QEMU is well-known as a free replacement for VMware, allowing users to run a PC within a PC. What isn't so well known about QEMU is that, in addition to emulating x86 architectures, it can emulate AMD64, Sparc, MIPS, PPC and ARM CPUs.
In the case of the ARM architecture, QEMU provides a convenient, if slow, environment in which development can be done for embedded systems.
This article describes the process involved in building a Debian/ARM server running under QEMU. It assumes that Debian is also being used as the host server.
Since QEMU's arm emulator has no ability to emulate either IDE or SCSI disks, it will be necessary to install the server on an NFS exported partition.
Preparing the host server
Firstly, install the required packages on your host server:
debootstrap allows the creation of a base Debian or Ubuntu system, and is a very simple method for building chroots and virtual machines quickly.
VDE is a virtual network emulator, much like user mode linux's uml_net, allowing a QEMU-emulated machine to connect to the host server's network through a tap interface.
Make sure that your host kernel has support for the "Universal TUN/TAP device driver"; the kernel configuration option for this is named "TUN". If you're running a modularised kernel, there's a good chance that it will
be named 'tun.o'.
Once you have a kernel with tun support, set up a tap interface for the emulated machine to communicate through. In /etc/network/interfaces on your host machine, add the following stanza:
Ensure that /dev/net/tun is owned by group vde-net and that you are also a member of that group; add this to your host server's /etc/group file and log out and back in again, if necessary.
Then, bring up the interface:
host# ifup tap0
You'll need a partition with enough spare space on it to hold a basic Debian installation; make sure you have enough room on it to grow in the future. You can probably get away with 300Mb at the minimum. I placed my tree under /nfs/share/arm/.
Now, run debootstrap to download and install the base Debian/arm distribution, and copy a few of the files from your host system into it:
debootstrap's --foreign option tells it to only perform the first stage of the bootstrap process, downloading and unpacking the packages. Since we're downloading Debian for a different architecture from that on which we're running on the host server, our host system would not be able to use this new system in a chroot to run the pre- and post-installation scripts.