Difference between revisions of "VirtualBox Arch Linux Guest On Physical Drive"

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Revision as of 22:03, 27 October 2009

Lots of users run a dual boot between Arch Linux and another Operating System (Windows for instance). It can be tedious to switch back and forth if you need to work in both. Using Virtual Machines, we can install one OS in the VM and have both running. This is not always convenient, because for performance reasons we might want to be able to run both OSes natively when needed and still keep the convenience of having access to both OSes at the same time.

This guide will help you set up your dual boot ArchLinux/Windows system so you can still run your native ArchLinux while in Windows and be able to boot back into the same ArchLinux natively.


First, we have to establish some requirements for this setup. Naturally, you need to have both OSes installed and set up for dual boot correctly. Here we will assume you are using GRUB to boot, but I'm sure other boot managers can be set up in a similar manner. This guide is focusing on setting up the environment using VirtualBox. Assumption is that you have downloaded and installed the latest version of VirtualBox in Windows.

Finally, depending on your hard drive set up, device files for your hard drives may be different when you run Arch Linux natively and in a VM. For instance in my setup I run fake raid so my root partition is natively /dev/mapper/isw_ci...Systemp6 while under VM it is /dev/sda6 because Windows abstracts away fake raid for us. Your setup may be different but the same problem may apply. To circumvent this problem we need an addressing scheme that is persistent to both systems (e.g. doesn't change). One sure way of doing it is through UUIDs, which is how we are going to do it.

To sum up, you need:

  • Running dual-boot ArchLinux/Windows system using Grub
  • Hard drive partitions mapped using UUIDs in Grub and /etc/fstab
  • Have installed VirtualBox in Windows

So lets get started. Boot into your Arch Linux and open up a terminal.

Preliminary steps in Arch Linux

Step 1 - Addressing using UUIDs

If you don't have this set up already we are going to switch addressing scheme in Grub and /etc/fstab to UUIDs. First step is to find out UUIDs for your partitions. Type in:


Your output should be something like:

/dev/sda1: UUID="4AD8..." LABEL="System Reserved" TYPE="ntfs" 
/dev/sda2: UUID="82D2..." LABEL="System" TYPE="ntfs" 
/dev/sda3: UUID="3cbcd99c-..." TYPE="ext2" 
/dev/sda5: UUID="bf5adc7a-..." TYPE="swap" 
/dev/sda6: UUID="3ca3b8f2-..." TYPE="ext4" 

This tells you what is the UUID of each partition. Write it down or copy paste to the editor because we'll need it later. Next we need to update /etc/fstab so it maps partitions using UUIDs and not through device files:

sudo nano /etc/fstab

For all your hard drive partitions switch out their device name in the first column with the UUID given above using the following example as a guide:


/dev/sda6 / ext4 defaults 0 1
/dev/sda2 /mnt/Win7 ntfs-3g defaults 0 0


UUID=3ca3... / ext4 defaults 0 1
UUID=82D2... /mnt/Win7 ntfs-3g defaults,noauto,ro 0 0

Please note the ro flag marked in red. You must NOT allow ArchLinux write access to the Windows Partition where system is. Because they will be both running at the same time you are risking corruption of data due to concurrent writes. This is EXTREMELY DANGEROUS so you must put a read only flag here. Noauto flag is added because at boot Arch will try to mount the partition and give an error because it has been locked for mounting by the running Windows. We will get to mounting it back later.

Now we need to tell grub to use UUIDs as well so we can reach mkinitcpio image and the kernel to boot properly. Lets go to grub config:

cd /boot/grub
sudo nano menu.lst

Find your boot entry for Arch Linux and copy paste a new entry with the same config. Rename it to "Arch Linux VirtualBox" and modify the root option to use UUIDs using the following guide as example:

# (5) Arch Linux VirtualBox
title  Arch Linux VirtualBox
kernel /vmlinuz26 root=/dev/disk/by-uuid/3ca3b8f2-... ro vga=773
initrd /kernel26-vbox.img

Substitute the root= device file name with the UUID of the partition you used in that place like in the example (vga flag gives us a nice framebuffer you may omit it if you don't want it). Make note of the initrd line. We are telling GRUB we want to use a new mkinitcpio image that we are about to build.

Repeat the process here, for the fallback entry. Create a new GRUB entry by copy pasting default Arch Linux fallback entry, call it "Arch Linux VirtualBox Fallback" and update its kernel and initrd lines so they show:

kernel /vmlinuz26 root=/dev/disk/by-uuid/3ca3b8f2-... ro
initrd /kernel26-vbox-fallback.img

Make note the mkinitcpio image in this case is named kernel26-vbox-fallback.img.

