About debugging hypervisors

ARM processors that support virtualization extensions have the ability to run multiple guest operating systems beneath a hypervisor. The hypervisor is the software that arbitrates amongst the guest operating systems and controls access to the hardware.

DS-5 Debugger provides basic support for bare-metal hypervisor debugging. When connected to a processor that supports virtualization extensions, the debugger enables you to distinguish between hypervisor and guest memory, and to set breakpoints that only apply when in hypervisor mode or within a specific guest operating system.

A hypervisor typically provides separate address spaces for itself as well as for each guest operating system. Unless informed otherwise, all memory accesses by the debugger occur in the current context. For example, if you are stopped in hypervisor mode then memory accesses use the hypervisor memory space, and if stopped in a guest operating system then memory accesses use the address space of the guest operating system. To force access to a particular address space you must prefix the address with either H: for hypervisor or N: for guest operating system. Note that it is only possible to access the address space of the guest operating system that is currently scheduled to run within the hypervisor. It is not possible to specify a different guest operating system.

Similarly, hardware and software breakpoints can be configured to match on hypervisor or guest operating systems using the same address prefixes. If no address prefix is used then the breakpoint applies to the address space that is current when the breakpoint is first set. If a software breakpoint is set in memory that is shared between hypervisor and a guest operating system, then the possibility exists for the breakpoint to be hit from the wrong mode, and in this case the debugger may not recognise your breakpoint as the reason for stopping.

For hardware breakpoints only, not software breakpoints, you can additionally configure them to match only within a specific guest operating system. This feature uses the architecturally defined Virtual Machine ID (VMID) register to spot when a specific guest operating system is executing. The hypervisor is responsible for assigning unique VMIDs to each guest operating system setting this in the VMID register when that guest operating system executes. In using this feature, it is your responsibility to understand which VMID is associated with each guest operating system that you want to debug. Assuming a VMID is known, you can apply a breakpoint to it within the Breakpoints view or by using the break-stop-on-vmid command.

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