Tag Archives: sysadmin

libvirt: Migrate a VM from qemu:///session to qemu:///system

In recent versions of the libvirt virtualisation libraries, you to create and manage virtual machines as a regular user, using the qemu:///session connection.

This is great, but the networking is quite limited. I found that machines defined in Gnome Boxes could not speak to each-other, and that libvirt commands for networking were unavailable.

For this reason, I’ve written this quick guide for booting up an existing same VM image under the qemu:///system instance, which is faster than re-installing the machine. Unlike most sorts of migrations, this leaves the disk image at the same location on the same host machine.

There’s many different ways to do VM’s in Linux. This setup will be useful only if you use libvirt/kvm using qcow2 images on Debian. As always, consider doing a backup before trying new things.


First, find your virtual machine in virsh, and dump its configuration to a text file in your home directory, as a regular user.

$ virsh list --all
 Id    Name                           State
 -     foo-machine                    shut off
$ virsh dumpxml > foo-machine.xml

Now remove the VM definition from your user:

$ virsh undefine foo-machine
Domain foo-machine has been undefined

Import the definitions into virsh as the root user:

$ sudo virsh define foo-machine.xml 
Domain foo-machin defined from foo-machine.xml

Attempt to start the new VM definition. Depending on where the disk image is, expect an error.

$ sudo virsh start foo-machine

Disk images

The disk image needs to be accessible to the libvirt-qemu user. There’s two basic ways to achieve this: Re-permission the directories above it, or move it.

I chose to just re-permission it, since it’s not an issue to have world-readable directories on this particular box:

$ cat foo-machine.xml | grep source
      <source file='/home/example/.local/share/gnome-boxes/images/foo-machine'/>

This one-liner outputs the commands to run to make a directory work-navigable:

$ dir=`pwd`; while [ "$dir" != "/" ]; do echo "chmod o+x,g+x \"$dir\""; dir=`dirname $dir`; done
chmod o+x,g+x "/home/example/.local/share/gnome-boxes/images"
chmod o+x,g+x "/home/example/.local/share/gnome-boxes"
chmod o+x,g+x "/home/example/.local/share"
chmod o+x,g+x "/home/example/.local"
chmod o+x,g+x "/home/example"
chmod o+x,g+x "/home"

And the user account needs to be able to write as well:

$ sudo chown libvirt-qemu /home/example/.local/share/gnome-boxes/images/foo-machine

Once you have the permissions right, the VM should start, using the same command as before:

$ sudo virsh start foo-machine

More importantly, you can now hook up virt-manager and view your machine on qemu:///system, allowing you to configure the VM with any network settings you need.

How to empty your local user account

If you’re not going to use a user account on your computer again, but can’t delete it for some reason, then emptying it is the next best thing to do.

Note: Save anything you want to keep before you start deleting things. These are destructive commands which delete all of the files and settings in the current user’s profile. If you are at all unsure, consider using a file browser to clear out the profile instead.


del /A / F /Q /S .

Linux or Mac:

cd ~
rm -Rf .

This will make sure that the disused account no-longer wastes any disk space.

Backing up from a hosting provider

Backups are great, and they’re not rocket science. I’m writing up how we do backups, not because I think it’s a cool or unique setup (because it’s not), but to highlight how effective a simple solution can be.

We use rsync to take a local copy of whatever is on our web host without wasting bandwidth downloading files that aren’t needed. The layout looks like this:

Our hosting provider is accessible via ssh, and the backup box we use is a Raspberry Pi model B, costing (more or less) 50 AUD to get running.

On the server

On the server, we back up databases with mysqldump. To do this, you need to enter user details into a .my.cnf file, and then something like this will do the trick:

# Remove old dump
rm -f database.sql.gz

# Dump and compress database
mysqldump -h sql.example.com --all-databases > database.sql
gzip database.sql

The above script is called database-dump.sh, and is called from the backup box, to dump the databases to a file before grabbing all the files.

On the backup box

First, a script to get the files. You should use password-less login with ssh-copy-id for this to work non-interactively:

# Update the database dump
ssh user@host.example.com './database-dump.sh'
# Get files
rsync -avz --delete-during user@host.example.com:/home/user .

We save a copy of the files at this date in a dated archive, so we can back-date to find deleted things. At the end of the above script:

mkdir -p archive
now=$(date +"%Y-%m-%d")
tar -czf archive/backup-$now.tar.gz user

There aren’t a huge number of changes to record daily, so we got cron to run the above script weekly on the backup box. Read man crontab for how to do this.

What backup is not

If you think you shouldn’t be doing backups, you’re wrong. The following are not good excuses:

  1. Trust — Whoever is looking after the data wont lose it.
    Our host is pretty good, but their terms of service say they wont be responsible for any data loss. Even providers which have support agreements can make mistakes. You’ll also be able to work faster if you’re not paranoid about any mistake being unrecoverable.
  2. Expense — It’s a nice idea but not worth it.
    It’s dirt cheap, you can learn to do it yourself, and once set up requires virtually no administration. If your organisation can’t afford some kind of backup solution, then it should probably stop using data in any form.
  3. RAID — I invested money in RAID, so I don’t need backups.
    If you accidentally delete something, or notice that some your files have been tampered with, then RAID will not help you. If there is a problem (eg. fire) at the hosting location, then you will be in trouble regardless of disk redundancy.