Bottom Line: With some effort, I got VMs running on my pfSense router/firewall.


Being a hobbyist without much experience in networking, this project took me a fair amount of effort over a period of weeks. It is mostly proof-of-concept, and I think there are good reasons not to use your firewall to host virtual machines. I’m sure this could impair performanc or even compromise the security and integrity of your network. If you decide to give this a shot, caveat emptor! If you have recommendations for improving the process, please let me know in the comments.

NB: I’m booting the VM via UEFI and using ZFS for storage, so you may need to make adjustments if this is incompatible with your setup.

Spoiler alert: You might want to scroll down and read the Fixing DNS part first, since it requires changing a setting that requires a reboot, and you basically have to start from scratch after a reboot.


I started using pfSense firewalls a year or so ago, and I’ve been overall very happy with them. I put one on a pre-built device from Amazon that ran a couple hundred dollars, and after warming up to the configuration and a few power-user options, I bought a used Lenovo M93P for $80 US, designed and printed a custom bracket for a few SSDs, and installed pfSense on a mirrored ZFS root there as well. My internet speeds went from ~300 mbps (I always forget whether that’s supposed to be capitalized or not) with the commercial router I’d been using to a full 1 gbps with the cheaper used hardware setup, which was fantastic! I also have unbound doing local DNS resolution for performance and privacy, pfblocker-ng for network-wide adblocking and improved security, tailscale and wireguard, automatic config backups, bandwidthd, iperf… lots of great stuff.

My only beef with pfSense is that I don’t know FreeBSD as well as I do Linux, so when I want to do something simple like set up a little python service, I’m kind of lost. Because pfSense is somewhat locked down (for security purposes), it’s harder than plain FreeBSD to install freely available FreeBSD packages.

After a year or so of stable performance and no major issues, and having heard good things about the bhyve hypervisor, I thought I would try my hand at installing a Linux VM, which would hopefully let me use my Linux knowledge while still getting the benefits of the pfSense host.

This article will mostly be me trying to adapt the instructions from, which are for FreeBSD but not necessarily pfSense, and troubleshooting issues I found along the way.


First of all, there are a few general notes and debugging steps I used along the way that might have saved me a lot of time and effort had I adhered to them from the beginning:

  • If you see it below, is my pfSense router’s LAN address. It’s running a DHCP server and local DNS resolution via unbound.
  • pfSense’s firewall filters and rules do not like it when you change things from the CLI. When it seems like something isn’t working that was just working a minute ago, especially after a reboot, go back to the interfaces page at /interfaces_assign.php, click each interface in question as if to edit its configuration, change nothing, then click Save. Then do the same for the bridge at /interfaces_bridge.php. Then do the same for each relevant firewall rule at /firewall_rules.php. Then go to Status -> Filter Reload (/status_filter_reload.php) and reload the firewall. Several times this process got things working; I think it helps things re-sync after you change things from the command line.
  • Anywhere possible, use tmux sessions to which you can reconnect (tmux -a), since you may end up interrupting your SSH connection repeatedly with all the firewall flushes and rule changes.
    • pfSense: pkg install tmux
    • Ubuntu server: pre-installed
    • NixOS: nix-shell -p tmux
      • You’ll first need to get an IP address and possible need to specify an alternative DNS server by adding e.g. nameserver to /etc/resolv.conf
  • In Ubuntu, don’t forget to disable and flush the firewall when troubleshooting:
    • ufw disable; iptables -F
  • When in doubt, use tcpdump (preinstalled on pfSense and Ubuntu, nix-shell -p tcpdump) on the host and guest to determine if packets are being sent and received as expected. A few useful flags:
    • -i enp0s2: only look at interface enp0s2
    • -XXvv: greatly increase verbosity and show the text content of the packet
    • host and udp: only packets that involve and are udp
    • src and udp: only packets that are from and are udp
    • ether host 00:a0:98:c9:2a:33: filter by mac address

Without further delay, starting in the pfSense CLI:

