There is a new version of this tutorial available for Ubuntu 16.04 (Xenial Xerus).

VBoxHeadless - Running Virtual Machines With VirtualBox 4.3 On A Headless Ubuntu 14.04 LTS Server

Version 1.0
Author: Falko Timme, updated by Srijan Kishore

This guide explains how you can run virtual machines with VirtualBox 4.3 on a headless Ubuntu 14.04 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 14.04 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 4.3 on our Ubuntu 14.04 server, we open /etc/apt/sources.list...

sudo vi /etc/apt/sources.list

... and add the following line to it:

deb trusty contrib

Then we download the VirtualBox public key...

wget -q -O- | sudo apt-key add -

... and update our package database:

sudo apt-get update

Afterwards, we install VirtualBox 4.3 as follows:

sudo apt-get install linux-headers-$(uname -r) build-essential virtualbox-4.3 dkms

(The dkms package ensures that the VirtualBox host kernel modules are properly updated if the Linux kernel version changes.)

Starting with version 4.0, VirtualBox has introduced so called "extension packs" and has outsourced some functionality like remote desktop connection support (VRDP) that was part of VirtualBox packages before version 4.0 into these extension packs. Because we need remote desktop connections to control our virtual machines, we need to install the appropriate extension pack now. Go to, and you will find a link to the following extension pack:

VirtualBox 4.3.10 Oracle VM VirtualBox Extension Pack
Support for USB 2.0 devices, VirtualBox RDP and PXE boot for Intel cards.

Download and install the extension pack as follows:

cd /tmp
sudo VBoxManage extpack install Oracle_VM_VirtualBox_Extension_Pack-4.3.10-93012.vbox-extpack

(Make sure you grab the latest version from the VirtualBox web site.)

(Make sure you run the last command with sudo - sudo VBoxManage extpack install ... - because otherwise you will get an error like this:

[email protected]:/tmp$ VBoxManage extpack install Oracle_VM_VirtualBox_Extension_Pack-4.3.10-93012.vbox-extpack
Progress state: NS_ERROR_FAILURE
VBoxManage: error: Failed to install "/tmp/Oracle_VM_VirtualBox_Extension_Pack-4.3.10-93012.vbox-extpack": The installer failed with exit code 127: Error creating textual authentication agent: Error opening current controlling terminal for the process (`/dev/tty'): No such device or address
[email protected]:/tmp$


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

I will now create an Ubuntu 14.04 Server VM with 1024MB memory and a 10GB hard drive from the Ubuntu 14.04 Server iso image (which I have stored in /root/iso/ubuntu-14.04-server-amd64.iso):

VBoxManage createvm --name "Ubuntu 14.04 Server" --register
VBoxManage modifyvm "Ubuntu 14.04 Server" --memory 1024 --acpi on --boot1 dvd --nic1 bridged --bridgeadapter1 eth0
VBoxManage createhd --filename Ubuntu_14_04_Server.vdi --size 10000
VBoxManage storagectl "Ubuntu 14.04 Server" --name "IDE Controller" --add ide
VBoxManage storageattach "Ubuntu 14.04 Server" --storagectl "IDE Controller" --port 0 --device 0 --type hdd --medium /root/iso/Ubuntu_14_.04_Server.vdi
VBoxManage storageattach "Ubuntu 14.04 Server" --storagectl "IDE Controller" --port 1 --device 0 --type dvddrive --medium /root/iso/ubuntu-14.04-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 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 an old one, you can start it with the command:

VBoxHeadless --startvm "Ubuntu 14.04 Server"

(Replace Ubuntu 14.04 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 14.04 Server" poweroff

To pause a VM, run

VBoxManage controlvm "Ubuntu 14.04 Server" pause

To reset a VM, run

VBoxManage controlvm "Ubuntu 14.04 Server" reset

To learn more about VBoxHeadless, take a look at

VBoxHeadless --help

and at


4 Connecting To A VM From A Remote Desktop

4.1 Windows XP

You can use the built-in Remote Desktop Connection utility to connect to the VM:

Type in the hostname or IP address of the host (not the guest!):

And voilà, you should be connected to the VM:


4.2 Ubuntu 14.04

On Ubuntu 14.04 desktops, you can use the Remmina Remote Desktop Client to connect to the VM. Just search for remote desktop and then double-click the Remmina Remote Desktop Client icon:

In the Remmina Remote Desktop Client, click on the plus icon to add a new remote desktop connection:

In the Remote Desktop Preference window, fill in a name for the profile (like Ubuntu 14.04 Server), make sure that RDP is selected as the protocol (it should be selected by default), then fill in the host IP address - not the IP of the VirtualBox guest! - in the Server field, and select a higher Color depth than the default of 8bpp - 16bpp is ok. Then click on Connect:

And voilà, you should be connected to the VM:


4.3 If The Remote Desktop Connection Doesn't Work...

If the remote desktop connection doesn't work, you've probably missed the step where I install the VirtualBox extension pack in chapter 2. Please install the extension pack now, stop your virtual machine (see chapter 3.3), and modify your virtual machine to accept remote desktop connections:

VBoxManage modifyvm "Ubuntu 14.04 Server" --vrde on

(If the extension pack is already installed when you create your virtual machine, remote desktop connections are automatically enabled.)

Then start your virtual machine again.


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6 Comment(s)

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By: KingBeto

Hi, I ended up in this tutorial to see how to upgrade from virtualbox-4.2 to
virtualbox-4.3. I purged virtualbox-4.2 and followed the instructions here.
The problem is that, after Installing the Extension pack, the Console button does not work in phpvirtualbox anymore.

Here is how to fix it:
After Installing the Extension pack, the VirtualBox kernel modules (/etc/init.d/vboxdrv) needs to be restarted (this requires the shutdown/pause of the VMs and stopping of the vboxweb-service). Without restarting the Modules, the extension pack has no effect and phpvirtualbox hide the related features.
So do this:

# /etc/init.d/vboxweb-service stop
# /etc/init.d/vboxdrv stop
# /etc/init.d/vboxdrv start
# /etc/init.d/vboxweb-service start

That's it!

By: Bijan Vakili

Hi, great article; here's my use case:

install ubuntu server on another physical hdd (not dual-boot) from ubuntu server (and go through installation via RDP) this guide was amazing so here's my feedback:

1. Enable the pae option on the "VBoxManage modifyvm .." command by appending

--pae on

2. The bridge adapter interface may be different for your machine so be sure to do "sudo ifconfig" to check which one it is before giving the arugment to "--bridgeadapter1 " (though you can always just rerun the command with correct value)

By: abdussalam

The following bash line would probably be good enough to identify the default nic

route | grep "default" | rev | cut -d" " -f1 | rev

By: neville_scollop

I run this command but get an error that linux cannot find the package linux-headers-$ Also when I change the parameters it gives another error about the parenthesis being not recognised. 

sudo apt-get install linux-headers-$(uname -r) build-essential virtualbox-4.3 dkms

I removed the line following line linux-headers-$ (uname -r) and ran the command again with just 

sudo apt-get install build-essential virtualbox-4.3 dkms 

and the installation went ahead

Am I missing some details here? What will happen if I don't use the above string in the command?


By: Matt

What user do you use for step 3.2? Does this have to be done w/root? 

By: John Boga

When I start the vm, I see the startup script, but then nothing, it just hands. Any help would be appreciated.