Commenting out XML snippets in libvirt guest config by stashing it as metadata

Posted: February 8th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Coding Tips, Fedora, libvirt, OpenStack, Virt Tools | Tags: , , | 3 Comments »

Libvirt uses XML as the format for configuring objects it manages, including virtual machines. Sometimes when debugging / developing it is desirable to comment out sections of the virtual machine configuration to test some idea. For example, one might want to temporarily remove a secondary disk. It is not always desirable to just delete the configuration entirely, as it may need to be re-added immediately after. XML has support for comments <!-- .... some text --> which one might try to use to achieve this. Using comments in XML fed into libvirt, however, will result in an unwelcome suprise – the commented out text is thrown into /dev/null by libvirt.

This is an unfortunate consequence of the way libvirt handles XML documents. It does not consider the XML document to be the master representation of an object’s configuration – a series of C structs are the actual internal representation. XML is simply a data interchange format for serializing structs into a text format that can be interchanged with the management application, or persisted on disk. So when receiving an XML document libvirt will parse it, extracting the pieces of information it cares about which are they stored in memory in some structs, while the XML document is discarded (along with the comments it contained). Given this way of working, to preserve comments would require libvirt to add 100’s of extra fields to its internal structs and extract comments from every part of the XML document that might conceivably contain them. This is totally impractical to do in realityg. The alternative would be to consider the parsed XML DOM as the canonical internal representation of the config. This is what the libvirt-gconfig library in fact does, but it means you can no longer just do simple field accesses to access information – getter/setter methods would have to be used, which quickly becomes tedious in C. It would also involve re-refactoring almost the entire libvirt codebase so such a change in approach would realistically never be done.

Given that it is not possible to use XML comments in libvirt, what other options might be available ?

Many years ago libvirt added the ability to store arbitrary user defined metadata in domain XML documents. The caveat is that they have to be located in a specific place in the XML document as a child of the <metadata> tag, in a private XML namespace. This metadata facility to be used as a hack to temporarily stash some XML out of the way. Consider a guest which contains a disk to be “commented out”:

<domain type="kvm">
  ...
  <devices>
    ...
    <disk type='file' device='disk'>
    <driver name='qemu' type='raw'/>
    <source file='/home/berrange/VirtualMachines/demo.qcow2'/>
      <target dev='vda' bus='virtio'/>
      <address type='pci' domain='0x0000' bus='0x00' slot='0x03' function='0x0'/>
    </disk>
    ...
  </devices>
</domain>

To stash the disk config as a piece of metadata requires changing the XML to

<domain type="kvm">
  ...
  <metadata>
    <s:disk xmlns:s="http://stashed.org/1" type='file' device='disk'>
      <driver name='qemu' type='raw'/>
      <source file='/home/berrange/VirtualMachines/demo.qcow2'/>
      <target dev='vda' bus='virtio'/>
      <address type='pci' domain='0x0000' bus='0x00' slot='0x03' function='0x0'/>
    </s:disk>
  </metadata>
  ...
  <devices>
    ...
  </devices>
</domain>

What we have done here is

– Added a <metadata> element at the top level
– Moved the <disk> element to be a child of <metadata> instead of a child of <devices>
– Added an XML namespace to <disk> by giving it an ‘s:’ prefix and associating a URI with this prefix

Libvirt only allows a single top level metadata element per namespace, so if there are multiple tihngs to be stashed, just give them each a custom namespace, or introduce an arbitrary wrapper. Aside from mandating the use of a unique namespace, libvirt treats the metadata as entirely opaque and will not try to intepret or parse it in any way. Any valid XML construct can be stashed in the metadata, even invalid XML constructs, provided they are hidden inside a CDATA block. For example, if you’re using virsh edit to make some changes interactively and want to get out before finishing them, just stash the changed in a CDATA section, avoiding the need to worry about correctly closing the elements.

<domain type="kvm">
  ...
  <metadata>
    <s:stash xmlns:s="http://stashed.org/1">
    <![CDATA[
      <disk type='file' device='disk'>
        <driver name='qemu' type='raw'/>
        <source file='/home/berrange/VirtualMachines/demo.qcow2'/>
        <target dev='vda' bus='virtio'/>
        <address type='pci' domain='0x0000' bus='0x00' slot='0x03' function='0x0'/>
      </disk>
      <disk>
        <driver name='qemu' type='raw'/>
        ...i'll finish writing this later...
    ]]>
    </s:stash>
  </metadata>
  ...
  <devices>
    ...
  </devices>
</domain>

Admittedly this is a somewhat cumbersome solution. In most cases it is probably simpler to just save the snippet of XML in a plain text file outside libvirt. This metadata trick, however, might just come in handy some times.

As an aside the real, intended, usage of the <metdata> facility is to allow applications which interact with libvirt to store custom data they may wish to associated with the guest. As an example, the recently announced libvirt websockets console proxy uses it to record which consoles are to be exported. I know of few other real world applications using this metadata feature, however, so it is worth remembering it exists :-) System administrators are free to use it for local book keeping purposes too.

3 Comments

Laszlo Ersek said at 8:22 am on July 9th, 2017:

Insightful article as always, thank you.

* I noticed a typo: “realityg”.

* I found a good use for style XML comments: “virsh attach-device” and friends read an XML fragment (a single device, disk, interface, hostdev etc. element) from a file. For devices that are frequently attached and detached, it makes sense to save these files permanently. And then, adding comments (like to any other config file) follows naturally.

Thanks!

Laszlo Ersek said at 8:25 am on July 9th, 2017:

Haha, apparently the blog engine doesn’t automatically escape HTML meta-chars from comments. So let me repeat, this time with judicious use of ampersands:

I found a good use for <!– COMMENT –> style XML comments: …

Laszlo Ersek said at 8:31 am on July 9th, 2017:

Honestly, this blog engine is driving me mad. Now it has coalesced each pair of hyphens into an N-dash (or whatever it is called). Let me try again (please feel free to squash these comments into a single comment while moderating them):

<!-- COMMENT -->

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