Introduction to qemu-debootstrap

User-mode QEMU translates the instructions and the system calls. To run a static executable, you may wrap the command line with qemu-${arch}. For example, you may wrap an ARM64 static executable with qemu-aarch64:

$ qemu-aarch64 /path/to/static-executable

However, running a dynamically linked executable requires more efforts. To run a dynamically linked executable, a complete user space environment (including dynamic linker, shared libraries, etc) must be set up.

Fortunately, qemu-debootstrap can help us set up an Ubuntu (or Debian) user space environment. In this post, the instructions to set up an ARM64 Ubuntu environment will be presented.


Three packages are required for this post:

  • debootstrap is a Debian (or Ubuntu) bootstrap tool. It will download several deb packages and set up a minimal Debian (or Ubuntu) user space.
  • qemu-user-static is the deb package for user-mode QEMU static executables. Don't confuse this package with qemu-user. The static version must be installed because these QEMU executables will be copied into chroot environments. This package also includes qemu-debootstrap, which is a wrapper for cross-architecture debootstrap.
  • schroot is a chroot wrapper. Besides changing the root directory, schroot will run several hooks before entering and after leaving the chroot so that many functionalities, including network, can work without problems.

Run the command below to install these prerequisites:

$ sudo apt-get install debootstrap qemu-user-static schroot

Create an Environment

To create an Ubuntu 16.04 (Xenial Xerus) ARM64 user space in the arm64-ubuntu directory, run the following command [1]:

$ sudo qemu-debootstrap --arch=arm64 xenial arm64-ubuntu

And then, create a schroot configuration at /etc/schroot/chroot.d/arm64-ubuntu:

$ echo "[arm64-ubuntu]
description=Ubuntu 16.04 Xenial (arm64)
type=directory" | sudo tee /etc/schroot/chroot.d/arm64-ubuntu

Finally, enter the schroot with:

$ schroot -c arm64-ubuntu

Now, we are in an environment that can run ARM 64-bit binaries. For example, we can check the architecture with:

> uname -m

BTW, to be a root user in the chroot, you may pass -u root:

$ schroot -c arm64-ubuntu -u root

And then, you may install packages with apt-get. For example:

> apt-get install vim


In this post, I have covered qemu-user-static, qemu-debootstrap and schroot. These tools significantly boosted my productivity on cross-architecture development. I hope this article is helpful. Thanks for reading.

[1]By default, qemu-debootstrap will download deb packages from If you would like to change the apt repository, specify the URL after the directory name.