Plugin: Thunderbolt


Thunderboltâ„¢ is the brand name of a hardware interface developed by Intel that allows the connection of external peripherals to a computer. Versions 1 and 2 use the same connector as Mini DisplayPort (MDP), whereas version 3 uses USB Type-C.

Firmware Format

The daemon will decompress the cabinet archive and extract a firmware blob in an unspecified binary file format, with vendor specific header.

This plugin supports the following protocol ID:


GUID Generation

These devices use a custom GUID generation scheme. When the device is in “safe mode” the GUID is hardcoded using:

  • TBT-safemode

… and when in runtime mode the GUID is:

  • TBT-$(vid)$(pid)-native when native, and TBT-$(vid)$(pid) otherwise.

Additionally for host system thunderbolt controllers another GUID is added containing the domain designation of the controller. This is intended to be used for systems with multiple host controllers to disambiguate between controllers.

  • TBT-$(vid)$(pid)-native-controller$(num)

For retimers the only GUID created is as follows:

  • TBT-$(vid)$(pid)-retimer$index

The retimer index is oriented around the physical connection within the machine. It is important as multiple controllers may otherwise identify identically.

Update Behavior

For most devices the firmware is written to the device at runtime and the update is applied immediately. Once complete the controller may reboot which may cause all connected USB and TBT devices to be reenumerated.

For some devices and circumstances (such as the Dell WD19 with a new enough kernel) the device will remain functional for the duration of the update. The update will complete on unplug.

If a user sets DelayedActivation configuration option then the update will be staged but not completed until activate is separately called such as at logout or shutdown.

Vendor ID Security

The vendor ID is set from the udev vendor, for example set to TBT:0x$(vid)

Runtime Power Management

Thunderbolt controllers are slightly unusual in that they power down completely when no thunderbolt devices are detected. This poses a problem for fwupd as it can’t coldplug devices to see if there are firmware updates available, and also can’t ensure the controller stays awake during a firmware upgrade.

On Dell hardware the Thunderbolt::CanForcePower metadata value is set as the system can force the thunderbolt controller on during coldplug or during the firmware update process. This is typically done calling a SMI or ACPI method which asserts the GPIO for the duration of the request.

On non-Dell hardware you will have to insert a Thunderbolt device (e.g. a dock) into the laptop to be able to update the controller itself.

Safe Mode

Thunderbolt hardware is also slightly unusual in that it goes into “safe mode” whenever it encounters a critical firmware error, for instance if an update failed to be completed. In this safe mode you cannot query the controller vendor or model and therefore the thunderbolt plugin cannot add the correct GUID used to match it to the correct firmware.

In this case the metadata value Thunderbolt::IsSafeMode is set which would allow a different plugin to add the correct GUID based on some out-of-band device discovery. At the moment this only happens on Dell hardware.

GUID generation for LVFS

The GUID for the controller, which must appear in the metadata when uploading an NVM to LVFS, can be generated by a tool like appstream-util (with generate-guid command) or by Python (with uuid.uuid5(uuid.NAMESPACE_DNS, 'string')).

The format of the string used as input is “TBT-vvvvdddd”, where vvvvv is the vendor ID and dddd is the device ID, both in hex, as appear in the controller’s DROM and exposed in the relevant sysfs attributes.

If the controller is in native enumeration mode, the string “-native” is added at the end so the format is “TBT-vvvvdddd-native”.

Quirk Use

This plugin uses the following plugin-specific quirks:


Use offline mode interface to update retimers.

Since: 1.9.1

External Interface Access

This plugin requires read/write access to /sys/bus/thunderbolt.

Version Considerations

This plugin has been available since fwupd version 0.8.0.

Data Flow

  flowchart LR
      subgraph Thunderbolt Controller
      subgraph Kernel
      subgraph fwupd Process