This post explains how vhost provides in-kernel virtio devices for KVM. I have been hacking on vhost-scsi and have answered questions about ioeventfd, irqfd, and vhost recently, so I thought this would be a useful QEMU Internals post.
The vhost drivers in Linux provide in-kernel virtio device emulation. Normally the QEMU userspace process emulates I/O accesses from the guest. Vhost puts virtio emulation code into the kernel, taking QEMU userspace out of the picture. This allows device emulation code to directly call into kernel subsystems instead of performing system calls from userspace.
The vhost-net driver emulates the virtio-net network card in the host kernel. Vhost-net is the oldest vhost device and the only one which is available in mainline Linux. Experimental vhost-blk and vhost-scsi devices have also been developed.
In Linux 3.0 the vhost code lives in drivers/vhost/. Common code that is used by all devices is in drivers/vhost/vhost.c. This includes the virtio vring access functions which all virtio devices need in order to communicate with the guest. The vhost-net code lives in drivers/vhost/net.c.
The vhost driver model
The vhost-net driver creates a /dev/vhost-net character device on the host. This character device serves as the interface for configuring the vhost-net instance.
When QEMU is launched with -netdev tap,vhost=on it opens /dev/vhost-net and initializes the vhost-net instance with several ioctl(2) calls. These are necessary to associate the QEMU process with the vhost-net instance, prepare for virtio feature negotiation, and pass the guest physical memory mapping to the vhost-net driver.
During initialization the vhost driver creates a kernel thread called vhost-$pid, where $pid is the QEMU process pid. This thread is called the "vhost worker thread". The job of the worker thread is to handle I/O events and perform the device emulation.
In-kernel virtio emulation
Vhost does not emulate a complete virtio PCI adapter. Instead it restricts itself to virtqueue operations only. QEMU is still used to perform virtio feature negotiation and live migration, for example. This means a vhost driver is not a self-contained virtio device implementation, it depends on userspace to handle the control plane while the data plane is done in-kernel.
The vhost worker thread waits for virtqueue kicks and then handles buffers that have been placed on the virtqueue. In vhost-net this means taking packets from the tx virtqueue and transmitting them over the tap file descriptor.
File descriptor polling is also done by the vhost worker thread. In vhost-net the worker thread wakes up when packets come in over the tap file descriptor and it places them into the rx virtqueue so the guest can receive them.
Vhost as a userspace interface
One surprising aspect of the vhost architecture is that it is not tied to KVM in any way. Vhost is a userspace interface and has no dependency on the KVM kernel module. This means other userspace code, like libpcap, could in theory use vhost devices if they find them convenient high-performance I/O interfaces.
When a guest kicks the host because it has placed buffers onto a virtqueue, there needs to be a way to signal the vhost worker thread that there is work to do. Since vhost does not depend on the KVM kernel module they cannot communicate directly. Instead vhost instances are set up with an eventfd file descriptor which the vhost worker thread watches for activity. The KVM kernel module has a feature known as ioeventfd for taking an eventfd and hooking it up to a particular guest I/O exit. QEMU userspace registers an ioeventfd for the VIRTIO_PCI_QUEUE_NOTIFY hardware register access which kicks the virtqueue. This is how the vhost worker thread gets notified by the KVM kernel module when the guest kicks the virtqueue.
On the return trip from the vhost worker thread to interrupting the guest a similar approach is used. Vhost takes a "call" file descriptor which it will write to in order to kick the guest. The KVM kernel module has a feature called irqfd which allows an eventfd to trigger guest interrupts. QEMU userspace registers an irqfd for the virtio PCI device interrupt and hands it to the vhost instance. This is how the vhost worker thread can interrupt the guest.
In the end the vhost instance only knows about the guest memory mapping, a kick eventfd, and a call eventfd.
Where to find out moreHere are the main points to begin exploring the code:
- drivers/vhost/vhost.c - common vhost driver code
- drivers/vhost/net.c - vhost-net driver
- virt/kvm/eventfd.c - ioeventfd and irqfd
- hw/vhost.c - common vhost initialization code
- hw/vhost_net.c - vhost-net initialization