Suppose you want to create and run virtual machines (VMs) on VirtualBox. However, a host machine does not support X11 environment, or you only have access to a terminal on a remote host machine. Then how can you create and run VMs on such a host machine without VirtualBox GUI? This can be a common situation for servers where VMs are managed from remotely.
In fact, VirtualBox comes with a suite of command line utilities, and you can use the VirtualBox command line interfaces (CLIs) to manage VMs on a remote headless server. In this tutorial, I will show you how to create and start a VM without VirtualBox GUI.
Prerequisite for starting VirtualBox VM without GUI
First, you need to install VirtualBox Extension Pack. The Extension Pack is needed to run a VRDE remote desktop server used to access headless VMs. Its binary is available for free. To download and install VirtualBox Extension Pack:
$ wget http://download.virtualbox.org/virtualbox/4.2.12/Oracle_VM_VirtualBox_Extension_Pack-4.2.12-84980.vbox-extpack
$ sudo VBoxManage extpack install ./Oracle_VM_VirtualBox_Extension_Pack-4.2.12-84980.vbox-extpack
Verify that the Extension Pack is successfully installed, by using the following command.
$ VBoxManage list extpacks
Extension Packs: 1
Pack no. 0: Oracle VM VirtualBox Extension Pack
Description: USB 2.0 Host Controller, VirtualBox RDP, PXE ROM with E1000 support.
VRDE Module: VBoxVRDP
Create a VirtualBox VM from the command line
I assume that the VirtualBox' VM directory is located in "~/VirtualBox\ VMs".
First create a VM. The name of the VM is "testvm" in this example.
$ VBoxManage createvm --name "testvm" --register
Specify the hardware configurations of the VM (e.g., Ubuntu OS type, 1024MB memory, bridged networking, DVD booting).
$ VBoxManage modifyvm "testvm" --memory 1024 --acpi on --boot1 dvd --nic1 bridged --bridgeadapter1 eth0 --ostype Ubuntu
Create a disk image (with size of 10000 MB). Optionally, you can specify disk image format by using "--format [VDI|VMDK|VHD]" option. Without this option, VDI image format will be used by default.
$ VBoxManage createvdi --filename ~/VirtualBox\ VMs/testvm/testvm-disk01.vdi --size 10000
Add an IDE controller to the VM.
$ VBoxManage storagectl "testvm" --name "IDE Controller" --add ide
Attach the previously created disk image as well as CD/DVD drive to the IDE controller. Ubuntu installation ISO image (found in /iso/ubuntu-12.04.1-server-i386.iso) is then inserted to the CD/DVD drive.