QEMU’s Tiny Code Generator (TCG) provides the ability to emulate a number of CPU architectures on any supported host platform. Both System Emulation and User Mode Emulation are supported depending on the guest architecture.

Supported Guest Architectures for Emulation
Architecture (qemu name) System User Notes
Alpha Yes Yes Legacy 64 bit RISC ISA developed by DEC
Arm (arm, aarch64) Yes Yes Wide range of features, see A-profile CPU architecture support for details
AVR Yes No 8 bit micro controller, often used in maker projects
Cris Yes Yes Embedded RISC chip developed by AXIS
Hexagon No Yes Family of DSPs by Qualcomm
PA-RISC (hppa) Yes Yes A legacy RISC system used in HP’s old minicomputers
x86 (i386, x86_64) Yes Yes The ubiquitous desktop PC CPU architecture, 32 and 64 bit.
Loongarch Yes Yes A MIPS-like 64bit RISC architecture developed in China
m68k Yes Yes Motorola 68000 variants and ColdFire
Microblaze Yes Yes RISC based soft-core by Xilinx
MIPS (mips*) Yes Yes Venerable RISC architecture originally out of Stanford University
Nios2 Yes Yes 32 bit embedded soft-core by Altera
OpenRISC Yes Yes Open source RISC architecture developed by the OpenRISC community
Power (ppc, ppc64) Yes Yes A general purpose RISC architecture now managed by IBM
RISC-V Yes Yes An open standard RISC ISA maintained by RISC-V International
RX Yes No A 32 bit micro controller developed by Renesas
s390x Yes Yes A 64 bit CPU found in IBM’s System Z mainframes
sh4 Yes Yes A 32 bit RISC embedded CPU developed by Hitachi
SPARC (sparc, sparc64) Yes Yes A RISC ISA originally developed by Sun Microsystems
Tricore Yes No A 32 bit RISC/uController/DSP developed by Infineon
Xtensa Yes Yes A configurable 32 bit soft core now owned by Cadence

A number of features are are only available when running under emulation including Record/Replay and QEMU TCG Plugins.


Semihosting is a feature defined by the owner of the architecture to allow programs to interact with a debugging host system. On real hardware this is usually provided by an In-circuit emulator (ICE) hooked directly to the board. QEMU’s implementation allows for semihosting calls to be passed to the host system or via the gdbstub.

Generally semihosting makes it easier to bring up low level code before a more fully functional operating system has been enabled. On QEMU it also allows for embedded micro-controller code which typically doesn’t have a full libc to be run as “bare-metal” code under QEMU’s user-mode emulation. It is also useful for writing test cases and indeed a number of compiler suites as well as QEMU itself use semihosting calls to exit test code while reporting the success state.

Semihosting is only available using TCG emulation. This is because the instructions to trigger a semihosting call are typically reserved causing most hypervisors to trap and fault on them.


Semihosting inherently bypasses any isolation there may be between the guest and the host. As a result a program using semihosting can happily trash your host system. You should only ever run trusted code with semihosting enabled.


Semihosting calls can be re-directed to a (potentially remote) gdb during debugging via the gdbstub. Output to the semihosting console is configured as a chardev so can be redirected to a file, pipe or socket like any other chardev device.

Supported Targets

Most targets offer similar semihosting implementations with some minor changes to define the appropriate instruction to encode the semihosting call and which registers hold the parameters. They tend to presents a simple POSIX-like API which allows your program to read and write files, access the console and some other basic interactions.

For full details of the ABI for a particular target, and the set of calls it provides, you should consult the semihosting specification for that architecture.


QEMU makes an implementation decision to implement all file access in O_BINARY mode. The user-visible effect of this is regardless of the text/binary mode the program sets QEMU will always select a binary mode ensuring no line-terminator conversion is performed on input or output. This is because gdb semihosting support doesn’t make the distinction between the modes and magically processing line endings can be confusing.

Guest Architectures supporting Semihosting
Architecture Modes Specification
Arm System and User-mode https://github.com/ARM-software/abi-aa/blob/main/semihosting/semihosting.rst
m68k System https://sourceware.org/git/?p=newlib-cygwin.git;a=blob;f=libgloss/m68k/m68k-semi.txt;hb=HEAD
MIPS System Unified Hosting Interface (MD01069)
Nios II System https://sourceware.org/git/gitweb.cgi?p=newlib-cygwin.git;a=blob;f=libgloss/nios2/nios2-semi.txt;hb=HEAD
RISC-V System and User-mode https://github.com/riscv/riscv-semihosting-spec/blob/main/riscv-semihosting-spec.adoc
Xtensa System Tensilica ISS SIMCALL