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Manual Reference Pages  -  QEMU-IMG (1)

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qemu-img - QEMU disk image utility



usage: qemu-img command [command options]


qemu-img allows you to create, convert and modify images offline. It can handle all image formats supported by QEMU.

Warning: Never use qemu-img to modify images in use by a running virtual machine or any other process; this may destroy the image. Also, be aware that querying an image that is being modified by another process may encounter inconsistent state.


The following commands are supported:
check [-q] [-f fmt] [--output=ofmt] [-r [leaks | all]] [-T src_cache] filename
create [-q] [-f fmt] [-o options] filename [size]
commit [-q] [-f fmt] [-t cache] [-b base] [-d] [-p] filename
compare [-f fmt] [-F fmt] [-T src_cache] [-p] [-q] [-s] filename1 filename2
convert [-c] [-p] [-q] [-n] [-f fmt] [-t cache] [-T src_cache] [-O output_fmt] [-o options] [-s snapshot_id_or_name] [-l snapshot_param] [-S sparse_size] filename [filename2 [...]] output_filename
info [-f fmt] [--output=ofmt] [--backing-chain] filename
map [-f fmt] [--output=ofmt] filename
snapshot [-q] [-l | -a snapshot | -c snapshot | -d snapshot] filename
rebase [-q] [-f fmt] [-t cache] [-T src_cache] [-p] [-u] -b backing_file [-F backing_fmt] filename
resize [-q] filename [+ | -]size
amend [-p] [-q] [-f fmt] [-t cache] -o options filename
Command parameters:

 is a disk image filename

fmt is the disk image format. It is guessed automatically in most cases. See below for a description of the supported disk formats.
--backing-chain will enumerate information about backing files in a disk image chain. Refer below for further description.
size is the disk image size in bytes. Optional suffixes k or K (kilobyte, 1024) M (megabyte, 1024k) and G (gigabyte, 1024M) and T (terabyte, 1024G) are supported. b is ignored.
output_filename is the destination disk image filename

 is the destination format

options is a comma separated list of format specific options in a name=value format. Use -o ? for an overview of the options supported by the used format or see the format descriptions below for details.
snapshot_param is param used for internal snapshot, format is ’[ID],[NAME]’ or ’[ID_OR_NAME]’
snapshot_id_or_name is deprecated, use snapshot_param instead
-c indicates that target image must be compressed (qcow format only)
-h with or without a command shows help and lists the supported formats
-p display progress bar (compare, convert and rebase commands only). If the -p option is not used for a command that supports it, the progress is reported when the process receives a SIGUSR1 signal.
-q Quiet mode - do not print any output (except errors). There’s no progress bar in case both -q and -p options are used.
-S size indicates the consecutive number of bytes that must contain only zeros for qemu-img to create a sparse image during conversion. This value is rounded down to the nearest 512 bytes. You may use the common size suffixes like k for kilobytes.
-t cache specifies the cache mode that should be used with the (destination) file. See the documentation of the emulator’s -drive cache=... option for allowed values.
-T src_cache specifies the cache mode that should be used with the source file(s). See the documentation of the emulator’s -drive cache=... option for allowed values.
Parameters to snapshot subcommand:
snapshot is the name of the snapshot to create, apply or delete
-a applies a snapshot (revert disk to saved state)
-c creates a snapshot
-d deletes a snapshot
-l lists all snapshots in the given image
Parameters to compare subcommand:
-f First image format
-F Second image format
-s Strict mode - fail on on different image size or sector allocation
Parameters to convert subcommand:
-n Skip the creation of the target volume
Command description:
check [-f fmt] [--output=ofmt] [-r [leaks | all]] [-T src_cache] filename Perform a consistency check on the disk image filename. The command can output in the format ofmt which is either human or json.

If -r is specified, qemu-img tries to repair any inconsistencies found during the check. -r leaks repairs only cluster leaks, whereas -r all fixes all kinds of errors, with a higher risk of choosing the wrong fix or hiding corruption that has already occurred.

Only the formats qcow2, qed and vdi support consistency checks.

