1 Argo

1.1 Introduction

Argo is an interdomain communication mechanism. It provides Xen hypervisor primitives to transmit data between VMs, by performing data copies into receive memory rings registered by domains. It does not require memory sharing between VMs and does not use the grant tables or Xenstore.

Argo has requirements for performance isolation between domains, to prevent negative performance impact from malicious or disruptive activity of other domains, or even other VCPUs of the same domain operating other rings.

1.2 Hypervisor-Mediated data eXchange (HMX)

This term references inter-VM communication protocols that have this key architectural point: The hypervisor is responsible for performing the write of data into the guest-accessible memory buffer, in the manner according to the agreed transfer protocol. This structure ensures that there is strength to the transport mechanism, because the transmitting side of the communication is the hypervisor, which can be trusted by the receiver, and the buffer is isolated from access by any other potential sources outside the receiver.

The receiver can trust that the hypervisor will:

This structure allows for augmentation by the hypervisor to identify the sending entity within the source VM, and then provide the receiver with assured context information about the data source. This enables the receiver to make decisions based on fine-grained knowledge of the source of the data.

This structure is also of strong interest for nested virtualization: transport via the hypervisor can enable construction of efficient communications between VMs at different levels of nesting.

2 Locking

Since Argo operates a data path between domains, sections of this code are hot when the communication paths are in use. To encourage high performance, a goal is to limit mutual exclusion to only where required and enable significant concurrency.

Avoidance of deadlock is essential and since state must frequently be updated that pertains to more than one domain, a locking protocol defines which locks are needed and the order of their acquistion.

2.1 Structure

The granular locking structure of Argo enables:

  1. Performance isolation of guests
  2. Avoidance of DoS of rings by domains that are not authorized to send to them
  3. Deadlock-free teardown of state across multiple domains on domain destroy
  4. Performance of guests using Argo with concurrent operation of rings.

Argo uses three per-domain locks to protect three separate data structures. Access to the ring_hash data structure is confined to domains that a ring-registering domain has authorized to send data via the ring. The complete set of Argo locks is:

2.2 Protected State

The data structures being protected by the locks are all per-domain. The only global Argo state is the L1_global_argo_rwlock used to coordinate access to data structures of other domains.

2.2.1 State: Rings registered and owned by a domain

This includes the state to run that ring, such as memory frame numbers and established mappings. Per-ring state is protected by its own lock, so that multiple VCPUs of the same domain operating different rings do not inhibit the performance of each other.

The per-domain ring state also includes the list of pending notifications for other domains that are waiting for ring space availability.

2.2.2 State: Partner rings for which this domain is the single allowed sender

This state belonging to the permitted sender is written to when a ring is registered by another domain. The lock that protects this state is subject to locking at arbitrary frequency by those foreign domains when registering rings – which do not need any permission granted by this domain in order to register a ring to communicate with it – so it must not inhibit the domain’s own ability to use its own rings, to protect them from DoS. For this reason, this state is protected by its own lock.

2.2.3 State: Pending notifications for wildcard rings registered by other domains

This data structure is needed when a domain is destroyed, to cancel the outstanding space availability notifications about the wildcard rings of other domains that this domain has queried.

Data is entered into this data structure by the domain that owns it, either by a space-inhibited sendv or a notify operation.

Data is removed from this data structure in one of three cases: when space becomes available in the destination ring and the notification is sent, when the ring is torn down, or when the awaiting domain is destroyed.

In the case where a notification is sent, access to the data structure is triggered by the ring owner domain, rather than the domain waiting for notification. This data structure is protected by its own lock since doing so entails less contention than the alternative of reusing an existing lock owned by the domain.

2.3 Hierarchical Locking Model and Protocol

The locking discipline within the Argo code is heirarchical and utilizes reader/writer locks to enable increased concurrency when operations do not conflict. None of the Argo locks are reentrant.

The hierarchy:

There are a two other per-domain L2 locks; their operation is similar and they are described later.

The protocol to safely acquire write access to the per-ring data structure, struct argo_ring_info, is:

  1. Acquire a Read lock on L1.
  2. Acquire a Read lock on L2.
  3. Acquire L3.

An alternative valid sequence is:

  1. Acquire a Read lock on L1.
  2. Acquire a Write lock on L2.

This second sequence grants write access to all of the argo_ring_info structs belonging to the domain, but at the expense of less concurrency: no other operation can access those structs while the locks are held, which will inhibit operations on those rings until the locks are released.

