How to use Ignite to run VMs

Ignite is a containerized Firecracker microVM administration tool. It runs and manages virtual machines in separate containers using Firecracker.

This is a quick guide on how to get started with Ignite. The guide will cover the following topics in order:

Keep in mind that all Ignite commands require root for now. This will change later.

Here’s a demo that shows the topics above in action with ignite running on Amazon EC2 i3.metal instance which satisfies the /dev/kvm dependency.

ignite running on Amazon EC2 i3.metal instance

Alternatively, you might want to check out the TGIK deep-dive session from Joe Beda on what Ignite is and how it works:

TGIK 082

Importing a VM base image

A VM base image (or just image) is an OCI container, which contains a filesystem and has an init system installed. Ignite currently supports importing images from Docker images, for which it has the following command:

# ignite image import <identifier>

The identifier can either be the UID of the image in Docker, or its name. If using the name without specifying a tag, :latest is automatically appended. Ignite can also match a prefix of the given name/UID in any command provided that it’s unique, so you can e.g. enter just the three first letters of a name if they are unique to a single resource.

Go ahead and import the weaveworks/ignite-ubuntu Docker image. If it isn’t present locally, Ignite will pull it for you:

# ignite image import weaveworks/ignite-ubuntu
INFO[0002] Created image with ID "cae0ac317cca74ba" and name "weaveworks/ignite-ubuntu:latest" 

Now the weaveworks/ignite-ubuntu image is imported and ready for VM use.

Creating a new VM based on the imported image

The images are read-only references of what every VM based on them should contain. To create a functional VM, Ignite uses device mapper to overlay a writable snapshot on top of the image. All changes to the VM will be saved in the snapshot.

Let’s create a new VM with some options:

# ignite create weaveworks/ignite-ubuntu \
  --name my-vm \
  --cpus 2 \
  --memory 1GB \
  --size 6GB \
INFO[0001] Created VM with ID "3c5fa9a18682741f" and name "my-vm" 

Options for VM generation

The previous example tells Ignite to create a VM with the name my-vm and that it should have 2 CPU cores, 1 GB of RAM, a writable snapshot size of 6 GB and have SSH access enabled.

The snapshot stores a delta compared to the base image, so a --size of “6GB” enables storing 6 Gigabytes of data changes (addition or removal).

The --ssh flag generates a new private/public key pair for the VM and exports the public key it into the VM. This is used for ignite ssh <identifier> later.

All available options can be listed with ignite create --help.

Starting a VM

Starting a created VM is very straight forward:

# ignite start my-vm

The VM will be matched by its name or ID (useful if there are similarly named VMs).

If no error occured, your VM is now running.

Inspecting VMs and their resources

Ignite currently manages three kinds of resources: images, kernels and VMs. The kernels are quite transparent, and get automatically imported from the docker image weaveworks/ignite-kernel:4.19.47 by default (overridable during create).

To list the available kernels, enter:

# ignite kernels
KERNEL ID               NAME                                    CREATED SIZE    VERSION
aefb459546315344        weaveworks/ignite-kernel:4.19.47        61m ago 49.0 MB 4.19.47

To list the imported images, enter:

# ignite images
IMAGE ID                NAME                            CREATED SIZE
cae0ac317cca74ba        weaveworks/ignite-ubuntu:latest 82m ago 268.9 MB

And to list the running VMs, enter:

# ignite ps
VM ID                   IMAGE                           KERNEL                                  CREATED SIZE    CPUS    MEMORY          STATE   IPS             PORTS   NAME
3c5fa9a18682741f        weaveworks/ignite-ubuntu:latest weaveworks/ignite-kernel:4.19.47        63m ago 4.0 GB  2       1.0 GB          Running              my-vm

To list all VMs instead of just running ones, add the -a flag to ps.

Accessing a VM

Ignite has two ways to access a CLI in a VM, the first option is to attach to the VM's TTY and the other is to SSH into the VM.

Attaching to the TTY

To attach to the running VM's TTY, enter:

# ignite attach my-vm
Ubuntu 18.04.2 LTS 3c5fa9a18682741f ttyS0

3c5fa9a18682741f login:

If nothing is displayed, hit Enter to re-display the login prompt. Login using the credentials set in the image (usually root with password root).

To detach from the TTY, enter the key combination ^P^Q (Ctrl + P + Q):

root@3c5fa9a18682741f:~# <^P^Q>
INFO[0001] Detached

SSH into the VM

NOTE: SSH works only if the --ssh flag is specified during create. Otherwise there are no public keys imported into the VM and most images have password-based root logins disabled for security reasons.

To SSH into a VM, enter:

# ignite ssh my-vm
Welcome to Ubuntu 18.04.2 LTS (GNU/Linux 4.19.47 x86_64)

To exit SSH, just quit the shell process with exit.

NOTE: Each SSH access spawns its own session, but TTY access via attach is shared, every attached user operates the same terminal.

All in one

Ignite has a shorthand for performing image import, create, start and possibly also attach all in one command:

# ignite run weaveworks/ignite-ubuntu \
  --name another-vm \
  --cpus 2 \
  --memory 1GB \
  --size 6GB \
  --ssh \

This imports the given image, creates a new VM from it, starts the VM and attaches to the VM's TTY.

run accepts all the flags for image import, create and start. Using the --interactive flag of start, an attach is performed right after the VM has been started.

Stopping a VM

Ignite VMs can be stopped three ways:

  1. By running: # ignite stop my-vm

  2. By running: # ignite kill my-vm

  3. By issuing the reboot command inside the VM

If the VM's kernel has support for Firecracker’s virtual keyboard, stop will issue Ctrl + Alt + Del to gracefully shut down the VM. It will wait 20 seconds for Firecracker to exit, after which the VM will be forcibly killed.

kill is an alias for stop -f, which force-kills the VM. WARNING: The VM is given no time to close open resources, so this might lead to data loss or filesystem corruption.

Issuing reboot inside the VM is the recommended way to stop a VM that doesn’t support Firecracker’s virtual keyboard. By rebooting the VM Firecracker shuts itself down gracefully.

NOTE: Do not enter shutdown or halt inside the VM, this will result in Firecracker hanging.

Removing a VM

To remove VMs in Ignite, use the following command:

# ignite rm my-vm

The VM needs to not be running for this to succeed. Using the --force flag (-f for short) a running VM can also be removed, it will be killed before removal. This force option is also able to stop and remove zombie VMs.

# ignite rm -f my-vm

Removing other resources

To remove an image, run:

# ignite rmi weaveworks/ignite-ubuntu

And to remove a kernel, run:

# ignite rmk weaveworks/ignite-kernel:4.19.47

NOTE: To fully uninstall all Ignite data, remove the data directory at /var/lib/firecracker. Remember to stop all running VMs before doing this.