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Offloading domain TTY output to console with custom kernel/initramfs images


In a headless virtual machine hosts accessible by SSH, the activities on a virtual machines can be discovered by offloading the console prompts on the current TTY. This is a great alternative to setting up SSH inside the virtual machine or connecting to the virtual machine via VNC or SPICE.


  1. Navigate to the /boot directory of the Fedora installation of the host to grab some kernel and initramfs images.
    $ cd /boot
    $ ls -l vmlinuz-*
    -rwxr-xr-x. 1 root root 10580240 Jul 12 00:09 vmlinuz-0-rescue-8ee701c92f0f486cbb7afe96e5b7ea67
    -rwxr-xr-x. 1 root root 10853744 Jul 21 02:13 vmlinuz-5.13.4-200.fc34.x86_64
    -rwxr-xr-x. 1 root root 10851312 Jul 25 22:05 vmlinuz-5.13.5-200.fc34.x86_64
    -rwxr-xr-x. 1 root root 10850800 Jul 28 21:17 vmlinuz-5.13.6-200.fc34.x86_64
  2. With appropriate permissions, copy the kernel images to a reference directory linxkrnl and the initramfs images to a reference directory initrmfs.
    $ sudo cp /boot/vmlinux-* linxkrnl/
    $ sudo cp /boot/initramfs-* initrmfs/
  3. Take up the ownership of the copied kernel images and kernel images by executing the following command on the reference directories linxkrnl and initrmfs respectively.
    $ sudo chown $(whoami):$(whoami) linxkrnl/ --recursive
    $ sudo chown $(whoami):$(whoami) initrmfs/ --recursive
    $ ls -l linxkrnl/
    total 42136
    -rwxr-xr-x. 1 t0xic0der t0xic0der 10580240 Aug  2 15:35 vmlinuz-0-rescue-8ee701c92f0f486cbb7afe96e5b7ea67
    -rwxr-xr-x. 1 t0xic0der t0xic0der 10853744 Aug  2 15:35 vmlinuz-5.13.4-200.fc34.x86_64
    -rwxr-xr-x. 1 t0xic0der t0xic0der 10851312 Aug  2 15:35 vmlinuz-5.13.5-200.fc34.x86_64
    -rwxr-xr-x. 1 t0xic0der t0xic0der 10850800 Aug  2 15:35 vmlinuz-5.13.6-200.fc34.x86_64
    $ ls -l initrmfs/
    total 179496
    -rw-------. 1 t0xic0der t0xic0der 84860404 Aug  2 15:36 initramfs-0-rescue-8ee701c92f0f486cbb7afe96e5b7ea67.img
    -rw-------. 1 t0xic0der t0xic0der 33023557 Aug  2 15:36 initramfs-5.13.4-200.fc34.x86_64.img
    -rw-------. 1 t0xic0der t0xic0der 33002599 Aug  2 15:36 initramfs-5.13.5-200.fc34.x86_64.img
    -rw-------. 1 t0xic0der t0xic0der 32910001 Aug  2 15:36 initramfs-5.13.6-200.fc34.x86_64.img
  4. Reuse the domain with the custom partitioning based on EXT4 that was created by the end of the Setting up Fedora Workstation VM on QEMU using BIOS and start it up by executing the following command.
    $ qemu-system-x86_64 \
        -boot menu=on \
        -m 2048 \
        -cpu max \
        -smp 4 \
        -drive file=datadrct/fedobios.raw,format=raw \
        -accel kvm
  5. In a new terminal session inside the virtualized domain, execute the following command to fetch the parameters passed to the kernel during boot.
    $ cat /proc/cmdline
    BOOT_IMAGE=(hd0,msdos1)/vmlinuz-5.11.12-300.fc34.x86_64 root=UUID=0fa356e9-9509-4e18-8283-8983254c79d1 ro rhgb quiet

    Take a note of the UUID for the root partition and the same can be confirmed by executing the following command in a terminal session inside the virtualized domain.

    $ cat /etc/fstab
    # /etc/fstab
    # Created by anaconda on Mon Aug  2 09:36:54 2021
    # Accessible filesystems, by reference, are maintained under '/dev/disk/'.
    # See man pages fstab(5), findfs(8), mount(8) and/or blkid(8) for more info.
    # After editing this file, run 'systemctl daemon-reload' to update systemd
    # units generated from this file.
    UUID=0fa356e9-9509-4e18-8283-8983254c79d1 /                       ext4    defaults        1 1
    UUID=2d2863bb-527b-4477-bae5-5955bdb44d7b /boot                   ext4    defaults        1 2
  6. Power off the virtualized domain and start it up again by executing the following command with the correct UUID for the root partition.
    $ qemu-system-x86_64 \
        -boot menu=on \
        -m 2048 \
        -cpu max \
        -smp 4 \
        -drive file=datadrct/fedobios.raw,format=raw \
        -accel kvm \
        -nographic \
        -kernel linxkrnl/<vmlinuz-x.yy.zz-aaa.fcRR.x86_64> \
        -initrd initrmfs/<initramfs-x.yy.zz-aaa.fcRR.x86_64.img> \
        -append "root=UUID=<xxxxxxxx-xxxx-xxxx-xxxx-xxxxxxxxxxxx> rw console=ttyS0"
  7. A lot of systemd prompts would show up on the console and the virtualized domain would boot up. The following is an example output for the above command.
    [  OK  ] Started Network Manager Script Dispatcher Service.
    [  OK  ] Finished Network Manager Wait Online.
    [  OK  ] Reached target Network is Online.
    [  OK  ] Reached target Remote File Systems (Pre).
    [  OK  ] Reached target Remote File Systems.
             Starting Virtualization daemon...
             Starting Notify NFS peers of a restart...
             Starting Permit User Sessions...
    [  OK  ] Started Notify NFS peers of a restart.
    [  OK  ] Finished Permit User Sessions.
             Starting GNOME Display Manager...
             Starting Hold until boot process finishes up...
    [  OK  ] Started GNOME Display Manager.
    Fedora 34 (Workstation Edition)
    Kernel 5.13.6-200.fc34.x86_64 on an x86_64 (ttyS0)
    fedorable login: t0xic0der
    Last login: Tue Aug  3 09:31:12 on tty2
    [t0xic0der@fedorable ~]$
  8. As the kernel image and initramfs image versions that we used here are dissimilar from the version of the firmware installed on the virtualized domain, there can be kernel modules which are broken or incompletely loaded.
    $ ip a
    1: lo: <LOOPBACK,UP,LOWER_UP> mtu 65536 qdisc noqueue state UNKNOWN group default qlen 1000
        link/loopback 00:00:00:00:00:00 brd 00:00:00:00:00:00
        inet scope host lo
           valid_lft forever preferred_lft forever
        inet6 ::1/128 scope host 
           valid_lft forever preferred_lft forever

    As evidenced by the output of the above command executed inside the console of the virtualized domain, the kernel modules for network are apparently broken and the hostname of the host is taken up by the virtualized domain due to the mismatch of kernel images, initramfs images and installed firmware versions.

  9. For best compatibility, keep the versions for kernel image, initramfs image and installed firmware inline with each other. Instructions for the same have been provided in the Offloading domain TTY output to console with original kernel/initramfs images documentation.

Authors: Akashdeep Dhar