Generic SPL framework


To unify all existing implementations for a secondary program loader (SPL) and to allow simply adding of new implementations this generic SPL framework has been created. With this framework almost all source files for a board can be reused. No code duplication or symlinking is necessary anymore.

How it works

The object files for SPL are built separately and placed in the “spl” directory. The final binaries which are generated are u-boot-spl, u-boot-spl.bin and

A config option named CONFIG_SPL_BUILD is enabled by Kconfig for SPL. Source files can therefore be compiled for SPL with different settings.

For example:

ifeq ($(CONFIG_SPL_BUILD),y)
obj-y += board_spl.o
obj-y += board.o

obj-$(CONFIG_SPL_BUILD) += foo.o


The building of SPL images can be enabled by CONFIG_SPL option in Kconfig.

Because SPL images normally have a different text base, one has to be configured by defining CONFIG_SPL_TEXT_BASE. The linker script has to be defined with CONFIG_SPL_LDSCRIPT.

To support generic U-Boot libraries and drivers in the SPL binary one can optionally define CONFIG_SPL_XXX_SUPPORT. Currently following options are supported:

CONFIG_SPL_LIBCOMMON_SUPPORT (common/libcommon.o) CONFIG_SPL_LIBDISK_SUPPORT (disk/libdisk.o) CONFIG_SPL_I2C (drivers/i2c/libi2c.o) CONFIG_SPL_GPIO (drivers/gpio/libgpio.o) CONFIG_SPL_MMC (drivers/mmc/libmmc.o) CONFIG_SPL_SERIAL (drivers/serial/libserial.o) CONFIG_SPL_SPI_FLASH_SUPPORT (drivers/mtd/spi/libspi_flash.o) CONFIG_SPL_SPI (drivers/spi/libspi.o) CONFIG_SPL_FS_FAT (fs/fat/libfat.o) CONFIG_SPL_FS_EXT4 CONFIG_SPL_LIBGENERIC_SUPPORT (lib/libgeneric.o) CONFIG_SPL_POWER (drivers/power/libpower.o) CONFIG_SPL_NAND_SUPPORT (drivers/mtd/nand/raw/libnand.o) CONFIG_SPL_DRIVERS_MISC (drivers/misc) CONFIG_SPL_DMA (drivers/dma/libdma.o) CONFIG_SPL_POST_MEM_SUPPORT (post/drivers/memory.o) CONFIG_SPL_NAND_LOAD (drivers/mtd/nand/raw/nand_spl_load.o) CONFIG_SPL_SPI_LOAD (drivers/mtd/spi/spi_spl_load.o) CONFIG_SPL_RAM_DEVICE (common/spl/spl.c) CONFIG_SPL_WATCHDOG (drivers/watchdog/libwatchdog.o) CONFIG_SPL_SYSCON (drivers/core/syscon-uclass.o) CONFIG_SPL_GZIP (lib/gzip.o) CONFIG_SPL_VIDEO (drivers/video/video-uclass.o drivers/video/vidconsole-uclass.o) CONFIG_SPL_SPLASH_SCREEN (common/splash.o) CONFIG_SPL_SPLASH_SOURCE (common/splash_source.o) CONFIG_SPL_GPIO (drivers/gpio) CONFIG_SPL_DM_GPIO (drivers/gpio/gpio-uclass.o) CONFIG_SPL_BMP (drivers/video/bmp.o) CONFIG_SPL_BLOBLIST (common/bloblist.o)

Adding SPL-specific code

To check whether a feature is enabled, use CONFIG_IS_ENABLED():


This checks CONFIG_CLK for the main build, CONFIG_SPL_CLK for the SPL build, CONFIG_TPL_CLK for the TPL build, etc.

U-Boot Boot Phases

U-Boot goes through the following boot phases where TPL, VPL, SPL are optional. While many boards use SPL, less use TPL.


Very early init, as tiny as possible. This loads SPL (or VPL if enabled).


Optional verification step, which can select one of several SPL binaries, if A/B verified boot is enabled. Implementation of the VPL logic is work-in-progress. For now it just boots into SPL.


Secondary program loader. Sets up SDRAM and loads U-Boot proper. It may also load other firmware components.


U-Boot proper, containing the command line and boot logic.

Further usages of U-Boot SPL comprise:

  • Launching BL31 of ARM Trusted Firmware which invokes main U-Boot as BL33

  • launching EDK II

  • launching Linux kernel

  • launching RISC-V OpenSBI which invokes main U-Boot

Checking the boot phase

Use spl_phase() to find the current U-Boot phase, e.g. PHASE_SPL. You can also find the previous and next phase and get the phase name.

Device tree

The U-Boot device tree is filtered by the fdtgrep tools during the build process to generate a much smaller device tree used in SPL (spl/u-boot-spl.dtb) with:

  • the mandatory nodes (/alias, /chosen, /config)

  • the nodes with one pre-relocation property: ‘bootph-all’ or ‘bootph-pre-ram’

fdtgrep is also used to remove:

  • the properties defined in CONFIG_OF_SPL_REMOVE_PROPS

  • all the pre-relocation properties (‘bootph-all’, ‘bootph-pre-ram’ (SPL), ‘bootph-pre-sram’ (TPL) and ‘bootph-verify’ (TPL))

All the nodes remaining in the SPL devicetree are bound (see doc/driver-model/design.rst).

NOTE: U-Boot migrated to a new schema for the u-boot,dm-* tags in 2023. Please update to use the new bootph-* tags as described in the doc/device-tree-bindings/bootph.yaml binding file.


When building SPL with DEBUG set you may also need to set CONFIG_PANIC_HANG as in most cases do_reset is not defined within SPL.

Estimating stack usage

With gcc 4.6 (and later) and the use of GNU cflow it is possible to estimate stack usage at various points in run sequence of SPL. The -fstack-usage option to gcc will produce ‘.su’ files (such as arch/arm/cpu/armv7/ that will give stack usage information and cflow can construct program flow.

Must have gcc 4.6 or later, which supports -fstack-usage:

  1. Build normally

  2. Perform the following shell command to generate a list of C files used in SPL:

  3. find spl -name ‘*.su’ | sed -e ‘s:^spl/::’ -e ‘s:[.]su$:.c:’ > used-spl.list

  4. Execute cflow: $ cflow –main=board_init_r $(cat used-spl.list) 2>&1 | $PAGER

cflow will spit out a number of warnings as it does not parse the config files and picks functions based on #ifdef. Parsing the ‘.i’ files instead introduces another set of headaches. These warnings are not usually important to understanding the flow, however.

Reserving memory in SPL

If memory needs to be reserved in RAM during SPL stage with the requirement that the SPL reserved memory remains preserved across further boot stages too then it needs to be reserved mandatorily starting from end of RAM. This is to ensure that further stages can simply skip this region before carrying out further reservations or updating the relocation address.

Also out of these regions which are to be preserved across further stages of boot, video framebuffer memory region must be reserved first starting from end of RAM for which helper function spl_reserve_video_from_ram_top is provided which makes sure that video memory is placed at top of reservation area with further reservations below it.

The corresponding information of reservation for those regions can be passed to further boot stages using a bloblist. For e.g. the information for framebuffer area reserved by SPL can be passed onto U-boot using BLOBLISTT_U_BOOT_VIDEO.

The further boot stages need to parse each of the bloblist passed from SPL stage starting from video bloblist and skip this whole SPL reserved memory area from end of RAM as per the bloblists received, before carrying out further reservations or updating the relocation address. For e.g, U-boot proper uses function “setup_relocaddr_from_bloblist” to parse the bloblists passed from previous stage and skip the memory reserved from previous stage accordingly.