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How to create a Virtual Machine in SmartOS

In SmartOS, virtual machines are created using the vmadm create tool. This tool takes a JSON payload and creates a zone with the properties specified in the input JSON. Normal output is a series of single-line JSON objects with type set to one of:

  • success
  • failure
  • update
  • notice

each object having at least the 'type' and 'message' fields. A message of type 'success' or 'failure' will be followed by the process exiting with the exit status 0 indicating success and all other exits indicating failure.

vmadm create -f <filename.json>

Getting Started

You will need

The Machine JSON Description

Save the code snippet below to a file called "vmspec.json". You can make changes to the networks and other variables as appropriate. This is by no means an exhaustive list of all options. For all options see vmadm(1m). (Sizes are listed in MiB)

  "brand": "kvm",
  "vcpus": 1,
  "autoboot": false,
  "ram": 1024,
  "resolvers": ["", ""],
  "disks": [
      "boot": true,
      "model": "virtio",
      "size": 40960
  "nics": [
      "nic_tag": "admin",
      "model": "virtio",
      "ip": "",
      "netmask": "",
      "gateway": "",
      "primary": 1

When installing OS's that do not ship with virtio support instead of using virtio on the disk for the model use ide and e1000 for the network model.

Create the Empty Virtual Machine

Create the empty virtual machine using the create-machine tool. Please note that the virtual machine will not be running.

vmadm create

Note the UUID in the last step. This UUID is the ID of the VM and will be used to reference it for the rest of its lifecycle.

$ vmadm create < vmspec.json
{"percent":1,"type":"update","message":"checking and applying defaults to payload"}
{"percent":2,"type":"update","message":"checking required datasets"}
{"percent":28,"type":"update","message":"we have all necessary datasets"}
{"percent":29,"type":"update","message":"creating volumes"}
{"percent":51,"type":"update","message":"creating zone container"}
{"percent":94,"type":"update","message":"storing zone metadata"}
{"uuid":"b8ab5fc1-8576-45ef-bb51-9826b52a4651","type":"success","message":"created VM"}

Copy your OS ISO to the zone

The path to the ISO image in the json is relative to the root of the zone.

cd /zones/b8ab5fc1-8576-45ef-bb51-9826b52a4651/root/

Ensure permissions are correct on the ISO

chown root debian.iso
chmod u+r debian.iso

Boot the VM from the ISO Image

vmadm is the virtual machine administration tool. It is used to manage the lifecycle of a virtual machine after it already exists. We will boot the virtual machine we have just created, but tell it to boot off of the ISO image the first time it comes up.

vmadm boot b8ab5fc1-8576-45ef-bb51-9826b52a4651 order=cd,once=d cdrom=/debian.iso,ide

Please note that the path for the ISO image will be the relative path of the ISO to the zone you are in. This is why it starts with the '/'

Use VNC to Connect to the VM

The vmadm tool can print out the information on the VM. You can also append a section to print specificially.

$ vmadm info b8ab5fc1-8576-45ef-bb51-9826b52a4651 vnc
  "vnc": {
    "display": 39565,
    "port": 45465,
    "host": ""

Your VM is now running. You can shutdown your virtual machine and it will still remain on disk. To learn more about managing the lifecycle of a virtual machine, run vmadm --help.


Zone Networking Issues

If you are running SmartOS as a guest vm then you might have networking issues with your zones. In order to fix this we need to create a bridge. If you look at You can see that the script will create a bridge for vmare products but if you are using VirtualBox or Parallells then you need to do it manually.

$ ifconfig -a
e1000g0: flags=1100943<UP,BROADCAST,RUNNING,PROMISC,MULTICAST,ROUTER,IPv4> mtu 1500 index 2
        inet netmask ffffff00 broadcast
        ether 8:0:27:e1:35:cb
$ dladm create-bridge -l e1000g0 vboxbr

Your zones should now be able to access the network. You don't need to change the nic_tag for any of the zones, leave them as admin or external.

There is a way to make this happen on boot with my adding an smf script to /opt/custom/smf. Here is a nice write up that shows you how it's done.

Further Reading

Those versed in JavaScript can learn a lot more by reading the vmadm.js source.