VM Networking ( Libvirt / Bridge )

When working with virtual machines via libvirt, it is common to initially spin them up in such a way that allows inter-communication on their host (hypervisor). Namely, VMs can talk to VMs on the same host. However, as you add more hypervisors to your homelab or datacenter, you will likely want VMs to be routable to the larger LAN. Exploring these network models and routability will be the focus of this post.

When using a stack like libvirt/qemu/kvm, there are multiple network models available to you. Libvirt provides a "default" network, which enables VMs to be routable within their host (hypervisor). In order to make VMs routable to the larger LAN, you can introduce a bridge network. This post covers both network models. Additionally, we will examine how to setup a bridge manually, then use systemd-networkd to automate its instantiation.

This post/video assumes basic understanding of the libvirt/qemu/kvm stack. If you do not, checkout my Linux Hypervisor Setup post/video.

Libvirt's Default Network

When the libvirt stack is running, you can use virsh to determine what networks are started.

$ virsh net-list

 Name   State   Autostart   Persistent

Your system may already have started the Default network. If not, as is my case above, you can start it using virsh.

$ virsh net-start default

Network default started

In my case, if I wanted the default network to autostart, I could run virsh net-autostart default. However, as you'll see in a later section, this network will eventually stay disabled in favor of a bridge network created by me.

With the Default network started, a few key things have occurred.

Visually, these changes and wiring looks as follows.

Now you can start VMs that use the Default network. If you're spinning up new VMs, assuming you don't modify network settings, it's likely Default will be used. To check existing VMs, use virsh to validate the network settings.

$ virsh dumpxml octetz2 | grep -i 'network='

<source network='default' 

With the VM, in my case octetz2, verified to be using Default, you can start the VM.

$ virsh start octetz2

Domain octetz2 started

With the VM started, a few key things have occurred.

With that, you now have an internal (to the host) VM network! This can be a great setup when running VMs, that don't need to be reached by external hosts, on your desktop. Another benefit of managing the entire network through libvirt is virsh can tell you about the DHCP leases that were made. Assuming a second VM is launched, the leases may look as follows.

$ virsh net-dhcp-leases default

 Expiry Time           MAC address         Protocol   IP address          Hostname 
 2020-11-14 13:41:09   52:54:00:2a:22:19   ipv4    ubuntu-server
 2020-11-14 13:38:54   52:54:00:b9:fe:a5   ipv4   josh

With the above two VMs running, a high-level look at the network is the following.

A primary issue with this network layout is the VM network is entirely isolated from the LAN network the host is connected to. If you took the above host and multiplied it, it is likely you'd want VMs, wherever they run, to be able to send traffic to and from each other. I'll tackle this in the next section, Bride Networking.

Bridge Networking

In the previous example, a bridge network was in play. In this next example, you'll be creating a bridge network on the host instead of libvirt. You'll then bind the host's existing interfaces to it. Lastly, you'll configure VMs to attach to this new bridge, as if they are plugging into an internal switch on the host. In this configuration, VMs will be able to respond to ARP requests on the layer 2 segment in effect making them routable to the LAN. In this section you'll walk through each step manually to aid in understanding how this network layout works.

In order to make this network model work, you must ensure the following.

With the above complete, take a look at your existing interfaces to understand where you are starting from.

$ ip a s

1: lo: <LOOPBACK,UP,LOWER_UP> mtu 65536 qdisc noqueue state UNKNOWN group default qlen 1000
    link/loopback 00:00:00:00:00:00 brd 00:00:00:00:00:00
    inet scope host lo
       valid_lft forever preferred_lft forever
    inet6 ::1/128 scope host
       valid_lft forever preferred_lft forever

2: eno1: <BROADCAST,MULTICAST> mtu 1500 qdisc noop state DOWN group default qlen 1000
    link/ether 74:d4:35:ed:79:d7 brd ff:ff:ff:ff:ff:ff
    altname enp0s25

3: wlp5s0: <BROADCAST,MULTICAST> mtu 1500 qdisc noop state DOWN group default qlen 1000
    link/ether d8:f2:ca:d5:8c:b6 brd ff:ff:ff:ff:ff:ff

The host I am working with has a ethernet card, represented by eno1, and a WIFI card (will not be used), represented by wlp5s0. The state of all these interfaces is DOWN because the machine has just booted and there is no networking daemon at play. For the following setup, all work will be done with the ip tool. This is the recommended approach as many other tools, such as brctl, are deprecated in favor of it.

