Wednesday, September 21, 2011


VirtualBox is a cross-platform virtualization application. What does that mean? For one thing, it installs on your existing Intel or AMD-based computers, whether they are running Windows, Mac, Linux or Solaris operating systems. Secondly, it extends the capabilities of your existing computer so that it can run multiple operating systems (inside multiple virtual machines) at the same time. So, for example, you can run Windows and Linux on your Mac, run Windows Server 2008 on your Linux server, run Linux on your Windows PC, and so on, all alongside your existing applications. You can install and run as many virtual machines as you like -- the only practical limits are disk space and memory.

VirtualBox is deceptively simple yet also very powerful. It can run everywhere from small embedded systems or desktop class machines all the way up to datacenter deployments and even Cloud environments.

The following screenshot shows you how VirtualBox, installed on a Mac computer, is running Windows 7 in a virtual machine window:

In this User Manual, we'll begin simply with a quick introduction to virtualization and how to get your first virtual machine running with the easy-to-use VirtualBox graphical user interface. Subsequent chapters will go into much more detail covering more powerful tools and features, but fortunately, it is not necessary to read the entire User Manual before you can use VirtualBox.

You can find a summary of VirtualBox's capabilities in the section called “Features overview”. For existing VirtualBox users who just want to see what's new in this release, Why is virtualization useful?

The techniques and features that VirtualBox provides are useful for several scenarios:

* Running multiple operating systems simultaneously. VirtualBox allows you to run more than one operating system at a time. This way, you can run software written for one operating system on another (for example, Windows software on Linux or a Mac) without having to reboot to use it. Since you can configure what kinds of "virtual" hardware should be presented to each such operating system, you can install an old operating system such as DOS or OS/2 even if your real computer's hardware is no longer supported by that operating system.
* Easier software installations. Software vendors can use virtual machines to ship entire software configurations. For example, installing a complete mail server solution on a real machine can be a tedious task. With VirtualBox, such a complex setup (then often called an "appliance") can be packed into a virtual machine. Installing and running a mail server becomes as easy as importing such an appliance into VirtualBox.
* Testing and disaster recovery. Once installed, a virtual machine and its virtual hard disks can be considered a "container" that can be arbitrarily frozen, woken up, copied, backed up, and transported between hosts.

On top of that, with the use of another VirtualBox feature called "snapshots", one can save a particular state of a virtual machine and revert back to that state, if necessary. This way, one can freely experiment with a computing environment. If something goes wrong (e.g. after installing misbehaving software or infecting the guest with a virus), one can easily switch back to a previous snapshot and avoid the need of frequent backups and restores.

Any number of snapshots can be created, allowing you to travel back and forward in virtual machine time. You can delete snapshots while a VM is running to reclaim disk space.
* Infrastructure consolidation. Virtualization can significantly reduce hardware and electricity costs. Most of the time, computers today only use a fraction of their potential power and run with low average system loads. A lot of hardware resources as well as electricity is thereby wasted. So, instead of running many such physical computers that are only partially used, one can pack many virtual machines onto a few powerful hosts and balance the loads between them.

Some terminology

When dealing with virtualization (and also for understanding the following chapters of this documentation), it helps to acquaint oneself with a bit of crucial terminology, especially the following terms:

Host operating system (host OS).

This is the operating system of the physical computer on which VirtualBox was installed. There are versions of VirtualBox for Windows, Mac OS X, Linux and Solaris hosts; for details, please see the section called “Supported host operating systems”.

Most of the time, this User Manual discusses all VirtualBox versions together. There may be platform-specific differences which we will point out where appropriate.
Guest operating system (guest OS).

This is the operating system that is running inside the virtual machine. Theoretically, VirtualBox can run any x86 operating system (DOS, Windows, OS/2, FreeBSD, OpenBSD), but to achieve near-native performance of the guest code on your machine, we had to go through a lot of optimizations that are specific to certain operating systems. So while your favorite operating system may run as a guest, we officially support and optimize for a select few (which, however, include the most common ones).

