I have a raw qemu disk image of Debian 10 ("buster") with no desktop environment, and I'm trying to run it in the terminal of my host machine (also Debian 10) with the -curses flag. If I run qemu-system-x86_64 with just the -curses flag, I just get a blank screen, so following this question I added the -vga std option. Unfortunately, that gives me a kernel panic in the console, and I never reach the login screen of the guest. The output looks like this:

[    3.021788]  xwrite+0x29/0x5a
[    3.021845]  do_copy+0x9b/0xc8
[    3.021878]  write_buffer+0x27/0x37
[    3.021912]  flush_buffer+0x34/0x8b
[    3.021947]  __gunzip+0x26e/0x315
[    3.021982]  ? bunzip2+0x397/0x397
[    3.022016]  ? initrd_load+0x5e/0x5e
[    3.022048]  ? __gunzip+0x315/0x315
[    3.022080]  gunzip+0xe/0x11
[    3.022112]  ? initrd_load+0x5e/0x5e
[    3.022143]  unpack_to_rootfs+0x182/0x2c6
[    3.022177]  ? initrd_load+0x5e/0x5e
[    3.022210]  ? unpack_to_rootfs+0x2c6/0x2c6
[    3.022243]  ? do_early_param+0x8e/0x8e
[    3.022275]  populate_rootfs+0x59/0x106
[    3.022311]  do_one_initcall+0x46/0x1c3
[    3.022350]  ? do_early_param+0x8e/0x8e
[    3.022382]  kernel_init_freeable+0x189/0x218
[    3.022419]  ? rest_init+0xaa/0xaa
[    3.022453]  kernel_init+0xa/0x10d
[    3.022487]  ret_from_fork+0x35/0x40
[    3.023243] ---[ end Kernel panic - not syncing: System is deadlocked on memo
[    3.023243]  ]---

I'm using QEMU emulator version 3.1.0 (Debian 1:3.1+dfsg-8+deb10u3). My terminal is st 0.8.2 and my desktop environment/window manager is dwm, if those details are relevant. I get the same kernel panic if I use xterm, though.

I'm booting the image with this qemu command:

qemu-system-x86_64 -curses -vga std -m 1024 -drive format=raw,file=disk.img

I've tried other various combinations of qemu flags from this question, but they either don't exist for my version of qemu (e.g. the -noframe option), throw other errors (e.g. -append requires a -kernel option), or just give me a blank screen (-curses by itself).

The whole point of this is to avoid launching a VNC viewer to access a guest that is command line only anyway.

  • 1
    If you run linux with qemu -curses, just give it the nomodeset (and systemd.unit=multi-user.target) options on the kernel command line (I don't think that using -append ... works if you're using any kind of boot manager in the guest). Otherwise sooner or later you'll be left with with a black screen with graphics mode written in the middle. I'm sorry I can't help you further, as I'm using a (heavily modified) current version of qemu, not that from the distro. I'm also using -vga virtio, but I don't know if that works with your older version.
    – user313992
    Dec 10, 2019 at 20:13
  • Thanks for the help. This may be a stupid question, but what do you mean by the "kernel command line"? Those aren't options that I pass directly to the qemu-system-x86_64 command? I can't even get into a boot menu in qemu so I can't (for example) edit boot commands in grub.
    – Michael A
    Dec 10, 2019 at 20:30
  • 1
    A boot loader like grub can pass arguments to the linux kernel. qemu knows how to do that directly, if you're using -kernel ... -append .., but that doesn't work with disk images which use a bootloader. Eg. if your image is using grub, you can modify them by pressing e in the boot screen, adding them after the linux entry, and then pressing Ctrl-X to boot through. You can add permanent kernel command options inside the guest by modifying /etc/default/grub and running grub-update. All that is no different from a real machine.
    – user313992
    Dec 10, 2019 at 20:35
  • @mosvy Perfect! I added nomodeset systemd.unit=multi-user.target to the GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT="quiet nomodeset systemd.unit=multi-user.target" line in /etc/default/grub, ran update-grub, and now the qemu-system-x86_64 command in my question works perfectly! Plus I can get easily get that to work with my preseed file. I'm happy to summarize this and put it into a community wiki answer, unless you want to. Thank you again!
    – Michael A
    Dec 10, 2019 at 20:44

1 Answer 1


Per mosvy's comments, I added the nomodeset systemd.unit=multi-user.target options to the kernel command line, and then qemu booted everything correctly. Since I'm setting up these bootable iso images with a preseed file, I added this line to preseed.cfg:

d-i debian-installer/add-kernel-opts string nomodeset systemd.unit=multi-user.target

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