Secure Partition Manager

This document describes the Secure Partition Manager (SPM) implementation design in Trusted Firmware-M (TF-M).


  • The FF-M in this document refers to the accumulated result of two specifications: FF-M v1.1 Update on FF-M v1.0.

  • The words marked as interpreted are defined terms. Find the terms in referenced documents if it is not described in this document.


The service access process of FF-M:


Figure 5: FF-M service access process

Secure services (aka Service) is the component providing secure functionalities in SPE, and Client is the user of the Service. A service acts as a client when it is accessing its depending services.

Services are grouped into Secure Partition (aka partition). A partition:

  • Contains services with the same purpose.

  • Provides implementation required isolation boundaries.

  • Is a software development unit.

Each service exposes its Service ID (SID) and Handle for client access usage. Clients access services by SID or Handle through FF-M Client API. Partitions use FF-M Secure Partition API when it needs to operate on client data or reply to a client.

SPM is the centre of an FF-M compliant implementation, which sets up and maintains a firmware framework that:

  • Implements Client API and Secure Partition API.

  • Manages partition runtime to follow FF-M.

  • Involves necessary implementation-defined items to support the implementation.

SPM interfaces consist of these two categories:

  • FF-M defined API.

  • Extended API to support the implementation.

Both API categories are compliant with FF-M concepts and guidelines. The core concept of TF-M SPM surrounds the FF-M defined service management and access process. Besides this, another important implementation part is partition runtime management.

Partition runtime model

One partition must work under as ONE of the runtime models: Inter-process communication (IPC) model or Secure Function (SFN) model.

A partition that runs under the IPC model looks like a classic process. There is ONE thread inside the partition keeps waiting for signals. SPM converts the service accessing info from the Client API call into messages and assert a signal to the partition. The partition calls corresponded service function indicated by the signal and its bound message, and reply service returned result to the client. The advantages of this model:

  • It provides better isolation by limiting the interfaces on data interactive. Data are preferred to be processed in a local buffer.

  • It provides a mechanism for handling multiple service access. There is no memory mapping mechanism in the MCU system, hence it is hard to provide multiple function call contexts when serving multiple-threaded clients if the service access is implemented in a function-call based mechanism. This model converts multiple service accesses into messages, let the partition handles the service access in messages one by one.

The Secure Function (SFN) model partition is close to a library. Each service is provided as a function entry inside the partition. SPM launches the target service function after the service is found. The whole procedure (from client to service function) is a function call. This model:

  • Saves the workloads spent on IPC scheduling.

Meanwhile, it relaxes the data interactive mechanism, for example, allow direct memory access (MMIOVEC). And it is hard to enable multiple-threaded clients service access because of multiple call context-maintenance difficulties.

An implementation contains only SFN partitions fits better in the resource-constrained devices, it is called an SFN model implementation. And it is an IPC model implementation when IPC partitions exist in the system.


IPC model implementation can handle access to the services in the SFN partition.

Components and isolation levels

There are THREE isolation levels defined in FF-M. These levels can fulfil different security requirements by defining different isolation boundaries.


Figure 6: Components and isolation boundaries


Concept ARoT, PRoT, domain, and boundaries are in the FF-M specification.

Not like an SPE client that can call Client API to access the secure services in one step, an NSPE client needs to cross the secure boundaries first before calling Client API. The component NS Agent in Figure 6: represents NSPE clients after they crossed the secure boundaries. This could help SPM handles the request in a unified way instead of care about the special boundaries.


NS Agent is a necessary implementation-defined component out of FF-M specification. NS Agent has a dedicated stack because secure and non-secure can not share the stack. It also has dedicated execution bodies. For example, RPC-based NS Agent has a while loop that keeps waiting for messages; and Trustzone-based NS Agent has veneer code to take over NSPE secure call. This makes NS Agent to be a component more like a process. Hence in the simplest implementation (SFN model implementation mentioned above), NS Agent is the only process in the system, the scheduling logic can be extremely simplified since no other process execution needs to be scheduled. But the scheduling interface is still necessary to SPM, this could help SPM treat both SFN and IPC model implementation in a unified way.

Check NS Agent for details.

Implementation principle

The principles for TF-M SPM implementation:


  • SPM can treat these components as the client: NS Agent, SFN Partition, and IPC partition.

  • These components can provide services: SFN Partition, IPC partition, and built-in services. A built-in service is built up with SPM together.

  • All partition services must be accessed by Client API.

  • Partitions interact with client data by Secure Partition API.

