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 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. Here we show you how to import and export OVA files in VirtualBox.
What Is an OVA File
An OVA file (Open Virtual Appliances) is a package that contains files used to describe a virtual machine. It includes a descriptor file (.OVF), optional manifest (.MF), certificate files, and other related files. All this data is saved in the Open Virtualization Format, which is a standard format used to package and distribute software run in virtual machines.
To put it simply, these files store the configuration details required to set up virtual machines through software like VirtualBox, VMware, Microsoft System Centre Virtual Machine Manager, and Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2). Let’s say you set up a virtual machine on your PC using VMware but now you want to run it through VirtualBox. Or you may even want to transfer it to another PC.
Ideally, you would have to go through the entire process of installing the OS on your second virtual machine through the ISO file and manually copy all the settings. To make this process seamless, you can simply export the OVA file from the virtual machine you want to clone and import it to your new setup.
Importing an OVA
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.
A new window will pop open with a field to select your .ova file. Browse to the file you’d like to import. VirtualBox will take a few seconds to read the information on the file.
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, click on the “Import” button and let VirtualBox run the import process.
It can take a few minutes for VirtualBox to complete the import process depending on the file size.
After the process completes, your VM will be ready to use.
Exporting an OVA
Exporting OVA files may 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 will open a new window with a listing of your available virtual machines. Select the VM you want to export.
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.
The next screen is the final one in the export process. Another table allows you to attach some identifying information and specifics to your file before packing it up. Generally, the name and description are what you’ll be using, but you can certainly use the more detailed product fields for VMs that you intend to distribute. Click on the “Export” button to start the export process.
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 may take some time but typically takes a few minutes on average.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Where can I download preconfigured virtual machines?
If you are interested in downloading preconfigured virtual machines or Virtual Disk Images (VDIs), here are a few websites to help you:
2. How can I extract the contents of an OVA file?
Apart from importing an OVA file into virtualization applications such as VMware and VirtualBox, you can use file archiver programs like WinRar and 7-Zip to extract the contents of an OVA file.
3. What is the difference between an ISO and an OVA file?
To put it simply, ISO files are complete disk images that contain all the data of a disk, including its file system information. This format is mostly used to distribute large files without having to share a physical disk, whereas OVA files contain a compressed version of a virtual machine. You can use it to extract the VM and install it on your computer.
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