QEMU Machine Protocol Specification

The QEMU Machine Protocol (QMP) is a JSON-based protocol which is available for applications to operate QEMU at the machine-level. It is also in use by the QEMU Guest Agent (QGA), which is available for host applications to interact with the guest operating system. This page specifies the general format of the protocol; details of the commands and data structures can be found in the QEMU QMP Reference Manual and the QEMU Guest Agent Protocol Reference.

Protocol Specification

This section details the protocol format. For the purpose of this document, “Server” is either QEMU or the QEMU Guest Agent, and “Client” is any application communicating with it via QMP.

JSON data structures, when mentioned in this document, are always in the following format:


Where DATA-STRUCTURE-NAME is any valid JSON data structure, as defined by the JSON standard.

The server expects its input to be encoded in UTF-8, and sends its output encoded in ASCII.

For convenience, json-object members mentioned in this document will be in a certain order. However, in real protocol usage they can be in ANY order, thus no particular order should be assumed. On the other hand, use of json-array elements presumes that preserving order is important unless specifically documented otherwise. Repeating a key within a json-object gives unpredictable results.

Also for convenience, the server will accept an extension of 'single-quoted' strings in place of the usual "double-quoted" json-string, and both input forms of strings understand an additional escape sequence of \' for a single quote. The server will only use double quoting on output.

General Definitions

All interactions transmitted by the Server are json-objects, always terminating with CRLF.

All json-objects members are mandatory when not specified otherwise.

Server Greeting

Right when connected the Server will issue a greeting message, which signals that the connection has been successfully established and that the Server is ready for capabilities negotiation (for more information refer to section Capabilities Negotiation).

The greeting message format is:

{ "QMP": { "version": json-object, "capabilities": json-array } }


  • The version member contains the Server’s version information (the format is the same as for the query-version command).

  • The capabilities member specifies the availability of features beyond the baseline specification; the order of elements in this array has no particular significance.


Currently supported capabilities are:


the QMP server supports “out-of-band” (OOB) command execution, as described in section Out-of-band execution.

Issuing Commands

The format for command execution is:

{ "execute": json-string, "arguments": json-object, "id": json-value }


{ "exec-oob": json-string, "arguments": json-object, "id": json-value }


  • The execute or exec-oob member identifies the command to be executed by the server. The latter requests out-of-band execution.

  • The arguments member is used to pass any arguments required for the execution of the command, it is optional when no arguments are required. Each command documents what contents will be considered valid when handling the json-argument.

  • The id member is a transaction identification associated with the command execution, it is optional and will be part of the response if provided. The id member can be any json-value. A json-number incremented for each successive command works fine.

The actual commands are documented in the QEMU QMP Reference Manual.

Out-of-band execution

The server normally reads, executes and responds to one command after the other. The client therefore receives command responses in issue order.

With out-of-band execution enabled via capabilities negotiation, the server reads and queues commands as they arrive. It executes commands from the queue one after the other. Commands executed out-of-band jump the queue: the command get executed right away, possibly overtaking prior in-band commands. The client may therefore receive such a command’s response before responses from prior in-band commands.

To be able to match responses back to their commands, the client needs to pass id with out-of-band commands. Passing it with all commands is recommended for clients that accept capability oob.

If the client sends in-band commands faster than the server can execute them, the server will stop reading requests until the request queue length is reduced to an acceptable range.

To ensure commands to be executed out-of-band get read and executed, the client should have at most eight in-band commands in flight.

Only a few commands support out-of-band execution. The ones that do have "allow-oob": true in the output of query-qmp-schema.

Commands Responses

There are two possible responses which the Server will issue as the result of a command execution: success or error.

As long as the commands were issued with a proper id field, then the same id field will be attached in the corresponding response message so that requests and responses can match. Clients should drop all the responses that have an unknown id field.


The format of a success response is:

{ "return": json-value, "id": json-value }


  • The return member contains the data returned by the command, which is defined on a per-command basis (usually a json-object or json-array of json-objects, but sometimes a json-number, json-string, or json-array of json-strings); it is an empty json-object if the command does not return data.

  • The id member contains the transaction identification associated with the command execution if issued by the Client.


The format of an error response is:

{ "error": { "class": json-string, "desc": json-string }, "id": json-value }


  • The class member contains the error class name (eg. "GenericError").

  • The desc member is a human-readable error message. Clients should not attempt to parse this message.

  • The id member contains the transaction identification associated with the command execution if issued by the Client.

NOTE: Some errors can occur before the Server is able to read the id member; in these cases the id member will not be part of the error response, even if provided by the client.

Asynchronous events

As a result of state changes, the Server may send messages unilaterally to the Client at any time, when not in the middle of any other response. They are called “asynchronous events”.

The format of asynchronous events is:

{ "event": json-string, "data": json-object,
  "timestamp": { "seconds": json-number, "microseconds": json-number } }


  • The event member contains the event’s name.

  • The data member contains event specific data, which is defined in a per-event basis. It is optional.

  • The timestamp member contains the exact time of when the event occurred in the Server. It is a fixed json-object with time in seconds and microseconds relative to the Unix Epoch (1 Jan 1970); if there is a failure to retrieve host time, both members of the timestamp will be set to -1.

The actual asynchronous events are documented in the QEMU QMP Reference Manual.

Some events are rate-limited to at most one per second. If additional “similar” events arrive within one second, all but the last one are dropped, and the last one is delayed. “Similar” normally means same event type.