First you need to establish a virtual switch in the form a bridge interface.

ip link add name br0 type bridge

br0 is now your virtual switch. You want everything, including the host's ethernet device to "plug" into it. To do this, you'll bind your ethernet device's interface to br0.

ip link set eno1 master br0

br0 needs an IP address. Normally you'd rely on DHCP to provide this, but I demonstrate that until the next section. For now, assign an IP to the interface and setup its broadcast domain (brd). Make sure this IP is not in use elsewhere in your network.

ip addr add dev br0 brd

While an IP is in place, br0 and eno1 are still DOWN. Next, change the link state of both to UP.

ip link set up eno1 &&\
ip link set up br0

Now the interfaces are up. If all went correctly, you can use another host on the LAN and run an arping against the IP address you assigned and verify this host's MAC address responds.

root@some-random-computer [ ~ ]# arping -I eth0

ARPING from eth0
Unicast reply from [3A:11:EC:A4:CC:8D]  0.759ms
Unicast reply from [3A:11:EC:A4:CC:8D]  0.816ms

The host is now reachable, however it can't reach outside the LAN. This is because there is default route established for traffic that is outside of This can be seen by looking at the route table.

$ route

Kernel IP routing table
Destination     Gateway         Genmask         Flags Metric Ref    Use Iface     U     0      0        0 br0
route -n

Add a route for the default gateway pointed at your router's gateway IP.

route add default gw

Now verify your host can ping hosts outside the LAN CIDR.

$ ping

PING ( 56(84) bytes of data.
64 bytes from ( icmp_seq=1 ttl=117 time=4.27 ms
64 bytes from ( icmp_seq=2 ttl=117 time=4.08 ms

With all the current pieces in place, you now have the following components wired up.

Now you have a bridge network setup that VMs can be attached to! If you are ready to start attaching VMs, skip ahead to the Attaching VMs to the Bridge section. Otherwise, I'll be explaining how to automate this process in the next section.

Automating Bridge Setup

All the work in the previous section was for learning purposes and realistically you'll want your host configured to automatically setup this bridge configuration. There are a variety of ways to accomplish this and most vary based on your distribution. However, most server distributions leverage systemd-networkd for their networking. By automating the bridge configuration in systemd-networkd, you can setup a process that is portable across most distributions.

First, you should create the file /etc/systemd/network/br.netdev and set it up to create the same interface we did in the previous section.

# file is /etc/systemd/network/br.netdev


Next you must create /etc/systemd/network/ instructing the ethernet interface to bind to the bridge.

# file is



Lastly create /etc/systemd/network/ instructing systemd-networkd to do a DHCP look, providing br0 an IP lease.

# file is /etc/systemd/network/



I prefer to label the .network files with a number because they are lexicographically evaluated and you want the ethernet interface to be bound before requesting a DHCP lease. However, I am not sure what the behavior would be if these were evaluated in the wrong order.

To make this changes take effect, enable the systemd-networkd unit, which ensures it launches at start up.

systemctl enable systemd-networkd

After the machine re-starts, you can verify all the pieces are in place. See the final image of the last section for reference.

Attaching VMs to the Bridge

From this point on, VMs can be created on the host without starting the Default network. Instead, simply start VMs and specify the bridge interface you want to attach them to.

virt-install \
  --name testvm \
  --ram 2048 \
  --disk path=/var/lib/libvirt/images/u19.qcow2,size=8 \
  --vcpus 2 \
  --os-type linux \
  --os-variant generic \
  --console pty,target_type=serial \
  --bridge=br0 \
  --cdrom /var/lib/libvirt/isos/ubuntu-18.04.4-live-server-amd64.iso

If you have a fancy managed switch, you can likely log into its management panel and see that on a single port the hypervisor and VMs are both seen as unique MAC addresses.

Now that everything is wired together, you now have a network setup that looks as follows.