Libvirt-lxc User Namespace Support

User namespaces provide a way for a process running in a container to appear to be running as root, but are in fact running as a different user on the host. The objective of this feature is to allow deployers to enable and configure which users and groups are mapped between container and host.

Problem description

It is a security risk to allow user processes to run as root on container hosts. In order to mitigate this risk, it is a good idea to run processes in those containers as non-root users. The problem with this is some processes may like to run (or at least appear to run as root inside the container). For example, running an init system as the init process of the container.

Further, to boot an image in a user namespaced environment, the contents of it’s filesystem must be owned by the target user for root on the host.

Proposed change

User namespaces allow processes inside a container to appear to be run as root, but are in fact running as another user. Libvirt exposes this feature through idmaps. This change would introduce a set of elements on the instance’s domain xml to indicate which user and group ids should map between container and host.

To address the owning of the filesystem by the targeted root user, the image will be chowned by Nova at boot time.

Config for this feature will be disabled by default. It will be up to the deployer to enable and configure it.

New config options in libvirt group:

  • uid_maps: comma separated list of mappings, maximum of 5

  • gid_maps: comma separated list of mappings, maximum of 5

Format for mappings is “guest-id:host-id:count,guest-id:host-id_count,…”


Alternative image chown points, with performance impact:

  • Chown by image creator: No performance impact

    • Rejected as the end user shouldn’t have to worry about it

  • Chown by Glance on import: Image will take longer to become active

    • Not ideal is it introduces a dependency on import being configured properly in glance.

  • Chown by Nova when cached: Initial boot on all hosts will take longer

    • Rejected initially as there are too many changes going on around image caching. Once activity around iamge caching slows down, this may be the ideal option.

Data model impact


REST API impact


Security impact

This change will improve the security of containers in Nova significantly. Before this change, processes running in containers built by Nova will be run as the host’s root user. After this change, a deployer can restrict which user(s) processes will be run as.

It should be noted that this change is not meant to provide isolation between guests, but instead isolation between host and guest. It is out of the scope of this change, but is reasonable to assume that if a mechanism was created to ensure that containers all used different UID/GIDs, user namespacing could be used to provide further guest-guest separation. This change provides a base that could be extended in the future for that use case.

Notifications impact


Other end user impact

Images need to be deliberately created to be run in a user namespaced environment. The contents of an image’s filesystem need to be owned by the target uid/gid. In this iteration of this feature, Nova will chown the image on boot.

Performance Impact

Due to the chowning of the image’s filesystem on boot by Nova, there will be a performance hit on boot depending on how many files are on the image’s filesystem.

Other deployer impact


Developer impact




Primary assignee:


Other contributors:

rconradharris thomas-maddox

Work Items

  • Modify libvirt to include new idmap xml

  • Create util function to chown rootfs

  • Actual setup of new instance


  • Linux 3.8+ kernel

    • Early 3.8 kernels may be buggy. If user needs minimum kernel, user should use latest 3.8 kernel possible.

  • Libvirt 1.1.1


Making sure that the nova config options are properly mapped to libvirt domain objects can easily be handled by unit testing. Functional testing for this will not be possible until libvirt-lxc is included in the CI environment. Depending on how chowning is implemented, functional testing could be a bit tricky.

Documentation Impact

New config options.