Compressing a VirtualBox VDI file for a Linux guest

In a previous posting, I have talked about compressing a virtual hard disk for a Windows guest system running in VirtualBox on a Linux system. Since then, I have needed to do the same for a Linux guest following some housekeeping. The Linux distribution used is Debian so the instructions are relevant to that and maybe its derivatives such as Ubuntu, Linux Mint and their kind.

While there are other alternatives like dd, I am going to stick with a utility named zerofree to overwrite the newly freed up disk space with zeroes to aid compression later on in the process for this and the first step is to install it using the following command:

apt-get install zerofree

Once that has completed, the next step is unmount the relevant disk partition. Luckily for me, what I needed to compress was an area that I reserved for synchronisation with Dropbox. If it was the root area where the operating system files are kept, a live distro would be needed instead. In any event, the required command takes the following form with the mount point being whatever it is on your system (/home, for instance):

sudo umount [mount point]

With the disk partition unmounted, zerofree can be run by issuing a command that looks like this:

zerofree -v /dev/sdxN

Above, the -v switch tells zerofree to display its progress and a continually updating percentage count tells you how it is going. The /dev/sdxN piece is generic with the x corresponding to the letter assigned to the disk on which the partition resides (a, b, c or whatever) and the N being the partition number (1, 2, 3 or whatever; before GPT, the maximum was 4). Putting all this together, we get an example like /dev/sdb2.

Once, that had completed, the next step is to shut down the VM and execute a command like the following on the host Linux system ([file location/file name] needs to be replaced with whatever applies on your system):

vboxmanage modifyhd [file location/file name].vdi --compact

With the zero filling in place, there was a lot of space released when I tried this. While it would be nice for dynamic virtual disks to reduce in size automatically, I accept that there may be data integrity risks with those so the manual process will suffice for now. It has not been needed that often anyway.

Compressing a VirtualBox VDI file for a Windows guest running on a Linux Host

Recently, I had a situation where my the VDI files for my Windows 10 virtual machine expanded in size all of a sudden and I needed to reduce them. My downloading maps for use with Routebuddy may have been the cause so I moved the ISO installation files onto the underlying Linux Mint drives. With that space, I then set to uncovering how to compact the virtual disk file and the Sysinternals sdelete tool was recommend for clearing unused space. After downloading, I set it to work in a Powershell session running on the guest operating system from its directory using the following command:

./sdelete -z [drive letter designation; E: is an example]

From the command prompt, the following should do:

sdelete -z [drive letter designation; E: is an example]

Once, that had completed, I shut down the VM and executed a command like the following from a bash terminal session:

vboxmanage modifyhd [file location/file name].vdi --compact

Where there was space to release, VDI files were reduced in size to return more disk space. More could be done so I will look into the Windows 10 drives to see what else needs to be moved out of them.

Migrating a virtual machine from VirtualBox to VMware Player on Linux

The progress of Windows 10 is something that I have been watching. Early signs have been promising and the most recent live event certainly contained its share of excitement. The subsequent build that was released was another step in the journey though the new Start Menu appears more of a work in progress than it did in previous builds. Keeping up with these advances sometimes steps ahead of VirtualBox support for them and I discovered that again in the last few days. VMware Player seems unaffected so I thought that I’d try a migration of the VirtualBox VM with Windows 10 onto there. In the past, I did something similar with a 32-bit instance of Windows 7 that subsequently got upgraded all the the way up to 8.1 but that may not have been as slick as the latest effort so I thought that I would share it here.

The first step was to export the virtual machine as an OVF appliance and I used File > Export Appliance… only to make a foolish choice regarding the version of OVF. The one that I picked was 2.0 and I subsequently discovered that 1.0 was the better option. The equivalent command line would look like the following (there are two dashes before the ovf10 option below):

vboxmanage export [name of VM] -o [name of file].ova --ovf10

VMware have a tool for extracting virtual machines from OVF files that will generate a set of files that will work with Player and other similar products of theirs. It goes under the unsurprising name of OVF Tool and it usefully works from a command line session. When I first tried it with an OVF 2.0 files, I got the following error and it stopped doing anything as a result:

Line 2: Incorrect namespace http://schemas.dmtf.org/ovf/envelope/2 found.

