QEMU may be running with various helper processes involved:
  • vhost-user* processes (gpu, virtfs, input, etc…)
  • TPM emulation (or other devices)
  • user networking (slirp)
  • network services (DHCP/DNS, samba/ftp etc)
  • background tasks (compression, streaming etc)
  • client UI
  • admin & cli

Having several processes allows stricter security rules, as well as greater modularity.

While QEMU itself uses QMP as primary IPC (and Spice/VNC for remote display), D-Bus is the de facto IPC of choice on Unix systems. The wire format is machine friendly, good bindings exist for various languages, and there are various tools available.

Using a bus, helper processes can discover and communicate with each other easily, without going through QEMU. The bus topology is also easier to apprehend and debug than a mesh. However, it is wise to consider the security aspects of it.


A QEMU D-Bus bus should be private to a single VM. Thus, only cooperative tasks are running on the same bus to serve the VM.

D-Bus, the protocol and standard, doesn’t have mechanisms to enforce security between peers once the connection is established. Peers may have additional mechanisms to enforce security rules, based for example on UNIX credentials.

The daemon can control which peers can send/recv messages using various metadata attributes, however, this is alone is not generally sufficient to make the deployment secure. The semantics of the actual methods implemented using D-Bus are just as critical. Peers need to carefully validate any information they received from a peer with a different trust level.

dbus-daemon policy

dbus-daemon can enforce various policies based on the UID/GID of the processes that are connected to it. It is thus a good idea to run helpers as different UID from QEMU and set appropriate policies.

Depending on the use case, you may choose different scenarios:

  • Everything the same UID
    • Convenient for developers
    • Improved reliability - crash of one part doens’t take out entire VM
    • No security benefit over traditional QEMU, unless additional unless additional controls such as SELinux or AppArmor are applied
  • Two UIDs, one for QEMU, one for dbus & helpers
    • Moderately improved user based security isolation
  • Many UIDs, one for QEMU one for dbus and one for each helpers
    • Best user based security isolation
    • Complex to manager distinct UIDs needed for each VM

For example, to allow only qemu user to talk to qemu-helper org.qemu.Helper1 service, a dbus-daemon policy may contain:

<policy user="qemu">
   <allow send_destination="org.qemu.Helper1"/>
   <allow receive_sender="org.qemu.Helper1"/>

<policy user="qemu-helper">
   <allow own="org.qemu.Helper1"/>

dbus-daemon can also perfom SELinux checks based on the security context of the source and the target. For example, virtiofs_t could be allowed to send a message to svirt_t, but virtiofs_t wouldn’t be allowed to send a message to virtiofs_t.

See dbus-daemon man page for details.


When implementing new D-Bus interfaces, it is recommended to follow the “D-Bus API Design Guidelines”: https://dbus.freedesktop.org/doc/dbus-api-design.html

The “org.qemu.*” prefix is reserved for services implemented & distributed by the QEMU project.

QEMU Interfaces

D-Bus VMState