1 Hypercall ABI

Hypercalls are system calls to Xen. Two modes of guest operation are supported, and up to 5 individual parameters are supported.

Hypercalls may only be issued by kernel-level software1.

1.1 Registers

The registers used for hypercalls depends on the operating mode of the guest.

ABI Hypercall Index Parameters (1 - 5)2 Result

32 and 64bit PV guests have an ABI fixed by their guest type. The ABI for an HVM guest depends on whether the vCPU is operating in a 64bit segment or not 3.

1.2 Parameters

Different hypercalls take a different number of parameters. Each hypercall potentially clobbers each of its parameter registers; a guest may not rely on the parameter registers staying the same. A debug build of Xen checks this by deliberately poisoning the parameter registers before returning back to the guest.

1.3 Mode transfer

The exact sequence of instructions required to issue a hypercall differs between virtualisation mode and hardware vendor.

Guest Transfer instruction
32bit PV INT 0x82

To abstract away the details, Xen implements an interface known as the Hypercall Page. This allows a guest to make a hypercall without needing to perform mode-specific or vendor-specific setup.

2 Hypercall Page

The hypercall page is a page of guest RAM into which Xen will write suitable transfer stubs. It is intended as a convenience for guests, but use of the hypercall page is not mandatory for making hypercalls to Xen.

Creating a hypercall page is an isolated operation from Xen's point of view. It is the guests responsibility to ensure that the hypercall page, once written by Xen, is mapped with executable permissions so it may be used. Multiple hypercall pages may be created by the guest, if it wishes.

The stubs are arranged by hypercall index, and start on 32-byte boundaries. To invoke a specific hypercall, call the relevant stub4:

call hypercall_page + index * 32

There result is an ABI which is invariant of the exact operating mode or hardware vendor. This is intended to simplify guest kernel interfaces by abstracting away the details of how it is currently running.

2.1 Creating Hypercall Pages

Guests which are started using the PV boot protocol may set set XEN_ELFNOTE_HYPERCALL_PAGE to have the nominated page written as a hypercall page during construction. This mechanism is common for PV guests, and allows hypercalls to be issued with no additional setup.

Any guest can locate the Xen CPUID leaves and read the hypercall transfer page information, which specifies an MSR that can be used to create additional hypercall pages. When a guest physical address is written to the MSR, Xen writes a hypercall page into the nominated guest page. This mechanism is common for HVM guests which are typically started via legacy means.


  1. For HVM guests, HVMOP_guest_request_vm_event may be configured to be usable from userspace, but this behaviour is not default.

  2. Xen's ABI used to declare support for 6 hypercall arguments, using r9 and ebp. However, such an ABI clobbers the frame pointer in the 32bit code and does not interact nicely with guest-side debugging. V4V, the predecessor to HYPERCALL_argo_op was a 6-argument hypercall, but the ABI was intentionally altered when Argo was upstreamed (Xen 4.13) to be the 5-argument hypercall it now is.

  3. While it is possible to use compatibility mode segments in a 64bit kernel, hypercalls issues from such a mode will be interpreted with the 32bit ABI. Such a setup is not expected in production scenarios.

  4. HYPERCALL_iret is special. It is only implemented for PV guests and takes all its parameters on the stack. This stub should be jmp'd to, rather than call'd. HVM guests have this stub implemented as ud2a to prevent accidental use.