Another alternative valid sequence is:

  1. Acquire a Write lock on L1.

This grants write access to all of the argo_ring_info structs belonging to all domains, but again at the expense of far less concurrency: no other operation can operate on Argo rings until the locks are released.

2.4 Lock Definitions

The full set of locks that are directly operated upon by the Argo code are described in the following section.

2.4.1 The global singleton lock:

The rationale for having a global lock is to be able to enforce system-wide exclusion for a critical region and simplify the logic required to avoid deadlock, for teardown of state across multiple domains when a domain is destroyed.

The majority of operations take a read-lock on this lock, allowing concurrent Argo operations by many domains.

The pointer d->argo on every domain is protected by this lock. A set of more granular per-domain locks could be used to do that, but since domain start and stop is expected to be a far less frequent operation than the other argo operations, acquiring a single read lock to enable access to all the argo structs of all domains simplifies the protocol.

Points of write-locking on this lock:

Enforcing that the write_lock is acquired on L1_global_argo_rwlock before executing teardown, ensures that no teardown operations act concurrently and no other Argo operations happen concurrently with a teardown. The teardown logic is free to safely modify the Argo state across all domains without having to acquire per-domain locks and deadlock cannot occur.

2.4.2 Per-Domain: Ring hash lock


Protects: the per-domain ring hash table of argo_ring_info structs.

Holding a read lock on rings_L2 protects the ring hash table and the elements in the hash table d->argo->ring_hash, and the node and id fields in struct argo_ring_info in the hash table.

Holding a write lock on rings_L2 protects all of the elements of all the struct argo_ring_info belonging to this domain.

To take rings_L2 you must already have R(L1). W(L1) implies W(rings_L2) and L3.


Is accessed by the hypervisor on behalf of:

2.4.3 Send hash lock


Protects: the per-domain send hash table of argo_send_info structs.

Is accessed by the hypervisor on behalf of:

2.4.4 Wildcard pending list lock


Protects: the per-domain list of pending notifications to the domain from wildcard rings owned by other domains.

Is accessed by the hypervisor on behalf of:

2.4.5 Per-Ring locks:

This lock protects the members of a struct ring_info which is the primary state for a domain’s own registered ring.

2.5 Reasoning Model

A common model for reasoning about concurrent code focusses on accesses to individual variables: if code touches this variable, see that it first acquires the corresponding lock and then drops it afterwards. A challenge with this model is in ensuring that the sequence of locks acquired within nested functions, when operating on data from multiple domains with concurrent operations, is safe from deadlock.

An alternative method that is better suited to the Argo software is to consider the execution path, the full sequence of locks acquired, accesses performed, and locks released, from entering an operation, to the completion of the work.

An example code path for an operation:

[entry] > -- [ take R(L1) ] -- [ take R(L2) ] -- loop [ take a L3 / drop L3 ] -- [ drop R(L2) ] -- [ drop R(L1)] -- > [exit]

If a function implements a section of the path, it is important to know not only what variables the function itself operates upon, but also the locking state that will already have been established at the point when the function is invoked, since this will affect what data the function can access. For this reason, comments in the code, or ASSERTs that explicitly check lock state, communicate what the locking state is expected and intended to be when that code is invoked. See the macros defined to support this for Argo later in this document.

2.6 Macros to Validate and Document Lock State

These macros encode the logic to verify that the locking has adhered to the locking discipline.

eg. On entry to logic that requires holding at least R(rings_L2), this:


checks that the lock state is sufficient, validating that one of the following must be true when executed:

R(rings_L2) && R(L1) or: W(rings_L2) && R(L1) or: W(L1)

The macros are defined thus:

#define LOCKING_Write_L1 (rw_is_write_locked(&L1_global_argo_rwlock))
 * While LOCKING_Read_L1 will return true even if the lock is write-locked,
 * that's OK because everywhere that a Read lock is needed with these macros,
 * holding a Write lock there instead is OK too: we're checking that _at least_
 * the specified level of locks are held.
#define LOCKING_Read_L1 (rw_is_locked(&L1_global_argo_rwlock))

