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Ubuntu Base with QEMU

This procedure shows how to create a QEMU[1] virtual machine with Ubuntu Base[2] as the root filesystem. There is a great post about Ubuntu Base installation in Ask Ubuntu[3]. I am following the same path, but here I am installing on a QEMU virtual machine. It worth mentioning that this procedure will work only if the host and the virtual machine have the same architecture. Besides that, the procedure was tested on x86. I don’t know if it will work on other architectures.

About Ubuntu Base

Ubuntu Base is a stripped rootfs, which can install any package from Ubuntu repositories using the apt-get command. Ubuntu Base was previously known as Ubuntu Core, but Canonical renamed it and gave that name to other project.

About QEMU

QEMU is an open source virtual machine monitor (VMM) or hypervisor. It can virtualize hardwares from many architectures, including x86, SPARC, ARM, PowerPC, MIPs, Microblaze and others.

Download Ubuntu Base

Choose the Ubuntu Base version here and download it. In my example, I chose the version 16.04. If the host is 32 bits then the virtual machine should be also 32 bits.

If the host is 32 bits then download Ubuntu Base 32 bits:


If the host is 64 bits then download Ubuntu Base 64 bits:


Install QEMU

sudo apt-get install qemu

Create QEMU image

qemu-img create -f raw ubuntu-base.img 500M

Log as root

All of the following commands require root right.

sudo su

Create a Network Block Device

QEMU can export a disk image as a Network Block Device (NBD). With that, the host can handle the QEMU image as any other block device.

modprobe nbd max_part=16
qemu-nbd -f raw -c /dev/nbd0 ubuntu-base.img

Partition the device

fdisk /dev/nbd0

Then press n p 1 <Return> <Return> a 1 w. This sequence creates a single bootable partition on the device.

Format the partition

mkfs.ext4 /dev/nbd0p1

Mount the partition

mount /dev/nbd0p1 /mnt

Install Ubuntu Base

If the host is 32 bits:

tar xvfz ubuntu-base-16.04-core-i386.tar.gz -C /mnt

If the host is 64 bits:

tar xvfz ubuntu-base-16.04-core-amd64.tar.gz -C /mnt

Copy DNS configuration

cp /etc/resolv.conf /mnt/etc/resolv.conf

Run chroot

mount --rbind /sys /mnt/sys
mount --rbind /proc /mnt/proc
mount --rbind /dev /mnt/dev
chroot /mnt

Install the kernel

apt-get update 
apt-get install linux-image-4.4.0-75-generic

ATTENTION: at the end of the kernel installation, will be asked: GRUB install devices. Choose the option related to nbd0p1 device. Any other option could damage the host bootloader.

Adjust grub configuration

sed -i "s/quiet splash/rw text/g" /etc/default/grub
sed -i "s/nbd0p1 ro/sda1/g" /boot/grub/grub.cfg

Change the root password

passwd root

Exit chroot


Install grub

grub-install --root-directory=/mnt /dev/nbd0

Reboot the host


Run the virtual machine

If the virtual machine is 32 bits:

qemu-system-i386 ubuntu-base.img

If the virtual machine is 64 bits:

qemu-system-x86_64 ubuntu-base.img