unless you have strong prior expertise in our problem domain, and in that case we'll gladly expand the description if you ask).
Some ideas have a strong focus on hardware "drivers", others are almost completely focused on overall code architecture. If you have questions, just ask.

== libflashrom - Multiple UIs for flashrom ==
== libflashrom - Multiple UIs for flashrom ==

Revision as of 00:18, 30 March 2013

General info

The flashrom project will hopefully participate in GSoC 2013 under the patronage of coreboot's GSoC administration. Depending on the number and quality of applications (for both projects) and available mentors, there will be usually one or two slots for flashrom projects. Most of the information on the coreboot site is also valid for flashrom students, please read them.

If you want to apply, it is probably a good idea to subscribe to our mailing list and take a look at our page with easy projects. You can show us that you are able to work with our codebase and/or read datasheets by solving some of the problems noted there. It is a good idea to talk to us before you start though (list items may already be worked on/partially solved by by other prospective students).

The list below is an idea collection and not set in stone. If you're interested, please talk to us on the flashrom mailing list and/or on IRC irc:// and we can make them more concrete together depending on your skills and interests.

flashrom contact

If you are interested in becoming a GSoC student, please contact the flashrom mailing list or visit our IRC channel #flashrom on Please note that most of the developers live in Europe, so responses on IRC may be a bit slow if people are asleep.

If you need to contact someone directly, Marc Jones is the GSoC admin for coreboot (our sister project which handles GSoC administration for flashrom).

Why work on flashrom for GSoC 2013?

  • flashrom offers you the opportunity to work with modern hardware “right on the iron”.
  • Hardware is fun and weird. You will learn that datasheets are just loose guidelines to the hardware and real insight is gained by systematic tinkering.
  • flashrom is the only multi-platform open source solution for flash EEPROM reading/writing for lots of different devices: on-mainboard flash (for BIOS/EFI/coreboot), graphics/network card flash (for firmware), and dozens of specialized programmer devices. If you want to update your BIOS/EFI/coreboot or update some firmware from a running Linux/*BSD/... system, flashrom is the only choice you have.
  • flashrom does hardware access (like firmware/drivers), but completely in user space and without the hassles present in firmware or OS kernels. That way you can write complex hardware access with ease.
  • flashrom has a worldwide developer and user base. Big companies (Google, ...) and individual users both use it and contribute to it.
  • We are a very passionate team – so you will interact directly with the project initiators and project leaders.
  • We have a large, helpful and friendly community. flashrom has some extremely talented and helpful experts in all things flash active in the project, and many of our friends from the coreboot project participate in flashrom as well. They are ready to assist and mentor students participating in GSoC 2013.

Why NOT work on flashrom for GSoC 2013?

  • If you want to create content for Adobe/Macromedia Flash, this is not the right project for you. We are working with flash chips based on EEPROM technology, something completely different from Adobe Flash.

GSoC Student requirements

What will be required of you to be a flashrom GSoC student?

Google Summer of Code is a full (day)time job. This means we expect roughly 40 hours per week on your project, during the three months of coding. Obviously we have flexibility, but if your schedule (exams, courses) does not give you this amount of spare time, then maybe you should not apply.

  1. Prior to project acceptance, you have demonstrated that you can work with the flashrom codebase.
    • You need to be able to read and write C code and know what a pointer is.
    • You need to be able to work with our source code repository (check out the code, generate a diff/patch for your changes, apply a patch from someone else). We use subversion, but some up-to-date git mirrors are available. Don't worry, you can learn everything you need from scratch in less than 30 minutes and we'll help you.
    • By the time you have submitted your application, you should have downloaded and built flashrom as well als applied some patches. Run flashrom in QEMU, on real hardware or try at least the dummy programmer driver if you're afraid of hardware problems. Please email your flashrom output and test results to the flashrom mailing list.
    • Send a patch to the [[Mailinglist|mailing list] for review. Check Easy projects or ask for simple tasks on the mailing list or on IRC.
  2. To pass and to be paid by Google requires that you meet certain milestones.
    • First, you must be in good standing with the community before the official start of the program. We suggest you post some design emails to the mailing list, and get feedback on them, both before applying, and during the "community bonding period" between acceptance and official start.
    • You must have made progress and committed significant code before the mid-term point and by the final.
  3. We require that accepted students to maintain a blog on (our sister project managing GSoC for us), where you will write about your project weekly. This is a way to measure progress and for the community at large to be able to help you. GSoC is not a private contract between your mentor and you.
  4. Student must be active on IRC and the mailing list. Sending massive patches for midterm and final without any communication in between is not sufficient.

We don't expect our students to be experts in our problem domain, but we don't want you to fail because some basic misunderstanding was in your way of completing the task.

Project ideas

Most of the ideas below are fleshed out, some (laptop support) are not (due to being unrealistic for GSoC unless you have strong prior expertise in our problem domain, and in that case we'll gladly expand the description if you ask).

Some ideas have a strong focus on hardware "drivers", others are almost completely focused on overall code architecture. If you have questions, just ask.

libflashrom - Multiple UIs for flashrom

libflashrom is the name for the part of flashrom's code that forms its core and should eventually be independent from any user interface. This allows easy creation of user interfaces and integration to existing applications. There exists a patch set implementing this idea by Nico Huber already, but it was not reviewed yet. It would certainly be a good starting point for anyone looking into this project.

