Ubuntu Virtualization Stack Crystal Ball

January 20, 2020
libvirt ubuntu qemu version

Ubuntu Virtualization Stack Crystal Ball

a.k.a which version of QEMU/libvirt will be in the next Ubuntu release?


I am asked a lot of times in different contexts which version of QEMU, libvirt, or other components the next Ubutuntu release will contain. What this post will address how the upstreams manage versions and then how the Ubuntu project chooses a version to ship.


First, consider how the two major upstreams of QEMU and libvirt handle versioning.


QEMU publishes a release schedule with dates for each version:

The upstream defines a new major release (e.g. 4.0, 5.0, etc.) every year and then a few minor releases (e.g. 4.1, 4.2) in that same year.

Using the 4.x release as an example, this resulted in the new major release occurring in April and then two minor releases in August and December. However, keep in mind these months might vary year to year.


In recent years, libvirt releases are even more regular. Each year will set a new major number and there are almost monthly releases doing a minor release increase. See the libvirt release notes for examples

Ubuntu Planning

For each Ubuntu release, we check the plans of these projects and match it to the release schedule, specifically the feature freeze dates of Ubuntu.

With these dates and versions in hand the following constraints are taken into account:

Once those considerations are taken into account the versions that need to be targeted become clear.

Ubuntu Focal Fossa

Using Ubuntu’s next LTS release as an example, the above releases and constraints led us to choose QEMU version 4.2 (December 2019) and libvirt version 6.0 (January 2020) as the versions to target.

We prefer providing the newer QEMU 4.2 over 4.1 to ensure the best possible feature set to our users. The following qemu 5.0 won’t be released yet at the time of the 20.04 release.


There are a bunch of questions commonly asked about the topic, let me try to answer them right away:

Q: Why does Ubuntu not release every QEMU and libvirt versions?

A: This avoids fallout for Ubuntu users the development release. Having “several quick but potentially error prone updates” policy works for some components, but the virt-stack is not one of them. The virtualization stack is utilized throughout the test stack of the Ubuntu project and many others. Pushing releases more often increases the chance to slow down or even bring the project to a grinding halt. If new features require that we need to work on them in advance we usually do so in PPAs without affecting the rest of Ubuntu. Therefore releasing each version would be more costly than beneficial for the Ubuntu users.

Q: Really, that means QEMU might be outdated by 3 months when Ubuntu 20.04 releases?

A: That is not accurate. It is not outdated but stabilized for three months. We continue testing more uncommon cases and ensure that features continue to work. There might be an upstream stable release like 4.2.1 that we will pull in, but even if there is not we go through recent git commits and cherry pick fixes for stabilization of QEMU/Libvirt before an Ubuntu release is finalized.

That way you get software at the best spot of the “As recent as possible, but also as stable as possible” tradeoff and from there SRU Policy will kick in which means:

Q: I want my base system to stay stable (e.g. previous LTS) and I want the latest virtualization packages. How can I get both?

A: For exactly that use case in the wider context of Openstack there is the Ubuntu Cloud Archive which backports the most recent virtualization stack from the latest Ubuntu LTS to previous LTS releases.