Connect to a KVM host through an ssh tunnel and arbitrary port in Windows 11 and WSL 2

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Written By Jan Reilink

Windows Server systems administrator & enthusiast.

If you need to connect virt-manager to a KVM host over ssh in Windows, then Windows 11 and WSL 2 made things a whole lot easier for you. Even if you need to connect virt-manager through an ssh tunnel and arbitrary port because your network is reachable only through a bastion host with ssh key authentication. Here is how.

In Februari 2020 I wrote a Dutch blog post explaining how to manage KVM virtual machines in Windows 10 over ssh. Because the Windows version of virt-manager doesn’t support qemu+ssh, you need WSL 2 and an X Server (VcXsrv) in Windows, to connect to, for this. You can read that post here (Google translate if necessary):

Windows 11 and WSL 2 made this a whole lot easier with WSLg. On Microsoft Developer Blogs, Steve Pronovost wrote a pretty in-depth post outlining the WSLg Architecture. Basically, WSLg enables you to run Linux GUI apps on the Windows Subsystem for Linux.

Requirements to use virt-manager (qemu+ssh) in Windows 11

There are a few requirements you need to have. They’re pretty obvious:

  1. Windows 11
  2. WSLg
  3. Virt-manager installed in WSL (sudo apt install virt-manager)
  4. ssh key authentication set up

Unfortunately, WSLg is not supported on Windows 10, see https://github.com/microsoft/wslg#pre-requisites.

What made my tasks extra difficult is that the KVM host is only reachable by IPv6, which isn’t supported in WSL 2 (yet?). Schematic, the traffic flow is like this:

Windows 11
Windows 11
WSL
WSL
Bastion host
Bastion host
KVM host
KVM host
Text is not SVG – cannot display

From WSL in Windows 11, I need to connect to my bastion host over IPv4, and from there I need to connect to the KVM host over IPv6. Since WSL 2 doesn’t support IPv6, I create a ssh tunnel to the bastion host. In WSL, execute:

ssh -L 8822:kvm-3:22 bastion.example.com -l username -N
Code language: Bash (bash)

Once the tunnel is established, I can use that to connect virt-manager through to kvm-3 using localhost and the arbitrary port 8822:

virt-manager -c 'qemu+ssh://username@localhost:8822/system'
Code language: Bash (bash)

If all goes well, virt-manager connects and opens its screen (I munged the info in the following screenshot a bit):

As you can see, this exercise is a lot easier than it was in Windows 10 using WSL 2 virt-manager, and VcXsrv in Windows. Of course, you can skip the ssh tunneling part if your KVM host is directly reachable.

More OpenSSH in Windows Server and Windows 11 / Windows 10, the series

Here on Sysadmins of the North are more posts in a series of posts about OpenSSH in Windows. Whether it’s Windows Server or Windows 11 / 10. You may find these posts interesting:

I hope you like it, let me know.


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