Tag Archives: 2017

My GSoC Experience: Allow Setting up Shared Memory Regions between VMs from xl Config File

This blog was written by Zhongze Liu. Zhongze Liu is a student studying information security in Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, China. He recently took part in GSoC 2017 where he worked closely with the Xen Project community on “Allowing Sharing Memory Regions between VMs from xl Config.” His interests are low-level hacking and system security (especially cloud and virtualization security).

I got to know the Xen Project about one year ago when I was working on a virtualization security project in a system security lab. It was the very first time that I received hands-on experience with a Type-I hypervisor. I was very interested in its internals and wanted to explore more of it by reading its code and performing some hacking on it. This is also what I was able to do this summer while I worked as a GSoC student with the Xen Project community. My specific focus was on setting up shared memory regions among VMs from a new xl config entry.

The purpose of this GSoC project is to allow simple guests that don’t have grant table support to be able to communicate via one or more shared memory regions. Such guests are not uncommon in the embedded world, and this project makes it possible for these poor guests to communicate with their friends.

This project involves many components of Xen, from the xl utility, xenstore, all the way down to the hypervisor itself. The implementation plan is quite straightforward: (1) during domain creation: parse the config –> map the pages –> write down in the xenstore fs what has been done;  (2) during domain destruction: read from xenstore the current status –> unmap the pages –> clean up the related xenstore entries. More details can be found in my proposal posted on the xen-devel mailing list. The tangible outcome is a patch set adding changes to xl, libxl, libxc, xsm and flask.

I met quite a few challenges during the project. The first and biggest one turned out to be how to design an appropriate syntax for the new config entry. The syntax has to be flexible and friendly to users. And the hardest part is how to control the stage-2 page permissions and cache attributes — we currently don’t have such a hypercall to control the stage-2 page attributes, but the clients are asking for the control over these attributes. I read a lot of documents about stage-2 page attributes on both x86 and ARM, and wrote a proposal for a new hypercall that would solve this issue.

After I made this proposal, I discovered that it would take up too much time to discuss the details in my proposal, not to mention implementing it. After discussing this challenge with my mentors, we decided to leave this as a TODO (see the “Future Directions” section in the project proposal), and only support the default attributes in the very first version of this project.

Next challenge: the “map the pages” step in the plan is easier said than done. After implemented the tool stack side, I moved forward to test my code, but kept getting errors on mapping the pages. By putting many printks through the whole code path, I found something blocking the way: On x86, adding foreign pages from one DomU to another by modifying p2m entries is not allowed.

Why? (1) the default xsm policy doesn’t allow this; (2) p2m tear-down is not implemented —doing so will screw up the refcount of the pages.

Fixing reason (2) is not a trivial task, but luckily, p2m tear-down is already implemented on the ARM side. So I decided to mark this new config entry as unsupported on x86, and continue to implement the ARM side. The fix to (1) turned out to be some changes to the xsm interface for xsm_map_gmfn_foreign, the dummy xsm policy, and the corresponding flask hook.

The last challenge that I’m going to talk about is testing. To test out ARM code, I followed this instruction on the Xen wiki to setup an emulator and another instruction on cross-compiling Xen and the tool stack for ARM. I’m not using Debian, so some of the handy tools provided by Debian are not available for me. I have to find alternative solutions to some of the critical steps and during my experiment, I found docker is the most distribution-independent solution which in the mean time won’t bring too much performance overhead. I created a Debian-based docker images with all the tools and dependencies required to build Xen, and every time I went to launch a build, I just needed to do a ‘docker run -v local/xen/path:docker/xen/path -it image-name build-script-name.sh‘.  I’m planning to post my Dockerfile to the Xen wiki so that others can build their own cross-building environment with a simple ‘docker build’.

I’ve really learned a lot during the process, from my mentors, and from the Xen Project community. Additionally:

  • I’ve improved my coding skills
  • I’ve learned more about the Xen Project and its internals
  • I’ve learned many efficient git tricks, which will be very useful in my future projects
  • I’ve read about memory management on ARM and x86
  • I’ve learned how to setup a rootfs, emulator, kernel, drivers and cross-compiling environment to test out ARM programs
  • And most importantly, I’ve learned how to work with an open source community.

And no words are strong enough to express my many thanks to all the people in the community who have helped me so far, especially Stefano, Julien, and Wei. They’ve been very supportive and responsive from the very beginning, giving me valuable suggestions and answering my sometimes stupid questions.

I’m very glad that I was invited to the Xen Project Summit in Budapest. It was really a great experience to meet so many interesting people there. And many thanks to Lars and Mary, who helped me in getting my visa to the event and offered me two T-shirts to help me through the hard times when my luggage was delayed.

