Using LXD to create development environments for virtualization


It can be a major challenge to create a development environment suitable for efficient testing of virtualization across multiple platforms. Fortunately, LXD can make the process much easier.

LXD can quickly and easily create containers that allow for nested virtualization. LXD also allows directories from the host system to be passed through to containers, which can be very convenient for development.

This post describes an environment based on LXD 5.12, running on Ubuntu 22.04 “Jammy”. To simplify LXD integration, the OS was installed on a ZFS root filesystem (with encryption enabled).

Initial LXD Configuration

First, LXD needs to be initialzed. In this case, prompts were followed to create a storage pool referencing a local ZFS rpool. (Because the root disk in this situation is ZFS-based, there is no need for LXD to create a loopback device for full functionality.)

Example lxd init run
$ lxd init
Would you like to use LXD clustering? (yes/no) [default=no]: no
Do you want to configure a new storage pool? (yes/no) [default=yes]: yes
Name of the new storage pool [default=default]: default
Name of the storage backend to use (ceph, dir, lvm, zfs, btrfs) [default=zfs]: zfs
Would you like to create a new zfs dataset under rpool/lxd? (yes/no) [default=yes]: yes
Would you like to connect to a MAAS server? (yes/no) [default=no]: no
Would you like to create a new local network bridge? (yes/no) [default=yes]: no
Would you like to configure LXD to use an existing bridge or host interface? (yes/no) [default=no]: no
Would you like the LXD server to be available over the network? (yes/no) [default=no]: no
Would you like stale cached images to be updated automatically? (yes/no) [default=yes]: yes
Would you like a YAML "lxd init" preseed to be printed? (yes/no) [default=no]: yes
config: {}
networks: []
- config:
    source: rpool/lxd
  description: ""
  name: default
  driver: zfs
- config: {}
  description: ""
      path: /
      pool: default
      type: disk
  name: default
projects: []
cluster: null

The lxdbr0 interface can subsequently be configured.

Commands for lxdbr0 configuration and default profile attachment
lxc network create lxdbr0 \
  ipv4.address="" \
  ipv4.nat="true" \
  ipv4.dhcp="true" \
  ipv4.dhcp.ranges="" \
  ipv6.address="none" \
  ipv6.nat="false" && \
lxc network attach-profile lxdbr0 default

In some cases, in may be problematic for LXD to propagate its DNS service to your system. For example, this occasionally interferes with the DNS servers provided by VPN clients. To tell LXD not to manage DNS entries for its resources, you can run:

lxc network set lxdbr0 dns.mode=none

The above is enough to get a container running and connected to the network with the default profile.

Passing Through Virtualization Devices

In order to make it easy to pass through the necessary devices, it makes sense to create a virt profile to encapsulate the required security properties and devices necessary to test virtualization.

virt profile configuration
lxc profile create virt && \
lxc profile set virt security.nesting=true && \
lxc profile device add virt kvm unix-char source=/dev/kvm && \
lxc profile device add virt vhost-net unix-char source=/dev/vhost-net && \
lxc profile device add virt vhost-vsock unix-char source=/dev/vhost-vsock && \
lxc profile device add virt vsock unix-char source=/dev/vsock

Some notes on profile composition

When creating a new profile in LXD, it will not contain any default values for the storage pool or network. This is fine, because LXD allows for profile composition (profiles for various purposes can be defined separately and later composed together). In this case, it allows virtualization-specific directives to be placed only in the virt profile, thus decoupling the concerns of which network and storage pool to attach to (contained in the default profile).

Note that it is possible to create a single profile which encapsulates everything necessary to start the instance. For example, to configure a specific network device and storage pool on the virt profile, the following commands could be used:

lxc network attach-profile lxdbr0 virt && \
lxc profile device add virt root disk pool=default path=/

The remainder of this post assumes this has NOT been done; rather, the preferred network and storage pool are configured in the default profile.

After creating the virt profile, existing containers using the default profile can then be enabled for virtualization by using a command such as lxc profile assign <container> virt. However, the containers will need to be restarted in order for the new security settings to take effect.

From this point onward, new containers can be created with the virt profile. For example, lxc launch ubuntu:jammy jammy -p default -p virt would create a container called jammy based on the official Ubuntu 22.04 jammy image (and also the settings from the default profile).

