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The Definitive Guide to the Xen Hypervisor Hardcover – November 19, 2007

ISBN-13: 978-0132349710 ISBN-10: 013234971X Edition: 1st

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

David Chisnall is a regular columnist for InformIT and is nearing completion of a Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Wales. He cofounded and actively contributes to the open source Étoilé desktop environment, participated in a Knowledge Transfer Project, and has jumped enthusiastically into numerous other in-the trenches tech adventures.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

This book aims to serve as a guide to the Xen hypervisor. The interface to paravirtualized guests is described in detail, along with some description of the internals of the hypervisor itself.

Any book about an open source project will, by nature, be less detailed than the code of the project that it attempts to describe. Anyone wishing to fully understand the Xen hypervisor will find no better source of authoritative information than the code itself. This book aims to provide a guided tour, indicating features of interest to help visitors find their way around the code. As with many travel books, it is to be hoped that readers will find it an informative read whether or not they visit the code.

Much of the focus of this book is on the kernel interfaces provided by Xen. Anyone wishing to write code that runs on the Xen hypervisor will find this material relevant, including userspace program developers wanting to take advantage of hypervisor-specific features.

Overview and Organization

This book is divided into three parts. The first two describe the hypervisor interfaces, while the last looks inside Xen itself.

Part I begins with a description of the history and current state of virtualization, including the conditions that caused Xen to be created, and an overview of the design decisions made by the developers of the hypervisor. The remainder of this part describes the core components of the virtual environment, which must be supported by any non-trivial guest kernel.

The second part focuses on device support for paravirtualized and paravirtualization-aware kernels. Xen provides an abstract interface to devices, built on some core communication systems provided by the hypervisor. Virtual equivalents of interrupts and DMA and the mechanism used for device discovery are all described in Part II, along with the interfaces used by specific device categories.

Part III takes a look at how the management tools interact with the hypervisor. It looks inside Xen to see how it handles scheduling of virtual machines, and how it uses CPU-specific features to support unmodified guests.

An appendix provides a quick reference for people wishing to port operating systems to run atop Xen.

Book Conventions

This book uses a number of different typefaces and other visual hints to describe different types of material.

Longer listings have line numbers down the left, and a gray background. In all listings, bold is used to indicate keywords, and italicized text represents strings and comments.

Listings that are taken from external files will retain the line numbers of the original file, allowing the referenced section to be found easily by the reader. The captions contain the original source in square brackets. Those beginning with example/ are from the example sources. All others, unless otherwise specified, are from the Xen sources.

Comments from files in the Xen source code have been preserved, complete with errors. Since the Xen source code predominantly uses U.K. English for comments, and variable and function names, this convention has been preserved in examples from this book.

During the course of this book, a simple example kernel is constructed. The source code for this can be downloaded from:

Use as a Text

In addition to the traditional uses for hypervisors, Xen makes an excellent teaching tool. Early versions of Xen only supported paravirtualized guests, and newer ones continue to support these in addition to unmodified guests. The architecture exposed by the hypervisor to paravirtualized guests is very similar to x86, but differs in a number of ways. Driver support is considerably easier, with a single abstract device being exposed for each device category, for example. In spite of this, a number of things are very similar. A guest operating system must handle interrupts (or their virtual equivalent), manage page tables, schedule running tasks, etc.

This makes Xen an excellent platform for development of new operating systems. Unlike a number of simple emulated systems, a guest running atop Xen can achieve performance within 10% that of the native host. The simple device interfaces make it easy for Xen guests to support devices, without having to worry about the multitude of peripherals available for real machines.

The similarity to real hardware makes Xen an ideal platform for teaching operating systems concepts. Writing a simple kernel that runs atop Xen is a significantly easier task than writing one that runs on real hardware, and significantly more rewarding than writing one that runs in a simplified machine emulator.

An operating systems course should use this text in addition to a text on general operating systems principles to provide the platform-specific knowledge required for students to implement their own kernels.

Xen is also a good example of a successful, modern, microkernel (although it does more in kernelspace than many microkernels), making it a good example for contrasting with popular monolithic systems.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Prentice Hall; 1 edition (November 19, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 013234971X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0132349710
  • Product Dimensions: 7.3 x 1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #242,042 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Patrick Pfeifer on January 11, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This book is for anyone who wants to understand the inner workings of the Xen Hypervisor. There are also examples where to look at the Xen source code and some porting hints for bringing Xen to other platforms. If you look for a book about Xen administration or management then it is definitely not for you.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Anthony Lawrence VINE VOICE on December 22, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I'm a big fan of open source and virtualization, so I was probably predisposed to like this book, but it far exceeded my expectations.

By the way, this is a good looking book - the images here don't do it justice. Whoever was responsible for the cover deserves a nice bonus or promotion.

But on to the meat: I learned a lot here, and not just about Xen. Although it's obvious to me now, I never thought about the teaching opportunity presented by writing a paravirtualized kernel - since you aren't dealing with real hardware, a lot of the nastiness is taken away, leaving you free to concentrate on the more general OS issues. As the foreword points out, this book could be used as a text in an OS kernel course.

The author writes very well, and explains difficult concepts with grace and ease. This was very enjoyable to read, with (for me) just the right level of detail. Definitely recommended for anyone with an interest in kernel internals, and of course if you specifically need to know about Xen, this really is "The Definitive Guide".
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Ma, Tien Jui on October 25, 2008
Format: Hardcover
In the past VMWare dominated the market, we took its hypervisor as is and as granted (but of course cost money). The book actually opens our eyes to the inner working not only hypervisor, but also the x86 hardware and certain aspects of OS. Great for readers interested on system programming.
Longing that the author can cover more on HVM topics as well on 2nd edition.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Americium Dream Documents on December 18, 2013
Format: Hardcover
. this book was recommended to developers
who want to help with the Qubes OS,
and I wanted to understand more about
how Xen can be used by Qubes
for implementing "security by isolation" .
. the only other secure place to be is a chromebook
(I've learned to love this machine
--along with 2700 other reviewers!) .
Samsung XE303C12 A01US Chromebook Wi Fi 11 6 Inch
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0 of 4 people found the following review helpful A Kid's Review on March 8, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Amazing book for anyone who wants to know about xen, in a very easy way.
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