#define LOCKING_Write_rings_L2(d) \
    ((LOCKING_Read_L1 && rw_is_write_locked(&(d)->argo->rings_L2_rwlock)) || \
 * Skip checking LOCKING_Write_rings_L2(d) within this LOCKING_Read_rings_L2
 * definition because the first clause that is testing R(L1) && R(L2) will also
 * return true if R(L1) && W(L2) is true, because of the way that rw_is_locked
 * behaves. This results in a slightly shorter and faster implementation.
#define LOCKING_Read_rings_L2(d) \
    ((LOCKING_Read_L1 && rw_is_locked(&(d)->argo->rings_L2_rwlock)) || \
 * Skip checking LOCKING_Write_L1 within this LOCKING_L3 definition because
 * LOCKING_Write_rings_L2(d) will return true for that condition.
#define LOCKING_L3(d, r) \
    ((LOCKING_Read_L1 && rw_is_locked(&(d)->argo->rings_L2_rwlock) \
      && spin_is_locked(&(r)->L3_lock)) || LOCKING_Write_rings_L2(d))

#define LOCKING_send_L2(d) \
    ((LOCKING_Read_L1 && spin_is_locked(&(d)->argo->send_L2_lock)) || \

Here is an example of a macro in use:

static void
notify_ring(const struct domain *d, struct argo_ring_info *ring_info,
          struct hlist_head *to_notify)
  uint32_t space;



  if ( ring_info->len )
      space = ringbuf_payload_space(d, ring_info);
      space = 0;


  if ( space )
      pending_find(d, ring_info, space, to_notify);

In the above example, it can be seen that it is safe to acquire the L3 lock because at least R(rings_L2) is already held, as documented and verified by the macro.

2.7 FAQ / Other Considerations

2.7.1 Why not have a single per-domain lock?

Due to performance isolation / DoS avoidance: if there is a single per-domain lock, acquiring this lock will stall operations on other active rings owned by the domain. A malicious domain can loop registering and unregistering rings, without any consent by the targetted domain, which would experience decreased throughput due to the contention on the single per-domain lock. The granular locking structure of Argo prevents this. It also allows concurrent operation of different rings by multiple VCPUs of the same domain without contention, to avoid negative application performance interaction.

2.8 Rationale for Using a Singleton Global Lock: L1

2.8.1 Teardown on domain destroy

The single global lock enables exclusive access to the argo data structures across domains when a domain is destroyed. Every unicast ring that the dying domain is the authorized sender is torn down and any pending space-available notifications in other domain’s wildcard rings are cancelled. This requires gaining safe access to the data structures on each of the domains involved.

The ‘send hashtable’ data structure is needed in order to perform the teardown of rings when a domain is destroyed. To populate it, whenever a unicast ring is registered, the lock that protects that data structure must be taken exclusively.

There are granular per-domain locks which protect the per-domain data structures. The global singleton L1 lock operates with-and-above the per-domain locks and is used to obtain exclusive access to multiple domain’s argo data structures in the infrequent case where it is used – for domain destroy – whilst otherwise allowing concurrent access, via acquiring it with ‘read’ access, for the majority of the time.

To perform the required state teardown on domain destruction, which can require removing state from the data structures of multiple domains, a locking protocol to obtain mutual exclusion and safe access to the state is required, without deadlocking.

Using the single global lock avoids the need for sequencing the acquisition of multiple individual per-domain locks (and lower level data structure locks) to prevent deadlock: taking W(L1) grants access to all and taking R(L1) ensures that teardown of any domain will not interfere with any Argo hypercall operation. It enables introducing granular locking without complex or error-prone lock acquisition logic.

3 Related Material

3.1 Enabling Argo in Xen

To enable Argo in a build of the Xen hypervisor, please ensure that CONFIG_ARGO is enabled in the Xen hypervisor build configuration file.

To make Argo available for use at runtime on a Xen system, please see the Argo settings in the Xen command line documentation.

3.2 Linux Argo drivers

A Linux kernel device driver for Argo and corresponding Linux userspace software, libargo, that utilizes it for interdomain communication between application level software is available and maintained by the OpenXT Project, at:


The repository contains the primary Linux kernel Argo driver, which is derived from the original XenClient v4v driver. The document at the following link describes planning and design notes from OpenXT community discussion for improvements to the driver:


An alternative Linux Argo driver is also available in the same repository, implemented to explore a different approach for Linux to use the Argo primitives under the Vsock address family to allow socket communication between Xen domains.

3.3 v4v drivers

A Windows driver for v4v has previously been used in XenClient and OpenXT which could be ported to Argo. It may require update for compatibility with recent versions of Windows software.


The Linux, Windows and OSX guest tools for the Open Source HP uxen hypervisor contain drivers for v4v which are relevant as code bases of interest for porting or developing new guest OS drivers for Argo.


4 Future Work