The GSoC internship is coming to an end, and it’s just my first step to contributing to the Xen Project. I like this community and I am looking forward to contributing to it more and learning more from it.


My GSoC experience: Fuzzing the hypervisor

This blog post was written by Felix Schmoll, currently studying Mechanical Engineering at ETH Zurich. After obtaining a Bachelor in Computer Science from Jacobs University he spent the summer working on fuzzing the hypervisor as a Google Summer of Code student. His main interests in code are low-level endeavours and building scalable applications.

Five months ago, I had never even heard of fuzzing, but this summer, I worked on fuzzing the Xen Project hypervisor as a Google Summer of Code student.

For everybody that is not familiar with fuzzing: it is a way to test interfaces. The most primitive form of it is to repeatedly generate random input and feed it to the interface. A more advanced version is coverage-guided fuzzing, which uses information on the code path taken by the binary to permute the input further. The goal of this project was to build a prototype of fuzzing the hypercall-interface, seeing if one could make the hypervisor crash with a definite sequence of hypercalls.

American Fuzzy Lop (AFL) is by far the most popular fuzzer, and so it was chosen as the one to be run on the hypervisor. As it is a fuzzer for user-space programs, it had to be ported to the kernel. To make this work, the first step was to allow it to obtain feedback on the coverage from Xen by implementing a hypercall. Further, a mechanism was needed to execute the hypercalls from a domain other than dom0 (there are many ways to stop the hypervisor from dom0). For this purpose, an XTF-test case was instrumented to run as a server, receiving test cases from an AFL-instance. In the end, changes were made to the hypervisor, libxl, xenconsole, XTF and AFL.

The biggest challenge of all was finding my way around the code base of Xen. A lot of components were relevant to the project, and it would be unrealistic to expect anybody to read all of the code at once. While documentation was at times scarce, a helpful community of experts was always available on IRC. It was also a great experience to meet these people at the Xen Project Summit in Budapest.

The result of my summer project are numerous patches. While there were no bugs actually found (i.e. the hypervisor never crashed), valuable experience was collected for future projects. I am confident that by building up on the prototype it will be possible to improve the reliability of Xen. A first step would be to pass the addresses of valid buffers into hypercalls. For a description of more possible improvements please read the technical summary of the project.

Lastly, I would like to thank everybody involved with GSoC, Xen Project and in particular my great mentor Wei Liu for allowing me to experience how it is to work on a well-lead open-source project.

Recap of LinuxCon China and Xen Project’s Growth in the Region

It’s been a very busy month or so for the Xen Project. During mid-June, I was lucky to attend and speak at LinuxCon + ContainerCon China held in Beijing. There I spoke on the topic of securing embedded systems with the hypervisor and live patching, virtual machine introspection and vulnerability management alongside my colleague Cheng Zhang of Citrix.

Open source has grown tremendously in China over the last few years, with Xen Project technology being a key enabler for cloud computing. Most recently, the Xen Project announced Huawei joining the Project’s advisory board. Huawei is one of a growing number of Chinese companies leveraging and contributing to the Xen Project’s software. Other organizations include Alibaba, Fujitsu (China), Intel (China), Tencent, Inspur, and more.

The Xen Project hypervisor currently powers Alibaba Cloud, which is growing at a massive rate with incredible potential.

Many ask why is this growth happening in China and why now? There are many different reasons, but I think the main point is: As key technologies are increasingly built collaboratively, more and more Chinese companies are using open source to leapfrog competitors. By joining Linux Foundation projects, in-country organizations are helping to drive further growth and development.

Collaboration in China and at the Conference

Contributions with the Xen Project have greatly expanded over the last few years, especially in contributions and membership coming from China. In our latest release, Xen Project 4.9, we had 25% more contributors to the core hypervisor, and an increase of 17% of contributions coming from the hypervisor, tests, and other components. We received several contributions from individuals based in China as well as Fujitsu (China), Huawei Technologies, and Intel (China).

We are generally seeing more companies (in China and beyond) participating in the project with an eye toward automotive, embedded, security, and native-cloud computing.

