Xen ARM with Virtualization Extensions

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Revision as of 23:03, 11 June 2013 by Julieng (talk | contribs) (format + typos)

The ARM v7-A and ARM v8-A architectures include optional virtualization extensions that allow a hypervisor to manage fully hardware virtualized guests. These extensions are currently available in some ARM v7 processors such as the Cortex A15 and Cortex A7.


Both the 32-bit (arm32) and the 64-bit (arm64) ports of Xen boot dom0 and unprivileged guests can be created and destroyed using xl. See below for information on the hardware and models.

Currently only 32-bit dom0 and guests are supported, even on the 64-bit hypervisor.

Guest ABI

The guest (including dom0) visible ABI exposed by the hypervisor is not yet set in stone and there may be changes as work progresses. See requirements (below) for specific details of matching kernel and hypervisor versions.


Please email xen-devel with comments, questions and patches. Please see the list info page for subscription information and the archives. For patches please see Submitting Xen Patches.


The arm32 port of Xen currently runs on:

Work is also underway to port Xen to the Exynos 5250 processor which is in the Google Chromebook and Arndale Development board.

The arm64 port of Xen currently runs on:

  • The AEMv8 Real-time System Models by ARM.

Work is also underway to support the ARM v8 Foundation Model.


ARM Hardware or Software Model
See above for details of the hardware and models which are supported.
Device Tree
A device tree in the flat device tree format (.dtb). The device tree source for unprivileged Xen ARM guests is available upstream in the Linux tree >= v3.7: xenvm-4.2.dts. The interface is also documented in the Linux tree: xen.txt. Regarding Xen and Dom0, the regular DTS for the underlying platform can be used, however it requires the additional hypervisor node described in the Linux Documentation and the command line arguments under the chosen node, see for example the Xen DTS for the Versatile Express Cortex A15 machine we use for development vexpress-v2p-ca15-tc1.dts.
All current work is now merged into the current development branch git://xenbits.xen.org/xen.git. It is recommended to use the latest Xen master branch.
Linux kernel for dom0
The patches necessary to boot Linux as dom0 under Xen were merged upstream in v3.7. In order to actually start guests a few additional patches were required however these patches have now been included in the v3.8 Linux release. The latest Linus' tree has everything needed to run on Xen on ARM as dom0 and domU.
dom0 userspace
The developers are using the armhf port of Debian Wheezy (which is currently the testing release).
domU kernel
The patches necessary to boot Linux as a guest under Xen were merged upstream in v3.7.

Hypervisor ABI Compatibility

The ABI for Xen on ARM is currently not set in stone.

The most recent ABI change was xen: event channel arrays are xen_ulong_t and not unsigned long. This change was reflected in Linux commit c81611c4e96f595a80d8be9367c385d2c116428b which is already present in mainline and will be part of v3.9-rc1. The xen-arm-3.8.y branch of git://xenbits.xen.org/people/ianc/linux.git contains the current stable release + this change.

Getting Xen output

To get output log on the UART, Xen needs to know which UART to use.

console=dtuart dtuart=myserial

where myserial is the alias name of your UART in the device tree. An alias refers to the full path of your device. It can be found in the aliases node. As Xen already uses the UART, it needs to be disabled (see example below) to avoid Linux to use the device.

For instance, this is a dummy device tree (won't work) to use the uart0 in Xen:

/ {
    choosen {
       bootargs = "console=dtuart dtuart=myserial";
    aliases {
        myserial = &myserial_0;
    myserial_0: uart0 {
       ... configuration of your UART ...
       status = "disabled";

Note: If you don't see output from Xen, you can enable early printk. This option will turn on platform specific UART and output information before the console is initialized.

Device Trees

Xen needs the device trees to be in the flat device tree format (the device tree blob or DTB). This is built by the device tree compiler (dtc) from the device tree source files (.dts and .dtsi).

Version 1.3 or later of dtc is required.

Build the .dtb files with make.

