RFC-0222: Introduce Fuchsia Controller

RFC-0222: Introduce Fuchsia Controller
  • Developer
  • FIDL
  • Testing

Adding the Fuchsia Controller for host-side scripting and testing of Fuchsia Devices

Gerrit change
Date submitted (year-month-day)2022-11-17
Date reviewed (year-month-day)2023-06-13


The Future Fuchsia Experience tool, FFX, provides a method for communicating with a Fuchsia device from a host machine. This uses the Fuchsia Interface Definition Language, FIDL, to call into various services for development and testing. In order to add more functionality to the tool, FFX supports sub-tools, which are separate binaries for extending FFX's command-line surface and functionality. The tooling is written entirely in Rust.

If a user wishes to access FIDL protocols on the Fuchsia device, they can either write a plugin for FFX, use the Scripting Layer For Fuchsia, SL4F, or commit to writing a component on the system.

None of these options are ideal for lightweight experimentation, rapid iteration, or flexibility. FFX plugins require writing tooling in Rust and compiling it. SL4F is not only unsupported, it also relies on insecure transport, and interfacing with it requires writing a facade, in Rust, for each FIDL interface you plan on calling into.

None of these approaches allow users to adhere to the principle of "Bring Your Own Runtime."

This RFC proposes an additional method to accessing the device, through existing libraries from within FFX, which is called Fuchsia Controller. This consists of:

  • A stable ABI to interact with Fuchsia Devices through FIDL handle emulation without requiring changes to FFX itself.
  • First class support for at least one popular scripting language leveraging said stable ABI (current choice being Python).
  • Higher level libraries in said scripting language optimized for writing critical testing use cases.


There is currently no supported mechanism for scripting interactions from a host device to a Fuchsia device (via the SDK, in-tree, or otherwise).

If the user wishes to use FFX for interacting with a Fuchsia device, they must have the definition of a service available to be compiled into the tool. If there is a service defined outside of the tree, users cannot access it. If the service is already defined, then the user must write an FFX plugin and compile it.

The Fuchsia Controller would allow users to interact with a Fuchsia Device in a way that is rapid, highly iterative, and easy to automate. Supporting a stable ABI will allow users to Bring Their Own Runtime should they so choose to implement it, as using a C ABI is supported for extending almost all popular programming languages.





jeremymanson@google.com (Tools) mgnb@google.com (FFX) ianloic@google.com (FIDL) chok@google.com (lacewing) jzgriffin@google.com (SL4F)


EngProd team FFX team FIDL team


Fuchsia Controller is the product of several months of conversation between Tools, FFX, FIDL, and EngProd teams. Other teams include the Component Framework and Test Architecture teams. The author has also written and demonstrated a proof of concept and high level demo using the techniques outlined in the implementation section.



The Fuchsia Controller consists of three parts:

  • The FFX client library.
  • The language-specific extension library.
  • The higher level first class libraries using the extension library.

These all work in conjunction with FFX in order to handle connecting to a Fuchsia device.

Alt_text: A diagram of the Fuchsia Controller. The Fuchsia Controller stack
starts at higher level python, which feeds into the main python bindings, then
into FFX bindings. From here FIDL is passed through to a Unix Domain Socket that
the FFX daemon monitors. From here the FFX daemon uses a tunneled FIDL
connection to the Fuchsia Device to interact. This example outlines a general
interaction, namely getting a proxy to a component that the Remote Control

Before continuing there are some requisite things to cover.

Background of FFX

FFX is a host-side tool that (at the time of writing) uses a "Daemon," which in this case is a forked copy of itself running in the background, that actively connects to Fuchsia devices via SSH as they are discovered on the network. There are numerous means for discovering devices but they are beyond the purview of this document.

The FFX Daemon allows for users of the FFX tool to open emulated FIDL Channels between the host and a Fuchsia device. Messages are routed from the FFX Client invocation, through the Daemon, then to the Fuchsia device.

FFX is written almost entirely in Rust. In addition to this, the libraries for writing to, and reading from, host-side emulated FIDL channels are also written in Rust.

To summarize, FFX allows the user to interface with the Fuchsia device via FIDL, using Rust-written plugins that are tightly coupled to the implementation of FFX.

