Friday, May 22, 2020

How to check VIRTIO feature bits inside Linux guests

VIRTIO devices have feature bits that indicate the presence of optional features. The feature bit space is divided into core VIRTIO features (e.g. notify on empty), transport-specific features (PCI, MMIO, CCW), and device-specific features (e.g. virtio-net checksum offloading). This article shows how to check whether a feature is enabled inside Linux guests.

The feature bits are used during VIRTIO device initialization to negotiate features between the device and the driver. The device reports a fixed set of features, typically all the features that the device implementors wanted to offer from the VIRTIO specification version that they developed against. The driver also reports features, typically all the features that the driver developers wanted to offer from the VIRTIO specification version that they developed against.

Feature bit negotiation determines the subset of features supported by both the device and the driver. A new driver might not be able to enable all the features it supports if the device is too old. The same is true vice versa. This offers compatibility between devices and drivers. It also means that you don't know which features are enabled until the device and driver have negotiated them at runtime.

Where to find feature bit definitions

VIRTIO feature bits are listed in the VIRTIO specification. You can also grep the linux/virtio-*.h header files:

$ grep VIRTIO.*_F_ /usr/include/linux/virtio_*.h
virtio_ring.h:#define VIRTIO_RING_F_INDIRECT_DESC 28
virtio_ring.h:#define VIRTIO_RING_F_EVENT_IDX  29
virtio_scsi.h:#define VIRTIO_SCSI_F_INOUT                    0
virtio_scsi.h:#define VIRTIO_SCSI_F_HOTPLUG                  1
virtio_scsi.h:#define VIRTIO_SCSI_F_CHANGE                   2

Here the VIRTIO_SCSI_F_INOUT (0) constant is for the 1st bit (1ull << 0). Bit-numbering can be confusing because different standards, vendors, and languages express it differently. Here it helps to think of a bit shift operation like 1 << BIT.

How to check feature bits inside the guest

The Linux virtio.ko driver that is used for all VIRTIO devices has a sysfs file called features. This file contains the feature bits in binary representation starting with the 1st bit on the left and more significant bits to the right. The reported bits are the subset that both the device and the driver support.

To check if the virtio-blk device /dev/vda has the VIRTIO_RING_F_EVENT_IDX (29) bit set:

$ python -c "print('$(</sys/block/vda/device/driver/virtio*/features)'[29])"

Other device types can be found through similar sysfs paths.