Having seen many people (including myself) feeling confused about the purpose of some QEMU’s internal APIs when reviewing and contributing code to QEMU, I am trying to document things I learned about them.

I want to make more detailed blog posts about some of them, stating their goals (as I perceive them), where they are used, and what we can expect to see happening to them in the future. When I do that, I will update this post to include pointers to the more detailed content.


Introduced in 2009. Compared to the newer abstractions below, it is quite simple. As described in the original commit: it “stores device parameters in a better way than unparsed strings”. It is still used by configuration and command-line parsing code.

Making QemuOpts work with the more modern abstractions (esp. QOM and QAPI) may be painful. Sometimes you can pretend it is not there, but you can’t run away from it if you are dealing with QEMU configuration or command-line parameters.

See also: the Introduction to QemuOpts blog post.


qdev was added to QEMU in 2009. qdev manages the QEMU device tree, based on a hierarchy of buses and devices. You can see the device tree managed by qdev using the info qtree monitor command in QEMU.

qdev allows device code to register implementations of device types. Machine code, on the other hand, would instantiate those devices and configure them by setting properties, and not accessing internal device data structures directly. Some devices can be plugged from the QEMU monitor or command-line, and their properties can be configured as arguments to the -device option or device_add command.

From the original code:

The theory here is that it should be possible to create a machine without knowledge of specific devices. Historically board init routines have passed a bunch of arguments to each device, requiring the board know exactly which device it is dealing with. This file provides an abstract API for device configuration and initialization. Devices will generally inherit from a particular bus (e.g. PCI or I2C) rather than this API directly.

Some may argue that qdev doesn’t exist anymore, and was replaced by QOM. Others (including myself) describe it as being built on top of QOM. Either way you describe it, the same features provided by the original qdev code are provided by the QOM-based code living in hw/core.

See also:

  • KVM Forum 2010 talk by Markus Armbruster: “QEMU’s new device model qdev” (slides)
  • KVM Forum 2011 talk by Markus Armbruster: “QEMU’s device model qdev: Where do we go from here?” (slides. video)
  • KVM Forum 2013 talk by Andreas Färber: “Modern QEMU Devices” (slides, video)


QOM is short for QEMU Object Model and was introduced in 2011. It is heavily documented on its header file. It started as a generalization of qdev. Today the device tree and backend objects are managed through the QOM object tree.

From its documentation:

The QEMU Object Model provides a framework for registering user creatable types and instantiating objects from those types. QOM provides the following features:

  • System for dynamically registering types
  • Support for single-inheritance of types
  • Multiple inheritance of stateless interfaces

QOM also has a property system for introspection and object/device configuration. qdev’s property system is built on top of QOM’s property system.

Some QOM types and their properties are meant to be used internally only (e.g. some devices that are not pluggable and only created by machine code; accelerator objects). Some types can be instantiated and configured directly from the QEMU monitor or command-line (using, e.g., -device, device_add, -object, object-add).

See also:

  • KVM Forum 2014 talk by Paolo Bonzini: “QOM exegesis and apocalypse” (slides, video).


VMState was introduced in 2009. It was added to change the device state saving/loading (for savevm and migration) from error-prone ad-hoc coding to a table-based approach.

From the original commit:

This patch introduces VMState infrastructure, to convert the save/load functions of devices to a table approach. This new approach has the following advantages:

  • it is type-safe
  • you can’t have load/save functions out of sync
  • will allows us to have new interesting commands, like dump , that shows all its internal state.
  • Just now, the only added type is arrays, but we can add structures.
  • Uses old load_state() function for loading old state.

See also:

  • KVM Forum 2010 talk by Juan Quintela: “Migration: How to hop from machine to machine without losing state” (slides)
  • KVM Forum 2011 talk by Juan Quintela: “Migration: one year later” (slides, video)
  • KVM Forum 2012 talk by Michael Roth: “QIDL: An Embedded Language to Serialize Guest Data Structures for Live Migration” (slides)


QMP is the QEMU Machine Protocol. Introduced in 2009. From its documentation:

The QEMU Machine Protocol (QMP) allows applications to operate a QEMU instance.