Defining Terms

For the following sections, some definitions:

  • "Isolation" refers to using FFX in a way that it may have a separate instance of the FFX daemon that runs on its own, without using the common socket location, or any of the common FFX configuration values. The instances of the FFX daemon are not isolated from communicating with Fuchsia devices (unless invoked to do so explicitly).
  • "Daemon Protocol" refers to a host-side FIDL protocol that the FFX daemon handles. These vary from package serving, to examining Fuchsia devices on the network, to Fuchsia device port forwarding. The daemon itself can be viewed as similar to a component that exposes several of these daemon protocols.
  • When mentioning "zircon" for channels, handles, and sockets, these are emulated host-side via overnet. It is possible in the future that these will be usable on Fuchsia devices as actual zircon objects, though.

The FFX Client Library

The FFX client library exposes, via C ABI, functions to support the following:

  • Creating, reading from, writing to, and closing zircon channels.
  • Creating, reading from, writing to, and closing zircon sockets.
  • Signaling zircon handles (primarily used for event pairs).
  • Connecting zircon channels to components on Fuchsia devices.
  • Connecting zircon channels to FFX Daemon Protocols.

There will also be support for additional functionality like:

  • Creating an isolated instance of the FFX Daemon.
  • Declaring FFX configuration key/value pairs.

The Language Specific Extension

This involves a simple abstraction on top of the FFX client library, implemented as a shared library, that will then be used in a first-class scripting library.


As described previously, this will involve creating two shared libraries.

  • The language agnostic "FFX client" library, which will expose functions that communicate with FFX as well as zircon handles.
  • The language binding (in this case, Python) shared library.

In addition there will be the Python bindings for ergonomic FIDL usage.

Implementation does not involve any third party dependencies that are not already included in the Fuchsia source tree. We expect it to be possible to implement support for other languages using the FFX client library, which we may support (and may require additional third party dependency work), but this is outside the scope of this RFC.

Distributing Python along with the SDK is a separate topic out of scope of this document, and will likely be encapsulated in its own RFC.

The FFX Client Library

The C definitions in this section are intended to be placed in a header file that will be delivered with the Fuchsia SDK. Due to the lack of namespaces in C these function names will be rather verbose. The function names are also not necessarily intended to be final.

The pattern of the ABI is intended to be such that the majority of functions return structures for the caller using output parameters, with the return value being either void or an error.

When possible established types like zx_status_t and zx_handle_t will be used for congruence with existing C libraries like in the Zircon codebase.

An example function for reading channels could look like the following (this is not intended to be a finalized implementation or a source of documentation):

extern zx_status_t ffx_channel_read(void* ctx,
                                    zx_handle_t handle,
                                    void* buf,
                                    uint32_t buf_len,
                                    zx_handle_t* handles,
                                    uint32_t handles_len
                                    uint32_t* actual_bytes_count,
                                    uint32_t* actual_handles_count);

The ctx value could point to a Rust object containing information about an existing FFX environment (running directory, location of the SDK, configuration values, and the Fuchsia device with which we're communicating).

This is analogous to the existing zx_channel_read, only omitting the option parameter. Rather than exporting the same symbol as the Zircon syscall the ABI will be explicitly written in the header so it is clear what functionality is and isn't supported (as there will likely be special caveats given this code is initially going to be written only for host machines rather than for Fuchsia devices).

An example of how a handle might be acquired would be like the following function, which can be used to connect to most any component on the Fuchsia device by using the remote control FIDL definitions.

extern zx_status_t ffx_connect_proxy(void* ctx, const char* endpoint_path,
                                     zx_handle_t* out);

This would return a FIDL channel to the protocol in question. The endpoint_path should contain the necessary information to connect directly to a specific FIDL protocol on the device via the component framework (at the time of writing this is formatted as "$moniker:expose:$protocol").

With support for socket/channel reading and writing, as well as event signalling, it will be possible to replicate all FIDL functionality that FFX and Overnet currently support, but in Python.

The Python Language Bindings

The Python language bindings will define objects that use the established create*/close*/destroy* calls, written in C++ and offering a thin wrapper around the FFX client library. It will also export an error type with use of ffx_error_str().

An example of this (slightly different) implementation can be found in the Fuchsia Controller prototype here.

Higher Level Bindings

For actual usage of FIDL protocols, a higher level library will be available. It will use importlib to hook into the FIDL intermediate representation (IR), importing whatever IR is available either in a distributed .pyz, which would be available in a developer's PYTHONPATH, or from a manually provided directory. These hooks would create classes that interact with FIDL at runtime analogous to what happens when C++ or Rust does compile-time bindings.

