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.. _userfaultfd:
Userfaults allow the implementation of on-demand paging from userland
and more generally they allow userland to take control of various
memory page faults, something otherwise only the kernel code could do.
For example userfaults allows a proper and more optimal implementation
of the ``PROT_NONE+SIGSEGV`` trick.
Userfaults are delivered and resolved through the ``userfaultfd`` syscall.
The ``userfaultfd`` (aside from registering and unregistering virtual
memory ranges) provides two primary functionalities:
1) ``read/POLLIN`` protocol to notify a userland thread of the faults
2) various ``UFFDIO_*`` ioctls that can manage the virtual memory regions
registered in the ``userfaultfd`` that allows userland to efficiently
resolve the userfaults it receives via 1) or to manage the virtual
memory in the background
The real advantage of userfaults if compared to regular virtual memory
management of mremap/mprotect is that the userfaults in all their
operations never involve heavyweight structures like vmas (in fact the
``userfaultfd`` runtime load never takes the mmap_lock for writing).
Vmas are not suitable for page- (or hugepage) granular fault tracking
when dealing with virtual address spaces that could span
Terabytes. Too many vmas would be needed for that.
The ``userfaultfd`` once opened by invoking the syscall, can also be
passed using unix domain sockets to a manager process, so the same
manager process could handle the userfaults of a multitude of
different processes without them being aware about what is going on
(well of course unless they later try to use the ``userfaultfd``
themselves on the same region the manager is already tracking, which
is a corner case that would currently return ``-EBUSY``).
When first opened the ``userfaultfd`` must be enabled invoking the
``UFFDIO_API`` ioctl specifying a ``uffdio_api.api`` value set to ``UFFD_API`` (or
a later API version) which will specify the ``read/POLLIN`` protocol
userland intends to speak on the ``UFFD`` and the ``uffdio_api.features``
userland requires. The ``UFFDIO_API`` ioctl if successful (i.e. if the
requested ``uffdio_api.api`` is spoken also by the running kernel and the
requested features are going to be enabled) will return into
``uffdio_api.features`` and ``uffdio_api.ioctls`` two 64bit bitmasks of
respectively all the available features of the read(2) protocol and
the generic ioctl available.
The ``uffdio_api.features`` bitmask returned by the ``UFFDIO_API`` ioctl
defines what memory types are supported by the ``userfaultfd`` and what
events, except page fault notifications, may be generated:
- The ``UFFD_FEATURE_EVENT_*`` flags indicate that various other events
other than page faults are supported. These events are described in more
detail below in the `Non-cooperative userfaultfd`_ section.
indicate that the kernel supports ``UFFDIO_REGISTER_MODE_MISSING``
registrations for hugetlbfs and shared memory (covering all shmem APIs,
i.e. tmpfs, ``IPCSHM``, ``/dev/zero``, ``MAP_SHARED``, ``memfd_create``,
etc) virtual memory areas, respectively.
- ``UFFD_FEATURE_MINOR_HUGETLBFS`` indicates that the kernel supports
``UFFDIO_REGISTER_MODE_MINOR`` registration for hugetlbfs virtual memory
areas. ``UFFD_FEATURE_MINOR_SHMEM`` is the analogous feature indicating
support for shmem virtual memory areas.
The userland application should set the feature flags it intends to use
when invoking the ``UFFDIO_API`` ioctl, to request that those features be
enabled if supported.
Once the ``userfaultfd`` API has been enabled the ``UFFDIO_REGISTER``
ioctl should be invoked (if present in the returned ``uffdio_api.ioctls``
bitmask) to register a memory range in the ``userfaultfd`` by setting the
uffdio_register structure accordingly. The ``uffdio_register.mode``
bitmask will specify to the kernel which kind of faults to track for
the range. The ``UFFDIO_REGISTER`` ioctl will return the
``uffdio_register.ioctls`` bitmask of ioctls that are suitable to resolve
userfaults on the range registered. Not all ioctls will necessarily be
supported for all memory types (e.g. anonymous memory vs. shmem vs.
hugetlbfs), or all types of intercepted faults.
Userland can use the ``uffdio_register.ioctls`` to manage the virtual
address space in the background (to add or potentially also remove
memory from the ``userfaultfd`` registered range). This means a userfault
could be triggering just before userland maps in the background the
user-faulted page.
Resolving Userfaults
There are three basic ways to resolve userfaults:
- ``UFFDIO_COPY`` atomically copies some existing page contents from
- ``UFFDIO_ZEROPAGE`` atomically zeros the new page.
- ``UFFDIO_CONTINUE`` maps an existing, previously-populated page.
