KVM-virtualization on ARM using the “virt” machine type


A while ago, I described how to run KVM-based virtual machines on libre, low-end virtualization hosts on Debian Jessie [1]. For emulating the ARM board, I used the vexpress-a15 which complicates things as it requires the specification of compatible DTBs. Recently, I stepped over Peter’s article [2] that describes how to use the generic “virt” machine type instead of vexpress-a15. This promises to give some advantages such as the ability to use PCI devices and makes the process of creating VMs much easier.

As it was also reported to me that my instructions caused trouble on Debian Stretch (virt-manager generates incompatible configs when choosing the vexpress-a15 target). So I spent some time trying to find out how to run VMs using the “virt” machine type using virt-manager (Peter’s article only described the manual way using command-line calls). This included several traps, so I decided to write up this article. It gives a brief overview how to create a VM using virt-manager on a ARMv7 virtualization host such as the Cubietruck or the upcoming EOMA68-A20 computing card.


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Tested VMs

I managed to successfully create and boot up the following VMs on a Devuan (Jessie) system:

  • Debian Jessie Installer
  • Debian Stretch Installer
  • Debian Unstable Installer
  • Fedora Core 27 (see [3] for instructions how to obtain the necessary files)
  • Arch Linux, using the latest ARMv7 files available at [4]
  • LEDE

I was able to reproduce the steps for the Debian guests on a Debian Stretch system as well (I did not try with the other guests).

Requirements / Base installation

This article assumes you have setup a working KVM virtualization host on ARM. If you don’t, please work through my previous article [1].

Getting the necessary files

Depending on the system you want to run in your Guest, you typically need an image of the kernel and the initrd. For the Debian-unstable installer, you could get the files like this:

wget http://http.us.debian.org/debian/dists/unstable/main/installer-armhf/current/images/netboot/vmlinuz -O vmlinuz-debian-unstable-installer


wget http://http.us.debian.org/debian/dists/unstable/main/installer-armhf/current/images/netboot/vmlinuz -O initrd-debian-unstable-installer.gz

Creating the Guest

Now, fire up virt-manager and start the wizard for creating a new Guest. In the first step, select “Import existing disk image” and the default settings, which should use the Machine Type “virt” already:

In the second step, choose a disk image (or create one) and put the paths to the Kernel and Initrd that you downloaded previously. Leave the DTB path blank and put “console=ttyAMA0″ as kernel arguments. Choose an appropriate OS type of just leave the default (may negatively impact the performance of your guest, or other things may happen such as your virtual network card may not be recognized by the installer):

Next, select memory and CPU settings as required by your Guest:

Finally, give the VM a proper name and select the “Customize configuration before install” option:

In the machine details, make sure the CPU model is “host-passthrough” (enter it manually if you can’t select it in the combo box):

In the boot options tab, make sure the parameter “console=ttyAMA0″ is there (otherwise you will not get any output on the console). Depending on your guest, you might also need more parameters, such as for setting the rootfs:

Finally, click “begin installation” and you should see your VM boot up:

Post-Installation steps

Please note, that after installing your guest, you must extract the kernel and initrd from the installed guest image (you want to boot the real system, not the installer) and change your VM configuration to use these files instead.

Eventually, I will provide instructions how to do this for a few guest types in the future. Meanwhile, you can obtain instructions for extracting the files from a Debian guest from Peter’s article [2].

[1] https://blogs.fsfe.org/kuleszdl/2016/11/06/installing-a-libre-low-power-low-cost-kvm-virtualization-host/
[2] https://translatedcode.wordpress.com/2016/11/03/installing-debian-on-qemus-32-bit-arm-virt-board
[3] https://fedoraproject.org/wiki/QA:Testcase_Virt_ARM_on_x86
[4] http://os.archlinuxarm.org/os/ArchLinuxARM-armv7-latest.tar.gz