Chapter 10. QEMU-img and QEMU Guest Agent

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This chapter contain useful hints and tips for using the qemu-img package with guest virtual machines. If you are looking for information on QEMU trace events and arguments, refer to the README file located here: /usr/share/doc/qemu-*/README.systemtap.

10.1. Using qemu-img

The qemu-img command line tool is used for formatting, modifying and verifying various file systems used by KVM. qemu-img options and usages are listed below.

Perform a consistency check on the disk image filename.

#  qemu-img check -f qcow2 --output=qcow2 -r all filename-img.qcow2


Only the qcow2 and vdi formats support consistency checks.
Using the -r tries to repair any inconsistencies that are found during the check, but when used with -r leaks cluster leaks are repaired and when used with -r all all kinds of errors are fixed. Note that this has a risk of choosing the wrong fix or hiding corruption issues that may have already occurred.

Commits any changes recorded in the specified file (filename) to the file's base image with the qemu-img commit command. Optionally, specify the file's format type (format).

 # qemu-img commit [-f format] [-t cache] filename

The convert option is used to convert one recognized image format to another image format.

Command format:
# qemu-img convert [-c] [-p] [-f format] [-t cache] [-O output_format] [-o options] [-S sparse_size] filename output_filename
The -p parameter shows the progress of the command (optional and not for every command) and -S option allows for the creation of a sparse file, which is included within the disk image. Sparse files in all purposes function like a standard file, except that the physical blocks that only contain zeros (nothing). When the Operating System sees this file, it treats it as it exists and takes up actual disk space, even though in reality it does not take any. This is particularly helpful when creating a disk for a guest virtual machine as this gives the appearance that the disk has taken much more disk space than it has. For example, if you set -S to 50Gb on a disk image that is 10Gb, then your 10Gb of disk space will appear to be 60Gb in size even though only 10Gb is actually being used.
Convert the disk image filename to disk image output_filename using format output_format. The disk image can be optionally compressed with the -c option, or encrypted with the -o option by setting -o encryption. Note that the options available with the -o parameter differ with the selected format.
Only the qcow2 format supports encryption or compression. qcow2 encryption uses the AES format with secure 128-bit keys. qcow2 compression is read-only, so if a compressed sector is converted from qcow2 format, it is written to the new format as uncompressed data.
Image conversion is also useful to get a smaller image when using a format which can grow, such as qcow or cow. The empty sectors are detected and suppressed from the destination image.

Create the new disk image filename of size size and format format.

# qemu-img create [-f format] [-o options] filename [size][preallocation]
If a base image is specified with -o backing_file=filename, the image will only record differences between itself and the base image. The backing file will not be modified unless you use the commit command. No size needs to be specified in this case.
Preallocation is an option that may only be used with creating qcow2 images. Accepted values include -o preallocation=off|meta|full|falloc. Images with preallocated metadata are larger than images without. However in cases where the image size increases, performance will improve as the image grows.
It should be noted that using full allocation can take a long time with large images. In cases where you want full allocation and time is of the essence, using falloc will save you time.

The info parameter displays information about a disk image filename. The format for the info option is as follows:

# qemu-img info [-f format] filename
This command is often used to discover the size reserved on disk which can be different from the displayed size. If snapshots are stored in the disk image, they are displayed also. This command will show for example, how much space is being taken by a qcow2 image on a block device. This is done by running the qemu-img. You can check that the image in use is the one that matches the output of the qemu-img info command with the qemu-img check command. Refer to Section 10.1, “Using qemu-img”.
# qemu-img info /dev/vg-90.100-sluo/lv-90-100-sluo
image: /dev/vg-90.100-sluo/lv-90-100-sluo
file format: qcow2
virtual size: 20G (21474836480 bytes)
disk size: 0
cluster_size: 65536

The # qemu-img map [-f format] [--output=output_format] filename command dumps the metadata of the image filename and its backing file chain. Specifically, this command dumps the allocation state of every sector of a specified file, together with the topmost file that allocates it in the backing file chain. For example, if you have a chain such as c.qcow2 b.qcow2 a.qcow2, a.qcow is the original file, b.qcow2 is the changes made to a.qcow2 and c.qcow2 is the delta file from b.qcow2. When this chain is created the image files stores the normal image data, plus information about what is in which file and where it is located within the file. This information is referred to as the image's metadata. The -f format option is the format of the specified image file. Formats such as raw, qcow2, vhdx and vmdk may be used. There are two output options possible: human and json.