In general implementing this idea requires the following steps:

  • code cleanup (e.g. removal of stray exit() calls and returning proper error codes instead)
  • API design and implementation
    It is not enough to just separate the code from the existing user interface. There must also be added some glue code so that the separate parts can be developed independently. For example there has to be a generic way to query programmer modules for their available options so that UI code can present them to the user without knowing about that specific programmer before. You can find a few thoughts at libflashrom.

It is probably a good idea to work in parallel on a user interface so that you become aware of problems and missing API bits. Naturally the existing command line interface should continue to work (but be separated). This is also an easy way to evaluate your work. If we see that your UI code can work independent of the libflashrom code in the way it should while providing the interaction possibilities we deem(ed) useful, you have been definitely successful.

Some obvious UI ideas are:

  • flashrom TUI (text mode user interface) (for command line and flashrom-as-payload)
  • flashrom GUI (graphics mode user interface) (should be cross-platform, has been tried a few times and may be based on those attempts)

There have been a number of attempts to create a flashrom GUI, but Qflashrom is probably the only one of interest for you.

Design and implementation of a native USB flashing protocol

All existing free USB-based flash programmers have a very naive interface. The SPI programmers usually act as a simple USB to SPI bridge, mostly tunneling the plain SPI traffic via a USB communications device class (CDC) aka. RS-232 tunnel. Since USB communication has rather long round trip times this has some performance disadvantages. It would be much more elegant to tell the programmer what to do more abstractedly instead of sending it the complete flash protocol communication contents which just needs to be forwarded to the chip. This requires a lot of knowledge at the external programmer though because much of what flashrom does needs to be done by its firmware. Adding an instruction set interpreted by the programmer might help to keep the complexity within sane bounds. You can find some preliminary design ideas about such a protocol by Peter Stuge in his git repo. A programmer based on some embedded platform (e.g. an ARM cortex-m board) should be built utilizing the protocol to evaluate the performance and implementation effort.

ROM image parsing and preparation

flashrom does not analyze the images fed to it. Therefor it is not able to detect if the image is correct for the target computer neither to automatically derive Board Enables, detect write protected regions or bootblocks etc. There exist a number of tools already to dissect, unpack and analyze images. Some of them reside in the (aptly named) Bios extract repository. Another pair of tools are FD44Editor and FD44Copier which can show, edit, and extract lots of information of UEFI images of Intel-based ASUS boards and prepare it to be flashed back. The companion thread tells how to use them and what they do more in-depth. Then there is ich_descriptor_tool residing in the flashrom repository, which is able to parse the descriptor region found on most Intel platforms and there is an automatic board enable finder authored by Roxfan which is yet unreleased. If the license permits it other code can of course be used too.

The goal of this project is to unify (some of) the tools above, adding further functionality and creating a library that can be used to prepare images before they are fed to flashrom and possibly by flashrom itself.

Recovery of dead boards and onboard flash updates

  • flashrom as payload
  • flashrom as UEFI application
  • flashrom remote flashing for coreboot panic room mode
  • flashrom remote flashing with modified SerialICE

This is heavily overlapping with the coreboot panic room idea. Please see there for further details.

Internal programmer improvements for complex systems

The notion of an "internal" programmer has historically implied a single physical device (i.e. mainboard "southbridge") which connects to an external flash chip. Recent systems have grown significantly more complex and often involve multiple separate microcontrollers which are accessed via the host chipset. Examples include management controllers which are integrated in the mainboard chipset but act independently and embedded controllers typically found in laptop devices.

The goal of this project is to re-factor flashrom's internal programmer:

  • Elegantly coordinate firmware update processes between components (i.e. setting devices in "update" mode, etc).
  • Enforce policies on a potentially platform-specific basis, such as non-fatal read/write failures caused by a management controller.
  • Better abstraction for host ↔ EC I/O resources.
  • Board-specific handling for non-standard ECs.

You can find a lot more detailed project description in our mailing list archive. While there exists some code and architectural ideas already, this project is rather hard and requires at least some familiarity with flashrom's code base.

Generic flashrom infrastructure improvements

Below is a list of smaller projects to improve/refactor some core features of flashrom. A number of other things of various difficulty can be done too/instead. You should probably have some experience with the code base already to work on these effectively.

  • Automatic recovery in case something goes wrong
  • Partial reflashing
  • Bytewise flashing (similar to the point above)
  • Support for multiple read and write functions per chip
  • Sanitize (SPI) probing

Locking and Unlocking

Many chips support some kind of write protection. Currently flashrom just tries to disable it if needed to be able to write freely. Google's flashrom branch has some further support, which was not accepted upstream. Your task would be to design and implement acceptable data structures, APIs and user interfaces to make a generic approach to lock and unlock of flash regions possible.

Laptop support - Support for ECs (Embedded Controllers)

This one is really HARD. If you're lucky and if you have datasheets, you can add support for a single laptop in maybe 1 month. If you're unlucky, it can take the whole GSoC or more. If there is interest, we'll try to find an embedded controller which won't cause you to give up in frustration. Still, it might be beneficial if you're willing to solder (to recover from a bricked board).

Support more chips - Implement (obscure and) unsupported features - Try to make flashrom write EEPROMs

Most unsupported chips need some architectural work in flashrom's core because they behave substantially different to most other chips. The same applies to EEPROMs. Some yet unsupported features like OTP, locking or GPIO control may have been seen too obscure and not in the scope of flashrom. It might be fun to work on them and evaluate the resulting changes to flashrom's core. The main objective here is not to produce mergeable code for upstream, but to show what changes to the existing code would have to be done. If those are sustainable without breaking anything and do not bloat flashrom too much, integrating the code is of course a subgoal.