The Myth of Type I and Type II Hypervisors
This has been something that has bothered me for a while that I have never gotten a chance to articulate. In the virtualization community, the terms "type-1" and "type-2" hypervisors get thrown around a lot--often carrying different meanings. Lately, "type-2" is being used as a derogatory term suggesting that a virtualization solution is "lesser" than a true "type-1" hypervisor.
The most common definition of "type-1" and "type-2" seem to be that "type-1" hypervisors do not require a host Operating System. In actuality, all hypervisors require an Operating System of some sort. Usually, "type-1" is used for hypervisors that have a micro-kernel based Operating System (like Xen and VMware ESX). In this case, a macro-kernel Operating System is still required for the control partition (Linux for both Xen and ESX).
The whole argument of micro-kernel vs macro-kernel hosts is a different blog post (just as a spoiler, I think one can make a better argument for macro-kernel hypervisors). I want to focus, instead, on why we have these terms and what they really mean.
Virtualization theory really started with a paper from Gerald Popek and Robert Goldberg called Formal Requirements for Virtualizable Third Generation Architectures. The paper is a mathematical proof of the architectural requirements to allow virtualization. It is very terse and I don't expect most people have read it. The paper focuses on implementing full virtualization on native hardware and focuses on things like whether privileged instructions are trappable. It was written in 1974 and Operating Systems were not actually all that common back then. Many people think the terms "type-1" and "type-2" originated from this paper but that is simply not the case. The paper does mention the concept of recursive virtualization and briefly discusses the requirements to allow one virtual machine to run within another virtual machine.
As best as I can tell, the terms "type-1" and "type-2" originate from a paper by John Robin called Analyzing the Intel Pentium's Capability to Support a Secure Virtual Machine Monitor. This paper was Robin's master thesis at the Naval Postgrade School. There are two versions of the paper available, the actual master's thesis and a condensed version for USENIX 2000.
This paper is really an application of the Popek/Goldberg proof to the Pentium architecture. A few points were missed, but it does a rather good analysis of why the Pentium architecture did not satisfy the Popek/Goldberg requirements for virtualization. Now, some folks at VMware have made a rather compelling case that this is in fact incorrect because the Popek/Goldberg proof does not eliminate the possibility of using dynamic translation. At any rate, Robin makes a distinction between "type-1" and "type-2" VMMs. The reason for the distinction is simple. When discussing "type-1" VMMs that access hardware directly, the set of requirements to enable Secure Virtualization entirely depends on the hardware. When discussing "type-2" VMMs, however, you do not have direct access to hardware so the requirements to enable virtualization are actually at the Operating System interface. A true "type-2" VMM is just a process in an Operating System and is not capable of accessing hardware directly.
The important point to take away here is that all modern virtualization solutions (except for unaccelerated QEMU maybe) are technically "type-1" VMMs according to Robin. The things commonly cited as "type-2" VMMs like VMware Workstation, Parallels, VirtualPC, and KVM all rely on kernel modules which means they do have direct access to hardware. This makes all of these solutions "type-1" VMMs. What's more important though is that the distinction of "type-1" and "type-2" has absolutely no bearings on performance, robustness, or any other qualitative factor. It is merely a distinction made when attempting to formulate a proof about whether virtualization is possible or not. It starts to lose meaning too when an Operating System is capable of supporting a true "type-2" VMM (which arguable, the KVM interface in Linux enables). Does that mean that Linux is a "type-1" VMM and QEMU using the KVM interface is a "type-2" VMM? How can the same solution be both though? IMHO, the introduction of the term "type-2" was really a mistake on Robin's part perhaps as a misunderstanding of the section of the Popek paper regarding recursive virtualization. That's just speculating though. The distinction really just doesn't make much sense in my mind.
So if you've made it this far, I'll hope you agree that these terms really have no practical meaning and will join me in refraining from using them in the future :-)