During the conference, I was able to meet up with community members from Alibaba, Huawei, Hyper_, Intel and others.. Key highlights and conversations for me included:

  • In the last year, we have seen very rapid adoption of Xen Project based products in government (e.g. China State Grid), industry (e.g. CTCI), telecoms (e.g. China Mobile), banking/financial (e.g. ICBC, People’s Insurance Company of China) and are starting to see adoption in High Performance Computing. One surprising factor that is leading to rapid adoption of open source in China is that many industries are required to perform code audits on software with the aim of strengthening cybersecurity, which gives open source software a significant edge.
  • I had lots of discussions on the “ins and outs” of Virtual Machine Introspection, after I highlighted that VMI defeated WannaCry/EternalBlue a priori mentioned in my live patching, virtual machine introspection and vulnerability management talk. As I learned most WannaCry victims were based in China including a number of companies such as the China National Petroleum Corporation, which led to 20% of petrol stations across the mainland going offline.
  • Live Patching, and its potential limitations and the complexities of how to build and validate them, were also high on the list of discussions which came up several times.
  • Another highlight was a discussion around the proposed Shared coprocessor framework for Xen, whose design is currently being finalized and will support sharing of GPUs, DSPs, FPGs and security once the prototype has been completed and upstreamed. I had originally assumed that co-processor sharing was mainly of interested either in embedded or for niche cloud use-cases, but was surprised to learn that there may be much more market pull than anticipated.

I’m looking forward for continued collaboration and innovation in this region.

Now Accepting Submissions for Xen Project Developer and Design Summit 2017

We’re excited to announce that registration and the call for proposals is open for Xen Project Developer and Design Summit 2017, which will be held in Budapest, Hungary from July 11-13, 2017. The Xen Project Developer and Design Summit combines the formats of Xen Project Developer Summits with Xen Project Hackathons, and brings together the Xen Project’s community of developers and power users.

Submit a Talk

Do you have an interesting use case around Xen Project technology or best practices around the community? There’s a wide variety of topics we are looking for, including security, embedded environments, network function virtualization (NFV), and more. You can find all the suggested topics for presentations and panels here (make sure you select the Topics tab).

Several formats are being accepted for speaking proposals, including:

  • Presentations and Panels
  • Interactive design and problem solving sessions. These sessions can be submitted as part of the CFP, but we will reserve a number of design sessions to be allocated during the event. Proposers of design sessions are expected to host and moderate design sessions following the format we have used at Xen Project Hackathons. If you have not participated in these in the past, check out past event reports from 2016, 2015 and 2013.

Never talked at a conference before? Don’t worry! We encourage new speakers to submit for our events and have plenty of resources to help you prepare for your presentation.

Here are some dates to remember for submissions and in general:

  • CFP Close: April 14, 2017 (correction: was extended to April 21)
  • CFP Notifications: May 5, 2017
  • Schedule Announced: May 16, 2017
  • Event: July 11-13, 2017


Come join us for this event, and if you register by May 19, you’ll get an early bird discount :) Travel stipends are available for students or individuals that are not associated with a company. If you have any questions, please send a note to community.manager@xenproject.org.

Xen Project Participates in Google Summer of Code and Outreachy

This is a quick announcement that the Xen Project is again participating in Google Summer of Code (GSoC), a program that awards three-month paid stipends to University students to work on open source projects, with the goal to get open source experience. The Xen Project will also again participate in Outreachy, which is an internship program that organises three-month paid internships with free and open-source software projects for people who are typically underrepresented in the technology industry. Outreachy has been helping women (cis and trans), trans men, genderqueer people and people from other discriminated backgrounds get involved in free and open source software for several years. The Xen Project is proud that it has participated continually in Outreachy (and its predecessor OPW) for 4 years.

I want to participate, how do I get started?

If you are not at all familiar with programs such as GSoC and Outreachy, have a quick look at our introduction. In a nutshell, both programs go through several stages:

  • Check eligibility requirements.
  • Now until application period: Preparation by working on small tasks (also called micro-tasks) within our community to identify a suitable project and to familiarise yourself with the technology.
  • Application Period (aka paperwork): For GSoC, the application system is open from March 20 to Apr 3, 2017; however you should work on micro-tasks before and prepare your application together with a mentor as early as possible. For Outreachy, the application system is already open and will close March 30, 2017 (but you can edit and modify proposals submitted in agreement with your mentor until April 28th).
  • Selection Period: After applying to participate, our mentors will chose the most promising candidates. Successful candidates will be announced on the following dates: April 28 (Outreachy), May 4 (GSoC).
  • Internship Duration: May 30 to August 29 (GSoC) and August 30 (Outreachy).

For a list of projects for participants and more information on how to apply, check our Xen Project 2017 Summer Internship Portal. We have many different projects in many different areas: from Hypervisor work, projects in Mirage OS, to tools and test related tasks. Note that we will be adding extra projects to this page in the coming weeks and that applicants can suggest projects on their own.

You may also want to check out the pages of GSoC mentoring organisations which we collaborate with. Sometimes, you will find Xen related projects there: FreeBSD (currently 2 projects), QEMU, Libvirt.

Learn about the Experience of past Participants

At a past Xen Project Developer Summit, we ran a panel discussion that included Outreachy interns, GSoC students as well as mentors.

You may also want to read Women interns rocking open source at Xen Project.