Monthly Archives: April 2023

KVM Virtual Machine Manager and Virtual Machines on external drives

Last year, I blogged about my first experiences with KVM and Virtual Machine Manager.

Then, I stopped using KVM because I’ve always found VirtualBox easier for my experiments. In particular, with VirtualBox, it is trivial to store virtual machines on an external drive (I mean, a fast external SD, of course): you specify to use a directory on the external drive, and all information about the virtual machine will be stored there. Then, you attach the drive to another computer with VirtualBox and open the virtual machine from the external drive. Easy!

Things are more complicated with KVM, QEMU, and Virtual Machine Manager. Even making QEMU access an external drive requires additional configuration steps.

In this blog post, I’ll summarize the steps to achieve that.

I’ll first show the manual export/import procedure for the machines’ metadata information. Then, I’ll show a different approach based on symlinks.

It was time to try KVM again because it’s faster than VirtualBox.

I’ll describe the installation steps for EndeavourOS and pure Arch Linux. I guess the steps for other distributions are similar.

Installation and configuration

Let’s install a few packages for KVM, QEMU, and the Virtual Machine Manager:

If you get this message, accept to remove “iptables”:

To use your user without entering the root password, we need to edit the file “/etc/libvirt/libvirtd.conf” and uncomment the following lines:

Or, append them at the end of the file:

Add your user account to the “libvirt” group.

Now comes the crucial part for letting QEMU handle machines on external drives: we need to add our user to “/etc/libvirt/qemu.conf”. This can be done by setting the appropriate entries in the file or by simply appending the entries at the end of the file:

If you want to start the virtualization service and the default virtual network automatically at boot, you run:

Since I’m not using virtual machines daily, I prefer to start them when needed, so I don’t run the above commands. Of course, I must remember to run these commands (note, for the network is “start” instead of “autostart”) before starting the “Virtual Machine Manager”:

Remember you can always use:

to see the service status and possible errors shown when running this command.

OK, time to reboot now.

Let’s create a virtual machine on an external drive

I created a directory “kvm/images” on my external USB SD to store the virtual machine images.

Let’s start the “Virtual Machine Manager” program. We should see “QEMU/KVM”:

Let’s create a new virtual machine with the leftmost toolbar button.

I specify a local ISO.

I don’t create a pool for ISOs and use “Browse Local” to select an ISO in my external drive.

In this example, I will install EndeavourOS on the virtual machine. I have to select the operating system manually (start typing, and you get completions):

Time to allocate resources for the virtual machine. I’m giving the VM half my RAM and half my cores:

Now here’s the essential part of disk selection. Remember, I want to use my external drive, so I select custom storage and press “Manage”:

In the following dialog, I use the “+” button in the bottom left corner to create a new pool:

I give the pool the name “images” and specify the directory I mentioned above on my external drive:

After pressing “Finish”, I select the created pool and add a “Volume” (with the other “+” button)

I give the disk image a proper name and enough size (recall that the image will NOT allocate all the size immediately, but only on-demand):

Select the volume and press “Choose Volume”:

On the final dialog, make sure the default network is selected and that you check “Customize configuration before install” (note that I also changed the name for the virtual machine):

Let’s press “Finish,” and get to the configuration dialog. I changed the Firmware from “BIOS” to “UEFI”, pressed “Apply,” and finally, we can start the installation with “Begin Installation”.

We should not get any error from QEMU because it cannot access the external drive, thanks to the configuration shown above in the qemu.conf file!

After the GRUB menu, we should see the installer log:

And then, the EndeavourOS installer dialog:

Since I’ve already blogged about EndeavourOS installation, I’ll skip the detailed steps. I’ll install the GNOME desktop environment and let the installer use the whole disk space with the BTRFS filesystem and SWAP with hibernate (later, I might want to check whether hibernate works in the VM).