QMP is JSON based and features the following:

  • Lightweight, text-based, easy to parse data format
  • Asynchronous messages support (i.e. events)
  • Capabilities Negotiation

For detailed information on QMP’s usage, please, refer to the following files:

  • qmp-spec.txt QEMU Machine Protocol current specification
  • qmp-commands.txt QMP supported commands (auto-generated at build-time)
  • qmp-events.txt List of available asynchronous events

See also: KVM Forum 2010 talk by Luiz Capitulino, A Quick Tour of the QEMU Monitor Protocol.


QObject was introduced in 2009. It was added during the work to add QMP. It provides a generic QObject data type, and available subtypes include integers, strings, lists, and dictionaries. It includes reference counting. It was also called QEMU Object Model when the code was introduced, but do not confuse it with QOM.

It started a as simple implementation, but was expanded later to support all the data types defined in the QAPI schema (see below).


QAPI was introduced in 2011. The original documentation (which can be outdated) can be seen at http://wiki.qemu.org/Features/QAPI.

From the original patch series:

Goals of QAPI

1) Make all interfaces consumable in C such that we can use the interfaces in QEMU

2) Make all interfaces exposed through a library using code generation from static introspection

3) Make all interfaces well specified in a formal schema

From the documentation:

QAPI is a native C API within QEMU which provides management-level functionality to internal and external users. For external users/processes, this interface is made available by a JSON-based wire format for the QEMU Monitor Protocol (QMP) for controlling qemu, as well as the QEMU Guest Agent (QGA) for communicating with the guest. The remainder of this document uses “Client JSON Protocol” when referring to the wire contents of a QMP or QGA connection.

To map Client JSON Protocol interfaces to the native C QAPI implementations, a JSON-based schema is used to define types and function signatures, and a set of scripts is used to generate types, signatures, and marshaling/dispatch code. This document will describe how the schemas, scripts, and resulting code are used.

See also:

  • KVM Forum 2011 talk by Anthony Liguori: “Code Generation for Fun and Profit” (slides, video)

Visitor API

QAPI includes an API to define and use visitors for the QAPI-defined data types. Visitors are the mechanism used to serialize QAPI data to/from the external world (e.g. through QMP, the command-line, or config files).

From its documentation:

The QAPI schema defines both a set of C data types, and a QMP wire format. QAPI objects can contain references to other QAPI objects, resulting in a directed acyclic graph. QAPI also generates visitor functions to walk these graphs. This file represents the interface for doing work at each node of a QAPI graph; it can also be used for a virtual walk, where there is no actual QAPI C struct.

There are four kinds of visitor classes: input visitors (QObject, string, and QemuOpts) parse an external representation and build the corresponding QAPI graph, output visitors (QObject and string) take a completed QAPI graph and generate an external representation, the dealloc visitor can take a QAPI graph (possibly partially constructed) and recursively free its resources, and the clone visitor performs a deep clone of one QAPI object to another. While the dealloc and QObject input/output visitors are general, the string, QemuOpts, and clone visitors have some implementation limitations; see the documentation for each visitor for more details on what it supports. Also, see visitor-impl.h for the callback contracts implemented by each visitor, and docs/qapi-code-gen.txt for more about the QAPI code generator.

The End

Although large, this list is incomplete. In the near future, I plan to write about QAPI, QOM, and QemuOpts, and how they work (and sometimes don’t work) together.

Most of the abstractions above are about data modeling, in one way or another. That’s not a coincidence: one of the things I want to write about are how some times those data abstractions have conflicting world views, and the issues resulting from that.

Feedback wanted: if you have any correction or suggestion to this list, please send your comments. You can use the GitHub page for the post to send comments or suggest changes, or just e-mail me.