In case the image does not have any inconsistencies, check exits with 0. Other exit codes indicate the kind of inconsistency found or if another error occurred. The following table summarizes all exit codes of the check subcommand:
0 Check completed, the image is (now) consistent
1 Check not completed because of internal errors
2 Check completed, image is corrupted
3 Check completed, image has leaked clusters, but is not corrupted
63 Checks are not supported by the image format

If -r is specified, exit codes representing the image state refer to the state after (the attempt at) repairing it. That is, a successful -r all will yield the exit code 0, independently of the image state before.

create [-f fmt] [-o options] filename [size] Create the new disk image filename of size size and format fmt. Depending on the file format, you can add one or more options that enable additional features of this format.

If the option backing_file is specified, then the image will record only the differences from backing_file. No size needs to be specified in this case. backing_file will never be modified unless you use the commit monitor command (or qemu-img commit).

The size can also be specified using the size option with -o, it doesn’t need to be specified separately in this case.

commit [-q] [-f fmt] [-t cache] [-b base] [-d] [-p] filename Commit the changes recorded in filename in its base image or backing file. If the backing file is smaller than the snapshot, then the backing file will be resized to be the same size as the snapshot. If the snapshot is smaller than the backing file, the backing file will not be truncated. If you want the backing file to match the size of the smaller snapshot, you can safely truncate it yourself once the commit operation successfully completes.

The image filename is emptied after the operation has succeeded. If you do not need filename afterwards and intend to drop it, you may skip emptying filename by specifying the -d flag.

If the backing chain of the given image file filename has more than one layer, the backing file into which the changes will be committed may be specified as base (which has to be part of filename’s backing chain). If base is not specified, the immediate backing file of the top image (which is filename) will be used. For reasons of consistency, explicitly specifying base will always imply -d (since emptying an image after committing to an indirect backing file would lead to different data being read from the image due to content in the intermediate backing chain overruling the commit target).

compare [-f fmt] [-F fmt] [-T src_cache] [-p] [-s] [-q] filename1 filename2 Check if two images have the same content. You can compare images with different format or settings.

The format is probed unless you specify it by -f (used for filename1) and/or -F (used for filename2) option.

By default, images with different size are considered identical if the larger image contains only unallocated and/or zeroed sectors in the area after the end of the other image. In addition, if any sector is not allocated in one image and contains only zero bytes in the second one, it is evaluated as equal. You can use Strict mode by specifying the -s option. When compare runs in Strict mode, it fails in case image size differs or a sector is allocated in one image and is not allocated in the second one.

By default, compare prints out a result message. This message displays information that both images are same or the position of the first different byte. In addition, result message can report different image size in case Strict mode is used.

Compare exits with 0 in case the images are equal and with 1 in case the images differ. Other exit codes mean an error occurred during execution and standard error output should contain an error message. The following table sumarizes all exit codes of the compare subcommand:
0 Images are identical
1 Images differ
2 Error on opening an image
3 Error on checking a sector allocation
4 Error on reading data

convert [-c] [-p] [-n] [-f fmt] [-t cache] [-T src_cache] [-O output_fmt] [-o options] [-s snapshot_id_or_name] [-l snapshot_param] [-S sparse_size] filename [filename2 [...]] output_filename Convert the disk image filename or a snapshot snapshot_param(snapshot_id_or_name is deprecated) to disk image output_filename using format output_fmt. It can be optionally compressed (-c option) or use any format specific options like encryption (-o option).

Only the formats qcow and qcow2 support compression. The compression is read-only. It means that if a compressed sector is rewritten, then it is rewritten as uncompressed data.

Image conversion is also useful to get smaller image when using a growable format such as qcow: the empty sectors are detected and suppressed from the destination image.

sparse_size indicates the consecutive number of bytes (defaults to 4k) that must contain only zeros for qemu-img to create a sparse image during conversion. If sparse_size is 0, the source will not be scanned for unallocated or zero sectors, and the destination image will always be fully allocated.

You can use the backing_file option to force the output image to be created as a copy on write image of the specified base image; the backing_file should have the same content as the input’s base image, however the path, image format, etc may differ.

If the -n option is specified, the target volume creation will be skipped. This is useful for formats such as rbd if the target volume has already been created with site specific options that cannot be supplied through qemu-img.

info [-f fmt] [--output=ofmt] [--backing-chain] filename Give information about the disk image filename. Use it in particular to know the size reserved on disk which can be different from the displayed size. If VM snapshots are stored in the disk image, they are displayed too. The command can output in the format ofmt which is either human or json.