The only solution was to create a version 1.0 file and use a command like the following (it’s a single line though it wraps over two here and there are two dashes before the lax switch):

ovftool --lax [name of file].ova [directory location of VM files]/[name of file].vmx

The --lax option is needed to ensure successful execution even with an OVF 1.0 file as the input. Once I had done this on my Ubuntu GNOME system, the virtual machine could be opened up on VMware Player and I could use the latest build of Windows 10 at full screen, something that was not possible with VirtualBox. This may be how I survey the various builds of the operating that appear before its final edition is launched later this year.

Automatically enabling your network connection at startup on CentOS 7

The release of CentOS 7 stoked my curiosity so I gave it a go in a VirtualBox virtual machine. It uses GNOME Shell in classic mode so the feel is not too far removed from that of GNOME 2. One thing to watch though is that it needs at least version 4.3.14 of VirtualBox or the Guest Additions kernel drivers will not compile at all. That might sound surprising when you learn that the kernel version is 3.10.x and that for GNOME Shell is 3.8.4. Much like Debian production releases, more established versions are chosen for the sake of stability and that fits in with the enterprise nature of the intended user base. Even with that more conservative approach, the results still please the eye though attempting to change the desktop background picture managed to freeze the machine. Other than that, most things work fine.

Even so, there are unexpected things to be encountered and one that I spotted was that network connectivity needed to switched on every time the VM was started. The default installation gives rise to this state of affairs and it is a known situation with CentOS from at least version 6 of the distribution and is not so hard to fix once you know what to do.

What you need to do is look for the relevant configuration file in /etc/sysconfig/network-scripts/ and update that. Using the ifconfig command, I found that the name of the network interface. Usually, this is something like eth0 but it was enp0s3 in my case so I had to look for a file named ifcfg-enp0s3 and edit that. The text that is sought is ONBOOT=no and that needs to become ONBOOT=yes for network connections to start automatically. To do something similar from the command line, CentOS had suggested the following:

sed -i -e ‘[email protected]^ONBOOT=”[email protected]=”[email protected]’ ifcfg-enp0s3

The above uses sed to do an inline (and case insensitve) edit of the file to change the offending no to a yes, once you have dropped in the /etc/sysconfig/network-scripts/ directory. My edit was done manually with Gedit so that works too. One thing to add is that any file editing needs superuser privileges so switching to root with the su command and using sudo is in order here.

Dropping back to a full screen terminal session from a desktop one in Linux

There are times when you might need to drop back to a full screen terminal session from a graphical desktop environment when running Linux. One example that I have encountered is the installation of Nvidia’s own graphics drivers on either Ubuntu or Linux Mint. Another happened to me on Arch Linux when a Cinnamon desktop environment update left me without the ability to open up a terminal window. Then, the full screen command allowed me to add in an alternative terminal emulator and Tech Drive-in’s list came in handy for this. there might have been something to sort on a FreeBSD installation that needed the same treatment. This latter pair happened to me on sessions running within VirtualBox and that has its own needs when it comes to dropping into a full screen command line session and I will come to that later.

When running Linux on a physical PC, the keyboard shortcuts that you are CTRL + ALT + F1 for entering a full screen terminal session and CTRL + ALT + F7 for returning to the graphical desktop again. When you are running a Linux guest in VirtualBox and the host operating system also is Linux, then the aforementioned shortcuts do not work within the virtual machine but instead affect the host. To get the guest operating system to drop into a full screen terminal session, the keyboard shortcut you need is [Host Key] + F1 and the default host key is the right hand CTRL key on your keyboard unless you have assigned to something else as I have. The exit the full screen terminal session and return to the graphical desktop again, the keyboard shortcut is [Host Key] + F7.

All of this works with GNOME and Cinnamon desktop environments running in X sessions and I cannot vouch for anything else unless alternatives like Wayland come my way. Hopefully, this useful functionality applies to those other set-ups too because there are times when a terminal session is needed to recover from a mishap, rare though those thankfully are and they need to be very rare if not non-existent for most users.