VirtualBox on the command line: Negotiating an OS install

This is at once one of the simpler and one of the most crucial of these posts. Your virtual machine is going to be pretty useless unless you have an operating system installed on it, and specifying the OS type when creating the machine doesn’t take care of the OS install for you.

The two things that deserve documentation in this process are the act of mounting the install ISO onto the VM (and unmounting it after install), and accessing the VM remotely to be able to view the interface for the OS install. The actual details of any specific OS install will be left out here because they’re outside of the scope of this documentation.

The caveats introduced in the Tricky Bits post apply here considerably, so if I’m seeming too brief on some details, refer to that post for clarification.

To get started with mounting an ISO, download and copy over the relevant file to your user’s home directory. In the case of my “addievm”, I’m installing a copy of FreeBSD 8.0 for a 64-bit processor, and that’s the filename I’ll be using in these examples.

In older versions of VirtualBox, here is how I would create the virtual representation of the DVD and then attach it to the machine:


VBoxManage registerimage dvd 8.0-RELEASE-amd64-bootonly.iso
VBoxManage list dvds
VBoxManage modifyvm addievm --dvd {UUID for ISO}

I found that I always had to use the UUID to get a successful result with this; there isn’t a good “name” to reference like with a VM or a harddrive. You can get the UUID really quickly with the “list” command that comes second in this series.

In newer versions of VirtualBox, where you are attaching storage media to a controller versus directly to the virtual machine, the command is slightly different. This command assumes that the controller has been created and the hard drive has been attached to port 0; essentially the commands listed in Tricky Bits.


VBoxManage storageattach addievm --storagectl "IDE Controller" --port 1 --device 0 --type dvddrive --medium /home/addie/8.0-RELEASE-amd64-bootonly.iso

Now that the DVD is mounted, we can start the machine using the commands listed in VBoxManage and VBoxHeadless. But there’s no way to access the interface using a headless server. This is where VRDP comes into play.

In Creating and deleting VMs, I enabled VRDP and assigned it a port number. This port is important for accessing the VM remotely.

I use Ubuntu Desktop for my development workstation and found that the default remote desktop application which comes with the system doesn’t work for RDP support. So I installed the program rdesktop from Synaptic, and it does the job. To launch, type into your terminal:


rdesktop {host ip}:{guest port}

Presuming my host is on a local network with static ip 192.168.0.50, and the vrdp port for my VM is 3390, I’d run:


rdesktop 192.168.0.50:3390

If all goes well, a UI for your interface will pop up and you can work through the setup accordingly.

Once installation is complete you’ll want to unmount the DVD so the system stops booting into the installation. In older versions of VirtualBox:


VBoxManage modifyvm addievm --dvd none

In newer versions:


VBoxManage storageattach addievm --storagectl "IDE Controller" --port 1 --device 0 --type dvddrive --medium emptydrive

If you’d like to suspend VRDP support at any time (maybe you want to move back to the OSE version), make sure you have networking and SSH configured on your virtual machine so you can access it without needing a graphical interface.

Next entry will jump into more sophisticated work: cloning virtual hard drives in order to save time on configuration of near-identical systems.

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One Response to VirtualBox on the command line: Negotiating an OS install

  1. Scott David Daniels says:

    It seems that using a SATA controller, rather than an IDE controller is significantly less CPU expensive (I imagine they have to do more hardware emulation to make IDE drivers work). If you start with a SATA-attached drives (disk and DVD), installing the OS will pull in the correct drivers at installation time.

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