Another important thing to note, is that you should NEVER allow VirtualBox to try and boot Windows partition of the host. This will create a bunch of problems, and will lead to filesystem corruption. If you have Windows set up as a default entry in GRUB, take special care when you are booting VirtualBox and tell it to boot Arch Linux VirtualBox entry. Give yourself enough timeout in the GRUB configuration file so you can do this comfortably and don't risk booting Windows host in the VM. 5 seconds works for me.

Optional sanity check

You may want to double check your /etc/fstab and GRUB configuration so they are correct and restart Arch to see that the system will still boot fine using UUIDs. It is also encouraged you create a backup of both fstab and GRUB's menu.lst should you make a mistake somewhere.

Step 2 - Create new mkinitpcio image

Next we need to generate a new mkinitcpio image that will comply with VirtualBox hardware configuration. Lets setup a new mkinitcpio image. Go to mkinitcpio.d:

cd /etc/mknitcpio.d/

Here mkinitpcio keeps all the presets for generating images. We want to create a new preset, stemming from the default one "kernel26". So lets make a copy and call it kernel26-vbox and open it in your favorite editor:

sudo cp kernel26.preset kernel26-vbox.preset
sudo nano kernel26-vbox.preset

Here we need to change a few things. Change all occurrences of "kernel26" for "kernel26-vbox" except the line that is sourcing kernel26.ver file. Here are the parts that need to be changed:

fallback_options="-S autodetect"

Now we need to create the configuration file for the preset. I keep them in /etc along with the default mkinitcpio.conf but you may want to do differently. If so, update the preset with proper paths to mkinitcpio-vbox.conf. Again we are going to use the default mkinitpcio as a guide:

cd /etc/
sudo cp mkinitcpio.conf mkinitcpio-vbox.conf 
nano /etc/mkinitcpio-vbox.conf

Modify the modules line to include hardware used by VirtualBox. I have found that the following works good:

MODULES="piix ahci pata_acpi ata_piix"

Modify the hooks line to include boot hooks that VirtualBox and your partitions will need. Keep all the filesystem, lvm and encryption hooks you may be using, but add the following (if they are not there already) "ide, sata". Hooks line that should work for a usual Arch system is:

HOOKS="base udev autodetect ide sata filesystems"

We are almost done with this step. All we have to do is tell mkinitcpio to generate the images:

sudo mkinitcpio -p kernel26-vbox

Sit back and enjoy while it finishes. This completes all the preliminary setup necessary for Arch to work both natively and in VM. Reboot and lets go to Windows.

Setting up VirtualBox to boot Arch Linux from the Physical Drive

Now we need to setup VirtualBox with a new VM one that uses the physical drive. Before we can do that, we need to create a mapping for the physical drive. Unfortunately, VirtualBox does not have this option in the GUI but we can do it from the console. Open prompt (if you are in Vista/Win7 open it in admin mode by typing in cmd and hitting ctrl-shift-enter). Go to your VirtualBox installation folder:

cd c:\Program Files\Sun\VirtualBox\

According to the VirtualBox User Manual section 9.10 we need to create a mapping for the hard drive using the VBoxManage tool. Do the following:

VBoxManage internalcommands createrawvmdk -filname /path/to/file.vmdk -rawdisk \\.\PhysicalDrive? -register

Where /path/to/file.vmdk is the location and the name where you want the mapping file stored. I like to keep things neat, so I placed it where VirtualBox keeps other hard drive mapping files (you can find the location in VirtualBox's preferences). Substitute the question mark in "\\.\PhysicalDrive?" with the number of your physical hard drive as Windows sees it, numbered from zero. So first hard drive would be "\\.\PhysicalDrive0". You should get a confirmation the file was created successfully and now we can finally create the VM. Set the options you want for the VM and during the Virtual Hard disk screen select "Use existing hard disk" option with the mapping file you created moments ago. I'd also recommend turning on the 3D acceleration, increasing video memory to 32 or 64MB and setting the network interface to bridge mode for the best results.

Enabling VirtualBox integration and Seamless mode

Finally, you may want to seamlessly integrate your Arch Linux in Windows and allow copy pasting between OSes. For a guide how to set this up look at Virtual Box page.

Additional notes

For X to work in both VM and natively (since obviously it will be using different drivers) it is best if hotplugging is enabled and there is no xorg.conf so X will pick up everything it needs on the fly. If however you really do need xorg.conf then perhaps the best way to circumvent this is to set GRUB to boot into runlevel 3 for VirtualBox entry so you end up in the console. Then you can startx with custom xorg.conf.