Posted on Di 08 Januar 2013

systemd for Administrators, Part XIX

Happy new year 2013! Here is now the nineteenth installment of my ongoing series on systemd for Administrators:

Detecting Virtualization

When we started working on systemd we had a closer look on what the various existing init scripts used on Linux where actually doing. Among other things we noticed that a number of them where checking explicitly whether they were running in a virtualized environment (i.e. in a kvm, VMWare, LXC guest or suchlike) or not. Some init scripts disabled themselves in such cases[1], others enabled themselves only in such cases[2]. Frequently, it would probably have been a better idea to check for other conditions rather than explicitly checking for virtualization, but after looking at this from all sides we came to the conclusion that in many cases explicitly conditionalizing services based on detected virtualization is a valid thing to do. As a result we added a new configuration option to systemd that can be used to conditionalize services this way: ConditionVirtualization; we also added a small tool that can be used in shell scripts to detect virtualization: systemd-detect-virt(1); and finally, we added a minimal bus interface to query this from other applications.

Detecting whether your code is run inside a virtualized environment is actually not that hard. Depending on what precisely you want to detect it's little more than running the CPUID instruction and maybe checking a few files in /sys and /proc. The complexity is mostly about knowing the strings to look for, and keeping this list up-to-date. Currently, the the virtualization detection code in systemd can detect the following virtualization systems:

  • Hardware virtualization (i.e. VMs):

    • qemu
    • kvm
    • vmware
    • microsoft
    • oracle
    • xen
    • bochs
  • Same-kernel virtualization (i.e. containers):

Let's have a look how one may make use if this functionality.

Conditionalizing Units

Adding ConditionVirtualization to the [Unit] section of a unit file is enough to conditionalize it depending on which virtualization is used or whether one is used at all. Here's an example:

Name=My Foobar Service (runs only only on guests)


Instead of specifiying "yes" or "no" it is possible to specify the ID of a specific virtualization solution (Example: "kvm", "vmware", ...), or either "container" or "vm" to check whether the kernel is virtualized or the hardware. Also, checks can be prefixed with an exclamation mark ("!") to invert a check. For further details see the manual page.

In Shell Scripts

In shell scripts it is easy to check for virtualized systems with the systemd-detect-virt(1) tool. Here's an example:

if systemd-detect-virt -q ; then
        echo "Virtualization is used:" `systemd-detect-virt`
        echo "No virtualization is used."

If this tool is run it will return with an exit code of zero (success) if a virtualization solution has been found, non-zero otherwise. It will also print a short identifier of the used virtualization solution, which can be suppressed with -q. Also, with the -c and -v parameters it is possible to detect only kernel or only hardware virtualization environments. For further details see the manual page.

In Programs

Whether virtualization is available is also exported on the system bus:

$ gdbus call --system --dest org.freedesktop.systemd1 --object-path /org/freedesktop/systemd1 --method org.freedesktop.DBus.Properties.Get org.freedesktop.systemd1.Manager Virtualization

This property contains the empty string if no virtualization is detected. Note that some container environments cannot be detected directly from unprivileged code. That's why we expose this property on the bus rather than providing a library -- the bus implicitly solves the privilege problem quite nicely.

Note that all of this will only ever detect and return information about the "inner-most" virtualization solution. If you stack virtualization ("We must go deeper!") then these interfaces will expose the one the code is most directly interfacing with. Specifically that means that if a container solution is used inside of a VM, then only the container is generally detected and returned.


[1] For example: running certain device management service in a container environment that has no access to any physical hardware makes little sense.

[2] For example: some VM solutions work best if certain vendor-specific userspace components are running that connect the guest with the host in some way.

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