VBoxHeadless - Running Virtual Machines With VirtualBox 2.0 On A Headless Ubuntu 8.04 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 Ubuntu 8.04 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 an Ubuntu 8.04 server (host system) with the IP address where I'm logged in as a normal user (user name administrator in this example) instead of as root.


2 Installing VirtualBox

To install VirtualBox 2.0 on our Ubuntu 8.04 server, we open /etc/apt/sources.list...

sudo vi /etc/apt/sources.list

... and add the following line to it:

deb http://download.virtualbox.org/virtualbox/debian hardy non-free

Then we download Sun's public key...

sudo wget -q http://download.virtualbox.org/virtualbox/debian/sun_vbox.asc -O- | sudo apt-key add -

... and update our package database:

sudo apt-get update

Now we bring our system up to date:

sudo apt-get upgrade

Afterwards, we install VirtualBox 2.0 as follows:

sudo apt-get install linux-headers-$(uname -r) build-essential virtualbox-2.0

Creating group 'vboxusers'
Users of VirtualBox must be member of that group in order to have write permissions to /dev/vboxdrv. Otherwise starting of VMs will not be possible.
<-- Ok

Unable to find a precompiled module for the current kernel! [...]
Should the vboxdrv kernel module be compiled now
? <-- Yes

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

sudo adduser administrator vboxusers

VirtualBox is now installed and ready to be used.


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 8.04 Server VM with 256MB memory and a 10GB hard drive from the Ubuntu 8.04 Server iso image (which I have stored in /home/ubuntu-8.04.1-server-i386.iso):

VBoxManage createvm -name "Ubuntu 8.04 Server" -register
VBoxManage modifyvm "Ubuntu 8.04 Server" -memory "256MB" -acpi on -boot1 dvd -nic1 nat
VBoxManage createvdi -filename "Ubuntu_8_04_Server.vdi" -size 10000 -register
VBoxManage modifyvm "Ubuntu 8.04 Server" -hda "Ubuntu_8_04_Server.vdi"
VBoxManage registerimage dvd /home/ubuntu-8.04.1-server-i386.iso
VBoxManage modifyvm "Ubuntu 8.04 Server" -dvd /home/ubuntu-8.04.1-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 administrator, this is /home/administrator/.VirtualBox/Machines - the result should be /home/administrator/.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/administrator/.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 8.04 Server"

(Replace Ubuntu 8.04 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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