See the section called “Supported guest operating systems” for details.
Virtual machine (VM).

This is the special environment that VirtualBox creates for your guest operating system while it is running. In other words, you run your guest operating system "in" a VM. Normally, a VM will be shown as a window on your computer's desktop, but depending on which of the various frontends of VirtualBox you use, it can be displayed in full-screen mode or remotely on another computer.

In a more abstract way, internally, VirtualBox thinks of a VM as a set of parameters that determine its behavior. They include hardware settings (how much memory the VM should have, what hard disks VirtualBox should virtualize through which container files, what CDs are mounted etc.) as well as state information (whether the VM is currently running, saved, its snapshots etc.). These settings are mirrored in the VirtualBox Manager window as well as the VBoxManage command line program; see Chapter 8, VBoxManage. In other words, a VM is also what you can see in its settings dialog.
Guest Additions.

This refers to special software packages which are shipped with VirtualBox but designed to be installed inside a VM to improve performance of the guest OS and to add extra features. This is described in detail in Chapter 4, Guest Additions.

Features overview

Here's a brief outline of VirtualBox's main features:

* Portability. VirtualBox runs on a large number of 32-bit and 64-bit host operating systems (again, see the section called “Supported host operating systems” for details).

VirtualBox is a so-called "hosted" hypervisor (sometimes referred to as a "type 2" hypervisor). Whereas a "bare-metal" or "type 1" hypervisor would run directly on the hardware, VirtualBox requires an existing operating system to be installed. It can thus run alongside existing applications on that host.

To a very large degree, VirtualBox is functionally identical on all of the host platforms, and the same file and image formats are used. This allows you to run virtual machines created on one host on another host with a different host operating system; for example, you can create a virtual machine on Windows and then run it under Linux.

In addition, virtual machines can easily be imported and exported using the Open Virtualization Format (OVF, see the section called “Importing and exporting virtual machines”), an industry standard created for this purpose. You can even import OVFs that were created with a different virtualization software.
* No hardware virtualization required. For many scenarios, VirtualBox does not require the processor features built into newer hardware like Intel VT-x or AMD-V. As opposed to many other virtualization solutions, you can therefore use VirtualBox even on older hardware where these features are not present. The technical details are explained in the section called “Hardware vs. software virtualization”.
* Guest Additions: shared folders, seamless windows, 3D virtualization. The VirtualBox Guest Additions are software packages which can be installed inside of supported guest systems to improve their performance and to provide additional integration and communication with the host system. After installing the Guest Additions, a virtual machine will support automatic adjustment of video resolutions, seamless windows, accelerated 3D graphics and more. The Guest Additions are described in detail in Chapter 4, Guest Additions.