In a few minutes, the installation finishes! We get to the GRUB menu of the installed system:

And to the installed GNOME desktop:

The disk image is correctly created in the external drive:

And the information about the virtual machine is in the:

Export the virtual machine

First, let’s shut down the machine.

Let’s export the virtual machine to use it from another computer. I understand that having the same software on the other host is crucial. Since I’m using EndeavourOS or Arch on my main computers, that is not a problem.

But isn’t the virtual machine already in an external drive? Why do I have to export it?

That’s the main difference with VirtualBox I mentioned at the beginning. The disk image is on an external drive, but the virtual machine information (configuration and metadata) is on a local XML file (see the listing of “/etc/libvirt/qemu” above; the XML file of the virtual machine is “eos-kvm-gnome.xml”, after the name I gave to the virtual machine when I created it).

Remember that the XML has an absolute path pointing to the disk image on the external drive:

So, again, in the other computers, the mount point of the external drive must be the same; otherwise, the absolute path must be manually adapted.

We could copy the XML file directly on the external drive (somewhere near the disk image to be easily found), e.g.:

Alternatively, if we don’t remember the location of the XML file, we can use the “dump” command.

For example, we can first list the current machines (in the example, I have only one):

And then, we dump its XML configuration:

We’re ready to import and use the VM on another computer

Import the virtual machine

I have already installed and configured KVM on another computer, following the same procedure at the beginning of the post.

Since I haven’t enabled the services at boot time, I run the following:

I connect the external drive and ensure it’s mounted (remember, on the same mount point as in the other computer).

Then, I create the virtual machine information locally by using the XML file on the drive I created above:

We can verify that the XML is now in the directory of QEMU:

Let’s start “Virtual Machine Manager,” and we can see the virtual machine:

We can start it, and it should work as on the other computer.

Cloning and Snapshots

Let’s create a clone of this virtual machine, e.g., with the context menu of the machine in the main user interface.

The destination path is based on the path of the current machine, the external drive, which is good.

Let’s wait for the clone to finish, and then we have two virtual machines:

If I want this clone to be usable on other computers, I repeat the export procedure for this new virtual machine:

I’ll leave this clone virtual machine as it is for now, and I’ll create a snapshot in the other virtual machine, the original one.

Snapshot information is stored somewhere else, NOT in the XML of the virtual machine:

So we need them as well if we want to use them on another computer.

To add the snapshot to the other computer, I have to run:

However, keep in mind that if you try to start a snapshot, you get this warning:

So if you don’t want to lose the current state, create another snapshot for the current state before restoring a previous one. Moreover, if the snapshot’s state is “Shutoff”, “starting” the snapshot only restores it. Then, you must start the virtual machine.

A different approach: symlinks

In the previous sections, I showed how machine information (including snapshots) and images could be put on external drives. Besides the machine images residing on external drives from the beginning, the machine metadata is still on your hard disk. In fact, you must first export them (e.g., on the external drive) and then import them on another computer.

A more radical approach consists of keeping the metadata on the external drive only and creating symlinks in each computer’s libvirt/qemu directories.

On the first computer, the XML files of machine information and snapshots have to be copied onto the external drive. IMPORTANT: don’t dump information as we did above; you need to copy the original XML files themselves. Dumping does not generate the exact XML files stored on the libvirt/qemu directories. In fact, as shown above, the dumped XML files must be imported with dedicated commands.

In my case, on the first computer, I run:

So, on the external drive, I end up with these contents:

On the same computer, I run the following commands (make sure the “libvirtd.service” is not running):

Now, I can start the “libvirtd.service” and the default network, and I make sure I can still access all my machines stored on the external drive, including all the machine information.

Of course, if you have never created virtual machines and want to start creating them on the external drive, it is enough to run the above commands. Then, start creating machines. Remember to select the external drive for the image location.

Then, on the other computers where I have already installed the same software for KVM, QEMU, etc., I first ensure the “libvirtd.service” is not running (in case stop it). Then, I connect my external drive and run the above commands (these will remove possible existing machines’ information, so be careful).