  1. Follow the instructions to ensure your CPU is compatible and the prior bios settings are enabled. My pre-built device was ready to rock, but my Lenovo device did not have the approach bios settings. If the below awk script prints OK you should be set.
    $ awk < /var/run/dmesg.boot '
     /Features2.*POPCNT/ { popcnt=1 }
     /VT-x.*EPT.*UG/ { vtx=1 }
     /VT-x.*UG.*EPT/ { vtx=1 }
     popcnt && vtx { print "OK"; exit }
  2. Ensure bhyve is installed: bhyve --help
  3. Follow the instructions to:
    1. Load the kernel module: kldload vmm
    2. Create a TAP device for your VM: ifconfig tap0 create
    3. Enable the TAP device: sysctl
    4. Stop here and skip to Creating a FreeBSD Guest. Specifically, do not create the bridge or do any bridge steps from the CLI.
    5. Create a dataset for VMs and a 16gb zvol inside that for this VM’s storage disk, named nixos0 in this case:
      $ zfs create pfSense/vm
      $ zfs create -V16G -o volmode=dev pfSense/vm/nixos0
    6. Because – for the moment – these have to be repeated (once) after every reboot, I saved these in a script named
     #!/usr/bin/env bash
     main() {
         kldload vmm
         ifconfig tap0 create
     main "$@"
  4. Download the ISO image for your distro of choice:
  5. Preparing for UEFI booting was a little tricky, because pfSense doesn’t include edk2-bhyve in its repos. We need this to get a copy of BHYVE_UEFI.fd, which is required for UEFI booting. This was the inspiration for my recent post on installing FreeBSD packages on pfSense; please refer there for the install_from_freebsd function that you’ll need below.
    1. install_from_freebsd edk2-bhyve
    2. Copy the file to a safe place: cp /usr/local/share/uefi-firmware/BHYVE_UEFI.fd .
      • FWIW, mine has the sha256 7f93ab9fbd196c61b4a9e7040e94647b30d23acae14c2157fb015b223a9c8d5d
    3. You can now remove edk2-bhyve, that’s all we needed: pkg remove edk2-bhyve
  6. Using a minimally modified command from the FreeBSD instructions, start the installer image in a VM. Because I ran this many times, I saved it in a script named You may need to alter the paths to your installer ISO, to the .fd file, etc.
#!/usr/bin/env bash

bhyve -A -H -P -D \
    -c 2 \
    -m 1024M \
    -s 0:0,hostbridge \
    -s 1:0,lpc \
    -s 2:0,virtio-net,tap0 \
    -s 3:0,ahci-cd,./nixos-minimal-22.11.1705.b83e7f5a04a-x86_64-linux.iso \
    -s 4:0,virtio-blk,/dev/zvol/pfSense/vm/nixos0 \
    -l com1,stdio \
    -l bootrom,./BHYVE_UEFI.fd \
    # Easily copy and paste these above to switch distros
    # -s 3:0,ahci-cd,./nixos-minimal-22.11.1705.b83e7f5a04a-x86_64-linux.iso \
    # -s 3:0,ahci-cd,./ubuntu-22.04.1-live-server-amd64.iso \
  1. ./ and you should see the installer image start booting.
  2. I was unable to complete the boot process for either image initially and had to take an extra step or two to enable serial output:
    • NixOS:
      1. Hit an uninteresting key a few times (like the down arrow)
      2. When able, arrow down to HiDPI, Quirks and Accessibility
      3. From this submenu, choose Serial console=ttyS0,115200n8
      4. Continue the boot process
    • Ubuntu has some weird keybindings, so be careful not to mistype:
      1. Arrow to Try or Install Ubuntu Server
      2. Hit the letter e
      3. Arrow down to the line with linux
      4. Hit ctrl-e to jump to the end of the line (after ---)
      5. Add console=ttyS0
      6. Hit ctrl-x to boot
      7. If you mess up, hit F2 and try again
      8. Once the boot process is complete and you see Continue in rich mode, hit F2 to get a shell
  3. Run ip addr ands note that you probably don’t have an IP address.
  4. As an aside, if you need to reboot the VM, I had to run bhyvectl --destroy --vm=nixos0 from pfSense prior to being able to boot the VM a second time.


Next we want to give this VM access to the LAN; run the followuping steps from the pfSense web interface. I’ll try to list both the link name as well as the (/url.php) for these, since navigating the nested menus can be tough.

For much of this, I was following this helpful thread on the Netgate forum.

Assign tap0 to an interface

  1. Interfaces -> Assignments (/interfaces_assign.php)
  2. Available network ports: -> tap0 -> Add
  3. Click the new interface to edit its configuration (/interfaces.php?if=opt1, mine was automatically named OPT1)
  4. Check the box to Enable interface
  5. Change description to TAP0
  6. Leave remaining defaults, Save, Apply Changes

Create a bridge with LAN and TAP0

  1. Interfaces -> Assignments -> Bridges (/interfaces_bridge.php)
  2. Add
  3. Select both LAN and TAP0
  4. Save

Create an “allow all” firewall rule

  1. Firewall -> Rules -> TAP0 (/firewall_rules.php?if=opt1, not sure why the URL doesn’t update with the new name)
  2. Add
    1. Interface -> TAP0
    2. Address Family -> IPv4+IPv6
    3. Protocol -> Any
    4. Save and Apply


