Live Device Tree


Traditionally U-Boot has used a ‘flat’ device tree. This means that it reads directly from the device tree binary structure. It is called a flat device tree because nodes are listed one after the other, with the hierarchy detected by tags in the format.

This document describes U-Boot’s support for a ‘live’ device tree, meaning that the tree is loaded into a hierarchical data structure within U-Boot.


The flat device tree has several advantages:

  • it is the format produced by the device tree compiler, so no translation is needed

  • it is fairly compact (e.g. there is no need for pointers)

  • it is accessed by the libfdt library, which is well tested and stable

However the flat device tree does have some limitations. Adding new properties can involve copying large amounts of data around to make room. The overall tree has a fixed maximum size so sometimes the tree must be rebuilt in a new location to create more space. Even if not adding new properties or nodes, scanning the tree can be slow. For example, finding the parent of a node is a slow process. Reading from nodes involves a small amount parsing which takes a little time.

Driver model scans the entire device tree sequentially on start-up which avoids the worst of the flat tree’s limitations. But if the tree is to be modified at run-time, a live tree is much faster. Even if no modification is necessary, parsing the tree once and using a live tree from then on seems to save a little time.


In U-Boot a live device tree (‘livetree’) is currently supported only after relocation. Therefore we need a mechanism to specify a device tree node regardless of whether it is in the flat tree or livetree.

The ‘ofnode’ type provides this. An ofnode can point to either a flat tree node (when the live tree node is not yet set up) or a livetree node. The caller of an ofnode function does not need to worry about these details.

The main users of the information in a device tree are drivers. These have a ‘struct udevice *’ which is attached to a device tree node. Therefore it makes sense to be able to read device tree properties using the ‘struct udevice *’, rather than having to obtain the ofnode first.

The ‘dev_read_…()’ interface provides this. It allows properties to be easily read from the device tree using only a device pointer. Under the hood it uses ofnode so it works with both flat and live device trees.

Enabling livetree

CONFIG_OF_LIVE enables livetree. When this option is enabled, the flat tree will be used in SPL and before relocation in U-Boot proper. Just before relocation a livetree is built, and this is used for U-Boot proper after relocation.

Most checks for livetree use CONFIG_IS_ENABLED(OF_LIVE). This means that for SPL, the CONFIG_SPL_OF_LIVE option is checked. At present this does not exist, since SPL does not support livetree.

Porting drivers

Many existing drivers use the fdtdec interface to read device tree properties. This only works with a flat device tree. The drivers should be converted to use the dev_read_() interface.

For example, the old code may be like this:

struct udevice *bus;
const void *blob = gd->fdt_blob;
int node = dev_of_offset(bus);

i2c_bus->regs = (struct i2c_ctlr *)devfdt_get_addr(dev);
plat->frequency = fdtdec_get_int(blob, node, "spi-max-frequency", 500000);

The new code is:

struct udevice *bus;

i2c_bus->regs = dev_read_addr_ptr(dev);
plat->frequency = dev_read_u32_default(bus, "spi-max-frequency", 500000);

The dev_read_…() interface is more convenient and works with both the flat and live device trees. See include/dm/read.h for a list of functions.

Where properties must be read from sub-nodes or other nodes, you must fall back to using ofnode. For example, for old code like this:

const void *blob = gd->fdt_blob;
int subnode;

fdt_for_each_subnode(subnode, blob, dev_of_offset(dev)) {
    freq = fdtdec_get_int(blob, node, "spi-max-frequency", 500000);

you should use:

ofnode subnode;

ofnode_for_each_subnode(subnode, dev_ofnode(dev)) {
    freq = ofnode_read_u32(node, "spi-max-frequency", 500000);

Useful ofnode functions

The internal data structures of the livetree are defined in include/dm/of.h :

struct device_node:

holds information about a device tree node

struct property:

holds information about a property within a node

Nodes have pointers to their first property, their parent, their first child and their sibling. This allows nodes to be linked together in a hierarchical tree.

Properties have pointers to the next property. This allows all properties of a node to be linked together in a chain.

It should not be necessary to use these data structures in normal code. In particular, you should refrain from using functions which access the livetree directly, such as of_read_u32(). Use ofnode functions instead, to allow your code to work with a flat tree also.

