Headless VirtualBox setup

VirtualBox, unless you look deeper, is a desktop application. However, it is possible to install it on a server without a monitor, and run virtual machines there. The setup procedure is somewhat quirky, and it has changed since the last time I did it. If you search for VBoxManage and VBoxHeadless, you’re likely to hit outdated instructions. If you’re reading this in 2020, these instructions are probably also out of date. Here’s the 2012 edition. Tested on Ubuntu Oneiric Ocelot.

Initial setup for installation of the OS from an ISO image. In my case, it was Solaris 10, which will be my small private porting and OpenCSW Solaris package building host.

UPDATE 2012-06-04: I’ve checked in the code into a subversion repository on code.google.com. The script is called vbox_setup.sh.

DISK_DIR="/path/where/you/have/space"
VM_NAME="Solaris 10 x86"
VDI="${DISK_DIR}/${VM_NAME}/Solaris-10.vdi"
CD="/path/to/sol-10-u9-ga-x86-dvd.iso"
DISK_SIZE=20000 # In MB
MEMORY_IN_MB=1600 # In MB

function setup {
VBoxManage createvm \
--name "${VM_NAME}" \
--basefolder "${DISK_DIR}" \
--register
VBoxManage modifyvm "${VM_NAME}" \
--memory "${MEMORY_IN_MB}" \
--acpi on \
--boot1 dvd \
--nic1 bridged \
--bridgeadapter1 eth0
VBoxManage createhd \
--filename "${VDI}" \
--size "${DISK_SIZE}"
VBoxManage storagectl "${VM_NAME}" \
--name "IDE Controller" --add ide
VBoxManage storagectl "${VM_NAME}" \
--name "SATA Controller" --add sata
VBoxManage storageattach "${VM_NAME}" \
--storagectl "SATA Controller" \
--type hdd --device 0 --port 0 \
--medium "${VDI}"
VBoxManage storageattach "${VM_NAME}" \
--storagectl "IDE Controller" \
--type dvddrive --device 0 --port 0 \
--medium "${CD}"

If something went wrong and you need to start over, you can nuke your VM with:

VBoxManage unregistervm "${VM_NAME}"
rm -rf "${DISK_DIR}/${VM_NAME}"

To start your virtual machine:

VBoxHeadless -s "${VM_NAME}" --vnc

You can now connect to your virtual machine via VNC. You will probably need to set up a VNC tunnel and use a VNC viewer. Ubuntu has a remote desktop application.

When you’ve installed your guest OS, you need to remove the installation media, otherwise your VM will start the installation process all over again. You can stop the VM (I just press CTRL+C, there must be a better way).

VBoxManage storageattach "${VM_NAME}" \
--storagectl "IDE Controller" \
--type dvddrive --device 0 --port 0 \
--medium none

You can start your VM again, this time it will boot into the installed OS.

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2 Responses to “Headless VirtualBox setup”

  1. Claudio Says:

    If you running Linux anyway, wouldn’t it be easier to run KVM?

  2. automatthias Says:

    The last time I tried, it didn’t work, but that was a year or more ago. Does it work nowadays?

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