Here is a quickstart for everyone who wants (or needs to) deal with edk2 firmware, with a focus on virtual machine firmware. The article assumes you are using a linux machine with gcc.

Building firmware for VMs

To build edk2 you need to have a bunch of tools installed. An compiler and the make are required of course, but also iasl, nasm and libuuid. So install them first (package names are for centos/fedora).

dnf install -y make gcc binutils iasl nasm libuuid-devel

If you want cross-build arm firmware on a x86 machine you also need cross compilers. While being at also set the environment variables needed to make the build system use the cross compilers:

dnf install -y gcc-aarch64-linux-gnu gcc-arm-linux-gnu
export GCC5_AARCH64_PREFIX="aarch64-linux-gnu-"
export GCC5_ARM_PREFIX="arm-linux-gnu-"

Next clone the tiaocore/edk2 repository and also fetch the git submodules.

git clone
cd edk2
git submodule update --init

The edksetup script will prepare the build environment for you. The script must be sourced because it sets some environment variables (WORKSPACE being the most important one). This must be done only once (as long as you keep the shell with the configured environment variables open).


Next step is building the BaseTools (also needed only once):

make -C BaseTools

Note: Currently (April 2022) BaseTools are being rewritten in Python, so most likely this step will not be needed any more at some point in the future.

Finally the build (for x64 qemu) can be kicked off:

build -t GCC5 -a X64 -p OvmfPkg/OvmfPkgX64.dsc

The firmware volumes built can be found in Build/OvmfX64/DEBUG_GCC5/FV.

Building the aarch64 firmware instead:

build -t GCC5 -a AARCH64 -p ArmVirtPkg/ArmVirtQemu.dsc

The build results land in Build/ArmVirtQemu-AARCH64/DEBUG_GCC5/FV.

Qemu expects the aarch64 firmware images being 64M im size. The firmware images can't be used as-is because of that, some padding is needed to create an image which can be used for pflash:

dd of="QEMU_EFI-pflash.raw" if="/dev/zero" bs=1M count=64
dd of="QEMU_EFI-pflash.raw" if="QEMU_EFI.fd" conv=notrunc
dd of="QEMU_VARS-pflash.raw" if="/dev/zero" bs=1M count=64
dd of="QEMU_VARS-pflash.raw" if="QEMU_VARS.fd" conv=notrunc

There are a bunch of compile time options, typically enabled using -D NAME or -D NAME=TRUE. Options which are enabled by default can be turned off using -D NAME=FALSE. Available options are defined in the *.dsc files referenced by the build command. So a feature-complete build looks more like this:

build -t GCC5 -a X64 -p OvmfPkg/OvmfPkgX64.dsc \
    -D FD_SIZE_4MB \

Secure boot support (on x64) requires SMM mode. Well, it builds and works without SMM, but it's not secure then. Without SMM nothing prevents the guest OS writing directly to flash, bypassing the firmware, so protected UEFI variables are not actually protected.

Also suspend (S3) support works with enabled SMM only in case parts of the firmware (PEI specifically, see below for details) run in 32bit mode. So the secure boot variant must be compiled this way:

build -t GCC5 -a IA32 -a X64 -p OvmfPkg/OvmfPkgIa32X64.dsc \
    -D FD_SIZE_4MB \
    [ ... add network + tpm + other options as needed ... ]

The FD_SIZE_4MB option creates a larger firmware image, being 4MB instead of 2MB (default) in size, offering more space for both code and vars. The RHEL/CentOS builds use that. The Fedora builds are 2MB in size, for historical reasons.

If you need 32-bit firmware builds for some reason, here is how to do it:

build -t GCC5 -a ARM -p ArmVirtPkg/ArmVirtQemu.dsc
build -t GCC5 -a IA32 -p OvmfPkg/OvmfPkgIa32.dsc

The build results will be in in Build/ArmVirtQemu-ARM/DEBUG_GCC5/FV and Build/OvmfIa32/DEBUG_GCC5/FV

Booting fresh firmware builds

The x86 firmware builds create three different images:

This is the firmware volume for persistent UEFI variables, i.e. where the firmware stores all configuration (boot entries and boot order, secure boot keys, ...). Typically this is used as template for an empty variable store and each VM gets its own private copy, libvirt for example stores them in /var/lib/libvirt/qemu/nvram.
This is the firmware volume with the code. Separating this from VARS does (a) allow for easy firmware updates, and (b) allows to map the code read-only into the guest.
The all-in-one image with both CODE and VARS. This can be loaded as ROM using -bios, with two drawbacks: (a) UEFI variables are not persistent, and (b) it does not work for SMM_REQUIRE=TRUE builds.

qemu handles pflash storage as block devices, so we have to create block devices for the firmware images:

qemu-system-x86_64 \
  -blockdev node-name=code,driver=file,filename=${CODE},read-only=on \
  -blockdev node-name=vars,driver=file,filename=${VARS},snapshot=on \
  -machine q35,pflash0=code,pflash1=vars \
  [ ... ]

Here is the arm version of that (using the padded files created using dd, see above):

qemu-system-aarch64 \
  -blockdev node-name=code,driver=file,filename=${CODE},read-only=on \
  -blockdev node-name=vars,driver=file,filename=${VARS},snapshot=on \
  -machine virt,pflash0=code,pflash1=vars \
  [ ... ]

Source code structure

The core edk2 repo holds a number of packages, each package has its own toplevel directory. Here are the most interesting ones:

This holds both the x64-specific code (i.e. OVMF itself) and virtualization-specific code shared by all architectures (virtio drivers).
Arm specific virtual machine support code.
MdePkg, MdeModulePkg
Most core code is here (PCI support, USB support, generic services and drivers, ...).
Some Intel architecture drivers and libs.
ArmPkg, ArmPlatformPkg
Common Arm architecture support code.
CryptoPkg, NetworkPkg, FatPkg, CpuPkg, ...
As the names of the packages already suggest: Crypto support (using openssl), Network support (including network boot), FAT Filesystem driver, ...

Firmware boot phases

The firmware modules in the edk2 repo often named after the boot phase they are running in. Most drivers are named SomeThingDxe for example.

This is where code execution starts after a machine reset. The code will do the bare minimum needed to enter SEC. On x64 the most important step is the transition from 16-bit real mode to 32-bit mode or 64bit long mode.
SEC (Security)
This code typically loads and uncompresses the code for PEI and SEC. On physical hardware SEC often lives in ROM memory and can not be updated. The PEI and DXE firmware volumes are loaded from (updateable) flash.
With OVMF both SEC firmware volume and the compressed volume holding PXE and DXE code are part of the OVMF_CODE image and will simply be mapped into guest memory.
PEI (Pre-EFI Initialization)
Platform Initialization is done here. Initialize the chipset. Not much to do here in virtual machines, other than loading the x64 e820 memory map (via fw_cfg) from qemu, or get the memory map from the device tree (on aarch64). The virtual hardware is ready-to-go without much extra preaparation.
PEIMs (PEI Modules) can implement functionality which must be executed before entering the DXE phase. This includes security-sensitive things like initializing SMM mode and locking down flash memory.
DXE (Driver Execution Environment)
When PEI is done it hands over control to the full EFI environment contained in the DXE firmware volume. Most code is here. All kinds of drivers. the firmware setup efi app, ...
Strictly speaking this isn't only one phase. The code for all phases after PEI is part of the DXE firmware volume though.

Useful Links