Automatically shrink your VM disk images when you delete files

If you use VMs a lot, you know that with the most popular qcow2 disk format, the disk image starts small, but grows with every filesystem change happening inside the VM. Deleting files inside the VM doesn’t shrink it. Of course that wastes a lot of disk space on your host – the VMs often contain gigabytes of freed space inside the VM, but not on the host. Shrinking the VM images is possible, but tedious and slow. Well, recently I learned that’s actually not true anymore. You can use the TRIM command, used to signalize to SSD drives that some space can be freed, to do the same in virtualization stack – signalize from VM to host that some space can be freed, and the disk image shrunk. How to do that? As usual, this is a shameless copy of instructions found elsewhere on the Internets. The instructions assume you’re using virt-manager or libvirt directly.

First, you need to using qcow2 images, not raw images (you can configure this when adding new disks to your VM).

Second, you need to set your disk bus to SCSI (not VirtIO, which is the default).

disk-scsi

Third, you need to set your SCSI Controller to VirtIO SCSI (not hypervisor default).

controller-scsi

Fourth, you need to edit your VM configuration file using virsh edit vmname and adjust your hard drive’s driver line to include discard='unmap', e.g. like this:

<disk type='file' device='disk'>
 <driver name='qemu' type='qcow2' discard='unmap'/>

And that’s it. Now you boot your VM and try to issue:

$ sudo fstrim -av
/boot: 319.8 MiB (335329280 bytes) trimmed
/: 101.5 GiB (108928946176 bytes) trimmed

You should see some output printed, even if it’s just 0 bytes trimmed, and not an error.

If you’re using LVM, you’ll also need to edit /etc/lvm/lvm.conf and set:

issue_discards = 1

Then it should work, after a reboot.

Now, if you want trimming to occur automatically in your VM, you have two options (I usually do both):

Enable the fstrim timer that trims the system once a week by default:

$ sudo systemctl enable fstrim.timer

And configure the root filesystem (and any other one you’re interested in) to issue discard command automatically after each file is deleted. Edit /etc/fstab and add a discard mount option, like this:

UUID=6d368798-f4c2-44f9-8334-6be3c64cc449 / ext4 defaults,discard 1 1

And that’s it. Try to create a big file using dd, watch your VM image grow. Then delete the file, watch the image shrink. Awesome. If only we had this by default.

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Automatically shrink your VM disk images when you delete files

SSH to your VMs without knowing their IP address

This is a shameless copy of this blog post, but I felt like I need to put it here as well, so that I can find it the next time I need it 🙂

libvirt approach

When you run a lot of VMs, especially for testing, every time with a fresh operating system, connecting to them is a pain, because you always need to figure out their IP address first. Turns out that is no longer true. I simply added this snippet to my ~/.ssh/config:

# https://penguindroppings.wordpress.com/2017/09/20/easy-ssh-into-libvirt-vms-and-lxd-containers/
# NOTE: doesn't work with uppercase VM names
Host *.vm
 CheckHostIP no
 Compression no
 UserKnownHostsFile /dev/null
 StrictHostKeyChecking no
 ProxyCommand nc $(virsh domifaddr $(echo %h | sed "s/\.vm//g") | awk -F'[ /]+' '{if (NR>2 && $5) print $5}') %p

and now I can simply execute ssh test.vm for a VM named test and I’m connected! A huge time saver. It doesn’t work with uppercase letters in VM names and I didn’t bother to try to fix that. Also, since I run VMs just for testing purposes, I disabled all ssh security checks (you should not do that for important machines).

avahi approach

There’s also a second approach I used for persistent VMs (those that survive for longer than a single install&reboot cycle). You can use Avahi to search for a hostname on the .local domain to find the IP address. Fedora has this enabled by default (if you have nss-mdns package installed, I believe, which should be by default). So, in the VM, set a custom hostname, for example f27:

$ sudo hostnamectl set-hostname f27
$ reboot

Now, you can run ssh f27.local and it should connect you to the VM automatically.

SSH to your VMs without knowing their IP address