Build enclaves and tests in Asylo

Enclave applications in Asylo exist in an inherently multi-platform environment that must make extensive use of cross compilation. The trusted execution target (the enclave) is modeled by the build system as a second platform distinct from the untrusted host. In addition to supporting multiple security backend technologies, enclaves themselves pose a cross-compilation challenge. Asylo provides enclaves with a POSIX-like environment, a libc and libc++ implementation. This environment is different from a glibc-linux target, or any other standard compilation target. An Asylo enclave in a particular security backend thus constitutes its own platform.

This document describes the abstractions and tools we use to provide a smooth development experience in with Asylo, even with cross-compilation challenges.

The section Backend-generic rules contains a concrete guide to using Asylo’s macros to define enclaves and tests.

Multi-platform builds

An enclave application has at least 2 build contexts: an untrusted part built for the host environment (e.g., a GNU/Linux user application), and a trusted part (e.g., an Asylo SGX enclave). More are possible, such as a second enclave built with a different Asylo backend.

The Bazel build tool we use for hermetic builds has native support for cross compilation via its notion of a crosstool, which is similar to CMake’s notion of a package configuration. Before Bazel’s 1.0 release, a target and its full dependency graph must be built for the same target. In the Asylo framework, we have tests that combine both an untrusted application built for Linux and an enclave built in the Asylo platform. The test is a single target, but necessarily consists of targets built for different platforms. The way we made this work pre-1.0 is not a long-term solution.

Bazel version 1.0 has partial support for a feature called configuration transitions as part of the Bazel team’s configurability roadmap. Transitions allow build rules to specify their intended target platforms.

Core Bazel concepts that Asylo uses

Some Bazel vocabulary we use:

  • Target: An object at build time that represents built artifacts and compile-time information. A target is produced by a rule, and a target is referenced by a label.
  • Label: A way to reference a target. It’s a lightly structured string that has an optional workspace (name of a WORKSPACE-declared dependency), a package (a path within a workspace that contains a BUILD file), and a name (the string provided to a rule’s “name” argument).
  • Rule: A rule generates targets with compile-time computation which may include invoking toolchain-provided executables or user-defined “tool” dependencies that run at build time.
  • Macro: A compile-time function that may not inspect targets, or the outcomes of any compilation before invoking a serious of rules or providing computations to other macros. Macros produce rules before rules are executed to produce targets.

The Bazel build system has a compile-time computation language, Starlark, that is restricted enough to be analyzable for reliable builds, but flexible enough to support a wide diversity of projects. In addition to native rules like cc_binary for defining C/C++ targets from libraries and source files, Bazel has user-defined rules via Starlark.

Every target built by Bazel can have associated compile-time metadata that other rules can consume and interpret as part of their operation. Metadata is provided by a data type called a provider, which is plainly a named struct type. For example, each cc_library target has a CcInfo provider that explains which headers it provides and how it should be linked with other targets. In Asylo, we use providers to tag enclaves with their backend provenance, signing material with their enclave and configuration provenance, and even as a way of giving compile-time semantics to Asylo backends themselves.

Organization of transition-based builds

Our build rules use target-associated Starlark providers to learn and share enclave-specific information at compile-time. An Asylo backend is specified as a target with an associated AsyloBackendInfo provider. A label to such a target is a backend label.

This provider contains information on how to build an enclave, and which providers on a target are important to propagate forward when using any of the {asylo,backend}​_​{test,library,binary} rules to force a transition before building a specified target.

In all cases where possible, we ensure that our representation of an Asylo backend is open for users to write their own backends without modifying Asylo’s source code. Asylo rules that accept backend labels to multiplex on are written with an “open world assumption”. We do not assume a backend is one of a set few in order to allow users to define their own backends without modifying Asylo.

Backend-generic and backend-independent targets

Some enclave behaviors are specific to a backend technology (backend-specific). Sometimes we can replicate the behavior across technologies and provide a common interface (backend-generic). In some cases, backend differences must be given a name that carries distinct meaning across all backends (e.g., backend-specific identities). Some enclave behaviors are shared across all conceivable backends because they’re generally available on computer architectures that support trusted execution environments (backend-independent).