  • Built-in services are strongly recommended to be accessed by Client API. Customized interfaces are restricted.

  • Built-in services can call SPM internal interfaces directly.

Runtime management

The runtime execution runs among the components, there are 4 runtime states:

  • Initializing state, to set up the SPM runtime environment after system powers up

  • IDLE state, when SPM runtime environment is set up and partitions are ready for service access.

  • Serving state, when partition is under initializing or service access handling.

  • Background state, such as the arrival of secure interrupt or unexpected faults. Background state returns to the state it preempts. Background state can be nested.

The state transition diagram:


Figure 7: SPE runtime execution states


The goal of TF-M initializing is to perform necessary initialization and move to the Serving state. This state starts with platform-specific power on sequence, then SPM takes over the execution to perform these operations:

  1. A preparation initialization process before SPM runtime initialization.

  2. SPM runtime initialization.

  3. A post initialization happens after the SPM runtime initialization and before the first partition gets launched.


These procedures and their sub-routines are recommended to be applied with execution measurement mechansim to mitigate the Hardware Fault Injection attack.

Preparation initialization

The purpose of this preparation initialization is to provide a chance for performing those security required but generic platform power-on skipped operations, such as:

  • Restrict SPM execution, for example, set up memory overflow settings for SPM runtime memory, or set code out of SPM as un-executable, even though SPM is a privileged component in general.


The logging-related peripheral can be set up AT THIS STEP, if logging is enabled and it needs peripheral support. There is no standalone initializing HAL API proposed for logging, so here is an ideal place for initializing them.

This procedure is abstracted into one HAL, and a few example procedures are implemented as its sub-routines for reference:

  • Architecture extensions initialization, Check chapter Architecture security settings for detailed information.

  • Isolation and lifecycle initialization.

The load isolation boundaries need to be set up here, such as SPE/NSPE boundary, and ARoT/PRoT boundary if isolation level 2 is applied.

The lifecycle is initiated by a secure bootloader usually. And in this stage of SPM initializing, SPM double-checks the lifecycle set up status (following a specific lifecycle management guidelines). Note that the hardware debugger settings can be part of lifecycle settings.


Double-check debugger settings when performing a product release.

SPM runtime initialization

This procedure initializes necessary runtime operations such as memory allocator, loading partitions and partition-specific initialization (binding partitions with platform resources).

The general processes:

  1. Initialize runtime functionalities, such as memory allocator.

  2. Load partitions by repeating below steps:

    • Find a partition load information.

    • Allocate runtime objects for this partition.

    • Link the runtime objects with load information.

    • Init partition contexts (Thread and call context).

    • Init partition isolation boundaries (MMIO e.g.).

    • Init partition interrupts.

After no more partitions need to be loaded, the SPM runtime is set up but partitions’ initialization routines have not run yet - the partition runtime context is initialized for the routine call.

The partition initialization routine is a special service that serves SPM only, because:

  • SPM needs to call the initialization routine, just like it calls into the service routine.

  • The partition initialization routine can access its depending services. Putting initialization routine in the same runtime environment as common service routines can avoid special operations.

Hence a Partition initialization client needs to be created to initialize the SFN partitions, because:

  • SPM runtime initialization happen inside a special runtime environment compare to the partition runtime execution, then an environment switching is needed.

  • IPC partitions are initialized by the scheduler and dependencies are handled by signals and messages asynchronously, hence IPC partitions can process the dependencies by their own.

The Partition initialization client is created differently based on the implementation runtime model:

  • A SFN client is created under the SFN model implementation.

  • A IPC client is created under the IPC model implementation. This client thread has the highest priority.

As the other partitions, the client is created with context standby, and it is executed after the Post initialization stage.

Post initialization

Platform code can change specific partition settings in this procedure before partitions start. A few SPM API is callable at this stage, such as set a signal into a specific partition, or customized peripheral settings.


Two execution categories work under this state:

This state indicates the serving is ongoing. It is mainly the service routine execution, plus a few SPM executions when SPM API gets called.


The service access process introduced in this chapter (Such as Secure service access) is abstracted from the FF-M specification. Reference the FF-M specification for the details of each step.

Partition initialization routine execution

The partition initialization routines get called. One partition may access its depending services during initializing, then this procedure is a Secure service access.

The initialization routine gets called initially by Partition initialization client, also can be called by Client API before service access, if the target partition is not initialized but a service access request is raised by one client.

