Capabilities describe what a task is allowed to do, and are encoded in its image. This allows users to audit the permissions of the tasks they run at a much higher granularity than user-based permissions, and also allow us to move parts of the kernel into discrete userspace tasks by creating specialised capabilities to allow access to sensitive resources (such as the raw framebuffer) to only select tasks.

Encoding capabilities in the ELF image

Capabilities are encoded in an entry of a PT_NOTE segment of the ELF image of a task. This entry will have an owner (sometimes referred to in documentation as the 'name') of POPLAR and a type of 0. The descriptor will be an encoding of the capabilities as described by the 'Format' section. The descriptor must be padded such that the next descriptor is 4-byte aligned, and so a value of 0x00 is reserved to be used as padding.

Initial images (tasks loaded by the bootloader before filesystem drivers are working) are limited to a capabilities encoding of 32 bytes (given the variable-length encoding, this does not equate to a fixed maximum number of capabilities).


The capabilities format is variable-length - simple capabilities can be encoded as a single byte, while more complex / specific ones may need multiple bytes of prefix, and can also encode fixed-length data.

Overview of capabilities

This is an overview of all the capabilities the kernel supports:

First byteNext byte(s)DataArch specific?Description
0x00---No meaning - used to pad descriptor to required length (see above)