VPPINFRA (Infrastructure)

The files associated with the VPP Infrastructure layer are located in the ./src/vppinfra folder.

VPPinfra is a collection of basic c-library services, quite sufficient to build standalone programs to run directly on bare metal. It also provides high-performance dynamic arrays, hashes, bitmaps, high-precision real-time clock support, fine-grained event-logging, and data structure serialization.

One fair comment / fair warning about vppinfra: you can’t always tell a macro from an inline function from an ordinary function simply by name. Macros are used to avoid function calls in the typical case, and to cause (intentional) side-effects.

Vppinfra has been around for almost 20 years and tends not to change frequently. The VPP Infrastructure layer contains the following functions:


Vppinfra vectors are ubiquitous dynamically resized arrays with by user defined “headers”. Many vpppinfra data structures (e.g. hash, heap, pool) are vectors with various different headers.

The memory layout looks like this:

                   User header (optional, uword aligned)
                   Alignment padding (if needed)
                   Vector length in elements
 User's pointer -> Vector element 0
                   Vector element 1
                   Vector element N-1

As shown above, the vector APIs deal with pointers to the 0th element of a vector. Null pointers are valid vectors of length zero.

To avoid thrashing the memory allocator, one often resets the length of a vector to zero while retaining the memory allocation. Set the vector length field to zero via the vec_reset_length(v) macro. [Use the macro! It’s smart about NULL pointers.]

Typically, the user header is not present. User headers allow for other data structures to be built atop vppinfra vectors. Users may specify the alignment for first data element of a vector via the [vec]()*_aligned macros.

Vector elements can be any C type e.g. (int, double, struct bar). This is also true for data types built atop vectors (e.g. heap, pool, etc.). Many macros have _a variants supporting alignment of vector elements and _h variants supporting non-zero-length vector headers. The _ha variants support both. Additionally cacheline alignment within a vector element structure can be specified using the [CLIB_CACHE_LINE_ALIGN_MARK]() macro.

Inconsistent usage of header and/or alignment related macro variants will cause delayed, confusing failures.

Standard programming error: memorize a pointer to the ith element of a vector, and then expand the vector. Vectors expand by 3/2, so such code may appear to work for a period of time. Correct code almost always memorizes vector indices which are invariant across reallocations.

In typical application images, one supplies a set of global functions designed to be called from gdb. Here are a few examples:

  • vl(v) - prints vec_len(v)

  • pe(p) - prints pool_elts(p)

  • pifi(p, index) - prints pool_is_free_index(p, index)

  • debug_hex_bytes (p, nbytes) - hex memory dump nbytes starting at p

Use the “show gdb” debug CLI command to print the current set.


Vppinfra bitmaps are dynamic, built using the vppinfra vector APIs. Quite handy for a variety jobs.


Vppinfra pools combine vectors and bitmaps to rapidly allocate and free fixed-size data structures with independent lifetimes. Pools are perfect for allocating per-session structures.


Vppinfra provides several hash flavors. Data plane problems involving packet classification / session lookup often use ./src/vppinfra/bihash_template.[ch] bounded-index extensible hashes. These templates are instantiated multiple times, to efficiently service different fixed-key sizes.

Bihashes are thread-safe. Read-locking is not required. A simple spin-lock ensures that only one thread writes an entry at a time.

The original vppinfra hash implementation in ./src/vppinfra/hash.[ch] are simple to use, and are often used in control-plane code which needs exact-string-matching.

In either case, one almost always looks up a key in a hash table to obtain an index in a related vector or pool. The APIs are simple enough, but one must take care when using the unmanaged arbitrary-sized key variant. Hash_set_mem (hash_table, key_pointer, value) memorizes key_pointer. It is usually a bad mistake to pass the address of a vector element as the second argument to hash_set_mem. It is perfectly fine to memorize constant string addresses in the text segment.


Vppinfra format is roughly equivalent to printf.

Format has a few properties worth mentioning. Format’s first argument is a (u8 *) vector to which it appends the result of the current format operation. Chaining calls is very easy:

    u8 * result;

    result = format (0, "junk = %d, ", junk);
    result = format (result, "more junk = %d\n", more_junk);

As previously noted, NULL pointers are perfectly proper 0-length vectors. Format returns a (u8 *) vector, not a C-string. If you wish to print a (u8 *) vector, use the “%v” format string. If you need a (u8 *) vector which is also a proper C-string, either of these schemes may be used:

    vec_add1 (result, 0)
    result = format (result, "<whatever>%c", 0);

Remember to vec_free() the result if appropriate. Be careful not to pass format an uninitialized (u8 *).

