‘virt’ generic virtual platform (virt)

The virt board is a platform which does not correspond to any real hardware; it is designed for use in virtual machines. It is the recommended board type if you simply want to run a guest such as Linux and do not care about reproducing the idiosyncrasies and limitations of a particular bit of real-world hardware.

This is a “versioned” board model, so as well as the virt machine type itself (which may have improvements, bugfixes and other minor changes between QEMU versions) a version is provided that guarantees to have the same behaviour as that of previous QEMU releases, so that VM migration will work between QEMU versions. For instance the virt-5.0 machine type will behave like the virt machine from the QEMU 5.0 release, and migration should work between virt-5.0 of the 5.0 release and virt-5.0 of the 5.1 release. Migration is not guaranteed to work between different QEMU releases for the non-versioned virt machine type.

Supported devices

The virt board supports:

  • PCI/PCIe devices
  • Flash memory
  • One PL011 UART
  • An RTC
  • The fw_cfg device that allows a guest to obtain data from QEMU
  • A PL061 GPIO controller
  • An optional SMMUv3 IOMMU
  • hotpluggable DIMMs
  • hotpluggable NVDIMMs
  • An MSI controller (GICv2M or ITS). GICv2M is selected by default along with GICv2. ITS is selected by default with GICv3 (>= virt-2.7). Note that ITS is not modeled in TCG mode.
  • 32 virtio-mmio transport devices
  • running guests using the KVM accelerator on aarch64 hardware
  • large amounts of RAM (at least 255GB, and more if using highmem)
  • many CPUs (up to 512 if using a GICv3 and highmem)
  • Secure-World-only devices if the CPU has TrustZone:
    • A second PL011 UART
    • A secure flash memory
    • 16MB of secure RAM

Supported guest CPU types:

  • cortex-a7 (32-bit)
  • cortex-a15 (32-bit; the default)
  • cortex-a53 (64-bit)
  • cortex-a57 (64-bit)
  • cortex-a72 (64-bit)
  • host (with KVM only)
  • max (same as host for KVM; best possible emulation with TCG)

Note that the default is cortex-a15, so for an AArch64 guest you must specify a CPU type.

Graphics output is available, but unlike the x86 PC machine types there is no default display device enabled: you should select one from the Display devices section of “-device help”. The recommended option is virtio-gpu-pci; this is the only one which will work correctly with KVM. You may also need to ensure your guest kernel is configured with support for this; see below.

Machine-specific options

The following machine-specific options are supported:

secure
Set on/off to enable/disable emulating a guest CPU which implements the Arm Security Extensions (TrustZone). The default is off.
virtualization
Set on/off to enable/disable emulating a guest CPU which implements the Arm Virtualization Extensions. The default is off.
mte
Set on/off to enable/disable emulating a guest CPU which implements the Arm Memory Tagging Extensions. The default is off.
highmem
Set on/off to enable/disable placing devices and RAM in physical address space above 32 bits. The default is on for machine types later than virt-2.12.
gic-version

Specify the version of the Generic Interrupt Controller (GIC) to provide. Valid values are:

2
GICv2
3
GICv3
host
Use the same GIC version the host provides, when using KVM
max
Use the best GIC version possible (same as host when using KVM; currently same as 3` for TCG, but this may change in future)
its
Set on/off to enable/disable ITS instantiation. The default is on for machine types later than virt-2.7.
iommu

Set the IOMMU type to create for the guest. Valid values are:

none
Don’t create an IOMMU (the default)
smmuv3
Create an SMMUv3
ras
Set on/off to enable/disable reporting host memory errors to a guest using ACPI and guest external abort exceptions. The default is off.

Linux guest kernel configuration

The ‘defconfig’ for Linux arm and arm64 kernels should include the right device drivers for virtio and the PCI controller; however some older kernel versions, especially for 32-bit Arm, did not have everything enabled by default. If you’re not seeing PCI devices that you expect, then check that your guest config has:

CONFIG_PCI=y
CONFIG_VIRTIO_PCI=y
CONFIG_PCI_HOST_GENERIC=y

If you want to use the virtio-gpu-pci graphics device you will also need:

CONFIG_DRM=y
CONFIG_DRM_VIRTIO_GPU=y

Hardware configuration information for bare-metal programming

The virt board automatically generates a device tree blob (“dtb”) which it passes to the guest. This provides information about the addresses, interrupt lines and other configuration of the various devices in the system. Guest code can rely on and hard-code the following addresses:

  • Flash memory starts at address 0x0000_0000
  • RAM starts at 0x4000_0000

All other information about device locations may change between QEMU versions, so guest code must look in the DTB.

QEMU supports two types of guest image boot for virt, and the way for the guest code to locate the dtb binary differs:

  • For guests using the Linux kernel boot protocol (this means any non-ELF file passed to the QEMU -kernel option) the address of the DTB is passed in a register (r2 for 32-bit guests, or x0 for 64-bit guests)
  • For guests booting as “bare-metal” (any other kind of boot), the DTB is at the start of RAM (0x4000_0000)