How to Access External USB Flash Drives from VirtualBox on Windows / Ubuntu Linux

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Over few months, we’ve shown students and new users how to install, configure and use VirtualBox virtualization software on Windows and Ubuntu Linux systems.

By this time, if you were following our previous posts, you should know how to install, configure and use VirtualBox on Windows and Linux systems (Ubuntu).

This brief tutorial shows students and new users how to mount or insert external USB flash / thumb drive into VirtualBox guest machine running Windows or Ubuntu Linux VMs. It will allow you to access physical USB content from the guest machine.

You won’t be able to access external USB devices from your VirtualBox guest machines without first installing its guest additions tool. We’ve also discussed how to install that after installing the host software.To get started with using external USB devices from VirtualBox guest machines, follow the steps below:

Step 1: Install VirtualBox Guest Additions on the VM

When you create or install a new guest machine, your first task should be to install its guest addition tool in the VM. The tool contains suite of utilities that enhance the virtual machine’s operating systems and improves the management of the machine…

Without the tool installed, the guest machine will not perform as expected.

To install the guest tools on Ubuntu / Windows guest machines, read the post below:

Note: Windows VMs need only mount the guest addition tool CD and install the executable. No need to install additional software or packages

Step 2: Grant Ubuntu User Account Rights to Mount

Now that you’ve installed VirtualBox guest addition tool on the VM, open the command terminal on Ubuntu guest machine. This only works on Ubuntu, and run the commands below:

sudo adduser $USER vboxsf

You should see an output as below:

Adding user `richrd' to group `vboxsf' .
Adding user richrd to group vboxsf

Or run the commands below it the above failed.

sudo usermod -aG vboxsf $USER

After that, shutdown the guest machine.

Step 3: Mount External USB Drives

Now that you’ve installed VirtualBox guest addition tool and have added your user account to VirtualBox service group, follow the steps below to mount your external flash / thumb drives.

Shutdown the guest machine, then insert the external USB into the host machine.

From the guest machine panel, select Settings  or click Machine –> Settings

VirtualBox usb drive

Then go to USB on the left navigation panel. There, USB 2.0 (ECCI) Controller should automatically be selected. Most USB 3.0 devices are backward compatible with 2.0.

If you device is USB 3.0, then select that. If not, 2.0 should be perfect!

You will find the add USB button to the right. Click the second button below. to add a the attached USB stick. Pick the device from the list. (generally called Generic Mass Storage)

Select it to mount.

VirtualBox usb drive

Once the device, is mounted, turn on the guest machine and logon.

You should then see the USB device mounted and shown on your desktop. Your device should show up automatically in the guest VM and you can use it the same way you would be able to on the host operating system.

VirtualBox usb drive

Access device and the content it contains.

That’s all

Congratulations! you have learned how to install VirtualBox guest addition tools and mounted an external USB thumb drive to the guest machine.

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