The external dependencies Mbed TLS relies on

External function dependencies

Mbed TLS is as loosely coupled as possible and does not rely on any external libraries for its code. It does use a number of standard libc function calls. This page describes which external calls are present and how you can remove them if no support for that function is available; it describes Mbed TLS 2.7, focusing on the core library only (excluding the example programs and test suites, but including the self test functions as they are part of the library).

Configuration flags control some of the dependencies. Please see How do I configure mbed TLS and How do I port Mbed TLS to a new environment or OS for a full description of how to set the configuration flags to port Mbed TLS to a new environment.

Signals and alarms

Both net_sockets.c and timing.c use signal handlers. The timing.c file uses them as support code for example programs. The signal handlers in net_sockets.c serve a more direct purpose. You can remove this dependency by disabling or adapting the example programs and using alternate I/O callbacks instead of net_sockets.c in the TLS layer.

Functions covered: signal()

Only timing.c uses alarm(). This code is only used in example programs as support code, not in the actual library. You can remove this dependency.

Functions covered: alarm()


Only net_sockets.c uses select(), for the purposes of sleeping (only used in the example programs, not in the library) or providing blocking reads with timeouts. You can remove this dependency by using alternate I/O callbacks instead of net_sockets.c in the TLS layer.

Functions covered: select()

Network/socket based functions

The network and socket based functions are only used in the Network module (net_sockets.c). As the TLS part only uses function pointers, you can replace these dependencies with something else (such as lwIP) as long as the behavior is similar.

Functions covered: on Windows, functions from the Windows Sockets API, and on Unix:

  • accept()
  • bind()
  • close()
  • connect()
  • fcntl()
  • freeaddrinfo()
  • getaddrinfo()
  • getsockname()
  • getsockopt()
  • listen()
  • read()
  • recvfrom()
  • setsockopt()
  • shutdown()
  • socket()
  • write()

Time related functions

The Timing module (timing.c) uses gettimeofday() to determine the elapsed time with a millisecond resolution. This is optionally used in the TLS layer for DTLS retransmission timers through callbacks. You can avoid this dependency by providing your own implementation of these callbacks to the TLS layer.

The Timing module may also use gettimeofday() if it doesn't know how to access the CPU cycle counter on your platform, or if MBEDTLS_HAVE_ASM is disabled. This is used in the example programs (currently only benchmark.c) as a support function, as a weak entropy source, and as a weak RNG algorithm (havege). You can remove this dependency by using stronger RNG algorithms and stronger entropy sources.

Functions covered: gettimeofday()

The time() function is abstracted as mbedtls_time(), in case MBEDTLS_HAVE_TIME is defined, and no alternative implementation was given with the definition of MBEDTLS_PLATFORM_TIME_ALT or no MBEDTLS_PLATFORM_TIME_MACRO was set. The mbedtls_timetime() function will be used by the TLS core modules, as well as the provided implementation of the following callbacks: SSL session cache, SSL session tickets, DTLS hello cookies. All these modules only rely on time differences. In other words, they do not need time() to return the correct time, much less the correct date. You can remove this dependency by disabling MBEDTLS_HAVE_TIME in the config.h file, but you may loose some features, such as time-based rotation of session ticket keys. Alternatively, you can supply a different implementation for mbedtls_time(), by defining MBEDTLS_PLATFORM_TIME_ALT() and call mbedtls_platform_set_time() to set your own time function.

If your platform supports a time function, with a different name, but same functionality, you can set it as MBEDTLS_PLATFORM_TIME_MACRO (with a possibility of defining MBEDTLS_PLATFORM_TIME_TYPE_MACRO as well).

Functions covered: time() (relative)

If MBEDTLS_HAVE_TIME_DATE is defined, mbedtls_time() and gmtime() are used by x509.c to check if a certificate has expired. You can remove this by disabling MBEDTLS_HAVE_TIME_DATE, but then the date-based certificate expiration will not be used (revocation through CRLs, for example, will still work).