Secure service access

The process of service access:

  1. A client calls an FF-M Client API.

  2. SPM validates inputs and looks up for the targeted service.

  3. SPM constructs the request to be delivered under a proper runtime mechanism.

  4. The target service gets executed. It can perform internal executions or access depending services to prepare the response. It also can wait for specific signals.

  5. The target service calls FF-M Secure Partition API to request a reply to the client.

  6. SPM delivers the response to the client, and the API called by the client returns.

The mechanism of how SPM interact with the target partition depends on the partition runtime model.

  • Access to a service in an SFN partition is a function call, which does not switch the current process indicator.

  • Access to a service in an IPC partition leads to scheduling, which switches the current process indicator.

  • When the execution roams between components because of a function call or scheduling, the isolation boundaries NEED to be switched if there are boundaries between components.


No matter what kind of partition a client is trying to access, the SPM API is called firstly as it is the interface for service access. There are two ABI types when calling SPM API: Cross-boundary or No-cross-boundary.

Calling SPM API

SPM is placed in the PRoT domain. It MAY have isolation boundaries under particular isolation levels. For example:

  • There are boundaries between ARoT components and SPM under isolation level 2 and 3.

The API SPM provided needs to support the function call (no boundary switching) and cross-boundary call. A direct call reaches the API entrance directly, while a cross-boundary call needs a mechanism (Supervisor call e.g.) to cross the boundary first before reaching the API entrance.


Figure 8: SPM call types

SPM internal execution flow

SPM internal execution flow as shown in diagram:


Figure 9: SPM API runtime

The process:

  • PSA API gets called by one of the ABI mentioned in the last chapter as ABI 1 in the diagram.

  • The unified API Handler calls FF-M and backend subroutines in sequence.

  • The FF-M subroutine performs FF-M defined operations.

  • The backend operations perform target partition runtime model decided operations. For example, enqueue message into the target partition under the IPC runtime model, or prepare to call context with the message as the parameters under the SFN runtime model.

  • API Handler triggers different ABI based on the result of the backends.

The API handler:

  • Can process the PROGRAMMER_ERROR in a unified place.

  • Can see the prepared caller and callee context, with exited SPM context. It is an ideal place for subsequent operations such as context switching.

An example code:

void abi(void *p)
    status = spm_api(p);
     * Now both the caller and callee contexts are
     * managed by spm_api.
    if (status == ACTION1) {
         * Check if extra operations are required
         * instead of a direct return.

The explanation about Scheduler Lock:

Some FF-M API runs as a generic thread to prevent long time exclusive execution. When a preemption happens, a new partition thread can call SPM API again, makes SPM API nested. It needs extra memory in SPM to be allocated to store the preempted context. Lock the scheduler while SPM API is executing can ensure SPM API complete execution after preemption is handled. There can be multiple ways to lock the scheduler:

  • Set a scheduler lock.

  • Set SPM API thread priority as the highest.

Backend service messaging

A message to service is created after the target service is found and the target partition runtime model is known. The preparation before ABI triggers the final accessing:

  • The message is pushed into partition memory under a specific ABI mechanism if the target partition model is SFN and there are boundaries between SPM and the target partition. After this, requests a specific call type to the SPM ABI module.

  • The target service routine is called with the message parameter if there are no boundaries between SPM and the target partition and the partition runtime is SFN.

  • The message is queued into the partition message list if the target partition runtime model is IPC.

  • IPC partition replies to the client by psa_reply, which is another SPM API call procedure.

  • SFN partition return triggers an implied psa_reply, which is also another SPM API call procedure.


The backends also handle the isolation boundary switching.

Sessions and contexts

FF-M API allows multiple sessions for a service if the service is classic connection-based. The service can maintain multiple local session data and use rhandle in the message body to identify which client this session is bound with.

But this does not mean when an ongoing service accessing is preempted, another service access request can get a chance for new access. This is because of the limited context storage - supporting multiple contexts in a common service costs much memory, and runtime operations (allocation and re-location). Limited the context content in the stack only can mitigate the effort, but this requirement requires too much for the service development.

The implementation-decisions are:

  • IPC partitions handles messages one by one, the client gets blocked before the service replying to the client.

  • The client is blocked when accessing services are handling a service request in an SFN partition.

ABI type summary

The interface type is decided by the runtime model of the target component. Hence PSA API has two types of ABI: Cross-boundary ABI and Function call ABI. After SPM operations, one more component runtime type shows up: The IPC partition, hence schedule is the mechanism when accessing services inside an IPC partition.


