Android X86

Other Elvenware pages about Virtual Box:


Installation Part I

You don’t need a phone to run Android. You can install it on your PC or on a NetBook. You can even run Android inside a virtual machine. In this article I describe how to load Android inside a VirtualBox VM. Running Android in VirtualBox is a great way to debug your projects as you develop them.

NOTE: If you are a developer, you know that you can also run Android emulation from the Android SDK, usually in conjunction with Eclipse. That is a useful option, but it tends to be much slower than what you get with Android running in VirtualBox.

To get started, install VirtualBox and the VirtualBox extension pack. Once that piece is completed, you will need to download a copy of Android X86.

There are nearly as many releases of Android X86 as there are versions of Android. I used to recommend getting Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) for the eeepc from ASUS (android-x86-2.3-RC1-eeepc.iso). However, I find that with PhoneGap/Cordova 2.3.0 or later, you will have trouble with Android x86 2.3, so I suggest going to Android x86 2.2 r2 (android-x86-2.2-r2-eeepc.iso), or Android x86 4.0 (android-x86-4.0-RC2-eeepc.iso) or 3.2 for the eee PC. When you go to the Android X86 site, you will find a link to download various ISO files. Look for android-x86-4.0-RC2-eeepc.iso; that’s Android 4.0 for the eee PC. Later versions are of course appealing, but I have not had time to work with them yet.

NOTE: It was usually fairly easy to set up networking for Android x86 2.3, which was why I liked it, 3.2 is a bit trickier, but still relatively straight forward. I have found Android x86, 4.0 R2 to be quite simple, particularly if all you want to do is connect with the Android debugger. It is a bit trickier to get 4.0 connected to the Internet, but still not particularly challenging. These network issues are discussed later in this page.

Here also is my summary the items to choose while going through the install.

Start by creating a new virtual machine in VirtualBox.

Important note: If you are in one of Charlie’s classes in room N252, and you are currently using a machine hosted in room N252, you should name your virtual machine N252. Don’t call it Android23sd, as shown below, instead call it N252. This only applies if you are in N252, and using one of the school’s computers. If you are using your own laptop, then you can choose any name you want.

Here is what it looks like if you are not using N252 as a name:

VirtualBox Android Step 01

For base memory, I’m choosing 1024 MB (1 GB), though at home I usually select 2048 MB (2 GB) since I have lots of RAM on those machines.

Virtual Box Android Install 1024 MB

Create a minimum 8GB VDI hard drive, but go to 16 GB if you have the room on your hard drive. It is possible to resize a virtual hard drive, but you probably don’t want to go through that process.

VirtualBox 8GB VDI Hard drive

The summary screen is worth a glance so you can check if everything worked out as planned:

VirtualBox Image Summary Screen

When you first run the image, you will be prompted to browse for the ISO file that you want to use. Browse across your hard drive and pick your ISO file. It will have a name similar to android-x86-4.0-RC2-eeepc.iso:

Virtual Box prompt for ISO

Installing Android Part II

Now you will need to start the process of formatting your vritual drive and of installing Android. You should boot up (double click) your virtual machine and select the ISO file that you downloaded from the Internet. Here are some of the choices you make during the partitioning and formatting stage: 

  • Create Modify Partiftions
  • **New Primary Bootable Write Yes**
  • Format with ext3.

ext3 is a Linux file format, just as FAT or NTFS are typical Windows file formats. Here is what the screen looks like when you are installing Android to your newly created drive:

Formatting partititions

And here are some final steps in the install of Android to your virtual hard drive:

  • Install Boot Loader Grub - Yes (It is fine to choose yes if you are using VirtualBox. For Linux, choose no and see the Links below. For windows, you are on your own since choosing yes ruined my Windows partition.)
  • Read-Write - Yes. The screen may go blank to blue for several minutes. Patience!
  • After a time you will get a prompt like: Create Fake SD Card, answer yes. The screen looks like the Formatting screen. Just take the default values such as a size of 2047.

When you are done, shut down the VM. Go to the VirtualBox Settings | Storageoption, right click on the item listed as an IDE controller and remove the ISO or DVD drive, if it has not already been removed. The item you want to remove is highlighted in the screen shot shown below. You need to do this because you want to stop booting from the ISO file, and start booting from the virtual hard drive that you have created.

Remove the ISO file

Networking in Android

Please read this section regardless of which version of Android x86 you downloaded. Note, however, that if you are using Android x86 2.3, it is quite possible that you will not have to do anything to get networking set up in your Android Virtual Machine. You might also be able to connect Android 4.0 with ADB with no other work than setting up the Bridged Adapter. Nevertheless, you should make some quick checks to be sure you are good to go.

To get networking up and running, select your Virtual Machine in the VirtualBox selection pane. Then choose Settings | Network from the VirtualBox menu and choose NAT. Under Advanced, choose PCnet-FAST III. At this stage, you may be good to go.

