Windows Development in a KVM Virtual Machine
Thu 08 November 2018
I love Linux as an operating system for software development. It has a powerful set of flexible tools for creating, analyzing and building source code and binaries. The unix philosophy means that a quick script can compose the tools together to generate a cartesian product of functionality. That is, the number of distinct uses for your toolset grows exponentially rather than linearly with the number of tools. It's great.
However, sometimes I've got to develop programs for Windows — either to support users of my open source work or to interface with proprietary hardware and software. Windows has great developer tools too, but their flavour is generally less composable and more monolithic. To have access to a handy range of operating systems without rebooting, I've recently set up Windows in a virtual machine running under the KVM hypervisor.
The following are some notes on how I set this up with KVM and libvirt (with QEMU backend), and got a productive windows guest development environment running. It's important to have good clipboard integration, file sharing, etc to make working between systems fairly seamless. I originally chose KVM because of the potential to do GPU passthrough though this turned out to be rather difficult on a laptop.
The host environment
I'm running Ubuntu 18.04 as the host system, but the setup should apply to most
linux distributions. The physical hardware is a 2018 Dell XPS 15 9560 laptop
which has Intel VT-x hardware virtualization support (
grep --color vmx
/proc/cpuinfo). It's got the usual Intel graphics, as well as a discrete
NVidia GTX 1050 GPU, currently disabled to avoid the extra power draw.
Virtual hardware setup using virt-manager
Firstly, install the
virt-manager package which provides a GUI which will let
you configure VM hardware interactively, gives a list of VMs and a graphical
console for each VM. Also add yourself to the libvirt group so you can run the
libvirt tools without a password (type
usermod -a -G libvirt $USER and
restart your session).
Let's create a VM with the
File->New Virtual Machine.
- When starting from scratch you'll probably want "Local install media" to
point the system at a Windows 10 ISO or physical CDROM media. If
virt-managerdoesn't autodetect the OS on the ISO correctly, you may want to tell it which OS you're going to install so that some hardware defaults are sensibly populated.
- Configure the next few pages of simple settings as you please until you get to "Create a new virtual machine". To set up some additional hardware, you'll want to click the "Customize configuration before install" checkbox before proceeding.
Now set up the hardware to use VirtIO drivers where possible as these allow more direct and faster access to the host resources. The hardware details GUI gives access to many options - we'll be modifying some of the (virtualized) hardware, and also adding a few new devices. In the windows guest OS, this hardware will appear in the Device Manager and we'll need to install extra drivers in some cases.
- Modify the Disk to use the VirtIO driver in
Advanced options->Disk bus.
- Modify the NIC device to use the VirtIO driver. This gives good performance, just note that you'll need to install the NetKVM driver as described below.
- Create an additional new IDE CDROM with
Add Hardware->Storage->Select custom storage->CDROM deviceso that we have access to the VirtIO drivers during the install. As of this writing, Ubuntu seems to provide ancient VirtIO drivers, so you should download the iso with RedHat virtio-win drivers instead and attach this to the new CDROM device. Note that the other CDROM device needs to be free so that it can be used for the windows install media.
- For a good experience sharing the mouse with the host, an emulated tablet is better than a mouse, as it sends absolute rather than relative coordinates. This will probably be added by default, but you can add it manually by adding an "EvTouch USB graphics tablet" input device.
- For copy/paste integration and other guest agent interaction, you'll need a
VirtIO serial controller and guest agent channel.
Add a VirtIO serial controller with
Add Hardware->Controller->VirtIO Serial. Add a guest agent channel with
- For installation, verify the boot order in
Boot Options. For the first boot, you should boot into the install media - probably
IDE CDROM 1or some such. On subsequent reboots you'll want the
VirtIO Disk 1so that you boot the installed OS. If you encounter the UEFI Boot console, you've probably got the order wrong here and are trying to boot into the disk without an OS installed.
Windows installation; virtio drivers and guest agent tools
Now that the hardware is configured, you can begin the software installation.
The one tricky part is getting the VirtIO disk driver installed up front so
that windows can see the virtual hard drive. You may need to click the
"Advanced" install button or some such thing to get to the "Load driver"
button. If you attached the virtio-win driver disk as suggested above, the
drivers can be manually selected during setup from path like
E:\viostor\w10\amd64. After installing these, you'll be able to see the
virtual hard drive and you can just click through all the usual windows setup
After finishing the windows installation, there will be a few additional VirtIO
drivers and guest agents to install. First, install the NetKVM driver to get
your network working by opening
Device Manager and selecting
devices->Ethernet Controller. Right click this and select
Driver->Browse my computer for Drivers, followed by entering the location of
the NetKVM directory on the virtio-win CDROM. See the RedHat
for more detail.
For all other drivers and tools, the fastest way to get things working is to install the "windows guest tools" from https://www.spice-space.org/download.html. This includes
- The SPICE guest agent for desktop integration of copy/paste and window resizing.
- The QEMU guest agent to allow graceful shutdown of the guest from the host.
