Fixing implicit casting for C enumeration values


Hugues de Valon


Arm Limited



C enumerations provide a nice way to increase readability by creating new enumerated types but the developer should take extra care when mixing enumeration and integer values. This document investigates C enumerations safety and proposes strategies on how to fix the implicit casting of the enumeration values of TF-M with other types.

C99 Standard point of view

In TF-M many implicit casts are done between integer types (uint32_t, int32_t, size_t, etc), enumerated types (enum foobar) and enumeration constants (FOOBAR_ENUM_1).

According to the C99 standard 1:

§6.2.5, 16: An enumeration comprises a set of named integer constant values. Each distinct enumeration constitutes a different numerated type.

§, 2: The expression that defines the value of an enumeration constant shall be an integer constant expression that has a value representable as an int.

§, 3: The identifiers in an enumerator list are declared as constants that have type int and may appear wherever such are permitted.

§, 4: Each enumerated type shall be compatible with char, a signed integer type, or an unsigned integer type. The choice of type is implementation-defined, but shall be capable of representing the values of all the members of the enumeration.

From these four quotes from the C99 standard 1, the following conclusions can be made:

  • an enumeration defines a new type and should be treated as such

  • the enumeration constants must only contains value representable as an int

  • the enumeration constants have type int

  • the actual type of the enumeration can be between char, signed and unsigned int. The compiler chooses the type it wants among those that can represent all declared constants of the enumeration.


enum french_cities {

In that example, MARSEILLE, PARIS, LILLE and LYON are enumeration constants of type int and enum french_cities is a enumerated type which can be of actual type char, unsigned int or int (the compiler chooses!).

For these reasons, doing an implicit cast between an enumeration and another type is the same as doing an implicit cast between two different types. From a defensive programming point of view, it should be checked that the destination type can represent the values from the origin type. In this specific case it means four things for enumerations:

  • it is always safe to assign an enumeration constant to an int, but might be better to cast to show intent.

  • when casting an enumeration constant to another type, it should be checked that the constant can fit into the destination type.

  • when casting from an integer type (uint32_t, int32_t, etc) to an enumeration type, it should be checked that the integer’s value is one of the enumeration constants. The comparison needs to be done on the biggest type of the two so that no information is lost. C integer promotion should automatically do that for the programmer (check §, 1 for the rules).

  • when casting from an enumeration type to an integer type, it should be checked that the enumeration type value fits into the integer type. The value of a variable which has the type of an enumeration type is not limited to the enumeration constants of the type. An enumeration constant will always fit into an int.

Strategies to fix

  1. Replace the enumerated type with an integer type and replace the enumeration constant with preprocessor constants.

  2. Whenever possible, try to use matching types to avoid implicit casting. It happens, for example, for arithmetic operations, function calls and function returns. This strategy always have the lowest performance impact.

  3. When using an enumeration constant in an arithmetic operation with another type, verify that the constant can fit in the other type and cast it.

  4. When converting an integer to an enumeration type, use a conversion function to check if the integer matches an enumeration constant. To not impact performance too much, this function should be an inline function. If it does not match, use (or add) the error constant or return an error value.

  5. When converting an enumeration type to an integer, use a conversion function to check that the integer type can contain the enumeration value.

Design proposal for TF-M

In TF-M, an action will be taken for all enumerated types and enumeration constants that are used for implicit casting. The goal of this proposal is to remove all implicit casting of enumeration values in TF-M.

The following enumerated types will be removed and replaced with preprocessor constants (strategy 0). These enumerated types are not used in TF-M but only the constants they declare.

  • enum spm_part_state_t

  • enum spm_part_flag_mask_t

  • enum tfm_partition_priority

The following enumerated types will be kept because they are used in the prototypes of functions and are useful for debugging. Whenever possible, strategy 1 will be applied to remove implicit casting related with those enumerations but dynamic conversions will be used if the first option would create too much change in the code base.

  • enum tfm_status_e: the return type of the following functions will be changed to return the enum tfm_status_e type. These functions are already returning the enumeration constants, but implicitly casted to an integer type like int32_t.

    • int32_t check_address_range

    • int32_t has_access_to_region

    • int32_t tfm_core_check_sfn_parameters

    • int32_t tfm_start_partition

    • int32_t tfm_return_from_partition

    • int32_t tfm_check_sfn_req_integrity

    • int32_t tfm_core_check_sfn_req_rules

    • int32_t tfm_spm_sfn_request_handler

    • int32_t tfm_spm_sfn_request_thread_mode

  • enum tfm_buffer_share_region_e: the following function prototypes will be changed:

    • tfm_spm_partition_set_share(uint32_t partition_idx, uint32_t share) -> tfm_spm_partition_set_share(uint32_t partition_idx, enum tfm_buffer_share_region_e share)

  • enum tfm_memory_access_e

  • enum attest_memory_access_t

  • enum engine_cipher_mode_t

  • mbedtls_cipher_type_t

The following enumerated types are used for error code values of Secure service calls. They should be kept as they are part of the interface and might be used by external parties in Non-Secure code. For the Initial Attestation service, the enumeration is defined in the PSA Attestation API specifications.

  • enum psa_attest_err_t

  • enum psa_audit_err

  • enum tfm_platform_err_t

Implicit casting related with these enumerations is happening in two locations of TF-M and need conversion functions in those locations, because the types can not be changed:

  • In the Non-Secure Client library, all of the Secure Service functions implicitly cast the uint32_t returned by tfm_ns_lock_dispatch to these enumerated types. Strategy 3 is needed here.

  • In all of the veneer functions, there is an implicit cast from the int32_t value returned by the SVC request function (tfm_core_*_request) to these enumerated types. Strategy 3 is needed here as well. The implicit cast will eventually be removed if all of the services are using the Uniform Signatures Prototypes so that the veneer functions all return psa_status_t which is an int32_t.

If the interface of those services can be changed, these enumerations could be removed and replaced with the psa_status_t type to remove the implicit casting.


C99 standard:

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