virt-install + nbdkit live install

This seems to be completely undocumented which is why I’m writing this … It is possible to boot a Linux guest (Fedora in this case) from a live CD on a website without downloading it. I’m using our favourite flexible NBD server, nbdkit and virt-install.

First of all we’ll run nbdkit and attach it to the Fedora 29 live workstation ISO. To make this work more efficiently I’m going to place a couple of filters on top — one is the readahead (prefetch) filter recently added to nbdkit 1.12, and the other is the cache filter. In combination these filters should reduce the load on the website and improve local performance.

$ rm /tmp/socket
$ nbdkit -f -U /tmp/socket --filter=readahead --filter=cache \
    curl https://download.fedoraproject.org/pub/fedora/linux/releases/29/Workstation/x86_64/iso/Fedora-Workstation-Live-x86_64-29-1.2.iso

I actually replaced that URL with a UK-based mirror to make the process a little faster.

Now comes the undocumented virt-install command:

$ virt-install --name test --ram 2048 \
    --disk /var/tmp/disk.img,size=10 
    --disk device=cdrom,source_protocol=nbd,source_host_transport=unix,source_host_socket=/tmp/socket \
    --os-variant fedora29

After a bit of grinding that should boot into Fedora 29, and you never (not explicitly at least) had to download the ISO.

Screenshot_2019-04-13_10-30-00

To be fair qemu does also have a curl driver which virt-install could use, but nbdkit is better with the filters and plugins system giving you ultimate flexibility — check out my video about it.

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nbdkit 1.12

The new stable release of nbdkit, our flexible Network Block Device server, is out. You can read the announcement and release notes here.

The big new features are SSH support, the linuxdisk plugin, writing plugins in Rust, and extents. Extents allows NBD clients to work out which parts of a disk are sparse or zeroes and skip reading them. It was hellishly difficult to write because of the number of obscure corner cases.

Also in this release, are a couple of interesting filters. The rate filter lets you add a bandwidth limit to connections. We will use this in virt-v2v to allow v2v instances to be rate limited (even dynamically). The readahead filter makes sequential copying and scanning of plugins more efficient by prefetching data ahead of time. It is self-configuring and in most cases simply adding the filter into your filter stack is sufficient to get a nice performance boost, assuming your client’s access patterns are mostly sequential.

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Tip: Edit grub kernel command line in RHEL 7 or CentOS 7

Easy with virt-customize. In this example I’m adding the nosmt option to the command line:

$ virt-customize -a rhel7.img \
    --edit '/etc/default/grub:
      s/^GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX="/GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX="nosmt /' \
    --run-command 'grub2-mkconfig -o /boot/grub2/grub.cfg'

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nbdkit linuxdisk plugin

I’m writing a new nbdkit plugin called linuxdisk. nbdkit is our flexible, plugin-based NBD server, and this new plugin lets you create a complete Linux-compatible virtual disk from a host directory on the fly.

One of the many uses for this is booting minimal VMs very quickly. Here’s an example you can set up in a few seconds. It boots to an interactive busybox shell:

$ mkdir /tmp/root /tmp/root/sbin /tmp/root/bin /tmp/root/dev
$ sudo mknod /tmp/root/dev/console c 5 1
$ cp /sbin/busybox /tmp/root/sbin/
$ ln /tmp/root/sbin/busybox /tmp/root/bin/sh
$ ln /tmp/root/sbin/busybox /tmp/root/bin/ls
$ ln /tmp/root/sbin/busybox /tmp/root/sbin/init
$ nbdkit -U - linuxdisk /tmp/root \
    --run 'qemu-kvm -display none -kernel /boot/vmlinuz-4.20.8-200.fc29.x86_64 -drive file=nbd:unix:$unixsocket,snapshot=on -append "console=ttyS0 root=/dev/sda1 rw" -serial stdio'

If you need any extra files in the VM just drop them straight into /tmp/root before booting it.

Edit: How the heck does /dev get populated in this VM?

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Write nbdkit plugins in Rust

nbdkit is our flexible, pluggable NBD server. See my FOSDEM video to find out more about some of the marvellous things you can do with it.

The news is you can now write nbdkit plugins in Rust. As with the OCaml bindings, Rust plugins compile to native *.so plugin files which are loaded and called directly from nbdkit. However it really needs a Rust expert to implement a more natural and idiomatic way to use the API than what we have now.

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Video: Take your loop mounts to the next level with nbdkit

Loop mounting is popular, but very limited in what it can do on Linux. I gave a talk at FOSDEM on Saturday entitled Better loop mounts with NBD: Take your loop mounts to the next level with nbdkit, and it’s online already!

Download the WebM format or MP4 format files directly.

Also I did subtitles! Download the subtitles directly here. (The subs only cover the first 30 minutes of the talk, not the Summary and Q&A.)

Photo from presentation
(Thanks to Thomas Huth for the photo)

There are a few small problems and corrections:

  1. There’s a part of the talk where I refer to the light blue trimmed blocks. Unfortunately the video feed didn’t capture that, so the light blue looks like white. If you really want to see that then go look at the video in my earlier post.
  2. During the Q&A I mentioned that we could support writing to xz files. This is true, sort of, but I forgot that there’s a problem: nbdkit doesn’t support file resizing (and I believe that’s even experimental in the NBD protocol), so someone would have to add that first. There are other serious down-sides to implementing writable XZ, I doubt it could ever be fast.

For subtitles I used gaupol which is actually quite nice, although subtitling is inherently slow and tedious. It took me a good 4 hours to subtitle 30 minutes of video.

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Interview with FOSDEM team about nbdkit loop mounting

I did an email interview which you can read online about my FOSDEM talk about nbdkit loop mounting.

Other FOSDEM 2019 interviews are here.

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