If a disk image has a backing file chain, information about each disk image in the chain can be recursively enumerated by using the option --backing-chain.

For instance, if you have an image chain like:

        base.qcow2 <- snap1.qcow2 <- snap2.qcow2

To enumerate information about each disk image in the above chain, starting from top to base, do:

        qemu-img info --backing-chain snap2.qcow2

map [-f fmt] [--output=ofmt] filename Dump the metadata of image filename and its backing file chain. In particular, this commands dumps the allocation state of every sector of filename, together with the topmost file that allocates it in the backing file chain.

Two option formats are possible. The default format (human) only dumps known-nonzero areas of the file. Known-zero parts of the file are omitted altogether, and likewise for parts that are not allocated throughout the chain. qemu-img output will identify a file from where the data can be read, and the offset in the file. Each line will include four fields, the first three of which are hexadecimal numbers. For example the first line of:

        Offset          Length          Mapped to       File
        0               0x20000         0x50000         /tmp/overlay.qcow2
        0x100000        0x10000         0x95380000      /tmp/backing.qcow2

means that 0x20000 (131072) bytes starting at offset 0 in the image are available in /tmp/overlay.qcow2 (opened in raw format) starting at offset 0x50000 (327680). Data that is compressed, encrypted, or otherwise not available in raw format will cause an error if human format is in use. Note that file names can include newlines, thus it is not safe to parse this output format in scripts.

The alternative format json will return an array of dictionaries in JSON format. It will include similar information in the start, length, offset fields; it will also include other more specific information:
- whether the sectors contain actual data or not (boolean field data; if false, the sectors are either unallocated or stored as optimized all-zero clusters);
- whether the data is known to read as zero (boolean field zero);
- in order to make the output shorter, the target file is expressed as a depth; for example, a depth of 2 refers to the backing file of the backing file of filename.

In JSON format, the offset field is optional; it is absent in cases where human format would omit the entry or exit with an error. If data is false and the offset field is present, the corresponding sectors in the file are not yet in use, but they are preallocated.

For more information, consult include/block/block.h in QEMU’s source code.

snapshot [-l | -a snapshot | -c snapshot | -d snapshot ] filename List, apply, create or delete snapshots in image filename.
rebase [-f fmt] [-t cache] [-T src_cache] [-p] [-u] -b backing_file [-F backing_fmt] filename Changes the backing file of an image. Only the formats qcow2 and qed support changing the backing file.

The backing file is changed to backing_file and (if the image format of filename supports this) the backing file format is changed to backing_fmt. If backing_file is specified as "" (the empty string), then the image is rebased onto no backing file (i.e. it will exist independently of any backing file).

cache specifies the cache mode to be used for filename, whereas src_cache specifies the cache mode for reading backing files.

There are two different modes in which rebase can operate:
Safe mode This is the default mode and performs a real rebase operation. The new backing file may differ from the old one and qemu-img rebase will take care of keeping the guest-visible content of filename unchanged.

In order to achieve this, any clusters that differ between backing_file and the old backing file of filename are merged into filename before actually changing the backing file.

Note that the safe mode is an expensive operation, comparable to converting an image. It only works if the old backing file still exists.

Unsafe mode qemu-img uses the unsafe mode if -u is specified. In this mode, only the backing file name and format of filename is changed without any checks on the file contents. The user must take care of specifying the correct new backing file, or the guest-visible content of the image will be corrupted.

This mode is useful for renaming or moving the backing file to somewhere else. It can be used without an accessible old backing file, i.e. you can use it to fix an image whose backing file has already been moved/renamed.

You can use rebase to perform a diff operation on two disk images. This can be useful when you have copied or cloned a guest, and you want to get back to a thin image on top of a template or base image.

Say that base.img has been cloned as modified.img by copying it, and that the modified.img guest has run so there are now some changes compared to base.img. To construct a thin image called diff.qcow2 that contains just the differences, do:

        qemu-img create -f qcow2 -b modified.img diff.qcow2
        qemu-img rebase -b base.img diff.qcow2

At this point, modified.img can be discarded, since base.img + diff.qcow2 contains the same information.

resize filename [+ | -]size Change the disk image as if it had been created with size.

Before using this command to shrink a disk image, you MUST use file system and partitioning tools inside the VM to reduce allocated file systems and partition sizes accordingly. Failure to do so will result in data loss!