Functions covered:

  • time() (absolute)
  • gmtime()

File (stream) functions

If MBEDTLS_FS_IO is defined, the file functions are used in several Mbed TLS modules:

  • The MD layer for file hashing (mbedtls_md_file()).
  • X509 Parsing (x509_crt.c, x509_crl.c, x509_csr.c) use the file functions for reading the certificate, CSR and CRL files; it also uses readdir() for mbedtls_x509_crt_parse_path().
  • The PK layer (pkparse.c) uses file functions for reading and parsing keys from files.
  • The MPI module (bignum.c) uses fwrite for writing MPIs to files and streams and fgets for reading files and streams into MPIs.
  • The entropy, CTR-DRBG and HMAC_DRBG modules use file functions for reading and updating seed files.
  • The DHM module uses file operations to read DH parameters files (mbedtls_dhm_parse_dhmfile).

You can disable all by commenting MBEDTLS_FS_IO in config.h.

Functions covered:

  • fclose()
  • ferror()
  • fgets()
  • fopen()
  • fread()
  • fseek()
  • ftell()
  • fwrite()
  • readdir()
  • closedir()

Dynamic memory functions

A number of modules (ASN1, Bignum/MPI, Cipher, CMAC, DHM, ECP, MD, PEM, PK, PKCS11, RSA, TLS, X.509) use dynamic memory allocation. You can provide your own implementations, and we even provide a buffer-based memory allocator. For further details, read Letting Mbed TLS use static memory instead of the heap.

Functions covered:

  • free()
  • calloc()

Memory functions

The functions memcmp(), memcpy() and memset() are really basic in any system and used in several places. The assumption is that everybody has support for these.

Functions covered:

  • memcmp()
  • memcpy()
  • memset()

The memmove() function is used as an optimization in the TLS module. You can remove this dependency by replacing it with a for loop.

Functions covered: memmove()

String functions

The printf() function is used in all self test functions as mbedtls_printf(), controlled by the MBEDTLS_SELF_TEST configuration flags. In addition, in the MPI module (bignum.c), mbedtls_mpi_write_file() uses mbedtls_printf() to print to stdout if MBEDTLS_FS_IO is defined. You can disable these dependencies in the config.h file. You can also provide your own implementation through the platform layer, see MBEDTLS_PLATFORM_PRINTF_ALT for an example. If your platform supports a print function with a different name, you can set it as MBEDTLS_PLATFORM_PRINTF_MACRO.

Functions covered: printf()

The snprintf() function is defined as mbedtls_snprintf(). It is used in the X.509 module for the various mbedtls_x509_xxx_info() functions and mbedtls_x509_crt_parse_path(). It is also used by the SSL debug module (debug.c) for formatting debug messages, by error.c for mbedtls_strerror() and by oid.c for mbedtls_oid_get_numeric_string() (not used in the library). You can provide your own implementation through the platform layer, see MBEDTLS_PLATFORM_PRINTF_ALT for an example. If your platform supports a similar function with a different name, you can set it as MBEDTLS_PLATFORM_SNPRINTF_MACRO.

Functions covered: snprintf()

The other string functions are used in actual core scenarios. There are workarounds possible in any of there scenarios.

Functions covered:

  • strcmp()
  • strlen()
  • strncmp()
  • strncpy()
  • strstr()

Random function

The rand() function is used only in the self tests of the RSA module (rsa.c). You can disable it by MBEDTLS_SELF_TEST.

Functions covered: rand()

Variable argument functions

To make a half-compatible snprintf() function under Windows, you can use va_start(), va_end(), and vsnprintf(). All three are also used in the Debug module (debug.c). You can remove vsnprintf() by commenting MBEDTLS_DEBUG_C.

Functions covered:

  • va_start()
  • va_end()
  • vsnprintf()

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