VirtualBox is Sun Oracle’s desktop virtualisation software package.


Virtual machines can run in various network modes:

Mode Details When to use
Not attached No network card attached Configuring an OS (forces the OS to believe there is no network available)
Bridged networking VirtualBox connects to one of your installed network cards and exchanges network packets directly, circumventing your host operating system’s network stack. Most likely will request an IP from the DHCP server (e.g. router), usually an internal one, e.g. Running a server (e.g. httpd) that needs to be accessible over LAN
NetworkAddressTranslation (NAT) Requires port forwarding if you want to run servers etc. Simple web browsing/email/downloads
Host-only networking Creates virtual network interface on host. Use with VirtualBox’s built-in DHCP server. Running a server (e.g. httpd) that needs to only be accessible on the host; preconfigured virtual appliances; where two appliances should be able to talk to each other but not the outside world

To set up the common use case of an Ubuntu virtual machine with a LAMP configuration:

  1. In the virtual machine’s settings, use a single Adapter, and set it as Bridged Adapter, bridged to the host machine’s network interface.
  2. Restart the guest OS.
  3. Update the /etc/hosts file on the host machine (if required).


  • Disk images (.vdi) have a unique UUID which means that the same image cannot be used twice
  • To clone disk images, use the syntax: vboxmanage clonehd [source-vdi] [dest-vdi] --format VDI

File sharing

Use the Shared Folders feature to share a folder with the guest:

  1. In the guest, type id to get the ID of the current user.
  2. Mount the drive with mount -t vboxsf -o uid=12345,gid=12345 name-of-vbox-share ~/path/to/mount
  3. Unmount using umount ~/path/to/mount

Using SSH with port forwarding

If on a NAT network, set up port forwarding (port 3022 to 22 on the guest):

$ VBoxManage modifyvm CentOS-6.5-i386-minimal --natpf1 delete ssh
$ VBoxManage modifyvm CentOS-6.5-i386-minimal --natpf1 delete http
$ VBoxManage modifyvm CentOS-6.5-i386-minimal --natpf1 "ssh,tcp,,3022,,22"
$ VBoxManage modifyvm CentOS-6.5-i386-minimal --natpf1 "http,tcp,,8080,,80"

Then you can SSH from the Host to the Guest using ssh -p 3022 root@

Using VirtualBox to create a Linux VM with a graphical desktop

We’ll install a desktop environment, use a VNC server to bootstrap the desktop environment, and then connect to it.

  1. First initialise a Debian VM in VirtualBox:

    mkdir -p ~/vms/debian && cd ~/vms/debian
    cat <<EOF > Vagrantfile
    Vagrant.configure("2") do |config| = "debian/bullseye64" "private_network", type: "dhcp"
    vagrant up
    vagrant ssh
  2. Install a desktop environment:

    1. To use Xfce:

      • Display manager: lightdm
      • Desktop environment: xfce4
      • Display server/protocol: xorg
      sudo apt-get update
      sudo apt-get install -y xorg xfce4 xfce4-goodies
    2. To use GNOME:

      • Display manager: gdm3
      • Desktop environment: gnome
      • Display server/protocol: xorg
      sudo apt-get update
      sudo apt-get install -y xorg gnome gnome-shell
  3. Install a VNC server and start it:

    sudo apt install -y tightvncserver
    vncserver :1 -geometry 1920x1080

    You’ll be prompted for a password. Enter one, and then confirm it.

  4. On the host workstation, connect to the desktop (here’s an example using Fedora because that’s my host OS):

    sudo dnf install tigervnc
    # Show the IP address for eth1
    vagrant ssh -c 'ip addr show eth1' | grep 'inet ' | awk '{print $2}' | cut -d/ -f1
    # e.g.
  5. When finished, terminate the VNC server in the guest VM:

    vncserver -kill :1

Useful hints

  • At any time you can see the default display manager that will be used (e.g.lightdm):

      $ cat /etc/X11/default-display-manager
  • In Debian: Create a new user account (for logging in to the box):

      sudo adduser --gecos "" tom
      sudo usermod -aG sudo tom


Problem Cause Solution
Failed to open/create the internal network ‘HostInterfaceNetworking- Intel(R) 82566DM-2 Gigabit Network Connection’ VERR_INTNET_FLT_IF_NOT_FOUND The virtual machine has been downloaded from another location which has a differently named network interface Update the virtual machine settings to use a valid network interface
“Invalid settings detected”, cannot select a network interface for a Host-only Adapter connection; \    
Then, in VirtualBox network preferences, “failed to open /dev/vboxnetctl: No such file or directory” The system/kernel was recently updated which affected VirtualBox drivers. On OSX, run: sudo /Library/StartupItems/VirtualBox/VirtualBox restart to restart VirtualBox services, then recreate the host-only network vboxnet0 from within Preferences.
Doesn’t work in OS X High Sierra   Follow the instructions at