With OmniOS r151028, support for bhyve and KVM branded zones has been introduced. These branded zones are incredibly small and do not need to be kept up-to-date using pkg since they share files with the global zone. Their purpose is to allow kvm and bhyve to be managed as a zone keeping them isolated from the rest of the system and enabling protection from known CPU vulnerabilities.


Zones are configured largely through the use of attributes which can make them quite verbose to set up through zonecfg. You may be interested in the work on ZCage which has support for configuring these types of zone.


Most attributes have reasonable default value as described in the next section so here’s a complete example bhyve zone configuration for installing Debian from an iso file. Since nothing is explicitly specified, this machine will default to a single virtual CPU and 1GiB of RAM. The machine’s serial console is accessible via zlogin. It is also possible to configure VNC for all KVM machines and bhyve VMs that use UEFI boot. The below example uses VNC because the Debian netinstall default assumes a graphical console. See below example for using socat to access it from a vnc client.

omnios# dladm create-vnic -l net0 bhyve0
omnios# zfs create -V 30G rpool/bhyve0
omnios# zonecfg -z debian
create -b
set brand=bhyve
set zonepath=/data/zone/bhyve
set ip-type=exclusive
add net
    set allowed-address=
    set physical=bhyve0
add device
    set match=/dev/zvol/rdsk/rpool/bhyve0
add attr
    set name=bootdisk
    set type=string
    set value=rpool/bhyve0
add fs
    set dir=/rpool/iso/debian-9.4.0-amd64-netinst.iso
    set special=/rpool/iso/debian-9.4.0-amd64-netinst.iso
    set type=lofs
    add options ro
    add options nodevices
add attr
    set name=cdrom
    set type=string
    set value=/rpool/iso/debian-9.4.0-amd64-netinst.iso
add attr
    set name=acpi
    set type=string
    set value=off
add attr
    set name=bootrom
    set type=string
    set value=BHYVE_RELEASE
add attr
    set name=vnc
    set type=string
    set value=on

omnios# zoneadm -z debian install
omnios# zoneadm -z debian boot
omnios# zlogin -C debian


The following table shows the available attributes for bhyve and KVM zones along with their default values. Attributes are added to the zone configuration as shown in the example above; all attributes have the string type.

Attribute Default Syntax
acpi1 on on,off
bootdisk2   Eg. rpool/hdd-bhyve0
bootorder cd [c][d][n]
bootrom1,4 BHYVE_RELEASE_CSM firmware image name
cdrom3   Eg. /rpool/iso/debian.iso
console6 /dev/zconsole Eg. socket,/tmp/vm.com1,wait
disk2   Eg. /dev/zvol/rdsk/fast/hdd1,serial=1234
diskif virtio virtio,ahci
extra   Arbitrary hypervisor arguments
hostbridge1 i440fx i440fx, q35, amd, netapp, none
netif virtio virtio,e1000
ram 1G nG,nM
type generic generic, windows, openbsd
vcpus7 1 [[cpus=]numcpus][,sockets=n][,cores=n][,threads=n]]
vnc5 off off,on,options


  1. bhyve only;
  2. You will also need to pass the underlying disk device through to the zone via a device entry as shown in the example above;
  3. The ISO file needs passing through to the zone via a lofs mount as shown in the example above;
  4. Available firmware files can be found in /usr/share/bhyve/firmware/;
  5. Setting vnc to on is the same as setting it to unix=/tmp/vm.vnc;
  6. You can connect to the virtual machine console from the global zone with zlogin -C zonename;
  7. For KVM, the extended syntax can cause problems with the guest; it’s best to stick to simple numbers here.

VNC Access

When the vnc attribute is set to on, a VNC server will be started listening on a UNIX socket at /tmp/vm.vnc within the zone. Note that this only functions for bhyve zones if the guest is booted via UEFI. In order to connect the socket to a TCP port so that it can be accessed using a VNC client one option is to use the mini socat utility that comes with the brand.

omnios# /usr/lib/brand/bhyve/socat /data/zone/bhyve/root/tmp/vm.vnc 5905

or use the full socat utility from extra:

omnios# socat TCP-LISTEN:5905,reuseaddr,fork UNIX-CONNECT:/data/zone/bhyve/root/tmp/vm.vnc

It is intended that future zone management tools incorporate this feature in an easy-to-use way.

Post Install

Once the image is installed and it reboots, you’ll get back to the install menu. (Note, you’ll have to reconnect after VNC disconnects at the reboot to see this). To avoid going into another full reinstall, you need to remove the boot cdrom from the zone config.

omnios# zonecfg -z debian
zonecfg:debian> remove attr name=cdrom
zonecfg:debian> verify
zonecfg:debian> commit
zonecfg:debian> exit

Debian specific

One final note on Debian. The install image does not setup (as of Debian 10) a proper UEFI boot in the right place for Bhyve to find it, so you’ll have to boot into the Debian OS following a few steps from the uefi shell, get the OS up, then copy a file in place and run update-grub.

  1. exit from the UEFI Shell
    Shell> exit
  2. Now select Boot Maintenance Manager from the Bhyve boot screen
  3. select Boot From File from the next screen
  4. at the following screen select the single <EFI> option
  5. Then select <debian>
  6. Finally, select grubx64.efi from the last screen and your guest OS will boot
  7. The last step to make this permanent is to issue the following command to put the UEFI boot code into the right place for subsequent boots to be automatic
root# mkdir /boot/efi/EFI/BOOT
root# cp /boot/efi/EFI/debian/grubx64.efi /boot/efi/EFI/BOOT/bootx64.efi
root# /usr/sbin/update-grub