After using this command to grow a disk image, you must use file system and partitioning tools inside the VM to actually begin using the new space on the device.

amend [-p] [-f fmt] [-t cache] -o options filename Amends the image format specific options for the image file filename. Not all file formats support this operation.


Supported image file formats:
raw Raw disk image format (default). This format has the advantage of being simple and easily exportable to all other emulators. If your file system supports holes (for example in ext2 or ext3 on Linux or NTFS on Windows), then only the written sectors will reserve space. Use qemu-img info to know the real size used by the image or ls -ls on Unix/Linux.

Supported options:
preallocation Preallocation mode (allowed values: off, falloc, full). falloc mode preallocates space for image by calling posix_fallocate(). full mode preallocates space for image by writing zeros to underlying storage.

qcow2 QEMU image format, the most versatile format. Use it to have smaller images (useful if your filesystem does not supports holes, for example on Windows), optional AES encryption, zlib based compression and support of multiple VM snapshots.

Supported options:
compat Determines the qcow2 version to use. compat=0.10 uses the traditional image format that can be read by any QEMU since 0.10. compat=1.1 enables image format extensions that only QEMU 1.1 and newer understand (this is the default). Amongst others, this includes zero clusters, which allow efficient copy-on-read for sparse images.
backing_file File name of a base image (see create subcommand)
backing_fmt Image format of the base image
encryption If this option is set to on, the image is encrypted with 128-bit AES-CBC.

The use of encryption in qcow and qcow2 images is considered to be flawed by modern cryptography standards, suffering from a number of design problems:
-<The AES-CBC cipher is used with predictable initialization vectors based> on the sector number. This makes it vulnerable to chosen plaintext attacks which can reveal the existence of encrypted data.
-<The user passphrase is directly used as the encryption key. A poorly> chosen or short passphrase will compromise the security of the encryption.
-<In the event of the passphrase being compromised there is no way to> change the passphrase to protect data in any qcow images. The files must be cloned, using a different encryption passphrase in the new file. The original file must then be securely erased using a program like shred, though even this is ineffective with many modern storage technologies.

Use of qcow / qcow2 encryption is thus strongly discouraged. Users are recommended to use an alternative encryption technology such as the Linux dm-crypt / LUKS system.

cluster_size Changes the qcow2 cluster size (must be between 512 and 2M). Smaller cluster sizes can improve the image file size whereas larger cluster sizes generally provide better performance.
preallocation Preallocation mode (allowed values: off, metadata, falloc, full). An image with preallocated metadata is initially larger but can improve performance when the image needs to grow. falloc and full preallocations are like the same options of raw format, but sets up metadata also.
lazy_refcounts If this option is set to on, reference count updates are postponed with the goal of avoiding metadata I/O and improving performance. This is particularly interesting with cache=writethrough which doesn’t batch metadata updates. The tradeoff is that after a host crash, the reference count tables must be rebuilt, i.e. on the next open an (automatic) qemu-img check -r all is required, which may take some time.

This option can only be enabled if compat=1.1 is specified.

nocow If this option is set to on, it will turn off COW of the file. It’s only valid on btrfs, no effect on other file systems.

Btrfs has low performance when hosting a VM image file, even more when the guest on the VM also using btrfs as file system. Turning off COW is a way to mitigate this bad performance. Generally there are two ways to turn off COW on btrfs: a) Disable it by mounting with nodatacow, then all newly created files will be NOCOW. b) For an empty file, add the NOCOW file attribute. That’s what this option does.

Note: this option is only valid to new or empty files. If there is an existing file which is COW and has data blocks already, it couldn’t be changed to NOCOW by setting nocow=on. One can issue lsattr filename to check if the NOCOW flag is set or not (Capital ’C’ is NOCOW flag).

Other QEMU also supports various other image file formats for compatibility with older QEMU versions or other hypervisors, including VMDK, VDI, VHD (vpc), VHDX, qcow1 and QED. For a full list of supported formats see qemu-img --help. For a more detailed description of these formats, see the QEMU Emulation User Documentation.

The main purpose of the block drivers for these formats is image conversion. For running VMs, it is recommended to convert the disk images to either raw or qcow2 in order to achieve good performance.


The HTML documentation of QEMU for more precise information and Linux user mode emulator invocation.


Fabrice Bellard
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QEMU-IMG (1) 2016-04-05

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