Testing Nested Virtualization

Nested virtualization can be tested easily by running lxd inside a container with the virt profile applied. For example, a jammy container can first be created, using the -p (or --profile) option to select the virt profile:

lxc launch ubuntu:jammy jammy -p default -p virt
lxc shell jammy

Inside the jammy container, attempt to launch a bionic VM:

lxd init --auto
lxc launch images:ubuntu/bionic/cloud bionic --vm
# wait for the virtual machine to start
lxc shell bionic

Note here that the images:ubuntu/bionic/cloud image is used in preference to the ubuntu:bionic image, because the former has the lxd-agent preinstalled (which is necessary to manage the VM with LXD).

Creating a User-Specific Profile

Now that a profile has been created which allows for nested virtualization, it might be convenient to utilize some of LXD’s other features in order to make it easier to develop inside the container.

Privileged Containers

For development purposes, it can be convenient to run “privileged” containers. To LXD, this means that the container’s UID and GID mapping will be consistent with the host. This has the advantage of being able to easily share the host filesystem with the container without additional access controls. However, this practice is considered risky because it reduces the degree of isolation between the container and the host. Use privileged containers at your own risk.

Be aware that making a container privileged impacts its UID/GID mapping, which effectively changes the meaning of all files’ ownership within the container. For this reason, it is simplest to apply security.privileged=true at launch time.

Using $HOME Inside a Container

It might be useful to have a profile named after a local $USER, which would mount $HOME into the countainer, while also making the container privileged.

$USER profile configuration
lxc profile create "$USER" && \
lxc profile set "$USER" security.privileged=true && \
lxc profile device add "$USER" "home-$USER" disk source="$HOME" path="$HOME"

Adding cloud-init User Data

As it is currently written, one problem with this profile is that the user defined inside the container is inconsistent with the local system. This can be solved by adding cloud-init user data.

Creating a user-specific cloud-init configuration

The following shell snippet will create a file called $USER-cloud-config.yml which can be set in the $USER profile:

cat <<EOF > $USER-cloud-config.yml
  - name: "$(id -u -n)"
    sudo: ['ALL=(ALL) NOPASSWD:ALL']
    groups: [root, sudo, staff]
    homedir: "$HOME"
    passwd: "$(sudo getent shadow "$USER" | cut -d':' -f 2)"
    lock_passwd: false
    no_create_home: true
    shell: /bin/bash
    uid: $(id -u)
disable_root: false
package_update: true
package_upgrade: true
  - openssh-server

This example cloud-init configuration will configure a user inside the container generally matching the properties of the current user. In addition, it will install, update, and upgrade packages upon container launch. In particular, in this example the openssh-server package is installed. (It can be useful to have the SSH server available, which makes it possible to run something like ssh -A <container-ip> to make use of the SSH agent.) Of course, this list of packages can be customized to suit individual developer needs.

Note that this shell snippet uses sudo to propagate $USER's hashed password into the container. This may prompt for a password, but is optional and can be removed.

Given a file containing a cloud-init configuration specific to the current $USER, it seems reasonable to apply it as user-data. This can be done as follows for the $USER profile (assuming it was generated per the shell snippet in the details section above):

lxc profile set "$USER" user.user-data "$(cat "$USER"-cloud-config.yml)"

Please see the official documentation for more details on the integration between cloud-init and LXD.

Launching the Container

As an example, the following command would launch a focal container with the default, virt and $USER profiles:

lxc launch images:ubuntu/focal/cloud focal -p default -p virt -p "$USER"

Then, lxc shell focal could be used to gain a root shell inside the container, and su - <your-username> could be used to become an unprivileged user.

In addition, because an OpenSSH server should be running in the container (per the cloud-init user data), lxc list can be used to obtain the container’s IP address, and ssh -A <container-ip> could be used to gain an underprivileged shell inside the container, with SSH agent forwarding. (Note that your own SSH key must be present in ~/.ssh/authorized_keys, which is now mapped into the container, for this to work.)


The default LXD configuration profile can be composed with a profile allowing for nested virtualation. With an additional user-specific profile (and a little bit of cloud-init), seamless development and test environments for virtualization can be created.

Thank you to the community for making all of this possible!