X86-64 XenLinux: Architecture, Implementation, and Optimizations

Xen 3.0 has been officially released with x86-64 support added. In this paper, we discuss the architecture, design decisions, and various challenging issues we needed to solve when we para-virtualized x86-64 Linux.

Although we reused the para-virtualization techniques and code employed by x86(-32) XenLinux as much as possible, there are notable differences between x86 XenLinux and x86-64 XenLinux. Because of the limited segmentation with x86-64, for example, we needed to run both the guest kernel and applications in ring 3, raising the problem of protecting one from the other. This also complicated system calls handling, event handling, including exceptions such as page faults and interrupts. For example the native device drivers run in Ring 3 in x86-64 XenLinux today.

Xen itself was required to extend to support x86-64 XenLinux. To handle transitions between kernel and user mode securely, for example, Xen is aware of the mode of the guests controlling the page tables used for each mode. We also discuss other extensions to x86 XenLinux, in support of x86-64, including page table management, 4-level writable page tables, shadow page tables for live migration, new hypercalls, and DMA.

We also discuss the performance optimizations techniques used today, and also discuss how to overcome the overheads caused by the transitions between user and kernel mode.

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