Figure 10: ABI types


The API that does not switch context returns directly, which is not covered in the above diagram.

IDLE state

The IDLE state can be represented by the NS Agent action:

  • Launching NSPE software (Trustzone case, e.g.), or send a signal to NSPE software (RPC case, e.g.).

It is because NS Agent is the last component being initialized in the system. Its execution indicates other partitions’ initialization has accomplished.

Background state

Background execution can happen at any time when the arrival of interrupts or execution faults. An ongoing background execution indicates the state is a Background state. The characteristics:

  • The background state has a higher execution priority than other states - other states stall when the background state is executing.

  • Background execution can be nested. For example, an interrupt handler can preempt an ongoing interrupt execution.

  • Particular partition code can be involved in the background state, for example, the First Level Interrupt Handler (FLIH) of one partition.

  • Background state MUST return to the state it preempts.


Interrupt handling is a common background state example. Check Interrupt design document for details.

Practical implementation items

This chapter describes the practical implementation contents.


Arm M-profile architecture is the default hardware architecture when describing architecture-specific items.

The general M-profile programming is not involved in this document. The following chapters introduce the mandatory settings for security requirements.

Architecture security settings

When an Armv8m Security Extension (Aka Trustzone-M) is available in the system, these settings are required to be set:

  • The MSPLIM needs to be set correctly to prevent stack overflow.

  • The exception handler priority needs to be decided.

  • Boost the secure handler mode priority to prevent NSPE from preempting SPE handler mode execution(AIRCR.PRIS).

  • Disable NSPE hardware faults when a secure fault is happening. Trap in the secure fault with the highest priority can be a valid option.

  • Push seals on the stack top when a stack is allocated (TFMV-1). Also check Stack seal chapter for details.

Besides Armv8m Security Extension, these settings need to care when Floatpoint Extension is enabled for partition usage:

  • FPCCR.TS, FPCCR.CLRONRET and FPCCR.CLRONRETS need to be set when booting.

  • CPACR.CP10 and CPACR.CP11 need to be set when booting.


Floatpoint usage is prohibited in SPM and background execution.

Stack seal

When Trustzone-M is applied, the architecture specification recommends sealing the secure stack by:

  • Push two SEAL values (0xFEF5EDA5) at the stack bottom, when a stack is allocated.

  • Push two SEAL values on the stack pointer which is going to be switched out.

Check architecture specification and vulnerability TFMV-1 for details.

Trustzone-M reentrant

The Trustzone-M has characteristics that:

  • SPE keeps the last assigned stack pointer value when execution leaves SPE.

  • SPE execution can be preempted by NSPE which causes an execution left.

It is possible that NSPE preemption caused a second thread calls into SPE and re-uses the secure stack contains the first thread’s context, which obviously causes information leakage and runtime state inconsistent.

Armv8.1-M provides the hardware setting CCR_S.TRD to prevent the reentrant. On an Armv8.0-M architecture, extra software logic needs to be added at the veneer entry:

  • Check if the local stack points to a SEAL when veneer code get executed.

/* This is a theoretical code that is not in a real project. */
veneer() {
    content = get_sp_value();
    if (context != SEAL) /* Error if reentrant detected */

SPM Runtime ABI

This chapter describes the runtime implementation of SPM.


The scheduling logic is put inside the PendSV mode. PendSV mode’s priority is set as one level higher than the default thread mode priority. If Trustzone-M is present, the priority is set as the lowest just above NS exception priority to prevent a preemption in secure exceptions.

PendSV is an ideal place for scheduling logic, because:

  • An interrupt triggered scheduling during PendSV execution lead to another PendSV execution before exception return to the thread mode, which can find the latest run-able thread.

Function call ABI

In the diagram Figure 9:, the ABI can have two basic types: cross-boundary and direct call (No-cross-boundary).

When applying SVCall (SVC) as the cross-boundary mechanism, the implementation can be straight like:

  • The SVC handler calls SPM internal routines, and eventually back to the handler before an exit.

Under the IPC model implementation, to re-use ABI 2 in No-cross-boundary, a software ABI needs to be provided.

While under the SFN model plus isolation level 1, both ABI 1 and ABI 2 can be a direct function call.

NS Agent

The NS Agent (NSA) forwards NSPE service access request to SPM. It is a special partition that:

  • It does not provide FF-M aligned secure services.

  • It runs with the second-lowest priority under IPC model implementation (The IDLE thread has the lowest priority).

