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This chapter is from the book

6.6 Configuring via the XenStore

Among other things, the XenStore is the Xen equivalent of an OpenFirmware device tree, or the results of querying an external bus. It provides a central location for retrieving information about devices that are available to the domain. The XenStore is, itself, a device, and so must be bootstrapped using information from the start info page. Chapter 8 will discuss this process in more detail, and give a more comprehensive overview of the XenStore.

Each virtual machine has an entry in the XenStore in which all information about that VM is stored. This is true for both the front and back ends of the device. As mentioned earlier, the back ends are not always in Domain 0, so the front end needs to be able to know three things when connecting to a typical Xen device:

  • The domain hosting the back end
  • The grant reference of the shared memory page
  • The event channel used for notifications

It may also need to know some other device-specific information. This could be passed in the shared memory page, but passing it in the store allows it to be inspected before the device is initialized, and allows extra information to be added without breaking the device's ABI. It also allows tools to access the information about the device, for various reasons.

The XenStore provides an abstract way of discovering information about devices, and about other aspects of the system. It is one of the first devices that must be supported, because it allows the information required for other devices to be found.

The XenStore is a simple hierarchical namespace containing strings. This eliminates a number of potential problems. When running x86 and x86-64 guests on the same machine, word size becomes an issue for binary interfaces. An even worse situation can occur on some architectures, such as PowerPC, ARM, or SPARC, which are bi-endian. Big-endian and little-endian guests could be running on the same system; passing anything other than a string of characters (bytes) would require careful use of things like the htonl macros to ensure consistent storage. Another advantage of the text-based nature of the XenStore is that it makes it much easier for tools written in scripting languages to parse the data.

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