> Tribblix Virtualization and zones

A zone is a virtualized system that gives the illusion of being an independent system while sharing resources with its host.

For most purposes, particularly from an application-centric point of view, you can think of a zone as a separate system. It has its own file systems, networking, users, applications, and services. System-centric resources are shared. There is only a single kernel running, shared by all zones, and hardware and resource administration is done once.

As a contrast, hypervisors such as VMware, Xen, and KVM emulate a physical system, and each virtualized system using these technologies contains a full operating system. Not only is this inefficient in that each system has to be allocated enough resources to run a full standalone operating system, it is inefficient in that the systems have to be managed as full and independent operating system instances.

At the other end of the scale, Docker presents an isolated custom environment customized for a specific environment. It isn't providing a complete system, as normal system services are missing, and Docker provides no native support for storage or networking.

Types of zones

A note on nomenclature: the underlying system is referred to as the global zone, other zones are non-global zones.

Tribblix supports a number of zone variants.


A sparse-root zone in Tribblix is very similar to the sparse-root zones available in Solaris 10. In such a zone, the operating system binaries (the file systems such as /usr) are mounted read-only from the global zone. The zone has its own copies of configuration files (such as /etc) and can have its own private file systems.


The other zone type available in Solaris 10 is also available in Tribblix. A whole-root zone has its own writable copy of the operating system, initially set up as a clone of the global zone (so it will initially have the same software installed, although this can be changed later).


An alternate-root zone is just like a sparse-root zone, but where the operating system binaries are mounted read-only not from the global zone, but from an alternate source. You can use the create-zone-template zap subcommand to build such an alternate image, allowing you to build sparse-root zones that have a specific set of packages installed, rather than simply inheriting whatever the global zone happens to have. (This also makes the sparse-root zone unaffected by changes to the global zone.)


Tribblix allows an extended variant of a whole-root zone, in which the installed software can differ from the global zone. Specifically, you can specify that a subset of the overlays present in the global zone be present in the non-global zone, and that additional overlays can be added at zone creation time.


Tribblix allows you to create a zone from another illumos distribution. Specifically, it knows how to create a zone from the installation ISO images for some of the distributions. This feature is experimental, as there is no guarantee that the system software provided by another distribution is compatible with that in Tribblix.

This facility also allows you to create a zone running a prior version of Tribblix.

The alien-root variant allows you to install a zone from any tarball, so you can construct arbitrary zone images (the mvi project is one way to do this) for specific purposes. In particular, very minimalist single-application zones can be built.


The byhve hypervisor allows you to run a virtual machine, within which you can run a range of alternative operating systems. While it's possible to run bhyve standalone, illumos distributions including Tribblix will normally wrap a bhyve instance inside a zone, to allow an additional layer of management.

More on bhyve...


If you're running the omnitribblix variant, then the LX (Linux Emulation) brand is available. With this, you can run many Linux distributions and applications in a zone.

More on LX...

Router zones

With a router zone, you can create and manage an entire network subnet internal to a system.

More on Router zones...

Blank zones

Not strictly a zone variant, zones in Tribblix can be configured to boot as a blank system - one with no services (other than the necessary init process) running. To run applications, you must use zlogin to enter the zone and start any applications you require.


You can run an old Solaris 10 image as a zone. This is useful if you have an old system you wish to import, or if you still need to build applications compatible with Solaris 10. (To create such an image from distribution media, pkgadd the required packages to an alternate root with -R, and tar that image up.)

Creating zones

Zones are created using the create-zone subcommand to zap. In the simplest case;

    zap create-zone -z myzone

will create a sparse-root zone called myzone, without any networking. The -z flag is the only mandatory thing you must supply. The other options are listed below.

-t whole|sparse|alien|s10|lx|bhyve

You can specify the zone variant to use with the -t flag. The default is to create a sparse-root zone. If creating an alien-root, s10, or lx zone, you will need to also supply the -I flag to tell the system where the image you're going to use is to be found.

The lx zones are only available on omnitribblix.

For s10 (solaris10) zones, the TRIBsys-zones-brand-s10 package must be installed.

For bhyve zones, the bhyve overlay must be installed.

-T template

Allows you to create a sparse-root zone from a template. Use the create-zone-template zap subcommand to create the template zone in the first place.

-i ip_address

Create the zone with the given IP address. This creates a virtual interface on a shared physical interface. This flag can be specified more than once to allocate multiple IP addresses to the zone. In the shared network stack model, addresses are manually assigned from the global zone and cannot be manipulated in the non-global zone.

-x ip_address

Creates a network device exclusively for the zone's use. It is the responsibility of the zone to actually do all the network configuration required.

There's a subtle difference between the -i and -x options. With -i, the zone will be booted with the given IP address. With -x, it is free to use any IP address it chooses, although the system will only allow the specified address to work. Thus, with -x, you'll either have to configure the IP address manually, or use cloud-init with bhyve.

-o overlay

For a whole-root zone, only copy the given overlay (or overlays, if multiple -o flags are given) to the newly created zone. The new zone will thus have the appropriate subset of packages installed.

If the global zone does not have the specified overlay installed, it will not be installed in the newly created zone either. Use the -o flag strictly to install a subset.

With the -o flag, the software is simply copied from the global zone. No package installation is done, and no attempt will be made to retrieve a package from a networked repository.

-O overlay

For a whole-root zone, add the specified overlay (or overlays, if multiple -O flags are given) to the newly created zone.

With the -O flag, software packages will be installed afresh, being retrieved from either a network repository or the global zone's cache.

-U user

Allocate the zone to the given user (or users, if multiple -U flags are given). Specifically, the user will exist in the zone with the same username and password as the global zone; the user's home directory will be shared with the global zone (so when you log in to the zone, all your files will be there); and the user has administrative rights to the zone - in particular, they will be able to use zlogin to log in to the zone both as themselves and as root.

-d extra_dir

Creates a ZFS file system and mounts it at the given location in the zone. The data will be accessible from the global zone and will persist even if the zone is destroyed.

-D dataset

Creates a ZFS dataset and delegates it to the zone. The data will not be accessible from the global zone, will be under the management of the zone, but will persist even if the zone is destroyed.

-I image

Specifies the location of an image file to be used when creating a zone.

For alien-root zones, this can be an installation ISO, a tarball, or a zfs send stream in a file.

For lx zones, this should be a tarball or a logical name.

This can be an absolute path to a file, if local, or a logical image name that will be downloaded as required. Some examples of logical image names are omnios:r151042, proxmox:alpine, and ubuntu:22.04.

-S|-s shared_dir

Specifies a directory (that must exist) that will be shared with the zone. It will be mounted at the same location in the zone as in the global zone. With -S, the directory will be mounted read-write; with -s, it will be read-only.


Specifies that the zone will boot up blank, with no processes (besides the necessary init) running. You will have to zlogin to the zone to run anything.

If you want networking in a blank zone, use the -i flag to specify an address. In a blank zone, the normal network configuration commands will never run, but IP addresses specified with the -i flag are configured by the global zone and will still work.

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