  • It has isolation boundaries and an individual stack.

  • It requires specific services and mechanisms compared to common partitions.

There are two known types for NS Agent:

  • Trustzone-M based.

  • Remote Procedure Call (RPC) based.

This process is put inside the ARoT domain, to prevent assign unnecessary PRoT permissions to the NSPE request parsing logic.

Trustzone-M specific

The functionalities of a Trustzone-M specific NSA is:

  • Launch NSPE when booting.

  • Wait in the veneer code, and get executed when NSPE accesses services.

As there may be multiple NSPE threads calling into SPE, and SPM wants to identify them, special mechanisms can be proposed to provide the identification. Check specific NS ID client ID or context related documents for details.


Figure 11: TZ NSA and specific service

RPC specific

Compared to Trustzone-M NSA, RPC NSA looks closer to a generic partition:

  • It has a message loop, keep waiting for RPC events.

  • It converts received RPC events into FF-M API call to target services.

And compared to generic partitions, the differences are:

  • It parses RPC messages to know which NSPE thread is accessing services. Hence it needs special interfaces to help SPM to identify the NSPE clients.

  • It needs to check NSPE client memory and map to local before calling SPM API.

  • It cannot be blocked during API calls, which affects handling the RPC requests.


A partition is a set of services in the same scope. Services are generally implemented as functions, and the partition exposes the services in different ways based on the partition model: IPC or SFN.

A partition build generates these outputs:

  • A partition load information, used by SPM.

  • A partition program containing service interface and logic, typically a library.

  • An optional service API set for easier client usage, by encapsulating the low-level FF-M Client API. These API needs to be integrated into client space.

Partition loading

SPM needs to set up runtime objects to manage partitions by parsing the load information of partitions. In general, the partition load information is stored in a const memory area can be random read directly, hence SPM can direct link runtime objects to the load information without a copy operation. This is called a Static Load mechanism.

Each partition has different numbers of dependencies and services, this makes the load information size of each partition different, it would be hard to put such variable size elements in an array. The solution here is putting these elements in a dedicated section, for SPM enumerating while loading. Each partition can define variable size load information type based on the common load info type.

The common load information:

struct partition_load_info_t {
    uint32_t        psa_ff_ver;     /* Encode the version with magic    */
    int32_t         pid;            /* Partition ID                     */
    uint32_t        flags;          /* ARoT/PRoT, SFN/IPC, priority     */
    uintptr_t       entry;          /* Entry point                      */
    size_t          stack_size;     /* Stack size                       */
    size_t          heap_size;      /* Heap size                        */
    uint32_t        ndeps;          /* Dependency number                */
    uint32_t        nservices;      /* Service number                   */
    uint32_t        nassets;        /* Asset numbers                    */
    uint32_t        nirqs;          /* Number of IRQ owned by Partition */

And the example for a specific partition load info:
struct partition_example_load_info_t {
    struct partition_load_info_t ldi;      /* Common info info          */
    uint32_t                     deps[10]; /* Dependencies              */
    /*                    ... other infos ...                           */

Peripheral binding

A partition can declare multiple peripherals (Interrupts are part of peripherals). The peripherals binding process:

  • The tooling references symbols in a fixed pattern in the partition load information.

  • The HAL implementation needs to provide the symbols being referenced.

  • SPM calls HAL API to bind the partition info with devices when the partition gets loaded.

  • The platform HAL acknowledges the binding if validation pass on SPM given load information.

Integration and development

These modules are expected to be object/library level modularised, each module should be generated into object/library at build time:

Table 40: Object level modularization




All SPM related modules such as SPM, system, and so on.


Platform sources are switchable.

Services and Secure Partition

These items should be standalone.

Service Runtime Library

This is a shared runtime library.


The HAL here mainly refers to the SPM HAL. The SPM HAL implementation is running with the same privilege level and hardware mode with SPM. The implementation is object level modularized with SPM.

Check the HAL design document for details.


The same TF-M code base is flexible to address different implementation requirements, from the simplest device with isolation level 1 to the most complicated device with isolation level 3 and optional isolation rules.

These configurations are set by switches, during the build time, as runtime support costs extra resources. The common configurations are named profile. There are several profiles defined.


Table 41: Revision



2021 Apr-Sep

Updated to cover the implementation for FF-M v1.1 features.


Created as ‘TF-M Inter-Process Communication’ which is deprecated as this document covers whole SPM content.

Copyright (c) 2021,2024, Arm Limited. All rights reserved.