We make a distinction between backend-specific, backend-generic, and backend-independent code as a way to help users navigate our codebase to establish trust. This also helps conceptualize the code tree organization.

A target is considered backend-specific if its behavior is defined only for a single backend. A target is backend-generic if its behavior is defined for any of a given set of backends (a backends build argument). A target is considered backend-independent if its behavior is well-defined regardless of backend choice. Backend-independent libraries should be usable within any enclave backend (e.g., crypto libraries). A backend-independent target is backend-generic, but the converse is not generally true. The main difference is that a backend-generic target may conditionally build different code based on each possible backend.

You can write backend-generic unsigned enclave binaries with cc_unsigned_enclave, and backend-generic signed enclave binaries with sign_enclave_with_untrusted_key (or its alias debug_sign_enclave)1. The backends field specifies a list of backends a target should be built against, where each backend is described by a backend label. Similarly, backend-generic tests can be written with enclave_test and cc_enclave_test again with the same backends field. If a test has a backend-dependent data dependency (like an enclave loader), then it can use the backend_specific_data to undergo a backend transition before including it in the test’s dependencies.

In these generic rules, the default behavior of what the name field refers to in tests and non-tests is different since tests cannot be aliased in the same way that non-tests can. In all cases, each generic macro generates multiple targets, one per backend given. The names of the generated targets are derived from the name field and properties of backend labels provided. Each of the backend-specific targets will be buildable without top level flags. In order to use a generic enclave in a generic loader, a generic enclave defines an alias named name that selects the appropriate backend-specific target based on the backend’s config_setting.

Tests are not used as dependencies, so name is not an alias like for non-tests. Bazel does not allow an alias of a test to be considered a test either, so name instead resolves to one of the backend-specific tests by means of a test_suite definition. This is so that any test name that textually appears in a BUILD file actually resolves to a test. We only resolve to one test rather than multiple since we don’t have the information at build time which backends the running machine actually supports. Users can use the backend-specific test name if they are trying to run the test for a specific backend. Backends can be ordered such that your preference is default for the test_suite definition, rather than the default defined by the order fields in enclave_info.bzl’s ALL_BACKEND_LABELS.

Many libraries can be written in an Asylo-backend-agnostic manner, and we strive to make the only semantic differences between backend changes security-relavent judgments. For example, a dlopen enclave will not run with encrypted memory, and it will not be able to create SGX attestation assertions, but it will have the same behavior with interactions with the POSIX abstractions. Please file an issue if you find this is not the case.

Backend labels

The active Asylo backend is the value of the backend label_flag, @com_google_asylo_backend_provider//:backend. Label values for the backend flag must be backend labels. A backend label has no run time content—it is merely for directing compilation. A backend label becomes a target that provides the AsyloBackendInfo provider. Each backend must provide their own implementations of cc_unsigned_enclave, and debug_sign_enclave. If the backend does not need signing, like the dlopen backend, then the implementation of debug_sign_enclave can just copy the unsigned enclave to its output path and reprovide its providers.

The generic implementations of cc_unsigned_enclave and debug_sign_enclave simply call the implementation functions in the backend attribute’s AsyloBackendInfo provider. For debug_sign_enclave, there is a good chance an implementation will want hidden attributes to get access to default files, or the sign tool itself. The generic rule provides the key, sign_tool, and config attributes which are populated with backend-specific defaults.

Backend-generic rules

The previous section described how cc_unsigned_enclave and debug_sign_enclave rules are implemented such that their implementations are provided by a specific backend label. In fact they are written in terms of rules that depend on a specific backend, cc_backend_unsigned_enclave and backend_debug_sign_enclave, but are themselves macros. The macros generate multiple targets, one per backend in the backends argument. The generic target is an alias that selects which backend-specific target it is, depending on the backend label_flag setting.