Some conversion functions are used internally. Generally these are not needed for driver code. Note that they will not work if called in the wrong context. For example it is invalid to call ofnode_to_no() when a flat tree is being used. Similarly it is not possible to call ofnode_to_offset() on a livetree node.


converts ofnode to struct device_node *


converts ofnode to offset


converts node pointer to ofnode


converts offset to ofnode

Other useful functions:


returns true if livetree is in use, false if flat tree


return true if a given node is valid


returns true if a given node is a livetree node


compares two ofnodes


returns a null ofnode (for which ofnode_valid() returns false)


There is full phandle support for live tree. All functions make use of struct ofnode_phandle_args, which has an ofnode within it. This supports both livetree and flat tree transparently. See for example ofnode_parse_phandle_with_args().

Reading addresses

You should use dev_read_addr() and friends to read addresses from device-tree nodes.


The existing fdtdec interface will eventually be retired. Please try to avoid using it in new code.

Modifying the livetree

This is supported in a limited way, with ofnode_write_prop() and related functions.

The unflattening algorithm results in a single block of memory being allocated for the whole tree. When writing new properties, these are allocated new memory outside that block. When the block is freed, the allocated properties remain. This can result in a memory leak.

The solution to this leak would be to add a flag for properties (and nodes when support is provided for adding those) that indicates that they should be freed. Then the tree can be scanned for these ‘separately allocated’ nodes and properties before freeing the memory block.

The ofnode_write_…() functions also support writing to the flat tree. Care should be taken however, since this can change the position of node names and properties in the flat tree, thus affecting the live tree. Generally this does not matter, since when we fire up the live tree we don’t ever use the flat tree again. But in the case of tests, this can cause a problem.

The sandbox tests typically run with OF_LIVE enabled but with the actual live tree either present or absent. This is to make sure that the flat tree functions work correctly even with OF_LIVE is enabled. But if a test modifies the flat device tree, then the live tree can become invalid. Any live tree tests that run after that point will use a corrupted tree, e.g. with an incorrect property name or worse. To deal with this we take a copy of the device tree and restore it after any test that modifies it. Note that this copy is not made on other boards, only sandbox.

Multiple livetrees

The livetree implementation was originally designed for use with the control FDT. This means that the FDT fix-ups (ft_board_setup() and the like, must use a flat tree.

It would be helpful to use livetree for fixups, since adding a lot of nodes and properties would involve less memory copying and be more efficient. As a step towards this, an oftree type has been introduced. It is normally set to oftree_default() but can be set to other values using oftree_from_fdt(). So long as OF_LIVE is disabled, it is possible to do fixups using the ofnode interface. The OF_LIVE support required addition of the flattening step at the end.

See dm_test_ofnode_root() for some examples. The oftree_from_fdt() function causes a flat device tree to be ‘registered’ such that it can be used by the ofnode interface.

Internal implementation

The dev_read_…() functions have two implementations. When CONFIG_DM_DEV_READ_INLINE is enabled, these functions simply call the ofnode functions directly. This is useful when livetree is not enabled. The ofnode functions call ofnode_is_np(node) which will always return false if livetree is disabled, just falling back to flat tree code.

This optimisation means that without livetree enabled, the dev_read_…() and ofnode interfaces do not noticeably add to code size.

The CONFIG_DM_DEV_READ_INLINE option defaults to enabled when livetree is disabled.

Most livetree code comes directly from Linux and is modified as little as possible. This is deliberate since this code is fairly stable and does what we want. Some features (such as get/put) are not supported. Internal macros take care of removing these features silently.

Within the of_access.c file there are pointers to the alias node, the chosen node and the stdout-path alias.


With a flat device tree, libfdt errors are returned (e.g. -FDT_ERR_NOTFOUND). For livetree normal ‘errno’ errors are returned (e.g. -ENOTFOUND). At present the ofnode and dev_read_…() functions return either one or other type of error. This is clearly not desirable. Once tests are added for all the functions this can be tidied up.

Adding new access functions

Adding a new function for device-tree access involves the following steps:

  • Add two dev_read() functions:
    • inline version in the read.h header file, which calls an ofnode function

    • standard version in the read.c file (or perhaps another file), which also calls an ofnode function

      The implementations of these functions can be the same. The purpose of the inline version is purely to reduce code size impact.

  • Add an ofnode function. This should call ofnode_is_np() to work out whether a livetree or flat tree is used. For the livetree it should call an of_…() function. For the flat tree it should call an fdt_…() function. The livetree version will be optimised out at compile time if livetree is not enabled.

  • Add an of_…() function for the livetree implementation. If a similar function is available in Linux, the implementation should be taken from there and modified as little as possible (generally not at all).

Future work

Live tree support was introduced in U-Boot 2017.07. Some possible enhancements are:

  • support for livetree in SPL and before relocation (if desired)

  • freeing leaked memory caused by writing new nodes / property values to the livetree (ofnode_write_prop())