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Installing Oracle VM VirtualBox on a USB Drive

Jeremiah is a jr. network administrator that enjoys all things tech-related and adjacent, including clean energy and fuel-efficient cars.

The VirtualBox Manager window

The VirtualBox Manager window

Oracle VM VirtualBox – A Freeware Virtual Machine Tool

VirtualBox is a great freeware tool available from Oracle that allows you to install various versions of Windows and distributions of Linux, BSD, and Solaris as well as server editions of Mac OS X. This makes it very easy to test out different operating systems, software configurations. If one is curious about Linux, a Linux distro can be installed on a virtual hard drive image, separate from the Windows file system. Thus, the user doesn’t have to dual-boot or format their hard drive to install and run Linux.

This makes VirtualBox very useful in an educational aspect, when students might perhaps be learning about various operating systems and/or preparing for CompTIA certification exams.

You Can Make VirtualBox Portable?

While all of that is grand and useful, what about making it portable, so that and virtual machines we use can be carried with us in our pocket on a flash or external hard drive? Imagine customizing your own OS, with applications, utilities, documents, and settings. It would be great to keep this with you when you need it. It would be useful to use on public computers or workstations, as anything you do in the VM is not stored on the public computer’s hard drive.

So how can we do this? It’s quite easy as all it takes is a download or two, a flash/external hard drive and some time. The software we need is hosted at Portable-VirtualBox and is a free and open source tool. With it, you can install VirtualBox on a flash drive or an external hard drive. Any Windows computer you connect your drive to can then run the portable version of VirtualBox, allowing you to use your virtual machines anywhere and in the same configuration as you last used them.

Steps For Installing VirtualBox on a USB Drive

Before proceeding with these steps, make sure that you are installing VirtualBox from a PC that doesn’t have VirtualBox installed. For some reason, the Portable-VirtualBox application won’t run properly on a system with VirtualBox already installed and will only open the locally installed copy in such a case.

If installing on a flash drive, choose the largest capacity and the fastest model available for your needs. I recommend 4GB minimum if installing a single virtual machine or operating system on a flash drive. External hard drives are typically faster than flash drives and offer more storage capacity for multiple virtual machines or operating systems.

  1. First we need to download the Portable-VirtualBox executable. This is a self-extracting archive and will prompt for a location where you would like to extract its contents when you open it. The drive you wish to install VirtualBox on is a suitable location.
  2. Next, you will be prompted to either allow the program to download VirtualBox itself from Oracle or to provide the location of the VirtualBox install file (Note: This is not the file we have downloaded from Portable-VirtualBox, this would be the installation file provided by Oracle). Either allow the program to download it or proved the location of the file on your computer if you have it downloaded.
  3. Now, on the same screen, there are four check-boxes. Mark the two that reference extracting the files for 32/64-bit systems. These will allow you to run VirtualBox on systems with either 32-bit or 64-bit processors. Mark the compress files option if you want to save some space on your drive. This isn’t necessary for you to choose however.
  4. Click OK and allow the program to do its business and when it is finished, you will have a fully functional, portable copy of VirtualBox that you can carry around in your pocket (or purse, backpack, bag…)!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


Tim Bucktu on November 19, 2017:


You need to uninstall VirtualBox on your Computer before setting up the Portable version...

Mark B on April 04, 2017:

Crazy because I have tried both the latest and the beta. As soon as I run Portable-VirtualBox.exe, it goes RIGHT to the std Oracle VirtualBox Manager and never the portable installer. Has anyone else had this issue??