34. Using XSTATE features in user space applications

The x86 architecture supports floating-point extensions which are enumerated via CPUID. Applications consult CPUID and use XGETBV to evaluate which features have been enabled by the kernel XCR0.

Up to AVX-512 and PKRU states, these features are automatically enabled by the kernel if available. Features like AMX TILE_DATA (XSTATE component 18) are enabled by XCR0 as well, but the first use of related instruction is trapped by the kernel because by default the required large XSTATE buffers are not allocated automatically.

34.1. The purpose for dynamic features

Legacy userspace libraries often have hard-coded, static sizes for alternate signal stacks, often using MINSIGSTKSZ which is typically 2KB. That stack must be able to store at least the signal frame that the kernel sets up before jumping into the signal handler. That signal frame must include an XSAVE buffer defined by the CPU.

However, that means that the size of signal stacks is dynamic, not static, because different CPUs have differently-sized XSAVE buffers. A compiled-in size of 2KB with existing applications is too small for new CPU features like AMX. Instead of universally requiring larger stack, with the dynamic enabling, the kernel can enforce userspace applications to have properly-sized altstacks.

34.2. Using dynamically enabled XSTATE features in user space applications

The kernel provides an arch_prctl(2) based mechanism for applications to request the usage of such features. The arch_prctl(2) options related to this are:


arch_prctl(ARCH_GET_XCOMP_SUPP, &features);

ARCH_GET_XCOMP_SUPP stores the supported features in userspace storage of type uint64_t. The second argument is a pointer to that storage.


arch_prctl(ARCH_GET_XCOMP_PERM, &features);

ARCH_GET_XCOMP_PERM stores the features for which the userspace process has permission in userspace storage of type uint64_t. The second argument is a pointer to that storage.


arch_prctl(ARCH_REQ_XCOMP_PERM, feature_nr);

ARCH_REQ_XCOMP_PERM allows to request permission for a dynamically enabled feature or a feature set. A feature set can be mapped to a facility, e.g. AMX, and can require one or more XSTATE components to be enabled.

The feature argument is the number of the highest XSTATE component which is required for a facility to work.

When requesting permission for a feature, the kernel checks the availability. The kernel ensures that sigaltstacks in the process's tasks are large enough to accommodate the resulting large signal frame. It enforces this both during ARCH_REQ_XCOMP_SUPP and during any subsequent sigaltstack(2) calls. If an installed sigaltstack is smaller than the resulting sigframe size, ARCH_REQ_XCOMP_SUPP results in -ENOSUPP. Also, sigaltstack(2) results in -ENOMEM if the requested altstack is too small for the permitted features.

Permission, when granted, is valid per process. Permissions are inherited on fork(2) and cleared on exec(3).

The first use of an instruction related to a dynamically enabled feature is trapped by the kernel. The trap handler checks whether the process has permission to use the feature. If the process has no permission then the kernel sends SIGILL to the application. If the process has permission then the handler allocates a larger xstate buffer for the task so the large state can be context switched. In the unlikely cases that the allocation fails, the kernel sends SIGSEGV.

34.2.1. AMX TILE_DATA enabling example

Below is the example of how userspace applications enable TILE_DATA dynamically:

  1. The application first needs to query the kernel for AMX support:

    #include <asm/prctl.h>
    #include <sys/syscall.h>
    #include <stdio.h>
    #include <unistd.h>
    #define ARCH_GET_XCOMP_SUPP  0x1021
    #define ARCH_XCOMP_TILECFG   17
    #define ARCH_XCOMP_TILEDATA  18
    #define MASK_XCOMP_TILE      ((1 << ARCH_XCOMP_TILECFG) | \
                                  (1 << ARCH_XCOMP_TILEDATA))
    unsigned long features;
    long rc;
    rc = syscall(SYS_arch_prctl, ARCH_GET_XCOMP_SUPP, &features);
    if (!rc && (features & MASK_XCOMP_TILE) == MASK_XCOMP_TILE)
        printf("AMX is available.\n");
  2. After that, determining support for AMX, an application must explicitly ask permission to use it:

    #define ARCH_REQ_XCOMP_PERM  0x1023
    rc = syscall(SYS_arch_prctl, ARCH_REQ_XCOMP_PERM, ARCH_XCOMP_TILEDATA);
    if (!rc)
        printf("AMX is ready for use.\n");

Note this example does not include the sigaltstack preparation.

34.3. Dynamic features in signal frames

Dynamcally enabled features are not written to the signal frame upon signal entry if the feature is in its initial configuration. This differs from non-dynamic features which are always written regardless of their configuration. Signal handlers can examine the XSAVE buffer's XSTATE_BV field to determine if a features was written.

34.4. Dynamic features for virtual machines

The permission for the guest state component needs to be managed separately from the host, as they are exclusive to each other. A coupled of options are extended to control the guest permission:


arch_prctl(ARCH_GET_XCOMP_GUEST_PERM, &features);

ARCH_GET_XCOMP_GUEST_PERM is a variant of ARCH_GET_XCOMP_PERM. So it provides the same semantics and functionality but for the guest components.


arch_prctl(ARCH_REQ_XCOMP_GUEST_PERM, feature_nr);

ARCH_REQ_XCOMP_GUEST_PERM is a variant of ARCH_REQ_XCOMP_PERM. It has the same semantics for the guest permission. While providing a similar functionality, this comes with a constraint. Permission is frozen when the first VCPU is created. Any attempt to change permission after that point is going to be rejected. So, the permission has to be requested before the first VCPU creation.

Note that some VMMs may have already established a set of supported state components. These options are not presumed to support any particular VMM.