Xen HVM guest support


KVM has support for hosting Xen guests, intercepting Xen hypercalls and event channel (Xen PV interrupt) delivery. This allows guests which expect to be run under Xen to be hosted in QEMU under Linux/KVM instead.

Using the split irqchip is mandatory for Xen support.


Xen mode is enabled by setting the xen-version property of the KVM accelerator, for example for Xen 4.17:

qemu-system-x86_64 --accel kvm,xen-version=0x40011,kernel-irqchip=split

Additionally, virtual APIC support can be advertised to the guest through the xen-vapic CPU flag:

qemu-system-x86_64 --accel kvm,xen-version=0x40011,kernel-irqchip=split --cpu host,+xen-vapic

When Xen support is enabled, QEMU changes hypervisor identification (CPUID 0x40000000..0x4000000A) to Xen. The KVM identification and features are not advertised to a Xen guest. If Hyper-V is also enabled, the Xen identification moves to leaves 0x40000100..0x4000010A.


The following properties exist on the KVM accelerator object:


This property contains the Xen version in XENVER_version form, with the major version in the top 16 bits and the minor version in the low 16 bits. Setting this property enables the Xen guest support. If Xen version 4.5 or greater is specified, the HVM leaf in Xen CPUID is populated. Xen version 4.6 enables the vCPU ID in CPUID, and version 4.17 advertises vCPU upcall vector support to the guest.


Xen PIRQs represent an emulated physical interrupt, either GSI or MSI, which can be routed to an event channel instead of to the emulated I/O or local APIC. By default, QEMU permits only 256 PIRQs because this allows maximum compatibility with 32-bit MSI where the higher bits of the PIRQ# would need to be in the upper 64 bits of the MSI message. For guests with large numbers of PCI devices (and none which are limited to 32-bit addressing) it may be desirable to increase this value.


Xen grant tables are the means by which a Xen guest grants access to its memory for PV back ends (disk, network, etc.). Since QEMU only supports v1 grant tables which are 8 bytes in size, each page (each frame) of the grant table can reference 512 pages of guest memory. The default number of frames is 64, allowing for 32768 pages of guest memory to be accessed by PV backends through simultaneous grants. For guests with large numbers of PV devices and high throughput, it may be desirable to increase this value.

Xen paravirtual devices

The Xen PCI platform device is enabled automatically for a Xen guest. This allows a guest to unplug all emulated devices, in order to use paravirtual block and network drivers instead.

Those paravirtual Xen block, network (and console) devices can be created through the command line, and/or hot-plugged.

To provide a Xen console device, define a character device and then a device of type xen-console to connect to it. For the Xen console equivalent of the handy -serial mon:stdio option, for example:

-chardev stdio,mux=on,id=char0,signal=off -mon char0 \
-device xen-console,chardev=char0

The Xen network device is xen-net-device, which becomes the default NIC model for emulated Xen guests, meaning that just the default NIC provided by QEMU should automatically work and present a Xen network device to the guest.

Disks can be configured with ‘-drive file=${GUEST_IMAGE},if=xen’ and will appear to the guest as xvda onwards.

Under Xen, the boot disk is typically available both via IDE emulation, and as a PV block device. Guest bootloaders typically use IDE to load the guest kernel, which then unplugs the IDE and continues with the Xen PV block device.

This configuration can be achieved as follows:

qemu-system-x86_64 --accel kvm,xen-version=0x40011,kernel-irqchip=split \
     -drive file=${GUEST_IMAGE},if=xen \
     -drive file=${GUEST_IMAGE},file.locking=off,if=ide

VirtIO devices can also be used; Linux guests may need to be dissuaded from umplugging them by adding ‘xen_emul_unplug=never’ on their command line.

Booting Xen PV guests

Booting PV guest kernels is possible by using the Xen PV shim (a version of Xen itself, designed to run inside a Xen HVM guest and provide memory management services for one guest alone).

The Xen binary is provided as the -kernel and the guest kernel itself (or PV Grub image) as the -initrd image, which actually just means the first multiboot “module”. For example:

qemu-system-x86_64 --accel kvm,xen-version=0x40011,kernel-irqchip=split \
     -chardev stdio,id=char0 -device xen-console,chardev=char0 \
     -display none  -m 1G  -kernel xen -initrd bzImage \
     -append "pv-shim console=xen,pv -- console=hvc0 root=/dev/xvda1" \
     -drive file=${GUEST_IMAGE},if=xen

The Xen image must be built with the CONFIG_XEN_GUEST and CONFIG_PV_SHIM options, and as of Xen 4.17, Xen’s PV shim mode does not support using a serial port; it must have a Xen console or it will panic.

The example above provides the guest kernel command line after a separator (” -- “) on the Xen command line, and does not provide the guest kernel with an actual initramfs, which would need to listed as a second multiboot module. For more complicated alternatives, see the command line documentation for the -initrd option.

Host OS requirements

The minimal Xen support in the KVM accelerator requires the host to be running Linux v5.12 or newer. Later versions add optimisations: Linux v5.17 added acceleration of interrupt delivery via the Xen PIRQ mechanism, and Linux v5.19 accelerated Xen PV timers and inter-processor interrupts (IPIs).