In particular, Guest Additions provide for "shared folders", which let you access files from the host system from within a guest machine. Shared folders are described in the section called “Shared folders”.
* Great hardware support. Among others, VirtualBox supports:
oGuest multiprocessing (SMP). VirtualBox can present up to 32 virtual CPUs to each virtual machine, irrespective of how many CPU cores are physically present on your host.
oUSB device support. VirtualBox implements a virtual USB controller and allows you to connect arbitrary USB devices to your virtual machines without having to install device-specific drivers on the host. USB support is not limited to certain device categories. For details, see the section called “USB settings”.
oHardware compatibility. VirtualBox virtualizes a vast array of virtual devices, among them many devices that are typically provided by other virtualization platforms. That includes IDE, SCSI and SATA hard disk controllers, several virtual network cards and sound cards, virtual serial and parallel ports and an Input/Output Advanced Programmable Interrupt Controller (I/O APIC), which is found in many modern PC systems. This eases cloning of PC images from real machines and importing of third-party virtual machines into VirtualBox.
oFull ACPI support. The Advanced Configuration and Power Interface (ACPI) is fully supported by VirtualBox. This eases cloning of PC images from real machines or third-party virtual machines into VirtualBox. With its unique ACPI power status support, VirtualBox can even report to ACPI-aware guest operating systems the power status of the host. For mobile systems running on battery, the guest can thus enable energy saving and notify the user of the remaining power (e.g. in fullscreen modes).
oMultiscreen resolutions. VirtualBox virtual machines support screen resolutions many times that of a physical screen, allowing them to be spread over a large number of screens attached to the host system.
oBuilt-in iSCSI support. This unique feature allows you to connect a virtual machine directly to an iSCSI storage server without going through the host system. The VM accesses the iSCSI target directly without the extra overhead that is required for virtualizing hard disks in container files. For details, see the section called “iSCSI servers”.
oPXE Network boot. The integrated virtual network cards of VirtualBox fully support remote booting via the Preboot Execution Environment (PXE).
* Multigeneration branched snapshots. VirtualBox can save arbitrary snapshots of the state of the virtual machine. You can go back in time and revert the virtual machine to any such snapshot and start an alternative VM configuration from there, effectively creating a whole snapshot tree. For details, see the section called “Snapshots”. You can create and delete snapshots while the virtual machine is running.
* Clean architecture; unprecedented modularity. VirtualBox has an extremely modular design with well-defined internal programming interfaces and a clean separation of client and server code. This makes it easy to control it from several interfaces at once: for example, you can start a VM simply by clicking on a button in the VirtualBox graphical user interface and then control that machine from the command line, or even remotely. See the section called “Alternative front-ends” for details.

Due to its modular architecture, VirtualBox can also expose its full functionality and configurability through a comprehensive software development kit (SDK), which allows for integrating every aspect of VirtualBox with other software systems. Please see Chapter 11, VirtualBox programming interfaces for details.
* Remote machine display. The VirtualBox Remote Desktop Extension (VRDE) allows for high-performance remote access to any running virtual machine. This extension supports the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) originally built into Microsoft Windows, with special additions for full client USB support.

The VRDE does not rely on the RDP server that is built into Microsoft Windows; instead, it is plugged directly into the virtualization layer. As a result, it works with guest operating systems other than Windows (even in text mode) and does not require application support in the virtual machine either. The VRDE is described in detail in the section called “Remote display (VRDP support)”.

On top of this special capacity, VirtualBox offers you more unique features:
oExtensible RDP authentication. VirtualBox already supports Winlogon on Windows and PAM on Linux for RDP authentication. In addition, it includes an easy-to-use SDK which allows you to create arbitrary interfaces for other methods of authentication; see the section called “RDP authentication” for details.
oUSB over RDP. Via RDP virtual channel support, VirtualBox also allows you to connect arbitrary USB devices locally to a virtual machine which is running remotely on a VirtualBox RDP server; see the section called “Remote USB” for details.

Supported host operating systems

Currently, VirtualBox runs on the following host operating systems:

*Windows hosts:
o Windows XP, all service packs (32-bit)
o Windows Server 2003 (32-bit)
o Windows Vista (32-bit and 64-bit[1]).
o Windows Server 2008 (32-bit and 64-bit)
o Windows 7 (32-bit and 64-bit)
*Mac OS X hosts:[2]
o10.5 (Leopard, 32-bit)
o10.6 (Snow Leopard, 32-bit and 64-bit)
o10.7 (Lion, 32-bit and 64-bit)

