English chevron-down

Analysis of the virtio-net Technology

Xinle Guo2020-11-23Virtualizationvirtio net


For conventional device simulation, a virtual machine (VM) cannot detect the device driver in the virtualization environment. Operations related to the network, storage, and I/O are directly performed by the VM kernel, QEMU, and the host kernel. This generates a lot of VM exits and entries, causing performance deterioration. However, virtio improves VM performance. In the virtio-net solution, the VM can detect its subset and load the virtio bus and device drivers.

The solution includes the front-end driver, back-end device, and virtio protocol. Serving as the frontend driver, the VM installs the virtio-net driver and loads the virtio-net backend device in QEMU, to receive the I/O requests from the frontend and parse the received data based on the transmission protocol. Then, QEMU controls the TAP device on a physical device to process requests and notify the frontend driver via the interrupt mechanism.

The following figure describes the process for sending the virtio-net network packet.


virtio-net Backend

Packet Receiving Process

When the NIC has data packets, the TAP device receives the packets first. In this case, the TAP device FD corresponding to virtio-net becomes readable. After detecting network data packets in epoll mode, QEMU invokes the callback function to receive the packets. The virtio_net_receive function copies the data to the receiving queue of the virtio NIC on the VM, and then inject an interrupt to the VM. In this way, the VM can detect the network data packets.


The preceding code shows the function calling process of virtio-net. virtio-net calls the virtio_net_receive_rcu function to add network data packets to the virtio queue.

virtio_net_receive_rcu {
    virtio_net_can_receive         // Determine whether virtio-net can receive packets based on the VM running status, as well as the queue and device status.
    virtio_net_has_buffers          // Check the buffer to avoid competition.
    receive_filter 		    // Filter network packets.

    while (offset < size) {
        elem = virtqueue_pop 	// Obtain a request from vring and transfer the information to the lem domain.
        len = iov_from_buf                // Copy packets to the buffer and write data to the guest physical address.
        virtqueue_fill                    // Update fields related to VRingAvail.ring[] after the data is written and the mapping is canceled.

    virtqueue_flush           // Update idx of VRingUsed.ring to indicate that it can be reclaimed.
    virtio_notify                            // Inject an interrupt and notify the frontend VM.

Packet Sending Process

The virtio NIC driver of the VM fills in the packets in the NIC buffer and writes the queue notify register. In this way, the VM returns to the root mode, and a VM exit is triggered and processed by the virtio_mmio_write thread of the QEMU vCPU.


In this step, virtio_net_handle_tx_bh is bound to tx_vq, and qemu_bh_schedule is called to run a specified function (virtio_net_tx_bh in this example). Finally, virtio_net_flush_tx is called to send packets.

	for (;;) {
        elem = virtqueue_pop           // Obtain a request from vring.
        qemu_sendv_packet_async // Send packets from QEMU.

During the execution of virtio_net_flush_tx, the packet elem is obtained and the TAP device FD is written. And then they are sent to the TAP device for transferring. The call chain for qemu_sendv_packet_async to send network packets is qemu_sendv_packet_async ->qemu_net_queue_send_iov ->qemu_net_queue_flush ->qemu_net_queue_deliver. The QEMU backend calls tap_write_packet -> writev to write data to the TAP character device.

In the driver of the kernel character device, tun_chr_write_iter is called to process network packets on the TCP/IP protocol stack.

Device Creation


virtio_net_device_realize is called to initialize the virtio-net device.

	n->ctrl_vq = virtio_add_queue(virtio_net_handle_ctrl)

This function creates a VirtIODevice. virtio_init is used to initialize the device, and virtio_net_add_queue is called to initialize the queue. If the multi-queue feature is used, a ctrl_vq queue needs to be added as the control queue. Finally, qemu_new_nic creates a NIC on the VM, which corresponds to the backend TAP device.

NIC Simulation

QEMU uses TAP as the network backend. A TAP device needs to be created on the host and added to bridge br0.

# brctl addbr br0
# ip tuntap add dev tap0 mode tap
# brctl addif br0 tap0
# ip link set dev tap0 up

When running the qemu command to start the VM, pass the following parameters: net, nic, model, netdev, and ifname.

nic indicates the frontend VM NIC, model indicates the NIC type, netdev indicates the backend TAP device, and ifname indicates the TAP device name.

