Google's Git commits point to project on pared-back Android for virtualized environments

Meet MicroDroid, a base image for on-device VMs that might never see light of day

Google is working on a stripped-down version of Android for virtualized environments, judging by source code commits made to the AOSP repository.

Dubbed MicroDroid, the project is described as a “minimal Linux image.” Rather than start from scratch, Google plans to take an axe to an Android Generic System Image (GSI), carving out redundancies while preserving components that could prove useful. These include ADBD, which handles IDE and command-line debugging; init, which is a major part of the Android boot process; and ServiceManager, which manages background services.

The commit, made by Google engineer Jiyong Park, describes MicroDroid as a base image for on-device VMs. The Chocolate Factory has made some tentative moves towards Android virtualization in recent months, with UK-based Android engineer and Linux kernel developer Will Deacon describing ongoing efforts to port KVM to Android [PDF].

KVM (which as Reg readers know stands for Kernel-based Virtual Machine) is a component within Linux that allows the kernel to act as a hypervisor, provided the underlying hardware support exists. Although Android’s roots stem from Linux, and KVM has been ported to the ARM architecture, virtualization doesn’t really work in the same way, with Deacon describing it as the “Wild West of fragmentation.” Where hypervisors are present, they’re treated as part of the device’s firmware, rather than the OS itself, and are implemented on the chipset.

Google hasn’t officially launched MicroDroid, or published any documentation describing the project in detail. Therefore, it’s not entirely certain what direction it plans to take the project, although one well-placed source in the virtualization industry suggested it could form the basis of a sandboxing and containerisation tool.

“My guess would be for the embedded and IoT spaces, where you'll need automatable management with containment of security risks - a contained VM might give a good way of managing that,” he said.

“I'm sure you've heard the term 'zero-trust' - the world wants to head that way not only for user controlled devices, but for IoT too.”

There’s no word on whether MicroDroid will make its way into a future Android release, or whether Google is merely testing the waters. “Google tends to run more visible market experiments than most, so they could just be developing something to see if and where it sticks,” our source added.

We’ve asked Google to comment. ®

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