- Various drivers (memory Balloon driver, virtio serial controller)
In the event you've got to install other drivers and agents manually, the
procedure is the same as the NetKVM one above: Open the windows Device Manager,
and select a device from the tree. The unknown VirtIO devices appear under
"Other devices". You want to right click these and select
Driver->Browse my computer for Drivers, entering the location of the CDROM
with the virtio-win driver disk for example,
- The Balloon driver, which lets the VM obtain additional host memory (Balloon)
- The serial controller (vioserial)
- The VirtIO disk driver (viostor)
- The qemu guest agent can be found in the virtio-win disk under libvirt guest-agent. Running the installer should result in a new windows service "QEMU guest agent" visible in the "Services" application.
- Unfortunately the SPICE agent isn't available on the virtio-win driver disk, so you'll have to get the installer for this from elsewhere to get copy/paste/resizing working.
Once you've installed the drivers, restart the machine, and select the
View->Scale Display->Auto Resize VM with window checkbox in the virt-manager
menu. The VM screen should now resize with your host window. If not, you might
have forgotten to install the SPICE guest or the spice hardware channel is not
Snapshot the clean state
At this point it's worth creating a snapshot of the clean functioning system. It's probably a good idea to install all windows updates and perhaps some basic software like a modern web browser. Other than that keep it clean and minimal.
When you're ready to make a snapshot, shut down the VM. In the
View->Snapshots and click the "Create new snapshot" button
labelled with a
+ in the snapshots list.
Windows package management tools
If you're a linux dev you might not know that there's finally package managers for windows with a good range of dev tools. Use one. For example, chocolatey will save you heaps of time and sanity.
File sharing between linux hosts and windows guests
Firstly, note there are several attractive and obvious options which do not work when the guest VM is windows:
- You can't just add the obvious "Filesystem" device as virtfs/9p isn't yet supported. Signs are that it's also poorly supported on linux guests. Just forget it.
- Folder sharing via SPICE webdav does work, but only seems good for one-off ad hoc sharing. My short experience suggests that it's completely dependent on the SPICE viewer, so isn't a viable option for reliable VM setup.
netdev user,smbsupport seems to be a good option because it encapsulates the local file sharing along with the VM config. But it turns out to be extraordinarily difficult to debug and more effort it's worth.
Setting up samba on the host
So screw it, just manually set up a samba server on the host machine. For
security you will want to restrict the network interfaces the samba server can
bind to. By default, virt-manager creates a virtual bridge called
the host and connects the VMs to that, so you'll need something like the
following in your samba config file
# Only allow local VMs to see the samba server interfaces = virbr0 bind interfaces only = yes
While you're at it, you may want to comment out the sections dealing with printers and add the following to disable them completely:
# Disable printers load printers = no printing = bsd printcap name = /dev/null disable spoolss = yes
Shared samba folder setup is pretty standard and there's examples in
smb.conf. You might share your home directory, or if you don't trust the VMs
as much as the host set up a special shared directory as follows:
# Share for all local VMs [vmshare] path = /home/$your_user_name/vmshare writable = yes browseable = yes
It's sometimes necessary to be able to execute files which you've generated on the samba share. For this you may need to turn off a security feature as described on the samba wiki:
# Allow users to execute all files on the share acl allow execute always = True
Naturally you'll also need to restart smbd after these changes — on Ubuntu with
sudo systemctl restart smbd. You'll also need to add a samba
password to your user with
sudo smbpasswd -a $your_user_name.
Mapping network drives on the guest
Once all this is set up, map the network drive in
the usual way
on the guest side to avoid problems with ancient programs like
don't understand UNC paths. When connecting you'll need to tick the box
"Connect using different credentials" and use the credentials you gave to
smbpasswd. The folder name can be spelled as
linux-host-name the local name of your linux machine or IP address of
the virtual bridge (eg,
A couple of traps to avoid:
- On windows 10 you won't be able to browse the samba network shares but you can still map the network drive if you know the host name and share name. This is because samba doesn't yet support the ws-discovery protocol, and microsoft have deprecated the old SMB-1.0 protocol. You can re-enable SMB-1.0 via the "Windows Features" dialog, but microsoft may well remove support for it completely in the near future.
- Be sure to use the samba host name as the windows domain when mapping the network drive or windows won't remember your credentials across a reboot.
- You may want to comment out the line containing
/etc/hostsfile due to the following bug: https://bugs.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+source/libvirt/+bug/1326536; this bug will prevent guest VMs from properly accessing the linux host by name.
- The administrator account may not be able to see the mapped drive unless you
set a new registry key
1. See here for additional detail.
Automounting windows shares in linux
Some windows software doesn't like to have its data stored on a network drive. In these cases you might be forced to do the opposite of the approach above — that is, to export a windows share and mount it from the linux guest. I don't recommend this (the host should be storing your important files), but if you need it here's how to set it up.