Pre-built vexpress-v2p-ca15-tc1.dtb and xenvm-4.2.dtb are available.


When running on the model there is no bootloader to provide the DTB. Instead, it is linked with the xen image.

The DTB to use is specified by the CONFIG_DTB_FILE config variable which should be set to the absolute path of the DTB. This variable may be set in .config or on the make command line.

The Xen command line may be set with the bootargs parameter of the chosen node of the device tree. Parameters for the domain 0 kernel are passed using the xen,dom0-bootargs parameter.

Dom0 kernel

Enable at least ARCH_VEXPRESS, ARCH_VEXPRESS_DT. Disable SPARSE_IRQ (it doesn't play nicely with device tree support). If ARM_APPENDED_DTB is enabled then any appended DTB will be used instead of one supplied by Xen and the kernel will crash unless the memory in the DTB matches that location/size supplied by Xen.

A working configuration is available here.

The Linux command line should be set with the xen,dom0-bootargs parameter of the chosen node of the device tree supplied to Xen. If this parameter is missing then Linux will not get a command line and the wrong console will be used (there's a bug where the kernel doesn't use the default, built-in command line if the /chosen node is missing.

DomU kernel and DTS

Unprivileged guests can be created using xl. A simple VM config file would look like this:

kernel = "/root/image"
memory = 128
name = "win"
vcpus = 1
disk = [ 'phy:/dev/loop0,xvda,w' ]

where image is actually a Linux zImage with an appended xenvm-4.2.dtb:

   cat arch/arm/boot/zImage arch/arm/boot/dts/xenvm-4.2.dtb > /mnt/root/image

Flash Image

The dom0 kernel is loaded by Xen from the beginning of the flash device.

Native boot

To boot the kernel natively use an updated boot-wrapper from git://xenbits.xen.org/people/dvrabel/boot-wrapper.git.

Build the device tree blobs provided with the kernel with make dtbs. A suitable DTB file for the envelope model is vexpress-v2p-aem-v7a.dtb.

For a native boot the kernel should have ARM_APPENDED_DTB and ARM_ATAG_DTB_COMPAT enabled. The kernel zImage and the DTB should be appended. e.g., cat zImage vexpress-v2p-aem-v7a.dtb > image.bin.

Building Xen on ARM

Cross Compiling

Cross compiling the hypervisor is relatively simple. For 32-bit you can find a cross compiler in some Linux distros or you can download the arm-unknown-linux-gnueabi compiler from kernel.org. For 64-bit Linaro supply a suitable cross-compiler.

Once you have a suitable cross compiler you can compile Xen with:

   $ make dist-xen XEN_TARGET_ARCH=arm32 CROSS_COMPILE=arm-unknown-linux-gnueabi-


   $ make dist-xen XEN_TARGET_ARCH=arm64 CROSS_COMPILE=aarch64-linux-gnu-

This assumes that the command prefix for you cross compiler is arm-unknown-linux-gnueabi- or arm-unknown-linux-gnueabi- and that the appropriate arm-unknown-linux-gnueabi-gcc or arm-unknown-linux-gnueabi-gcc and friends are in your $PATH.

Cross compilation of the tools is described in Xen ARM with Virtualization Extensions/CrossCompiling.

Native Building

In order to build the tools a native build environment is required. For 32-bit the developers mainly use the armhf port of Debian, which is present in Wheezy (the current testing distribution) running on an IMX53 based development board, although any ARMv7 development board would do. Note that the build hardware does not need to support the virtualisation extensions, since you don't have to run Xen on the same system as where you build it.

It may also be possible to build using a cross-architecture chroot running on an X86 system as described in this blog post, although this hasn't been tried yet.

Native build of the 64-bit tools has not been attempted yet.

Platform specific configuration

Open issues, known problems and workarounds

See this page for a full list of bugs and projects.

Please note that SMP support is currently under development in Xen ARM, we recommend exporting only 1 cpu in the DTS for the moment.

Developer FAQs

Use the Xen ARM Dev FAQ page to cover commonly asked questions.