libguestfs 1.28 released

The new stable version of libguestfs — a C library and tools for accessing and modifying virtual machine disk images — has been released.

There is one brand new tool, virt-log. And I rewrote the virt-v2v and virt-p2v tools. These tools convert VMware and Xen guests and physical machines, to run on KVM. They are now much faster and better than before.

As well as that there are hundreds of other improvements and bug fixes. For a full list, see the release notes.

Libguestfs 1.28 will be available shortly in Fedora 21, Debian/experimental, RHEL and CentOS 7, and elsewhere.

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Streaming NBD server

The command:

qemu-img convert input output

does not work if the output is a pipe.

It’d sure be nice if it did though! For one thing, we could use this in virt-v2v to stream images into OpenStack Glance (instead of having to spool them into a temporary file).

I mentioned this to Paolo Bonzini yesterday and he suggested a simple workaround. Just replace the output with:

qemu-img convert -n input nbd:...

and write an NBD server that turns the sequence of writes from qemu-img into a stream that gets written to a pipe. Assuming the output is raw, then qemu-img convert will write, starting at disk offset 0, linearly through to the end of the disk image.

How to write such an NBD server easily? nbdkit is a project I started to make it easy to write NBD servers.

So I wrote a streaming plugin which does exactly that, in 243 lines of code.

Using a feature called captive nbdkit, you can rewrite the above command as:

nbdkit -U - streaming pipe=/tmp/output --run '
  qemu-img convert -n input -O raw $nbd

(This command will “hang” when you run it — you have to attach some process to read from the pipe, eg: md5sum < /tmp/output)

Further work

The streaming plugin will a lot more generally useful if it supported a sliding window, allowing limited reverse seeking and reading. So there’s a nice little project for a motivated person. See here


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Tip: Set a root password on a disk image

virt-sysprep --enable customize --root-password password:123456 -a /dev/sdX

Useful when installing Fedora on ARM machines that only have a serial port.

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Odd/scary RHEL 5 bug

Yesterday my colleague gave me a RHEL 5 VM disk image which failed to boot after converting it using the latest virt-v2v.  Because it booted before conversion but not afterwards, the fingers naturally pointed at something that we were doing during the conversion process. Which is not unusual as v2v conversion is highly complex.

The “GRUB _” prompt after conversion

The thing is that we don’t reinstall grub during conversion, but we do edit a few grub configuration files. Could editing grub configuration cause this error?

I wanted to understand what the grub-legacy “GRUB _” prompt means. There are lots and lots and lots of people reporting this bug (eg), but as is often the case I could find no coherent explanation anywhere of what grub-legacy means when it gets into this state. Lots of the blind leading the blind, and random suggestions about how people had rescued such machines (probably coincidentally), but no hard data anywhere. So I had to go back to first principles and debug qemu to find out what’s happening just before the message is printed.

Tip: To breakpoint qemu when the Master Boot Record (first sector) is loaded, do:

target remote tcp::1234
set architecture i8086
b *0x7c00

After an evening of debugging, I found that it’s the first sector (known in grub-legacy as “stage 1″) which prints the GRUB<space> message. (The same happens to be true of grub2). The stage 1 boot sector has, written into it at a fixed offset, the location of the /boot/grub/stage2 file, ie. the literal disk start sector and length of this file. It sends BIOS int $0x13 commands to load those sectors into memory at address 0x8000, and jumps there to start the stage 2 of grub. The boot sector is 512 bytes, so there’s no luxury to do anything except print 5 characters. It’s after the stage2 file has been loaded when all the nice graphical stuff happens.

Unfortunately in the image after conversion, the stage2 data loaded into memory was all zeroes, and that’s why the boot fails and you see GRUB<space><cursor> and then the VM crashes.

The mystery was how conversion could be changing the location of the /boot/grub/stage2 file so that it could no longer be loaded at the fixed offset encoded in the boot sector.

This morning it dawned on me what was really happening …

The new virt-v2v tries very hard to avoid copying any unused data from the guest, just to save time. No point wasting time copying deleted files and empty space. This makes virt-v2v very fast, but it has an unusual side-effect: If a file is deleted on the source, the contents of the file are not copied over to the target, and turn into zeroes.

It turns out if you take the source disk image and simply zero all of the empty space in /boot, then the source doesn’t boot either, even though virt-v2v is not involved. Yikes … this could be a bug in RHEL 5. Grub is generating a bootloader that references a deleted file.

This is where we are right now with this bug. It appears that a valid sequence of steps can make a RHEL 5 bootloader that references a deleted file, but still works as long as you never overwrite the sectors used by that file.

I have written a simple test script that you can download to find out if your RHEL ≤ 6 virtual machines could be affected by this problem. I’m interested if anyone else sees this. I ran the test over a selection of RHEL 3 – 5 guests, and could not find any which had the problem, but my collection is not very extensive, and there are likely to be common modes in how they were created.

The next steps will likely be to test a lot more RHEL 5 installs to see if this bug is really common or a strange one-off. I will also probably add a workaround to virt-v2v so it doesn’t trim the boot partition — the reason is that we cannot go back and fix old RHEL 5 installs, we have to work with them if they are broken. If it turns out to be a real bug in RHEL 5 then we will need to issue a fix for that.


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Fedora 21 Virtualization Test Day is Thursday September 25

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virt-v2v preview packages for RHEL and CentOS 7.1 are available

virt-v2v is a small program for converting guests from VMware or Xen, to run on KVM, RHEV-M or OpenStack. For RHEL 7.1, I am rewriting and enhancing virt-v2v, so it’s much faster and easier to use.

To install, follow the instructions here for setting up the yum repository, and then you can do:

yum install virt-v2v

To use it, start with the manual here that has lots of examples and the full reference documentation.


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Creating a local virt-builder repository

I was asked about this today and realized it’s not very well documented in the virt-builder manual page. So here goes.

Firstly you have to (as root) drop in the file /etc/virt-builder/repos.d/local.conf containing:


As non-root, create the ~/builder directory (you can of course put the repository somewhere else). Drop in the disk image — in the example below it’s called os-image-1.xz, and next to it the following index file:

checksum[sha512]=place the sha512sum of the compressed file here
size=place the uncompressed virtual size of the disk image here
compressed_size=place the compressed size of the disk image here
notes=My wonderful cloud OS, version 1

You only need the expand field if you want image resizing to work (ie. the virt-builder --size option), and other fields are documented in the manual. To get the uncompressed virtual size of a disk image, use qemu-img info.

Other cloud image formats like qcow2 or uncompressed raw are possible, but you’ll need to read the manual closely and experiment a bit.

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