The interface presented here is not meant for end users. Instead there should be a userspace tool that handles all the low-level details, keeps database of the authorized devices and prompts user for new connections.

More details about the sysfs interface for Thunderbolt devices can be found in Documentation/ABI/testing/sysfs-bus-thunderbolt.

Those users who just want to connect any device without any sort of manual work, can add following line to /etc/udev/rules.d/99-local.rules:

ACTION=="add", SUBSYSTEM=="thunderbolt", ATTR{authorized}=="0", ATTR{authorized}="1"

This will authorize all devices automatically when they appear. However, keep in mind that this bypasses the security levels and makes the system vulnerable to DMA attacks.

Security levels and how to use them

Starting from Intel Falcon Ridge Thunderbolt controller there are 4 security levels available. The reason for these is the fact that the connected devices can be DMA masters and thus read contents of the host memory without CPU and OS knowing about it. There are ways to prevent this by setting up an IOMMU but it is not always available for various reasons.

The security levels are as follows:

All devices are automatically connected by the firmware. No user approval is needed. In BIOS settings this is typically called Legacy mode.
User is asked whether the device is allowed to be connected. Based on the device identification information available through /sys/bus/thunderbolt/devices. user then can do the decision. In BIOS settings this is typically called Unique ID.
User is asked whether the device is allowed to be connected. In addition to UUID the device (if it supports secure connect) is sent a challenge that should match the expected one based on a random key written to key sysfs attribute. In BIOS settings this is typically called One time saved key.
The firmware automatically creates tunnels for Display Port and USB. No PCIe tunneling is done. In BIOS settings this is typically called Display Port Only.

The current security level can be read from /sys/bus/thunderbolt/devices/domainX/security where domainX is the Thunderbolt domain the host controller manages. There is typically one domain per Thunderbolt host controller.

If the security level reads as user or secure the connected device must be authorized by the user before PCIe tunnels are created (e.g the PCIe device appears).

Each Thunderbolt device plugged in will appear in sysfs under /sys/bus/thunderbolt/devices. The device directory carries information that can be used to identify the particular device, including its name and UUID.

Authorizing devices when security level is user or secure

When a device is plugged in it will appear in sysfs as follows:

/sys/bus/thunderbolt/devices/0-1/authorized   - 0
/sys/bus/thunderbolt/devices/0-1/device       - 0x8004
/sys/bus/thunderbolt/devices/0-1/device_name  - Thunderbolt to FireWire Adapter
/sys/bus/thunderbolt/devices/0-1/vendor       - 0x1
/sys/bus/thunderbolt/devices/0-1/vendor_name  - Apple, Inc.
/sys/bus/thunderbolt/devices/0-1/unique_id    - e0376f00-0300-0100-ffff-ffffffffffff

The authorized attribute reads 0 which means no PCIe tunnels are created yet. The user can authorize the device by simply:

# echo 1 > /sys/bus/thunderbolt/devices/0-1/authorized

This will create the PCIe tunnels and the device is now connected.

If the device supports secure connect, and the domain security level is set to secure, it has an additional attribute key which can hold a random 32 byte value used for authorization and challenging the device in future connects:

/sys/bus/thunderbolt/devices/0-3/authorized   - 0
/sys/bus/thunderbolt/devices/0-3/device       - 0x305
/sys/bus/thunderbolt/devices/0-3/device_name  - AKiTiO Thunder3 PCIe Box
/sys/bus/thunderbolt/devices/0-3/key          -
/sys/bus/thunderbolt/devices/0-3/vendor       - 0x41
/sys/bus/thunderbolt/devices/0-3/vendor_name  - inXtron
/sys/bus/thunderbolt/devices/0-3/unique_id    - dc010000-0000-8508-a22d-32ca6421cb16

Notice the key is empty by default.

If the user does not want to use secure connect it can just echo 1 to the authorized attribute and the PCIe tunnels will be created in the same way than in user security level.

If the user wants to use secure connect, the first time the device is plugged a key needs to be created and send to the device:

# key=$(openssl rand -hex 32)
# echo $key > /sys/bus/thunderbolt/devices/0-3/key
# echo 1 > /sys/bus/thunderbolt/devices/0-3/authorized

Now the device is connected (PCIe tunnels are created) and in addition the key is stored on the device NVM.

Next time the device is plugged in the user can verify (challenge) the device using the same key:

# echo $key > /sys/bus/thunderbolt/devices/0-3/key
# echo 2 > /sys/bus/thunderbolt/devices/0-3/authorized

If the challenge the device returns back matches the one we expect based on the key, the device is connected and the PCIe tunnels are created. However, if the challenge failed no tunnels are created and error is returned to the user.

If the user still wants to connect the device it can either approve the device without a key or write new key and write 1 to the authorized file to get the new key stored on the device NVM.

Upgrading NVM on Thunderbolt device or host

Since most of the functionality is handled in a firmware running on a host controller or a device, it is important that the firmware can be upgraded to the latest where possible bugs in it have been fixed. Typically OEMs provide this firmware from their support site.

There is also a central site which has links where to download firmwares for some machines:

Before you upgrade firmware on a device or host, please make sure it is the suitable. Failing to do that may render the device (or host) in a state where it cannot be used properly anymore without special tools!

Host NVM upgrade on Apple Macs is not supported.

Once the NVM image has been downloaded, you need to plug in a Thunderbolt device so that the host controller appears. It does not matter which device is connected (unless you are upgrading NVM on a device - then you need to connect that particular device).

Note OEM-specific method to power the controller up (“force power”) may be available for your system in which case there is no need to plug in a Thunderbolt device.

After that we can write the firmware to the non-active parts of the NVM of the host or device. As an example here is how Intel NUC6i7KYK (Skull Canyon) Thunderbolt controller NVM is upgraded:

# dd if=KYK_TBT_FW_0018.bin of=/sys/bus/thunderbolt/devices/0-0/nvm_non_active0/nvmem

Once the operation completes we can trigger NVM authentication and upgrade process as follows:

# echo 1 > /sys/bus/thunderbolt/devices/0-0/nvm_authenticate

If no errors are returned, the host controller shortly disappears. Once it comes back the driver notices it and initiates a full power cycle. After a while the host controller appears again and this time it should be fully functional.

We can verify that the new NVM firmware is active by running following commands:

# cat /sys/bus/thunderbolt/devices/0-0/nvm_authenticate
# cat /sys/bus/thunderbolt/devices/0-0/nvm_version

If nvm_authenticate contains anything else than 0x0 it is the error code from the last authentication cycle, which means the authentication of the NVM image failed.

Note names of the NVMem devices nvm_activeN and nvm_non_activeN depends on the order they are registered in the NVMem subsystem. N in the name is the identifier added by the NVMem subsystem.

Upgrading NVM when host controller is in safe mode

If the existing NVM is not properly authenticated (or is missing) the host controller goes into safe mode which means that only available functionality is flashing new NVM image. When in this mode the reading nvm_version fails with ENODATA and the device identification information is missing.

To recover from this mode, one needs to flash a valid NVM image to the host host controller in the same way it is done in the previous chapter.