• BPF_MAP_TYPE_ARRAY_OF_MAPS and BPF_MAP_TYPE_HASH_OF_MAPS were introduced in kernel version 4.12

BPF_MAP_TYPE_ARRAY_OF_MAPS and BPF_MAP_TYPE_HASH_OF_MAPS provide general purpose support for map in map storage. One level of nesting is supported, where an outer map contains instances of a single type of inner map, for example array_of_maps->sock_map.

When creating an outer map, an inner map instance is used to initialize the metadata that the outer map holds about its inner maps. This inner map has a separate lifetime from the outer map and can be deleted after the outer map has been created.

The outer map supports element lookup, update and delete from user space using the syscall API. A BPF program is only allowed to do element lookup in the outer map.


  • Multi-level nesting is not supported.

  • Any BPF map type can be used as an inner map, except for BPF_MAP_TYPE_PROG_ARRAY.

  • A BPF program cannot update or delete outer map entries.

For BPF_MAP_TYPE_ARRAY_OF_MAPS the key is an unsigned 32-bit integer index into the array. The array is a fixed size with max_entries elements that are zero initialized when created.

For BPF_MAP_TYPE_HASH_OF_MAPS the key type can be chosen when defining the map. The kernel is responsible for allocating and freeing key/value pairs, up to the max_entries limit that you specify. Hash maps use pre-allocation of hash table elements by default. The BPF_F_NO_PREALLOC flag can be used to disable pre-allocation when it is too memory expensive.


Kernel BPF Helper


void *bpf_map_lookup_elem(struct bpf_map *map, const void *key)

Inner maps can be retrieved using the bpf_map_lookup_elem() helper. This helper returns a pointer to the inner map, or NULL if no entry was found.


Kernel BPF Example

This snippet shows how to create and initialise an array of devmaps in a BPF program. Note that the outer array can only be modified from user space using the syscall API.

struct inner_map {
        __uint(type, BPF_MAP_TYPE_DEVMAP);
        __uint(max_entries, 10);
        __type(key, __u32);
        __type(value, __u32);
} inner_map1 SEC(".maps"), inner_map2 SEC(".maps");

struct {
        __uint(type, BPF_MAP_TYPE_ARRAY_OF_MAPS);
        __uint(max_entries, 2);
        __type(key, __u32);
        __array(values, struct inner_map);
} outer_map SEC(".maps") = {
        .values = { &inner_map1,
                    &inner_map2 }

See progs/test_btf_map_in_map.c in tools/testing/selftests/bpf for more examples of declarative initialisation of outer maps.

User Space

This snippet shows how to create an array based outer map:

int create_outer_array(int inner_fd) {
        LIBBPF_OPTS(bpf_map_create_opts, opts, .inner_map_fd = inner_fd);
        int fd;

        fd = bpf_map_create(BPF_MAP_TYPE_ARRAY_OF_MAPS,
                            "example_array",       /* name */
                            sizeof(__u32),         /* key size */
                            sizeof(__u32),         /* value size */
                            256,                   /* max entries */
                            &opts);                /* create opts */
        return fd;

This snippet shows how to add an inner map to an outer map:

int add_devmap(int outer_fd, int index, const char *name) {
        int fd;

        fd = bpf_map_create(BPF_MAP_TYPE_DEVMAP, name,
                            sizeof(__u32), sizeof(__u32), 256, NULL);
        if (fd < 0)
                return fd;

        return bpf_map_update_elem(outer_fd, &index, &fd, BPF_ANY);