The main function of QEMU calls net_init_clients to initialize the network device and parses the netdev parameter.

	qemu_opts_foreach(qemu_find_opts("netdev"),net_init_netdev, NULL, errp))
			net_client_init->net_client_init1 // Call different initialization functions based on the driver type.

tap_open opens the /dev/net/tun file and executes the file using ioctl.

    fd = open(PATH_NET_TUN, O_RDWR)
    ioctl(fd, TUNGETFEATURES, &features)
    ioctl(fd, TUNSETVNETHDRSZ, &len)
    ioctl(fd, TUNSETIFF, (void *) &ifr)

Finally, a network packet is formed by using the complex network protocol stack in the host kernel, and is sent to the external network. The principle is as follows: The VM sends the network packet to the QEMU which does not have a network protocol stack. Therefore, QEMU converts the network packet into a file stream and writes the file stream to the /dev/net/tun character device. The kernel TUN/TAP character device driver receives the written file stream and sends it to the TUN/TAP virtual NIC driver. The driver converts the file stream into a network packet and sends it to the TCP/IP protocol stack. The TAP device sends a standard network packet.

virtio-net Frontend

A network packet sent by the process of the VM calls the network protocol stack via the file system and socket to reach the network device layer. In this example, the virtio-net driver is used for sending the packet.

The following shows the definition of the registered ops function, in which start_xmit is specified as the send function. (or sending)

static const struct net_device_ops virtnet_netdev = {
	.ndo_open            = virtnet_open,
	.ndo_stop   	     = virtnet_close,
	.ndo_start_xmit      = start_xmit,

start_xmit is called to send skb to virtqueue, and then virtqueue_kick is called to instruct the QEMU backend to send the data packet.

	free_old_xmit_skbs // Destroy the **desc** processed by the backend.
    xmit_skb               // Send the packet.
    	sg_set_buf(sq->sg, hdr, hdr_len); 				     // Enter scatterlist in the data packet header.
		num_sg = skb_to_sgvec(skb, sq->sg + 1, 0, skb->len);  // Enter scatterlist in the data packet.
    	virtqueue_add_outbuf // Write the **desc** descriptor table to sg table and the head desc information to vring.avail.
    virtqueue_kick_prepare(sq->vq) && virtqueue_notify(sq->vq) // Notify the QEMU backend.

When an I/O is written the request, QEMU triggers a VM exit, and then handles virtio-net-related processes.

Process Summary

  1. In the VM user mode, applications write and call the socket through the write system.
  2. The written content is transferred to the network device driver (virtio-net) of the VM kernel through the VFS layer and kernel protocol stack.
  3. struct net_device_ops in virtio-net specifies the function called to send network packets to start_xmit.
  4. Two queues (virtqueue) exist between the virtio-net frontend driver and the QEMU backend driver. One is used for sending packets, and the other is used for receiving packets. virtqueue_add in start_xmit is called to put network packets in the sending queue and virtqueue_notify is called to notify QEMU.
  5. QEMU is in the KVM_RUN state. After receiving the notification, QEMU runs the VM exit command to exit the client mode and enter the host mode. virtio_net_handle_tx_bh is called to send network packets.
  6. In the for loop, virtqueue_pop is called to obtain the data to be sent in the queue, and qemu_sendv_packet_async is called to send the data.
  7. QEMU calls writev to write data to the character device file and enters the host kernel.
  8. In the host kernel, write_iter in file_operations of the character device file is called, that is, tun_chr_write_iter is called.
  9. In tun_chr_write_iter, tun_get_user copies the network packet to be sent from QEMU to the host kernel, and netif_rx_ni calls the protocol stack of the host kernel to process the packet.
  10. After the packet is processed, it is sent to the TAP virtual NIC. By far, the packet is sent to the host from the VM.

[Disclaimer] This article only represents the author's opinions, and is irrelevant to this website. This website is neutral in terms of the statements and opinions in this article, and does not provide any express or implied warranty of accuracy, reliability, or completeness of the contents contained therein. This article is for readers' reference only, and all legal responsibilities arising therefrom are borne by the reader himself.