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
Userspace creates a new userfaultfd, initializes it, and registers one or more regions of virtual memory with it. Then, any page faults which occur within the region(s) result in a message being delivered to the userfaultfd, notifying userspace of the fault.
userfaultfd (aside from registering and unregistering virtual
memory ranges) provides two primary functionalities:
read/POLLINprotocol to notify a userland thread of the faults happening
UFFDIO_*ioctls that can manage the virtual memory regions registered in the
userfaultfdthat 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.
userfaultfd, once created, 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
themselves on the same region the manager is already tracking, which
is a corner case that would currently return
Creating a userfaultfd¶
There are two ways to create a new userfaultfd, each of which provide ways to restrict access to this functionality (since historically userfaultfds which handle kernel page faults have been a useful tool for exploiting the kernel).
The first way, supported since userfaultfd was introduced, is the userfaultfd(2) syscall. Access to this is controlled in several ways:
Any user can always create a userfaultfd which traps userspace page faults only. Such a userfaultfd can be created using the userfaultfd(2) syscall with the flag UFFD_USER_MODE_ONLY.
In order to also trap kernel page faults for the address space, either the process needs the CAP_SYS_PTRACE capability, or the system must have vm.unprivileged_userfaultfd set to 1. By default, vm.unprivileged_userfaultfd is set to 0.
The second way, added to the kernel more recently, is by opening /dev/userfaultfd and issuing a USERFAULTFD_IOC_NEW ioctl to it. This method yields equivalent userfaultfds to the userfaultfd(2) syscall.
Unlike userfaultfd(2), access to /dev/userfaultfd is controlled via normal filesystem permissions (user/group/mode), which gives fine grained access to userfaultfd specifically, without also granting other unrelated privileges at the same time (as e.g. granting CAP_SYS_PTRACE would do). Users who have access to /dev/userfaultfd can always create userfaultfds that trap kernel page faults; vm.unprivileged_userfaultfd is not considered.
Initializing a userfaultfd¶
When first opened the
userfaultfd must be enabled invoking the
UFFDIO_API ioctl specifying a
uffdio_api.api value set to
a later API version) which will specify the
userland intends to speak on the
UFFD and the
userland requires. The
UFFDIO_API ioctl if successful (i.e. if the
uffdio_api.api is spoken also by the running kernel and the
requested features are going to be enabled) will return into
uffdio_api.ioctls two 64bit bitmasks of
respectively all the available features of the read(2) protocol and
the generic ioctl available.
uffdio_api.features bitmask returned by the
defines what memory types are supported by the
userfaultfd and what
events, except page fault notifications, may be generated:
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.
UFFD_FEATURE_MISSING_SHMEMindicate that the kernel supports
UFFDIO_REGISTER_MODE_MISSINGregistrations for hugetlbfs and shared memory (covering all shmem APIs, i.e. tmpfs,
memfd_create, etc) virtual memory areas, respectively.
UFFD_FEATURE_MINOR_HUGETLBFSindicates that the kernel supports
UFFDIO_REGISTER_MODE_MINORregistration for hugetlbfs virtual memory areas.
UFFD_FEATURE_MINOR_SHMEMis 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.
userfaultfd API has been enabled the
ioctl should be invoked (if present in the returned
bitmask) to register a memory range in the
userfaultfd by setting the
uffdio_register structure accordingly. The
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
There are three basic ways to resolve userfaults:
UFFDIO_COPYatomically copies some existing page contents from userspace.
UFFDIO_ZEROPAGEatomically zeros the new page.
UFFDIO_CONTINUEmaps 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
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:
UFFDIO_REGISTER_MODE_MISSINGfaults, 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.
UFFDIO_REGISTER_MODE_MINORfaults, 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
You can tell which kind of fault occurred by examining
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.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
Instead of using mprotect(2) you use
ioctl(uffd, UFFDIO_WRITEPROTECT, struct *uffdio_writeprotect)
mode = UFFDIO_WRITEPROTECT_MODE_WP
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)
pagefault.mode does not have
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_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
Userfaultfd write-protect mode currently behave differently on none ptes (when e.g. page is missing) over different types of memories.
For anonymous memory,
ioctl(UFFDIO_WRITEPROTECT) will ignore none ptes
(e.g. when pages are missing and not populated). For file-backed memories
like shmem and hugetlbfs, none ptes will be write protected just like a
present pte. In other words, there will be a userfaultfd write fault
message generated when writing to a missing page on file typed memories,
as long as the page range was write-protected before. Such a message will
not be generated on anonymous memories by default.
If the application wants to be able to write protect none ptes on anonymous memory, one can pre-populate the memory with e.g. MADV_POPULATE_READ. On newer kernels, one can also detect the feature UFFD_FEATURE_WP_UNPOPULATED and set the feature bit in advance to make sure none ptes will also be write protected even upon anonymous memory.
UFFDIO_REGISTER_MODE_WP in combination with either
resolving missing / minor faults with
respectively, it may be desirable for the new page / mapping to be
write-protected (so future writes will also result in a WP fault). These ioctls
support a mode flag (
respectively) to configure the mapping this way.
Memory Poisioning Emulation¶
In response to a fault (either missing or minor), an action userspace can
take to "resolve" it is to issue a
UFFDIO_POISON. This will cause any
future faulters to either get a SIGBUS, or in KVM's case the guest will
receive an MCE as if there were hardware memory poisoning.
This is used to emulate hardware memory poisoning. Imagine a VM running on a machine which experiences a real hardware memory error. Later, we live migrate the VM to another physical machine. Since we want the migration to be transparent to the guest, we want that same address range to act as if it was still poisoned, even though it's on a new physical host which ostensibly doesn't have a memory error in the exact same spot.
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
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
ioctls on the
userfaultfd in order to map the received pages into the
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
userfaultfd and receives the fault address (or
-EAGAIN in case the
userfault was already resolved and waken by a
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
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
uffdio_api.features passed to
userfaultfdhooks for fork(). When this feature is enabled, the
userfaultfdcontext of the parent process is duplicated into the newly created process. The manager receives
UFFD_EVENT_FORKwith file descriptor of the new
userfaultfdcontext in the
enable notifications about mremap() calls. When the non-cooperative process moves a virtual memory area to a different location, the manager will receive
uffd_msg.remapwill 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_REMOVEwill be generated upon these calls to madvise(). The
uffd_msg.removewill contain start and end addresses of the removed area.
enable notifications about memory unmapping. The manager will get
uffd_msg.removecontaining 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
-ENOSPC when the monitored process exits at the time of
-ENOENT, when the non-cooperative process has changed
its virtual memory layout simultaneously with outstanding
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.