An example could look like:

import fidl.fuchsia_developer_ffx
from fuchsia_controller_py import Context

def main(ctx: Context):
  h = ctx.connect_daemon_protocol(fidl.fuchsia_developer_ffx.Echo.Marker)
  proxy = fidl.fuchsia_developer_ffx.Echo.Client(h)
  print(proxy.echo_string(value = 'foobar'))

if __name__ == '__main__':
  ctx = Context(None)

Importing from fidl. would be caught by the library hook to search through the existing FIDL IR namespace for something that matches fuchsia.developer.ffx, generating classes based on the structs and protocols defined therein.

FIDL Wire Format Encoding/Decoding

For a first pass, the actual encoding and decoding would likely be done using the fidl_codec libraries, then later this could be implemented totally in Python.

fidl_codec includes code for reading from/writing to the FIDL wire format based on FIDL IR definitions, as well as utilities like a value visitor that can be used to construct objects from FIDL messages. It is used in the fidlcat tool. Encoding FIDL structs to the wire format from IR-generated Python can be done using a visitor pattern, creating a buffer that can then be written to the FIDL handle.


The FFX Client Library ABI

Most performance overhead will be encountered when crossing the FFX client ABI boundary, namely Unix Domain Socket reading/writing and networking to/from the Fuchsia Device.

Beyond this, the FFX client library will be copying FIDL reads exactly twice, once to cross the Rust ABI boundary, and then one more time to load the data from the C++ code into Python object(s). This can be addressed in the future if it becomes an issue.

The average use case will involve lower-overhead usage of FIDL, namely calling of simple functions with structs. At the time of writing more complex FIDL (like VMOs) are not supported on the host, so should not be a source of concern for performance.


The FFX Client ABI

The FFX client binary is implemented in as small of a profile as possible to prevent excessive boilerplate for implementing bindings in other languages.

The Higher Level Python Bindings

The higher level Python bindings will use the FIDL IR to create class bindings at runtime. This will make it possible to not only use Python code in a way that behaves in a way that is congruent to other FIDL language bindings like Rust, Dart, or C++, but will also make it possible to experiment with FIDL protocols at runtime, making more iterative development possible.

If a FIDL service is defined outside of the tree, this will also make it possible to access the service using the SDK (by first generating the FIDL IR, then importing it into Fuchsia Controller).

Security considerations

The main security implications in this RFC are related to FFX itself, which is outside the purview of this document.


FIDL Wire Format

The FIDL team has a suite of tests (GIDL and DynSuite) against which the encoding and decoding can be tested. This will work for either the case where fidl_codec is being used (as it is not yet tested against these suites), or if Python writes to/reads from the wire format explicitly.

The FFX Client Library and the Python C bindings

These are lightweight enough that there isn't much to be done for unit testing beyond verifying that certain exception criteria are met. In order to test the FFX client library's ffx_error_str() a well-defined error can be used to prevent relying on a specific string from within FFX itself.

Most of the testing of these pieces of code will be in integration and/or end-to-end testing. A simple example that exercises every piece of code would be using the Echo protocol for a non-Fuchsia-device dependent test. For a test against the actual Fuchsia device, one could get an instance of the remote control service proxy and call the IdentifyHost function.


Documentation for Fuchsia Controller will be kept on the fuchsia.dev website.

Drawbacks, alternatives, and unknowns


First Class Python Support

While the FFX client library is intended to support bindings for other languages, Python is not suited for larger productionized projects. Python, arguably, allows for rapidly writing code and getting things working quickly at the expense of ease of maintenance and readability.


Why not Golang, Java, Rust, or Dart?

In our initial discussions with e2e testing teams, product facing developers, and the connectivity team, the strong preference was for a scripting language providing interactivity and ease of use. This pointed to Python for the first language to have bindings.



Getting FIDL IR to the user out-of-tree with the SDK will be tricky to get correct, as it has to be generated. So it may be necessary to add extra build rules for Bazel in order to simplify dependencies.

FFX In the SDK

The above examples using the FFX daemon's protocols will not work out of tree, as the FFX FIDL protocols have not yet been landed in the SDK. API review was partially done but still needs to be completed. It is difficult to gauge how long this might take as FFX still has a wide FIDL surface to cover, and is also generally a moving target.

FIDL Codec

It may not be necessary at all to use the fidl_codec in the final result. Using it will also involve adding more surface to the Python shared library, which will then need to be phased out carefully.

Considered alternatives are:

  • Generated code (which is how this is handled in C++ and Rust, for example).
  • A fidl_codec analogue implemented in Python.

Prior art and references