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VirtualBox vs libvirt: What are the differences?

Introduction to VirtualBox and libvirt

VirtualBox and libvirt are both popular open-source virtualization technologies used in the IT industry. While they have some similarities, they also have key differences that make them suitable for different use cases. In this article, we will explore the main differences between VirtualBox and libvirt.

  1. Architecture and Hypervisors: VirtualBox is a Type-2 hypervisor that installs on top of an existing operating system, while libvirt is a framework that works with multiple hypervisors, including Type-1 hypervisors like KVM and Xen. This means that VirtualBox provides virtualization by running on top of an operating system, while libvirt works directly with the hardware for better performance.

  2. Operating System Support: VirtualBox is known for its wide range of operating system support, including Windows, macOS, Linux, and Solaris. On the other hand, libvirt primarily focuses on Linux-based operating systems, as it is built on top of the Linux Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM) technology.

  3. Management Interface: VirtualBox provides a user-friendly graphical user interface (GUI) that allows users to manage virtual machines easily. It also offers a command-line interface (CLI) for advanced users. In contrast, libvirt focuses on providing a command-line interface (CLI) and APIs, making it more suitable for automation and integration with other tools.

  4. Virtualization Features: VirtualBox offers a wide range of virtualization features, including support for hardware virtualization, snapshotting, remote desktop access, and USB device sharing. Libvirt, on the other hand, primarily focuses on providing a stable and reliable virtualization platform, with features such as live migration, security labeling, and support for multiple hypervisors.

  5. Community and Support: VirtualBox has a large and active community, with frequent updates and a wealth of online resources and tutorials available. It is backed by Oracle, which provides commercial support for VirtualBox. Libvirt also has a thriving community and is supported by Red Hat, which provides commercial support for libvirt.

  6. Integration and Ecosystem: Libvirt is designed to be a flexible and extensible framework, allowing users to integrate it with other management tools and automation frameworks easily. It also supports various virtualization technologies and management interfaces through its plugin architecture. VirtualBox, on the other hand, is a standalone virtualization solution and does not provide the same level of integration and extensibility as libvirt.

In summary, VirtualBox is a user-friendly standalone virtualization solution with extensive operating system support, while libvirt is a versatile framework designed for Linux-based operating systems, providing better performance and integration options. Both technologies have their strengths and weaknesses, making them suitable for different virtualization use cases.

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Pros of libvirt
Pros of VirtualBox
  • 2
    Low overhead
  • 2
  • 2
    Built into most Linux distros
  • 2
  • 2
    Native KVM and QEMU
  • 2
    Native hypervisor
  • 2
    Can fully manage via CLI or VirtManager
  • 2
    VirtIO direct hardware access
  • 1
    VirtIO direct hardware support
  • 358
  • 231
  • 169
    Default for vagrant
  • 110
  • 73
    Starts quickly
  • 45
  • 42
    Running in background
  • 41
    Simple, yet comprehensive
  • 27
    Default for boot2docker
  • 22
    Extensive customization
  • 3
    Free to use
  • 2
    Mouse integration
  • 2
    Easy tool
  • 2

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What is libvirt?

It is an open-source API, daemon and management tool for managing platform virtualization. It can be used to manage KVM, Xen, VMware ESXi, QEMU and other virtualization technologies.

What is VirtualBox?

VirtualBox is a powerful x86 and AMD64/Intel64 virtualization product for enterprise as well as home use. Not only is VirtualBox an extremely feature rich, high performance product for enterprise customers, it is also the only professional solution that is freely available as Open Source Software under the terms of the GNU General Public License (GPL) version 2.

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What companies use libvirt?
What companies use VirtualBox?
See which teams inside your own company are using libvirt or VirtualBox.
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What tools integrate with libvirt?
What tools integrate with VirtualBox?

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What are some alternatives to libvirt and VirtualBox?
KVM (for Kernel-based Virtual Machine) is a full virtualization solution for Linux on x86 hardware containing virtualization extensions (Intel VT or AMD-V).
When used as a machine emulator, it can run OSes and programs made for one machine (e.g. an ARM board) on a different machine (e.g. your own PC). By using dynamic translation, it achieves very good performance. When used as a virtualizer, it achieves near native performance by executing the guest code directly on the host CPU. it supports virtualization when executing under the Xen hypervisor or using the KVM kernel module in Linux. When using KVM, it can virtualize x86, server and embedded PowerPC, 64-bit POWER, S390, 32-bit and 64-bit ARM, and MIPS guests.
OpenStack is a cloud operating system that controls large pools of compute, storage, and networking resources throughout a datacenter, all managed through a dashboard that gives administrators control while empowering their users to provision resources through a web interface.
The Docker Platform is the industry-leading container platform for continuous, high-velocity innovation, enabling organizations to seamlessly build and share any application — from legacy to what comes next — and securely run them anywhere
Vagrant provides the framework and configuration format to create and manage complete portable development environments. These development environments can live on your computer or in the cloud, and are portable between Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux.
See all alternatives