Forcing the JSON parser into known-good state

Incomplete or invalid input can leave the server’s JSON parser in a state where it can’t parse additional commands. To get it back into known-good state, the client should provoke a lexical error.

The cleanest way to do that is sending an ASCII control character other than \t (horizontal tab), \r (carriage return), or \n (new line).

Sadly, older versions of QEMU can fail to flag this as an error. If a client needs to deal with them, it should send a 0xFF byte.

QGA Synchronization

When a client connects to QGA over a transport lacking proper connection semantics such as virtio-serial, QGA may have read partial input from a previous client. The client needs to force QGA’s parser into known-good state using the previous section’s technique. Moreover, the client may receive output a previous client didn’t read. To help with skipping that output, QGA provides the guest-sync-delimited command. Refer to its documentation for details.

QMP Examples

This section provides some examples of real QMP usage, in all of them -> marks text sent by the Client and <- marks replies by the Server.


Server greeting

<- { "QMP": {"version": {"qemu": {"micro": 0, "minor": 0, "major": 3},
     "package": "v3.0.0"}, "capabilities": ["oob"] } }


Capabilities negotiation

-> { "execute": "qmp_capabilities", "arguments": { "enable": ["oob"] } }
<- { "return": {}}


Simple ‘stop’ execution

-> { "execute": "stop" }
<- { "return": {} }


KVM information

-> { "execute": "query-kvm", "id": "example" }
<- { "return": { "enabled": true, "present": true }, "id": "example"}


Parsing error

-> { "execute": }
<- { "error": { "class": "GenericError", "desc": "JSON parse error, expecting value" } }


Powerdown event

<- { "timestamp": { "seconds": 1258551470, "microseconds": 802384 },
    "event": "POWERDOWN" }


Out-of-band execution

-> { "exec-oob": "migrate-pause", "id": 42 }
<- { "id": 42,
     "error": { "class": "GenericError",
      "desc": "migrate-pause is currently only supported during postcopy-active state" } }

Capabilities Negotiation

When a Client successfully establishes a connection, the Server is in Capabilities Negotiation mode.

In this mode only the qmp_capabilities command is allowed to run; all other commands will return the CommandNotFound error. Asynchronous messages are not delivered either.

Clients should use the qmp_capabilities command to enable capabilities advertised in the Server Greeting which they support.

When the qmp_capabilities command is issued, and if it does not return an error, the Server enters Command mode where capabilities changes take effect, all commands (except qmp_capabilities) are allowed and asynchronous messages are delivered.

Compatibility Considerations

All protocol changes or new features which modify the protocol format in an incompatible way are disabled by default and will be advertised by the capabilities array (in the Server Greeting). Thus, Clients can check that array and enable the capabilities they support.

The QMP Server performs a type check on the arguments to a command. It generates an error if a value does not have the expected type for its key, or if it does not understand a key that the Client included. The strictness of the Server catches wrong assumptions of Clients about the Server’s schema. Clients can assume that, when such validation errors occur, they will be reported before the command generated any side effect.

However, Clients must not assume any particular:

  • Length of json-arrays

  • Size of json-objects; in particular, future versions of QEMU may add new keys and Clients should be able to ignore them

  • Order of json-object members or json-array elements

  • Amount of errors generated by a command, that is, new errors can be added to any existing command in newer versions of the Server

Any command or member name beginning with x- is deemed experimental, and may be withdrawn or changed in an incompatible manner in a future release.

Of course, the Server does guarantee to send valid JSON. But apart from this, a Client should be “conservative in what they send, and liberal in what they accept”.

Downstream extension of QMP

We recommend that downstream consumers of QEMU do not modify QMP. Management tools should be able to support both upstream and downstream versions of QMP without special logic, and downstream extensions are inherently at odds with that.

However, we recognize that it is sometimes impossible for downstreams to avoid modifying QMP. Both upstream and downstream need to take care to preserve long-term compatibility and interoperability.

To help with that, QMP reserves JSON object member names beginning with __ (double underscore) for downstream use (“downstream names”). This means upstream will never use any downstream names for its commands, arguments, errors, asynchronous events, and so forth.

Any new names downstream wishes to add must begin with __. To ensure compatibility with other downstreams, it is strongly recommended that you prefix your downstream names with __RFQDN_ where RFQDN is a valid, reverse fully qualified domain name which you control. For example, a qemu-kvm specific monitor command would be:

(qemu) __org.linux-kvm_enable_irqchip

Downstream must not change the server greeting other than to offer additional capabilities. But see below for why even that is discouraged.

The section Compatibility Considerations applies to downstream as well as to upstream, obviously. It follows that downstream must behave exactly like upstream for any input not containing members with downstream names (“downstream members”), except it may add members with downstream names to its output.

Thus, a client should not be able to distinguish downstream from upstream as long as it doesn’t send input with downstream members, and properly ignores any downstream members in the output it receives.

Advice on downstream modifications:

  1. Introducing new commands is okay. If you want to extend an existing command, consider introducing a new one with the new behaviour instead.

  2. Introducing new asynchronous messages is okay. If you want to extend an existing message, consider adding a new one instead.

  3. Introducing new errors for use in new commands is okay. Adding new errors to existing commands counts as extension, so 1. applies.

  4. New capabilities are strongly discouraged. Capabilities are for evolving the basic protocol, and multiple diverging basic protocol dialects are most undesirable.