Of course, the above commands must be run only the first time.

Now, I can start the “libvirtd.service” and the default network, and I can access all my machines stored on the external drive, including all the machine information. Every modification (an image content or a machine configuration) will be stored on the external drive.

This approach works if you want to store ALL your machines on the external drive. You won’t have to keep the information in sync because they are stored in a single place.

If you need to keep some machines on your computers and others on different external drives, you must use the above-shown manual procedure for exporting and importing. It is then up to you to remember to re-export/re-import if you change a machine’s configuration or a snapshot.

Happy virtualization! 🙂

Customizing Gnome in Arch Linux on a PineBook Pro

In a previous blog post, I showed how to install Arch Linux on a PineBook Pro.

In this blog post, I’m showing how I customize Gnome on that installation.

First, Gnome 43 has “Gnome Console” as the default terminal application. I wouldn’t say I like it since it’s too basic. So I install the traditional “Gnome Terminal”:

Then, I set “Ctrl+Alt+T” as a shortcut for opening the terminal:

Then, I install an AUR helper. I like “yay,” so I first installed the needed dependencies:

And then

I install, by using “yay”, the helper the “Gnome Browser Connector” to install Gnome extensions from Firefox (Some extensions are already installed by default as system extensions. You can use the “Extensions” application to enable/disable extensions):

Now I can navigate to and install and enable a few extensions (you also need to install the Firefox extension add-on when asked). For example, “AppIndicator and KStatusNotifierItem Support” and “X11 Gestures”.

The last extension helps enable Touchpad gestures in the X11 session (Gnome Wayland already provides touchpad gestures, but I prefer to use the X11 session). This extension relies on “touchegg” that must be installed. For ARM, we need to install the AUR package:

You will get this warning, but proceed anyway: it compiles and works fine:

Let’s start “touchegg” and verify that gestures work

And then let’s enable it so that it automatically starts on the subsequent boots:

Let’s move on to ZSH, which I prefer as a shell:

Since I’m going to install “Oh My Zsh” and other Zsh plugins, I install these fonts (remember from the previous post that I had already installed “noto-fonts” and “noto-fonts-emoji”) and finder tool (“curl” is required for the installation of “Oh My Zsh”):

Let’s install “Oh My Zsh” by running the following command as documented on its website:

When asked, I agreed to change my default shell to Zsh. In the end, we should see the prompt changed to the default one of “Oh My Zsh”:

I then install some external plugins:

And I enable them by editing the ~/.zshrc, in particular, the “plugins” line (I also enable other plugins that are part of the OMZ distribution):

Once saved, you have to start a new terminal with zsh to see the plugins in action (remember that, until you log out and log in, the default shell is still BASH, so you might have to run “zsh” manually to switch to ZSH in the currently logged session).

Besides the syntax highlighting for commands, you have completion after “cd” (press TAB), excellent command history (with Ctrl+R), suggestions, etc.

Let’s switch to the “Starship” prompt. Let’s run the documented installation program:

Now, let’s edit the ~/.zshrc file again; we comment out the line starting with “ZSH_THEME,” and we add to the end of the file:

Opening another ZSH shell, we should see the fantastic Starship prompt in action, e.g.,

To quickly search for file names from the command line, I install “locate”, enable its periodic indexing and run the indexing once the first time (if you’re on a BTRFS file system, you might want to have a look at this older post of mine):

Then, you should be able to look for files with the command “locate” quickly.

Gnome uses “Tracker” (in the current version, the command is “tracker3”) for file indexing and searching, e.g., from the “Activities” view. I like it, and it quickly keeps the index up to date. However, the “tracker extract” service also indexes the file contents, and that uses too many resources, so I disable that service:

I also use the “guake” drop-down terminal a lot:

I run it once (it’s enabled by default by pressing “F12”), and I configure it to start automatically when Gnome starts (by running “Guake Preferences” -> “Start Guake at login”).

I hope you enjoyed this post! 🙂