These operations are atomic in the sense that they guarantee nothing can
see a half-populated page, since readers will keep userfaulting until the
operation has finished.
By default, these wake up userfaults blocked on the range in question.
They support a ``UFFDIO_*_MODE_DONTWAKE`` ``mode`` flag, which indicates
that waking will be done separately at some later time.
Which ioctl to choose depends on the kind of page fault, and what we'd
like to do to resolve it:
- For ``UFFDIO_REGISTER_MODE_MISSING`` faults, the fault needs to be
resolved by either providing a new page (``UFFDIO_COPY``), or mapping
the zero page (``UFFDIO_ZEROPAGE``). By default, the kernel would map
the zero page for a missing fault. With userfaultfd, userspace can
decide what content to provide before the faulting thread continues.
- For ``UFFDIO_REGISTER_MODE_MINOR`` faults, there is an existing page (in
the page cache). Userspace has the option of modifying the page's
contents before resolving the fault. Once the contents are correct
(modified or not), userspace asks the kernel to map the page and let the
faulting thread continue with ``UFFDIO_CONTINUE``.
- You can tell which kind of fault occurred by examining
``pagefault.flags`` within the ``uffd_msg``, checking for the
- None of the page-delivering ioctls default to the range that you
registered with. You must fill in all fields for the appropriate
ioctl struct including the range.
- You get the address of the access that triggered the missing page
event out of a struct uffd_msg that you read in the thread from the
uffd. You can supply as many pages as you want with these IOCTLs.
Keep in mind that unless you used DONTWAKE then the first of any of
those IOCTLs wakes up the faulting thread.
- Be sure to test for all errors including
(``pollfd[0].revents & POLLERR``). This can happen, e.g. when ranges
supplied were incorrect.
Write Protect Notifications
This is equivalent to (but faster than) using mprotect and a SIGSEGV
signal handler.
Firstly you need to register a range with ``UFFDIO_REGISTER_MODE_WP``.
Instead of using mprotect(2) you use
``ioctl(uffd, UFFDIO_WRITEPROTECT, struct *uffdio_writeprotect)``
in the struct passed in. The range does not default to and does not
have to be identical to the range you registered with. You can write
protect as many ranges as you like (inside the registered range).
Then, in the thread reading from uffd the struct will have
``msg.arg.pagefault.flags & UFFD_PAGEFAULT_FLAG_WP`` set. Now you send
``ioctl(uffd, UFFDIO_WRITEPROTECT, struct *uffdio_writeprotect)``
again while ``pagefault.mode`` does not have ``UFFDIO_WRITEPROTECT_MODE_WP``
set. This wakes up the thread which will continue to run with writes. This
allows you to do the bookkeeping about the write in the uffd reading
thread before the ioctl.
If you registered with both ``UFFDIO_REGISTER_MODE_MISSING`` and
``UFFDIO_REGISTER_MODE_WP`` then you need to think about the sequence in
which you supply a page and undo write protect. Note that there is a
difference between writes into a WP area and into a !WP area. The
former will have ``UFFD_PAGEFAULT_FLAG_WP`` set, the latter
``UFFD_PAGEFAULT_FLAG_WRITE``. The latter did not fail on protection but
you still need to supply a page when ``UFFDIO_REGISTER_MODE_MISSING`` was
QEMU/KVM is using the ``userfaultfd`` syscall to implement postcopy live
migration. Postcopy live migration is one form of memory
externalization consisting of a virtual machine running with part or
all of its memory residing on a different node in the cloud. The
``userfaultfd`` abstraction is generic enough that not a single line of
KVM kernel code had to be modified in order to add postcopy live
migration to QEMU.
Guest async page faults, ``FOLL_NOWAIT`` and all other ``GUP*`` features work
just fine in combination with userfaults. Userfaults trigger async
page faults in the guest scheduler so those guest processes that
aren't waiting for userfaults (i.e. network bound) can keep running in
the guest vcpus.
It is generally beneficial to run one pass of precopy live migration
just before starting postcopy live migration, in order to avoid
generating userfaults for readonly guest regions.
The implementation of postcopy live migration currently uses one
single bidirectional socket but in the future two different sockets
will be used (to reduce the latency of the userfaults to the minimum
possible without having to decrease ``/proc/sys/net/ipv4/tcp_wmem``).
The QEMU in the source node writes all pages that it knows are missing
in the destination node, into the socket, and the migration thread of
the QEMU running in the destination node runs ``UFFDIO_COPY|ZEROPAGE``
ioctls on the ``userfaultfd`` in order to map the received pages into the
guest (``UFFDIO_ZEROCOPY`` is used if the source page was a zero page).
