Note that this is a blog post for (new) QEMU developers. If you are just interested in using QEMU, you can certainly skip this text. Otherwise, in case you have ever been in touch with the QEMU device model (“qdev”), you are likely aware of the basic qdev code boilerplate already:

static void mydev_realize(DeviceState *dev, Error **errp)
    /* callback function that is run during device "realization" */

static void mydev_instance_init(Object *obj)
    /* callback function that is run during device instance init */

static Property mydev_properties[] = {
    DEFINE_PROP_xxx("myprop", MyDevState, field, ...),
    /* ... */

static void mydev_class_init(ObjectClass *oc, void *data)
    DeviceClass *dc = DEVICE_CLASS(oc);

    dc->realize = mydev_realize;
    dc->desc = "My cool device";
    dc->props = mydev_properties;
    /* ... and other device class setup code ... */

static const TypeInfo mydev_info = {
    .name          = TYPE_MYDEV,
    .parent        = TYPE_SYS_BUS_DEVICE,  /* or something else */
    .instance_size = sizeof(mydev_state),
    .instance_init = mydev_instance_init,
    .class_init    = mydev_class_init,

static void mydev_register_types(void)


There are three different initialization functions involved here, the class_init, the instance_init and the realize function. While it is quite obvious to distinguish the class_init function from the two others (it is used for initializing the class data, not the data that is used for an instance … this is similar to the object model with classes and instances in C++), I initially always wondered about the difference between the instance_init() and the realize() functions. Having fixed quite a lot of related bugs in the past months in the QEMU code base, I now know that a lot of other people are also not properly aware of the difference here, so I think it is now time to write down some information that I’m now aware of, to make sure that I don’t forget about this again, and maybe help others to avoid related bugs in the future ;-)

First it is of course always a good idea to have a look at the documentation. While the documentation of TypeInfo (where instance_init() is defined) is not very helpful to understand the differences, the documentation of DeviceClass (where realize() is defined) has some more useful information: You can learn here that the object instantiation is done first, before the device is realized, i.e. the instance_init() function is called first, and the realize() function is called afterwards. The former must not fail, while the latter can return an error to its caller via a pointer to an “Error” object pointer.

So the basic idea here is that device objects are first instantiated, then these objects can be inspected for their interfaces and their creators can set up their properties to configure their settings and wire them up with other devices, before the device finally becomes “active” by being realized. It is important here to notice that devices can be instantiated (and also finalized) without being realized! This happens for example if the device is introspected: If you enter for example device_add xyz,help at the HMP monitor, or if you send the device-list-properties QOM command to QEMU to retrieve the device’s properties, QEMU creates a temporary instance of the device to query the properties of the object, without realizing it. The object gets destroyed (“finalized”) immediately afterwards.

Knowing this, you can avoid a set of bugs which could be found with a couple of devices in the past:

  • If you want your device to provide properties for other parts of the QEMU code or for the users, and you want to add those properties via one of the many object_property_add*() functions of QEMU (instead of using the “props” field of the DeviceClass), then you should do this in the instance_init() and not in the realize() function. Otherwise the properties won’t show up when the user runs --device xyz,help or the device-list-properties QOM command to get some information about your device.

  • instance_init() functions must really never fail, i.e. also not call abort() or exit(). Otherwise QEMU can terminate unexpectedly when a user simply wanted to have a look at the list of device properties with device_add xyz,help or the device-list-properties QOM command. If your device cannot work in certain circumstances, check for the error condition in the realize() function instead and return with an appropriate error there.

  • Never assume that your device is always instantiated only with the machine that it was designed for. It’s of course a good idea to set the “user_creatable = false” flag in the DeviceClass of your device if your device cannot be plugged in arbitrary machines. But device introspection can still happen at any time, with any machine. So if you wrote a device called “mydev-a” that only works with --machine A, the user still can start QEMU with the option --machine B instead and then run device_add mydev-a,help or the device-list-properties QOM command. The instance_init() function of your device will be called to create a temporary instance of your device, even though the base machine is B and not A here. So you especially should take care to not depend on the availability of certain buses or other devices in the instance_init() function, nor use things like serial_hd() or nd_table[] in your instance_init() function, since these might (and should) have been used by the machine init function already. If your device needs to be wired up, provide properties as interfaces to the outside and let the creator of your device (e.g. the machine init code) wire your device between the device instantiation and the realize phase instead.

  • Make sure that your device leaves a clean state after a temporary instance is destroyed again, i.e. don’t assume that there will be only one instance of your device which is created at the beginning right after QEMU has been started and is destroyed at the very end before QEMU terminates. Thus do not assume that the things that you do in your instance_init() don’t need explicit clean-up since the device instance will only be destroyed when QEMU terminates. Device instances can be created and destroyed at any time, so when the device is finalized, you must not leave any dangling pointers or references to your device behind you, e.g. in the QOM tree. When you create other objects in your instance_init() function, make sure to set proper parents of these objects or use an instance_finalize() function, so that the created objects get cleaned up correctly again when your device is destroyed.

All in all, if you write code for a new QEMU device, it is likely a good idea to use the instance_init() function only for e.g. creating properties and other things that are required before device realization, and then do the main work in the realize() function instead.