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RFC-0128: Introduce `zx_vcpu_kick`

RFC-0128: Introduce `zx_vcpu_kick`
  • Kernel

A new syscall, `zx_vcpu_kick`, that can cause a running VCPU to exit to the host and return to user-space.

Gerrit change
Date submitted (year-month-day)2021-08-26
Date reviewed (year-month-day)2021-09-25


We propose adding a new syscall, zx_vcpu_kick, that can cause a running VCPU to exit to the host and return to user-space. Additionally, we propose renaming zx_vcpu_resume to zx_vcpu_enter in order to have a consistent nomenclature.


When a VCPU is running, it may be blocked indefinitely within a call to zx_vcpu_enter. This causes problems for a virtual machine manager, as to cleanly shutdown a VCPU, a virtual machine manager needs the syscall to return control to the calling thread, so that it can safely free all of the related resources.

Furthermore, for the purposes of simplifying integration testing, it is convenient to have a method of forcing a VCPU to exit from a guest. That way a test can be written more concisely and precisely.


Facilitator: cpu

Reviewers: adanis, tamird, jamesr

Consulted: dgreenaway, brunodalbo

Socialization: The design was discussed in a chat thread, as part of the solution to a problem that the Connectivity team were facing with the netemul tests.


This proposal consists of the following changes to the Zircon syscall interface:

  1. The addition of zx_vcpu_kick
  2. The renaming of zx_vcpu_resume to zx_vcpu_enter

Where zx_vcpu_enter and zx_vcpu_kick will be defined as:

/// Enter a VCPU, and start or continue execution.
/// Rights: handle must be of type ZX_OBJ_TYPE_VCPU and have ZX_RIGHT_EXECUTE.
// @blocking
zx_status_t zx_vcpu_enter(
    zx_handle_t handle,
    uint32_t options,
    zx_port_packet_t* packet

/// Exit from the current or next call to |vcpu_enter|.
/// Rights: handle must be of type ZX_OBJ_TYPE_VCPU and have ZX_RIGHT_EXECUTE.
zx_status_t zx_vcpu_kick(
    zx_handle_t handle

When zx_vcpu_kick is called on a VCPU handle, any currently running call to zx_vcpu_enter on that same handle will return ZX_ERR_CANCELED. Furthermore, if zx_vcpu_enter was not running at the time zx_vcpu_kick was called, the next call to zx_vcpu_enter will immediately return ZX_ERR_CANCELED. This allows a virtual machine manager to call zx_vcpu_kick and be guaranteed that zx_vcpu_enter will return ZX_ERR_CANCELED next. Conversely, this means that if zx_vcpu_enter has not returned ZX_ERR_CANCELED yet, it will only do so once, no matter how many times zx_vcpu_kick is called.

ZX_ERR_CANCELED was chosen as the status to return, so that the cause of exit would be easily distinguishable to a virtual machine manager. This allows a virtual machine manager to use that status to gracefully stop a VCPU without any additional state management within the virtual machine manager. When it sees that zx_vcpu_enter has returned ZX_ERR_CANCELED, it can close the VCPU handle and free any other associated resources.

Furthermore, the behaviour of zx_vcpu_kick is to stop the VCPU, but not to terminate it. This means that a virtual machine manager may resume execution of the VCPU after zx_vcpu_enter returns ZX_ERR_CANCELED by calling zx_vcpu_enter again. Other than handling the return value and bypassing any packet handling, the virtual machine manager does not need to do anything special and can immediately call zx_vcpu_enter to resume execution.


Within the hypervisor, zx_vcpu_enter is modelled after zx_port_wait. It has an almost identical API, with the exception of a deadline. It is meant to wait for a guest packet to arrive, and then return to user-space with the packet. Unlike zx_thread_start, it is not meant to be a way to create a new thread of execution, rather to transform the current thread of execution.

Having said that, we do not believe that a token based approach — such as that found in zx_task_suspend — would work well to interrupt execution of a VCPU. A token based approach does not fit the model of VCPU execution, which requires a constant back and forth between user-space and the kernel.

