VBoxHeadless - Running Virtual Machines With VirtualBox 2.0 On A Headless CentOS 5.2 Server

Version 1.0
Author: Falko Timme

This guide explains how you can run virtual machines with Sun xVM VirtualBox 2.0 on a headless CentOS 5.2 server. Normally you use the VirtualBox GUI to manage your virtual machines, but a server does not have a desktop environment. Fortunately, VirtualBox comes with a tool called VBoxHeadless that allows you to connect to the virtual machines over a remote desktop connection, so there's no need for the VirtualBox GUI.

I do not issue any guarantee that this will work for you!


1 Preliminary Note

I have tested this on a CentOS 5.2 server (host system) with the IP address where I'm logged in as a normal user (user name admin in this example) instead of as root.

If you only have a root account, but no normal user account, create one as follows (user admin, group admin)...

# groupadd admin
# useradd -d /home/admin -m -g admin -s /bin/bash admin

... create a password for the new user...

# passwd admin

... and log in as that user.


2 Installing VirtualBox

To install VirtualBox 2.0 on our CentOS 5.2 server, we need root privileges, therefore we run

$ su

Then we install the dependencies for VirtualBox 2.0 as follows:

# yum groupinstall 'Development Tools'

# yum groupinstall 'Development Libraries'

# yum install SDL kernel-devel kernel-headers

Next we pick the right VirtualBox package from http://www.virtualbox.org/wiki/Linux_Downloads; pick the i386 or AMD64 package (depending on your architecture) for Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 ("RHEL5") and download it as follows:

# cd /tmp
# wget http://download.virtualbox.org/virtualbox/2.0.4/VirtualBox-2.0.4_38406_rhel5-1.i386.rpm

It is possible that the package gets stored as .rpm?xxx instead of just .rpm. To check this, run

# ls -l

[[email protected] tmp]# ls -l
total 34488
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 35274102 Oct 24 09:51 VirtualBox-2.0.4_38406_rhel5-1.i386.rpm?e=1226596196&h=76318a0e31dc6c9c20a77d53ac0097e2
[[email protected] tmp]#

As you see, my package is named VirtualBox-2.0.4_38406_rhel5-1.i386.rpm?e=1226596196&h=76318a0e31dc6c9c20a77d53ac0097e2. Therefore I rename it:

# mv VirtualBox-2.0.4_38406_rhel5-1.i386.rpm\?e\=1226596196\&h\=76318a0e31dc6c9c20a77d53ac0097e2 VirtualBox-2.0.4_38406_rhel5-1.i386.rpm

Afterwards, we install VirtualBox 2.0 as follows:

# rpm -ivh VirtualBox-2.0.4_38406_rhel5-1.i386.rpm

Now we must add the user that will run VirtualBox (admin in this example) to the vboxusers group:

# /usr/sbin/usermod -G vboxusers admin

VirtualBox is now installed and ready to be used.


# exit

to leave the root account and become a normal user (admin) again.


3 Using VirtualBox On The Command Line

3.1 Creating A VM

To create a VM on the command line, we can use the VBoxManage command. See

$ VBoxManage --help

for a list of available switches and (highly recommended!) take a look at chapter 8 (VBoxManage reference) in the VirtualBox 2.0 user manual.

I will now create an Ubuntu 8.10 Server VM with 256MB memory and a 10GB hard drive from the Ubuntu 8.10 Server iso image (which I have stored in /home/admin/ubuntu-8.10-server-i386.iso):

$ VBoxManage createvm -name "Ubuntu 8.10 Server" -register
$ VBoxManage modifyvm "Ubuntu 8.10 Server" -memory "256MB" -acpi on -boot1 dvd -nic1 nat
$ VBoxManage createvdi -filename "Ubuntu_8_10_Server.vdi" -size 10000 -register
$ VBoxManage modifyvm "Ubuntu 8.10 Server" -hda "Ubuntu_8_10_Server.vdi"
$ VBoxManage registerimage dvd /home/admin/ubuntu-8.10-server-i386.iso
$ VBoxManage modifyvm "Ubuntu 8.10 Server" -dvd /home/admin/ubuntu-8.10-server-i386.iso


3.2 Importing An Existing VM

Let's assume you have a VM called examplevm that you want to reuse on this host. On the old host, you should have a directory Machines/examplevm in the VirtualBox directory; Machines/examplevm should contain the examplevm.xml file. Copy the examplevm directory (including the examplevm.xml file) to your new Machines directory (if your user name is admin, this is /home/admin/.VirtualBox/Machines - the result should be /home/admin/.VirtualBox/Machines/examplevm/examplevm.xml).

In addition to that copy the examplevm.vdi file from the old VDI directory to the new one (e.g. /home/admin/.VirtualBox/VDI/examplevm.vdi).

Afterwards, you must register the imported VM:

$ VBoxManage registervm Machines/examplevm/examplevm.xml


3.3 Starting A VM With VBoxHeadless

Regardless of if you create a new VM or import and old one, you can start it with the command:

$ VBoxHeadless -startvm "Ubuntu 8.10 Server"

(Replace Ubuntu 8.10 Server with the name of your VM.)

VBoxHeadless will start the VM and a VRDP (VirtualBox Remote Desktop Protocol) server which allows you to see the VM's output remotely on another machine.

To learn more about VBoxHeadless, take a look at

$ VBoxHeadless --help

and at chapter 7.4 (Remote virtual machines (VRDP support)) in the VirtualBox 2.0 user manual.

Falko Timme

About Falko Timme

Falko Timme is an experienced Linux administrator and founder of Timme Hosting, a leading nginx business hosting company in Germany. He is one of the most active authors on HowtoForge since 2005 and one of the core developers of ISPConfig since 2000. He has also contributed to the O'Reilly book "Linux System Administration".

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