Format implements a particularly handy user-format scheme via the “%U” format specification. For example:

    u8 * format_junk (u8 * s, va_list *va)
      junk = va_arg (va, u32);
      s = format (s, "%s", junk);
      return s;

    result = format (0, "junk = %U, format_junk, "This is some junk");

format_junk() can invoke other user-format functions if desired. The programmer shoulders responsibility for argument type-checking. It is typical for user format functions to blow up spectacularly if the va_arg(va, type) macros don’t match the caller’s idea of reality.


Vppinfra unformat is vaguely related to scanf, but considerably more general.

A typical use case involves initializing an unformat_input_t from either a C-string or a (u8 *) vector, then parsing via unformat() as follows:

    unformat_input_t input;

    unformat_init_string (&input, "<some-C-string>");
    /* or */
    unformat_init_vector (&input, <u8-vector>);

Then loop parsing individual elements:

    while (unformat_check_input (&input) != UNFORMAT_END_OF_INPUT)
      if (unformat (&input, "value1 %d", &value1))
        ;/* unformat sets value1 */
      else if (unformat (&input, "value2 %d", &value2)
        ;/* unformat sets value2 */
        return clib_error_return (0, "unknown input '%U'",
                                  format_unformat_error, input);

As with format, unformat implements a user-unformat function capability via a “%U” user unformat function scheme. Generally, one can trivially transform “format (s, “foo %d”, foo) -> “unformat (input, “foo %d”, &foo)”.

Unformat implements a couple of handy non-scanf-like format specifiers:

    unformat (input, "enable %=", &enable, 1 /* defaults to 1 */);
    unformat (input, "bitzero %|", &mask, (1<<0));
    unformat (input, "bitone %|", &mask, (1<<1));

The phrase “enable %=” means “set the supplied variable to the default value” if unformat parses the “enable” keyword all by itself. If unformat parses “enable 123” set the supplied variable to 123.

We could clean up a number of hand-rolled “verbose” + “verbose %d” argument parsing codes using “%=”.

The phrase “bitzero %|” means “set the specified bit in the supplied bitmask” if unformat parses “bitzero”. Although it looks like it could be fairly handy, it’s very lightly used in the code base.

How to parse a single input line

Debug CLI command functions MUST NOT accidentally consume input belonging to other debug CLI commands. Otherwise, it’s impossible to script a set of debug CLI commands which “work fine” when issued one at a time.

This bit of code is NOT correct:

  /* Eats script input NOT beloging to it, and chokes! */
  while (unformat_check_input (input) != UNFORMAT_END_OF_INPUT)
      if (unformat (input, ...))
      else if (unformat (input, ...))
        return clib_error_return (0, "parse error: '%U'",
              			     format_unformat_error, input);

When executed as part of a script, such a function will return “parse error: ‘’” every time, unless it happens to be the last command in the script.

Instead, use “unformat_line_input” to consume the rest of a line’s worth of input - everything past the path specified in the VLIB_CLI_COMMAND declaration.

For example, unformat_line_input with “my_command” set up as shown below and user input “my path is clear” will produce an unformat_input_t that contains “is clear”.

    VLIB_CLI_COMMAND (...) = {
        .path = "my path",

Here’s a bit of code which shows the required mechanics, in full:

    static clib_error_t *
    my_command_fn (vlib_main_t * vm,
                   unformat_input_t * input,
                   vlib_cli_command_t * cmd)
      unformat_input_t _line_input, *line_input = &_line_input;
      u32 this, that;
      clib_error_t *error = 0;

      if (!unformat_user (input, unformat_line_input, line_input))
        return 0;

       * Here, UNFORMAT_END_OF_INPUT is at the end of the line we consumed,
       * not at the end of the script...
      while (unformat_check_input (line_input) != UNFORMAT_END_OF_INPUT)
           if (unformat (line_input, "this %u", &this))
           else if (unformat (line_input, "that %u", &that))
               error = clib_error_return (0, "parse error: '%U'",
              	     		     format_unformat_error, line_input);
               goto done;

    <do something based on "this" and "that", etc>

      unformat_free (line_input);
      return error;
   /* *INDENT-OFF* */
   VLIB_CLI_COMMAND (my_command, static) = {
     .path = "my path",
     .function = my_command_fn",
   /* *INDENT-ON* */

Vppinfra errors and warnings

Many functions within the vpp dataplane have return-values of type clib_error_t *. Clib_error_t’s are arbitrary strings with a bit of metadata [fatal, warning] and are easy to announce. Returning a NULL clib_error_t * indicates “A-OK, no error.”

Clib_warning(format-args) is a handy way to add debugging output; clib warnings prepend function:line info to unambiguously locate the message source. Clib_unix_warning() adds perror()-style Linux system-call information. In production images, clib_warnings result in syslog entries.


Vppinfra serialization support allows the programmer to easily serialize and unserialize complex data structures.

The underlying primitive serialize/unserialize functions use network byte-order, so there are no structural issues serializing on a little-endian host and unserializing on a big-endian host.