An enclave target thus cannot cannot be directly built without a flag specifying the backend. Enclaves are used in conjunction with tests and loaders though. The enclave_test and cc_enclave_test forms generate tests for each considered backend and don’t select among them. Each generated test depends on the generic enclaves under a backend transition[^2]. The select in the generic enclaves can then be determined. Each backend-specific target generated by a backend-generic rule like enclave_test gets its name transformed in a backend-specific way. The specific transformation depends on how the backends are specified to the macros.

For example, the test //asylo/test/misc:enclave_smoke_test:

    name = "",
    srcs = [""],
    deps = ["@com_google_asylo//asylo:enclave_runtime"],

    name = "",
    unsigned = "",

    name = "enclave_smoke_test",
    srcs = [""],
    backends = sgx.backend_labels,
    enclaves = {"enclave": ""},
    test_args = ["--enclave_path='{enclave}'"],
    deps = TEST_DEPS_COMMON,

The enclave_smoke_test definition will generate two tests: one for the SGX simulation backend, and one for the SGX hardware backend. The two tests are //asylo/test/misc:enclave_smoke_sgx_sim_test and //asylo/test/misc:enclave_smoke_sgx_hw_test respectively. The names are derived from enclave_smoke_test and the default backend label struct definitions Asylo has for the two SGX backends. A simulation target should get _sgx_sim in an appropriate place for the type of target, for example. You can use Bazel’s query tool to help find targets too, so for any or a_test, try

bazel query //path/to/pkg/... | grep '^a'

If you want to directly build the sgx_sim version of, you can do so in a couple ways:

  1. Know the _sgx_sim name transformation for the asylo_sgx_sim backend and run

     bazel build //asylo/test/
  2. Select the backend before building the alias:

     bazel build \
     --@com_google_asylo_backend_provider//=@linux_sgx//:asylo_sgx_sim \

Aside: the name enclave_smoke_test still names a test in order to not be surprising. Which test it is depends on the order values in the passed backends’ backend label structs. The backend with the smallest order value should ideally be “the backend that is most likely to work on the user’s machine”, like a simulation backend. For good user experience, ideally any named test in a file that isn’t explicitly tagged as a problem (e.g., “noregression”) should be runnable. This guideline doesn’t apply for non-generic tests, or tests that explicitly state which hardware they’re targeting.

Backend-dependent data dependencies

The generic build rules that straddle two platforms, e.g., enclave_test and enclave_loader, have extra features to handle genericity in their host targets. A test for example may have a data dependency on an application that loads an enclave. The dependency can inherit the backend selection by using the backend_dependent_data attribute. This attribute undergoes a backend (but not toolchain) transition to support the different untrusted runtimes that may be necessary to run the different enclaves.

Some arguments may not be able to undergo transition due to limits on Bazel’s support for transitions. For example, the test_args argument to enclave_test cannot undergo the same kind of backend transition to select amongst different argument strings to the test. For now, we recommend workarounds such as using $(location //label/of/alias:with_transition) as an argument and using the provided location to give extra information about what backend was selected.

The backends field for generic rules

Each backend label denotes a target which carries compile-time information in an AsyloBackendInfo provider. Providers are not available for the backend-generic macros to inspect. Instead, the backends passed to a backend-generic macro may be in one of two forms:

  1. A dictionary that maps backend labels to backend label structs. A backend label struct contains information about the backend that is useful for producing backend-generic rules. See enclave_info.bzl for more information.
  2. A list of backend labels. If these labels are Asylo-provided backends, then this is a shorthand for a restriction to the given backend labels of a dictionary Asylo defines of all backends to their backend label struct.

The dictionary option is how we provide an open world semantics for these rules.

  1. The build rules that sign enclaves automatically assume an adversarial build environment. If a private key is exposed to the build environment, it must be treated as untrusted. This is reasonable for enclaves built for testing purposes or for enclave applications that place trust entirely in the enclave code identity and disregard the signer identity. [^2]: The Bazel transition support is provided along side the old strategy that requires the top level --config flags. During the migration period, you’re able to disable transitions within your project by adding the following to your WORKSPACE file: