VBoxHeadless - Running Virtual Machines With VirtualBox 4.0 On A Headless CentOS 5.6 Server

Version 1.0
Author: Falko Timme
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This guide explains how you can run virtual machines with VirtualBox 4.0 on a headless CentOS 5.6 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 5.6 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 4.0 on our CentOS 5.6 server, we need root privileges, therefore we run

$ su

Now we enable the RPMforge repository on our CentOS system as the dkms package (Dynamic Kernel Module Support Framework- this package is needed to build the VirtualBox kernel module) that we are going to install is not available in the official CentOS 5.6 repositories:

# rpm --import http://apt.sw.be/RPM-GPG-KEY.dag.txt

# cd /tmp
# wget http://packages.sw.be/rpmforge-release/rpmforge-release-0.5.2-2.el5.rf.x86_64.rpm
# rpm -ivh rpmforge-release-0.5.2-2.el5.rf.x86_64.rpm

(If the above link doesn't work anymore, you can find the current version of rpmforge-release here: http://packages.sw.be/rpmforge-release/)

Then we install the dependencies for VirtualBox 4.0 as follows:

# yum groupinstall 'Development Tools'

# yum groupinstall 'Development Libraries'

# yum install SDL kernel-devel kernel-headers dkms

With the last command we have installed the kernel headers of our currently used kernel. The headers are located in the /usr/src/kernels/ directory, but it is likely that its directory is not named <kernel_version>-<architecture>, but has a different name so that the Virtualbox kernel module cannot be built later on because the expected kernel headers directory cannot be found. We are going to correct that now:

Check your kernel version...

# uname -r

[[email protected] kernels]# uname -r
[[email protected] kernels]#

... and architecture:

# uname -m

[[email protected] 2.6.18-238.el5]# uname -m
[[email protected] 2.6.18-238.el5]#

This means that there should be a directory called 2.6.18-238.el5-x86_64 in the /usr/src/kernels/ directory. We can check this now:

# cd /usr/src/kernels/
# ls -l

[[email protected] kernels]# ls -l
total 4
drwxr-xr-x 19 root root 4096 May 19 14:26 2.6.18-238.9.1.el5-x86_64
[[email protected] kernels]#

As you see, I have the directory 2.6.18-238.9.1.el5-x86_64, but not 2.6.18-238.el5-x86_64. Therefore we create a symlink called 2.6.18-238.el5-x86_64 that points to 2.6.18-238.9.1.el5-x86_64:

# ln -s 2.6.18-238.9.1.el5-x86_64 `uname -r`-`uname -m`

Next download and register the VirtualBox public rpm key:

# wget -q http://download.virtualbox.org/virtualbox/debian/oracle_vbox.asc
# rpm --import oracle_vbox.asc
# rm -f oracle_vbox.asc

Now we enable the VirtualBox CentOS repository on our system:

# cd /etc/yum.repos.d/
# wget http://download.virtualbox.org/virtualbox/rpm/rhel/virtualbox.repo

We can now simply install VirtualBox 4.0 as follows:

# yum install VirtualBox-4.0

If the installation is successful, the output should end as follows:

Running Transaction
  Installing     : VirtualBox-4.0                        1/1

Creating group 'vboxusers'. VM users must be member of that group!

No precompiled module for this kernel found -- trying to build one. Messages
emitted during module compilation will be logged to /var/log/vbox-install.log.

Stopping VirtualBox kernel modules [  OK  ]
Uninstalling old VirtualBox DKMS kernel modules [  OK  ]
Trying to register the VirtualBox kernel modules using DKMS [  OK  ]
Starting VirtualBox kernel modules [  OK  ]

  VirtualBox-4.0.x86_64 0:4.0.8_71778_rhel5-1

[[email protected] kernels]#

(If the installation fails because the correct kernel headers directory cannot be found, output will end as follows:

Creating group 'vboxusers'. VM users must be member of that group!

No precompiled module for this kernel found -- trying to build one. Messages
emitted during module compilation will be logged to /var/log/vbox-install.log.

Stopping VirtualBox kernel modules [  OK  ]
Uninstalling old VirtualBox DKMS kernel modules [  OK  ]
Trying to register the VirtualBox kernel modules using DKMS
Error! Your kernel headers for kernel 2.6.18-238.el5 cannot be found at
/lib/modules/2.6.18-238.el5/build or /lib/modules/2.6.18-238.el5/source.
  (Failed, trying without DKMS)
Recompiling VirtualBox kernel modules [FAILED]
  (Look at /var/log/vbox-install.log to find out what went wrong)

  VirtualBox-4.0.x86_64 0:4.0.8_71778_rhel5-1

[[email protected] yum.repos.d]#

In this case, try to create the correct kernel symlink (as shown before) and then run

# /etc/init.d/vboxdrv setup

to create the VirtualBox kernel module.)

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 http://www.virtualbox.org/manual/ch08.html.

I will now create an Ubuntu 11.04 Server VM with 512MB memory and a 10GB hard drive from the Ubuntu 11.04 Server iso image (which I have stored in /home/ubuntu-11.04-server-amd64.iso):

$ VBoxManage createvm --name "Ubuntu 11.04 Server" --register
$ VBoxManage modifyvm "Ubuntu 11.04 Server" --memory 512 --acpi on --boot1 dvd --nic1 bridged --bridgeadapter1 eth0
$ VBoxManage createhd --filename Ubuntu_11_04_Server.vdi --size 10000
$ VBoxManage storagectl "Ubuntu 11.04 Server" --name "IDE Controller" --add ide
$ VBoxManage storageattach "Ubuntu 11.04 Server" --storagectl "IDE Controller" --port 0 --device 0 --type hdd --medium Ubuntu_11_04_Server.vdi
$ VBoxManage storageattach "Ubuntu 11.04 Server" --storagectl "IDE Controller" --port 1 --device 0 --type dvddrive --medium /home/ubuntu-11.04-server-amd64.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 an old one, you can start it with the command:

$ VBoxHeadless --startvm "Ubuntu 11.04 Server"

(Replace Ubuntu 11.04 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 stop a VM, run

$ VBoxManage controlvm "Ubuntu 11.04 Server" poweroff

To pause a VM, run

$ VBoxManage controlvm "Ubuntu 11.04 Server" pause

To reset a VM, run

$ VBoxManage controlvm "Ubuntu 11.04 Server" reset

To learn more about VBoxHeadless, take a look at

$ VBoxHeadless --help

and at http://www.virtualbox.org/manual/ch07.html#vboxheadless.

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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By: David

If you have a webserver and PHP running then phpvitualbox is a great addition to a headless VirtualBox.


It's an open source, AJAX implementation of the VirtualBox user interface written in PHP. As a modern web interface, it allows you to access and control remote VirtualBox instances. It uses VirtualBox' vboxwebsrv service. I have been using it for a couple of years now and it has all but replaced VMware Server on a remote build and testing machine.


I found that you also need to install the virtualbox extension pack.

once downloaded the pack install with the following  as root:

VBoxManage extpack install <file_name>

also add the following line when creating VM :

BoxManage modifyvm "Virtual_Machine_Name" --vrde on

Hope this helps