  • human is the default setting. It is designed to be more readable to the human eye, and as such, this format should not be parsed. For clarity and simplicity, the default human format only dumps known-nonzero areas of the file. Known-zero parts of the file are omitted altogether, and likewise for parts that are not allocated throughout the chain. When the command is executed, qemu-img output will identify a file from where the data can be read, and the offset in the file. The output is displayed as a table with four columns; the first three of which are hexadecimal numbers.
    # qemu-img map -f qcow2 --output=human /tmp/test.qcow2
    Offset          Length          Mapped to       File
    0               0x20000         0x50000         /tmp/test.qcow2
    0x100000        0x80000         0x70000         /tmp/test.qcow2
    0x200000        0x1f0000        0xf0000         /tmp/test.qcow2
    0x3c00000       0x20000         0x2e0000        /tmp/test.qcow2
    0x3fd0000       0x10000         0x300000        /tmp/test.qcow2
  • json, or JSON (JavaScript Object Notation), is readable by humans, but as it is a programming language, it is also designed to be parsed. For example, if you want to parse the output of "qemu-img map" in a parser then you should use the option --output=json.
    # qemu-img map -f qcow2 --output=json /tmp/test.qcow2
    [{ "start": 0, "length": 131072, "depth": 0, "zero": false, "data": true, "offset": 327680},
    { "start": 131072, "length": 917504, "depth": 0, "zero": true, "data": false},
    For more information on the JSON format, refer to the qemu-img(1) man page.

Changes the backing file of an image.

# qemu-img rebase [-f format] [-t cache] [-p] [-u] -b backing_file [-F backing_format] filename
The backing file is changed to backing_file and (if the format of filename supports the feature), the backing file format is changed to backing_format.


Only the qcow2 format supports changing the backing file (rebase).
There are two different modes in which rebase can operate: Safe and Unsafe.
Safe mode is used by default and performs a real rebase operation. The new backing file may differ from the old one and the qemu-img rebase command will take care of keeping the guest virtual machine-visible content of filename unchanged. In order to achieve this, any clusters that differ between backing_file and old backing file of filename are merged into filename before making any changes to the backing file.
Note that safe mode is an expensive operation, comparable to converting an image. The old backing file is required for it to complete successfully.
Unsafe mode is used if the -u option is passed to qemu-img rebase. In this mode, only the backing file name and format of filename is changed, without any checks taking place on the file contents. Make sure the new backing file is specified correctly or the guest-visible content of the image will be corrupted.
This mode is useful for renaming or moving the backing file. It can be used without an accessible old backing file. For instance, it can be used to fix an image whose backing file has already been moved or renamed.

Change the disk image filename as if it had been created with size size. Only images in raw format can be resized regardless of version. Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6.1 and later adds the ability to grow (but not shrink) images in qcow2 format.

Use the following to set the size of the disk image filename to size bytes:
# qemu-img resize filename size
You can also resize relative to the current size of the disk image. To give a size relative to the current size, prefix the number of bytes with + to grow, or - to reduce the size of the disk image by that number of bytes. Adding a unit suffix allows you to set the image size in kilobytes (K), megabytes (M), gigabytes (G) or terabytes (T).
# qemu-img resize filename [+|-]size[K|M|G|T]


Before using this command to shrink a disk image, you must use file system and partitioning tools inside the VM itself to reduce allocated file systems and partition sizes accordingly. Failure to do so will result in data loss.
After using this command to grow a disk image, you must use file system and partitioning tools inside the VM to actually begin using the new space on the device.

List, apply, create, or delete an existing snapshot (snapshot) of an image (filename).

# qemu-img snapshot [ -l | -a snapshot | -c snapshot | -d snapshot ] filename
-l lists all snapshots associated with the specified disk image. The apply option, -a, reverts the disk image (filename) to the state of a previously saved snapshot. -c creates a snapshot (snapshot) of an image (filename). -d deletes the specified snapshot.
Supported Formats

qemu-img is designed to convert files to one of the following formats:

Raw disk image format (default). This can be the fastest file-based format. If your file system supports holes (for example in ext2 or ext3 on Linux or NTFS on Windows), then only the written sectors will reserve space. Use qemu-img info to obtain the real size used by the image or ls -ls on Unix/Linux. Although Raw images give optimal performance, only very basic features are available with a Raw image (for example, no snapshots are available).
QEMU image format, the most versatile format with the best feature set. Use it to have optional AES encryption, zlib-based compression, support of multiple VM snapshots, and smaller images, which are useful on file systems that do not support holes (non-NTFS file systems on Windows). Note that this expansive feature set comes at the cost of performance.
Although only the formats above can be used to run on a guest virtual machine or host physical machine machine, qemu-img also recognizes and supports the following formats in order to convert from them into either raw or qcow2 format. The format of an image is usually detected automatically. In addition to converting these formats into raw or qcow2 , they can be converted back from raw or qcow2 to the original format.
Bochs disk image format.
Linux Compressed Loop image, useful only to reuse directly compressed CD-ROM images present for example in the Knoppix CD-ROMs.
User Mode Linux Copy On Write image format. The cow format is included only for compatibility with previous versions. It does not work with Windows.
Mac disk image format.
Network block device.
Parallels virtualization disk image format.
Old QEMU image format. Only included for compatibility with older versions.
Oracle VM VirtualBox hard disk image format.
VMware compatible image format (read-write support for versions 1 and 2, and read-only support for version 3).
Windows Virtual PC disk image format. Also referred to as vhd, or Microsoft virtual hard disk image format.
Virtual VFAT disk image format.
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