Instead, we propose that zx_vcpu_kick simply cause zx_vcpu_enter to return to user-space with an error code suggesting that it was interrupted. Within the hypervisor, zx_vcpu_kick will be implemented very similarly to zx_vcpu_interrupt. It will:

  1. Set state. For zx_vcpu_kick, this state is an atomic bool used to indicate that the VCPU should return when it exits the guest. This variable can be queried through the use of zx_object_get_info with a topic of ZX_INFO_VCPU and the corresponding zx_info_vcpu_t type.
  2. Check if the VCPU is currently running, and if so, it IPIs the physical CPU that the VCPU is currently running on. This forces the VCPU to exit the guest to service the interrupt, and thereby allows it to service the request to return.

The atomic bool tracks whether zx_vcpu_kick has been called and that the VCPU should return ZX_ERR_CANCELED when it no longer has any outstanding information to return to user-space. This means that if there is an outstanding guest packet for user-space, it will be returned successfully before we return ZX_ERR_CANCELED on a subsequent call to zx_vcpu_enter.

This approach makes zx_vcpu_enter behave similarly to a zx_port_wait that encountered a timeout.

The implementation will be carried out in a single CL, as all known users of the hypervisor are contained within the Fuchsia repository. This change will include updates to documentation and language bindings for syscalls, as well as changes to the hypervisor and virtual machine manager.


There is no known impact on performance, other than to cause a guest to exit from execution. As the primary use case for this is to gracefully terminate execution of a VCPU, this should have no practical impact.


Ergonomic considerations for zx_vcpu_enter and zx_vcpu_kick were discussed in the design section.

Backwards Compatibility

All known users of the hypervisor are contained within the Fuchsia repository, therefore it is feasible to both introduce zx_vcpu_kick and to rename zx_vcpu_resume to zx_vcpu_enter.

Security considerations

A virtual machine manager using zx_vcpu_kick should be audited to ensure that any use of zx_vcpu_enter takes into account the ZX_ERR_CANCELED return status, and that it must ignore the returned PortPacket if it intends to resume operation of the VCPU. If it does not ignore the PortPacket, it will operate on invalid data that has been zeroed — which is true for any error status returned by zx_vcpu_enter.

Privacy considerations

This proposal has no impact on privacy.


Once the implementation CL has landed, we can enable the ASAN bots for the virtual machine manager tests, and prove that we can shutdown cleanly without ASAN failures.


We will need to add additional documentation for the zx_vcpu_kick syscall, and we will need to expand the documentation for the zx_vcpu_enter syscall to include the new return status and PortPacket handling recommendations.

Drawbacks, alternatives, and unknowns

The drawback of this proposal is the introduction of an additional syscall. It was originally proposed that we could reuse either zx_task_kill or zx_handle_close, but both come with their own drawbacks.

To specialise zx_task_kill to work with VCPUs, we would have to consider a VCPU to be a task, and therefore make all task-related syscalls work with VCPUs. If we only made zx_task_kill work with VCPUs and none of the other task-related syscalls, it would be incongruous.

Instead, we could rely on the semantics of zx_handle_close and add an on_zero_handles handler to the VcpuDispatcher. This would allow us to terminate the VCPU if the handle count dropped to zero. However, this has two immediate drawbacks: we can no longer resume the VCPU after it has been stopped, and we invalidate the VCPU handle. Invalidation of the VCPU handle is particularly problematic, as it is an inherently racey operation. Another thread may be in the process of using the VCPU handle to inject and interrupt when the handle is invalidated, and therefore cause unintended errors to occur.

Another option would be to introduce a more generic version of this syscall, for example zx_thread_cancel, where any blocking operation on a given thread immediately returns ZX_ERR_CANCELED. This would allow us to extend the syscall to future use cases that use a similar model to VCPUs.

Prior art and references

A similar operation is present in Apple's Hypervisor Framework:

As well as in Linux's KVM (Kernel-based Virtual Machine):