How to Import and Export OVA Files in Virtualbox


One of the biggest strengths in working with virtual machines is their portability. It’s great to be able to create VMs on one machine and move them to another, or you can create and clone an entire deployment of VMs. At the same time, you can find pre-configured virtual machines online that you can import in a snap and get working right away.

Oracle’s VirtualBox makes all of this very simple. If you’re not familiar, VirtualBox is VM management for the desktop. It’s a graphical application that you can use to create and manage your virtual machines easily on your desktop or workstation. There’s no complicated install or configuration necessary.

Importing an OVA

VirtualBox File Menu

When you have VirtualBox running, locate “File” in the top menu, and click on it. Then, select “Import Appliance.” VirtualBox refers to virtual machines as appliances.

VirtualBox Import File Location

A new window will pop open with a field for you to select your .ova file. Browse to the file that you’d like to import. VirtualBox will take a few seconds to read the information on the file.

VirtualBox Import Settings

The window will shift to a table that lets you choose the settings for your soon-to-be-imported appliance. From here, you can set key features of the virtual machine, like the amount of available memory. When you’re ready, finish up and let VirtualBox run the import process.

VirtualBox Importing OVA

After the process completes, your VM will be ready to use.

VirtualBox Imported VM

Exporting an OVA

Exporting OVA files might be even more important than importing them. It’s a great way to back up and take snapshots of your VMs. Exporting your OVAs also enables you to clone them across multiple machines or run simultaneous instances of your VMs on the same computer.

Return to the “File” menu and, this time, click “Export Appliance.”

VirtualBox Export Available VMs

VirtualBox will open a new window with a listing of your available virtual machines. Select the VM you want to export.

VirtualBox Export Location

The following window allows you to select the location for your exported OVA file. These files can be very large, so make sure you have enough space available in that destination drive to support the resulting file.

VirtualBox Export Settings

The next screen is the final one in the export process. It’s another table, and it allows you to attach some identifying information and specifics to your file before packing it up. Generally, the name and description are the ones you’ll be using, but you can certainly use the more detailed product fields for VMs that you intend to distribute.

VirtualBox Exporting OVA

With everything set, VirtualBox will kick off the process of rolling your VM into an OVA file. Depending on the size of the VM, it might take some time, but it takes a few minutes on average.

There you have it! You’re now in full control of your OVA files. The ability to move, duplicate, and import your virtual machines is invaluable, and it affords you much more efficient VM workflows.

Nick Congleton Nick Congleton

Nick is a freelance tech. journalist, Linux enthusiast, and a long time PC gamer.


  1. Suggest you define what an OVA file actually is, as per this definition from

    An OVA file is a virtual appliance used by virtualization applications such as VMware Workstation and Oracle VM Virtualbox. It is a package that contains files used to describe a virtual machine, which includes an .OVF descriptor file, optional manifest (.MF) and certificate files, and other related files.

    The OVA file is saved in the Open Virtualization Format (OVF), which is a standard format used to package and distribute software that is run in virtual machines. OVA files are simply an OVF directory saved in a single archive using .TAR packaging for distribution purposes.

    NOTE: OVA files are also known as Open Virtual Applications.

  2. Navigating the Oracle Manual is bad enough, but yet more informative than this blissfully optimistic blog. Tucked inside the first commenter’s remarks are crucial tidbits: The .ova package has the primary disk image information as a .ovf – WHICH IS UNABLE TO ELABORATE Individual Snapshots, according to Oracle. In other words, for all one’s effort, the result is a single image that will likely end up uncompressing to a single .vdi of just the one chosen state of the original machine. Cloning VM options include the option to replicate the full snapshot collection as well as all Settings, so for a number of practical uses Import / Export only has value once your VM state is satisfactory and you aren’t in need of the earlier snapshots anymore. It seems to be inevitable that folks desire the ability to recreate the entire VM elsewhere, but as yet I can’t find real info about installing such a clone onto say another PC or operating system without losing the snapshots at some point – they just do not allow for manual “mounting” or attachment linked to a specific .vhd or .vdi, even if they were originally linked to it.

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