A different postcopy thread in the destination node listens with
poll() to the ``userfaultfd`` in parallel. When a ``POLLIN`` event is
generated after a userfault triggers, the postcopy thread read() from
the ``userfaultfd`` and receives the fault address (or ``-EAGAIN`` in case the
userfault was already resolved and waken by a ``UFFDIO_COPY|ZEROPAGE`` run
by the parallel QEMU migration thread).
After the QEMU postcopy thread (running in the destination node) gets
the userfault address it writes the information about the missing page
into the socket. The QEMU source node receives the information and
roughly "seeks" to that page address and continues sending all
remaining missing pages from that new page offset. Soon after that
(just the time to flush the tcp_wmem queue through the network) the
migration thread in the QEMU running in the destination node will
receive the page that triggered the userfault and it'll map it as
usual with the ``UFFDIO_COPY|ZEROPAGE`` (without actually knowing if it
was spontaneously sent by the source or if it was an urgent page
requested through a userfault).
By the time the userfaults start, the QEMU in the destination node
doesn't need to keep any per-page state bitmap relative to the live
migration around and a single per-page bitmap has to be maintained in
the QEMU running in the source node to know which pages are still
missing in the destination node. The bitmap in the source node is
checked to find which missing pages to send in round robin and we seek
over it when receiving incoming userfaults. After sending each page of
course the bitmap is updated accordingly. It's also useful to avoid
sending the same page twice (in case the userfault is read by the
postcopy thread just before ``UFFDIO_COPY|ZEROPAGE`` runs in the migration
Non-cooperative userfaultfd
When the ``userfaultfd`` is monitored by an external manager, the manager
must be able to track changes in the process virtual memory
layout. Userfaultfd can notify the manager about such changes using
the same read(2) protocol as for the page fault notifications. The
manager has to explicitly enable these events by setting appropriate
bits in ``uffdio_api.features`` passed to ``UFFDIO_API`` ioctl:
enable ``userfaultfd`` hooks for fork(). When this feature is
enabled, the ``userfaultfd`` context of the parent process is
duplicated into the newly created process. The manager
receives ``UFFD_EVENT_FORK`` with file descriptor of the new
``userfaultfd`` context in the ``uffd_msg.fork``.
enable notifications about mremap() calls. When the
non-cooperative process moves a virtual memory area to a
different location, the manager will receive
``UFFD_EVENT_REMAP``. The ``uffd_msg.remap`` will contain the old and
new addresses of the area and its original length.
enable notifications about madvise(MADV_REMOVE) and
madvise(MADV_DONTNEED) calls. The event ``UFFD_EVENT_REMOVE`` will
be generated upon these calls to madvise(). The ``uffd_msg.remove``
will contain start and end addresses of the removed area.
enable notifications about memory unmapping. The manager will
get ``UFFD_EVENT_UNMAP`` with ``uffd_msg.remove`` containing start and
end addresses of the unmapped area.
are pretty similar, they quite differ in the action expected from the
``userfaultfd`` manager. In the former case, the virtual memory is
removed, but the area is not, the area remains monitored by the
``userfaultfd``, and if a page fault occurs in that area it will be
delivered to the manager. The proper resolution for such page fault is
to zeromap the faulting address. However, in the latter case, when an
area is unmapped, either explicitly (with munmap() system call), or
implicitly (e.g. during mremap()), the area is removed and in turn the
``userfaultfd`` context for such area disappears too and the manager will
not get further userland page faults from the removed area. Still, the
notification is required in order to prevent manager from using
``UFFDIO_COPY`` on the unmapped area.
Unlike userland page faults which have to be synchronous and require
explicit or implicit wakeup, all the events are delivered
asynchronously and the non-cooperative process resumes execution as
soon as manager executes read(). The ``userfaultfd`` manager should
carefully synchronize calls to ``UFFDIO_COPY`` with the events
processing. To aid the synchronization, the ``UFFDIO_COPY`` ioctl will
return ``-ENOSPC`` when the monitored process exits at the time of
``UFFDIO_COPY``, and ``-ENOENT``, when the non-cooperative process has changed
its virtual memory layout simultaneously with outstanding ``UFFDIO_COPY``
The current asynchronous model of the event delivery is optimal for
single threaded non-cooperative ``userfaultfd`` manager implementations. A
synchronous event delivery model can be added later as a new
``userfaultfd`` feature to facilitate multithreading enhancements of the
non cooperative manager, for example to allow ``UFFDIO_COPY`` ioctls to
run in parallel to the event reception. Single threaded
implementations should continue to use the current async event
delivery model instead.