*Linux hosts (32-bit and 64-bit[3]). Among others, this includes:
oUbuntu 6.06 ("Dapper Drake"), 6.10 ("Edgy Eft"), 7.04 ("Feisty Fawn"), 7.10 ("Gutsy Gibbon"), 8.04 ("Hardy Heron"), 8.10 ("Intrepid Ibex"), 9.04 ("Jaunty Jackalope"), 9.10 ("Karmic Koala"), 10.04 ("Lucid Lynx"), 10.10 ("Maverick Meerkat), 11.04 ("Natty Narwhal").
oDebian GNU/Linux 3.1 ("sarge"), 4.0 ("etch"), 5.0 ("lenny") and 6.0 ("squeeze")
oOracle Enterprise Linux 4 and 5, Oracle Linux 6
oRedhat Enterprise Linux 4, 5 and 6
oFedora Core 4 to 15
oGentoo Linux
oSUSE Linux 9, 10 and 11, openSUSE 10.3, 11.0, 11.1, 11.2, 11.3, 11.4
oMandriva 2007.1, 2008.0, 2009.1, 2010.0 and 2010.1

It should be possible to use VirtualBox on most systems based on Linux kernel 2.6 using either the VirtualBox installer or by doing a manual installation; see the section called “Installing on Linux hosts”. However, the formally tested and supported Linux distributions are those for which we offer a dedicated package.

Note that starting with VirtualBox 2.1, Linux 2.4-based host operating systems are no longer supported.
*Solaris hosts (32-bit and 64-bit) are supported with the restrictions listed in Chapter 14, Known limitations:
oSolaris 11 Express (Nevada build 86 and higher, OpenSolaris 2008.05 and higher)
oSolaris 10 (u8 and higher)

Installing VirtualBox and extension packs

VirtualBox comes in many different packages, and installation depends on your host operating system. If you have installed software before, installation should be straightforward: on each host platform, VirtualBox uses the installation method that is most common and easy to use. If you run into trouble or have special requirements, please refer to Chapter 2, Installation details for details about the various installation methods.

Starting with version 4.0, VirtualBox is split into several components.

1.The base package consists of all open-source components and is licensed under the GNU General Public License V2.
2.Additional extension packs can be downloaded which extend the functionality of the VirtualBox base package. Currently, Oracle provides the one extension pack, which can be found at and provides the following added functionality:
1.The virtual USB 2.0 (EHCI) device; see the section called “USB settings”.
2.VirtualBox Remote Desktop Protocol (VRDP) support; see the section called “Remote display (VRDP support)”.
3.Intel PXE boot ROM with support for the E1000 network card.
4.Experimental support for PCI passthrough on Linux hosts; see the section called “PCI passthrough”.

VirtualBox extension packages have a .vbox-extpack file name extension. To install an extension, simply double-click on the package file, and the VirtualBox Manager will guide you through the required steps.

To view the extension packs that are currently installed, please start the VirtualBox Manager (see the next section). From the "File" menu, please select "Preferences". In the window that shows up, go to the "Extensions" category which shows you the extensions which are currently installed and allows you to remove a package or add a new one.

Alternatively you can use VBoxManage on the command line: see the section called “VBoxManage extpack” for details.

Starting VirtualBox

After installation, you can start VirtualBox as follows:

* On a Windows host, in the standard "Programs" menu, click on the item in the "VirtualBox" group. On Vista or Windows 7, you can also type "VirtualBox" in the search box of the "Start" menu.
* On a Mac OS X host, in the Finder, double-click on the "VirtualBox" item in the "Applications" folder. (You may want to drag this item onto your Dock.)
* On a Linux or Solaris host, depending on your desktop environment, a "VirtualBox" item may have been placed in either the "System" or "System Tools" group of your "Applications" menu. Alternatively, you can type VirtualBox in a terminal.

When you start VirtualBox for the first time, a window like the following should come up:

This window is called the "VirtualBox Manager". On the left, you can see a pane that will later list all your virtual machines. Since you have not created any, the list is empty. A row of buttons above it allows you to create new VMs and work on existing VMs, once you have some. The pane on the right displays the properties of the virtual machine currently selected, if any. Again, since you don't have any machines yet, the pane displays a welcome message.

To give you an idea what VirtualBox might look like later, after you have created many machines, here's another example:


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