On the windows guest side, new shares can be created using the
command. For example to create a new share name
Dev which points at the
C:\dev, with full access for
net share Dev=C:\dev /grant:SomeUser,FULL
On the host linux machine, you can test your share with something like
sudo mount -t cifs -o username=SomeUser,domain=localhost //192.168.122.88/Dev /mnt/tmp ls /mnt/tmp sudo umount /mnt/tmp
This assumes that you've got a local directory
/mnt/tmp, and that
192.168.122.10 is the IP address of your virtual machine.
You probably want this to be mounted automatically when the VM is on and you
/mnt/win_dev. You can do this using systemd's automounter support
by putting the following in your
# automount CIFS view of the Dev share using systemd //192.168.122.88/Dev /mnt/win_dev cifs noauto,vers=1.0,uid=1000,gid=1000,_netdev,x-systemd.automount,x-systemd.device-timeout=10,nofail,credentials=/home/youruser/.win-dev-credentials.txt 0 0
You need to make the directory
/mnt/win_dev or equivalent, and the windows
credentials for the share in
username=SomeUser password=somepassword!! domain=localhost
Now reload the systemd config and start the automounter:
sudo systemctl daemon-reload systemctl start mnt-win_dev.mount # depends on the name of your share
Networking your virtual machines together
Network setup with KVM is very straightforward. By default, libvirt attaches
all machines to a virtual bridge on the same "default" network, with new
virtual machines getting an IP address via normal DHCP from a special instance
dnsmasq bound to the bridge.
Setting host names and static IP addresses
The simplest way to make virtual machines talk to each other is by associating
a static IP address and host name to the MAC (hardware) address of each
machine's virtual network card. For the default network you can do this with
virsh net-edit default, making the
dhcp section look something
like the following:
<dhcp> <range start='192.168.122.2' end='192.168.122.254'/> <host mac='52:54:00:57:02:25' name='windows_box' ip='192.168.122.10'/> <host mac='52:54:00:5a:8d:f1' name='linux_box' ip='192.168.122.11'/> </dhcp>
Here you'll need to fill in your own
mac values which you can find in the
virsh net-dhcp-leases default. Now reboot the virtual switch:
virsh net-destroy default virsh net-start default
It's also possible to set up custom name resolution for the virtual network by
adding lines such as
<domain name='blah.com' localOnly='yes'/> to the network
So, was learning to use libvirt worth all this effort compared to using
VirtualBox as I've done in the past? So far I'd say cautiously yes; the time
investment has been higher, but it feels like the underlying tooling is
generally better and more composable. One last thing — you should try out the
virsh shell as a powerful way to do everything that virt-manager
does and more.
Here's a few notes on things which didn't work out but which seemed worth recording.
If you need to develop GPU code in a windows VM things are generally bad. However, with two GPUs, KVM can pass one piece of GPU hardware directly through to a VM, leaving the other for the host system. This should be a really great system for productive cross platform GPU development on the right hardware as of 2018. Sadly it's early days for getting this to work on laptop GPU hardware such as is contained in the XPS-15. Here's some notes and links I collected before I gave up on this for now:
GPU passthrough allows a physical GPU to be used directly by a virtual machine. Several people have set this kind of thing up, often to run games in windows with a linux host. My physical hardware is a 2018 Dell XPS 15 (9560) laptop which has the usual Intel graphics, as well as a discrete NVidia GTX 1050 GPU. This is a GPU without a physical output; ie a muxless card, so https://github.com/jscinoz/optimus-vfio-docs probably applies.
To allow GPU passthrough, UEFI firmware should be selected on the Overview
page during VM hardware setup instead of BIOS, at least according to
On Ubuntu can open UEFI firmware implementation is provided by the
ovmf package which must be installed before restarting the virtio service
systemctl restart libvirt-bin.service. Note that this unfortunately
has the side effect of breaking VM snapshots as they're
not yet implemented with UEFI.
QEMU netdev user,smb
QEMU's netdev user,smb support seems to be a good option because it encapsulates the local file sharing along with the VM config. I tried hard to get this working with an Ubuntu 18.04 host, but eventually it proved more difficult than worthwhile. Nevertheless, here's some things I found out.
I followed the instructions here
to add the following to the VM config using
<domain type='kvm' xmlns:qemu='http://libvirt.org/schemas/domain/qemu/1.0'> ... <qemu:commandline> <qemu:arg value='-netdev'/> <qemu:arg value='user,smb=/home/$your_user_name/win10,id=smb0,smbserver=10.0.2.4'/> <qemu:arg value='-device'/> <qemu:arg value='virtio-net-pci,netdev=smb0'/> </qemu:commandline> </domain>
Note that we can't do this directly in virt-manager, because it's not not natively supported by libvirt.
With this solution, we've also got to disable some apparmor security to
allow samba to access /tmp and exec smbd. The simple way to do this is to
disable apparmor for libvirtd completely using
sudo aa-disable libvirtd.
(Note that you should think twice about this if you're going to run other
untrusted VMs on the same machine!)
If I remember correctly, the above gives you a read only share to the guest. However, I eventually gave up on this because it was so difficult to debug.