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
[root@server1 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
[root@server1 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.

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