  1. Return to your VM and see if you can get an IP address:
    • Ubuntu: dhclient -v enp0s2
    • NixOS: sudo systemctl restart dhcpcd
  2. Hopefully ip addr now shows an IP address on your LAN!
  3. From here, I found it much easier to SSH directly to the VM guest
    • Ubuntu
      1. set a password for root with passwd
      2. enable SSH password authentication for root by changing PermitRootLogin to yes in /etc/ssh/sshd_config
      3. systemctl restart ssh to pick up the new settings
      4. From your main workstation ssh root@your_guest_ip_address
    • NixOS
      1. set a password for root: sudo passwd root
      2. From your main workstation ssh root@your_guest_ip_address

Fixing DNS

At this point, I found that I could:

  • get an IP address via DHCP (in the LAN subnet)
  • ping both internal and external hosts by IP address, including the host pfsense machine at
  • send and receive TCP and UDP data with netcat to both internal and external hosts
  • resolve DNS using an external DNS resolver (e.g. host

However, for some bizarre reason, I couldn’t use my local DNS from the pfSense host:

$ host -4
;; connection timed out; no servers could be reached

I didn’t see any relevant blocked packets in /var/log/filter.log (or in the GUI), and the weirdest part was that I could see the responses – including the properly resolved IP address:

  • First, in the VM guest, start requesting DNS resolution for every second with a 1 second timeout: watch host -W1 -4
  • CLI (from pfSense): tcpdump -i tap0 src vm_ip_address and udp, note requests to resolve
  • GUI: Firewall -> pfblockerng -> Reports -> DNS Reply (/pfblockerng/pfblockerng_alerts.php?view=reply), note propertly resolved requests to

Even more strange was that I could see the DNS reply in the VM as well:

  1. Open 2 panes in tmux
  2. Pane 1: watch host -W1 -4
  3. Pane 2:
    root@ubuntu-server:/# tcpdump -vv -i enp0s2 host and udp
    11:46:49.569313 IP (tos 0x0, ttl 64, id 34767, offset 0, flags [none], proto UDP (17), length 58) > [udp sum ok] 59526+ A? (30)
    11:46:49.576273 IP (tos 0x0, ttl 64, id 30262, offset 0, flags [none], proto UDP (17), length 90) > [bad udp cksum 0x8274 -> 0x871c!] 59526 q: A? 2/0/0 A, A (62)

I got stuck here for over a week and just could not figure out why DNS resolution was fine from a remote DNS server but not my VM host, with the same behavior in both NixOS and Ubuntu. I tried asking on r/PFSENSE, StackExchange, and the Netgate forums (the last of which I eventually deleted with zero responses in a week or so).

Finally, this morning I took a closer look at the tcpdump output from the guest, increasing verbosity with -XXvv and comparing it to the response for an identical request on one of my other machines (which was working fine with the same DNS server). I noticed a lot of bad udp cksum in the VM, where as the other machine had all udp sum ok.

With a bit of searching, I eventually came across this SO thread, which led me to this article from, and finally I came across

With the current state of VirtIO network drivers in FreeBSD, it is necessary to disable hardware checksum offload to reach systems (at least other VM guests, possibly others) protected by pfSense software directly from the VM host.

Sure enough System -> Advanced -> Networking (/system_advanced_network.php), check to disable Hardware Checksum Offloading, reboot, go through the above steps again, and I was delighted to see:

[root@nixos:~]# host -4
Using domain server:
Aliases: has address has address has IPv6 address 2606:4700:3037::6815:25d1 has IPv6 address 2606:4700:3037::ac43:d573


From here, you should be able to follow your choice of installation guides, such as, to install your VM into the zvol you created earlier. Don’t forget to enable serial output (boot.kernelParams = [ "console=ttyS0" ];) in your configuration prior to nixos-install. After going through the install process, you should be able to remove from the line referencing the installer ISO, run the bhyvectl destroy step, then run again and you should boot into your installed system.

In a future post I’ll go over using vm-bhyve for a friendlier interface as well as some settings that will persist the VM and configuration across reboots; as is, you’ll have to start from scratch (more or less) after a reboot.

In the meantime, you almost certainly want to go back and tighten up some security settings:

  • turn off SSH password authentication for root
  • rethink your life choices because you’re running a VM on your firewall
  • pick a stronger root password
  • add some additional firewall rules