NOTE: NAT and Bridged Adapters are confusing terms for many developers. Your VM is, for all intents and purposes, just another computer on the network. It may be running in a VM, but it thinks it is a regular OS running on real hardware. If you set up NAT networking, then the host, which is VirtualBox in our case, will translate the network addresses of messages sent to and from your VM. If you choose Bridged Adaptor, then no translation takes place, instead, your VM looks and acts just like another machine on the network. Since Bridged Adapters skip the step of network address translation, they are naturally more efficient, and they will automatically act like any other computer on the network. It is, however, a bit more complicated to set up Bridged Adaptors. Also, there are times when you don’t really want a VM to be registered on the network as a real machine. So, at times, NAT is your best choice because it is simple, and because it keeps the machine out of the network mix. Developers, however, often want a virtual machine to act just like a regular computer, and hence they choose Bridged Adaptor. I should add, however, that if you really want to understand what you can do with NAT connections, you should look into Port Forwarding, which seems complicated at first, but which ends up being fairly simple to understand and set up.

For developers using NAT is not ideal, since you need to set up Port Forwarding and assign a port number in the VirtualBox setting if you want to access it for debugging Android applications from Eclipse. Therefore, you will probably find it simpler to set up a Bridged Adaptor, if you are a developer. But NAT will work fine if you are just an “end user.” Furthermore, you might want to test first with NAT, as that requires less setup, and hence less room for error. If you are developer, and NAT is working, then consider switching to Bridged Adaptor. (On Android x86, Bridged Networking seems to just work, while I have not been able to setup NAT properly. So it is an exception to the rule listed in this paragraph.)

To use the Bridged Adaptor, you will probably need a DHCP server on your network. If that is available, then in VirtualBox, choose Settings | Network | Bridged Adaptor.Again my type was PCnet-FAST III. The name was automatically set to the name of my network card on my machine. The name of the adaptor should be filled in for you automatically, but if you need to find it, choose Control Panel | System and Security | System | Device Manager and Open up the Network Adaptors node.

NOTE: Right beneath Attached to: Bridged Adapter/Nat there is a field called Name. This is where you choose the physical network adapter (NIC) on your computer that you want to use. If you are on a laptop, there are usually two choices, one for your wireless connection, and one for your wired connection. If you are at work, school or a coffee shop, and using the wireless connection, then all might be fine. Then perhaps you go home, and you are not on the wireless network, but you are on the wired network. In that case you may to switch to the other adapter. We are not usually conscious of which network adapter we are using, but it is helpful to understand the choices available to us, and when which adapter is in play. For better or worse, VirtualBox and Android can help us become more aware of this aspect of our system!

Android Network setup with VirtualBox

Here are some troubleshooting tips for folks with Android x86 2.3. Make sure you have:

  • Selected your virtual machine in the VirtualBox selection pane on the left
  • Go into the Settings for your Virtual Machine and choose the Network tab
  • Set Attached to as Nat
  • Under Advanced, set the Adapter type to PCNet-Fast III
  • Start your virtual machine
  • Choose Settings | Ethernet Connection and make sure the Ethernet checkbox is checked
  • Under Ethernet Configuration, make sure that Ethernet Devices is set to eth0

If all of the above checks out, then you should be on the network, either right away, after rebooting the virtual machine. If you are still having trouble, make sure that networking is setup correctly on your machine. In particular, make sure you have a working DHCP server on your network.

Ice Cream Sandwich and Honeycomb Networking

My experiences with Ice Cream Sandwich (Android x86 4.0 eeepc RC2) have been quite good. After setting up the Bridged Adaptor using PCnet-FAST III (Am79C973), I was able to start up the Android VirtualBox VM and connect to it immediately using ADB connect XXX, where XXX is the ip address of my device, and I found the IP address by pressin Alt + F1 in Android, and typing netcfg. With this configuration, my copy of Android is not on the network in the sense that I can browse the Internet, but it does enable me to connect with ADB, which is my real need. To get on the Internet with Android 4.0, I had only to add the following to the bottom of /etc/init.sh and then reboot:

setprop net.dns1

In Honeycomb (3.2), I did the following. First I selected Alt-F1 to get to the command prompt. I typed netcfg to confirm that I was not connected to the network. When I issued the netcfg command, I saw that eth0 was DOWN, which meant I was not connected to the network. Then I called setprop and passed in the IP address of my DSN server:

setprop net.dns1 [DNS IP]

To get the IP address for your DNS server, go to the Windows command prompt and type ipconfig -all. Then scroll down and look for the DNS servers entry. On my system, the DNS server is, so I wrote:

setprop net.dns1

Then I typed dhcpcd eth0and I was done. To confirm that I was on the network, I called netcfg, and this time I found that eth0 was UP.

Here is the whole session Android 3.2, from the time I first opened up the shell on AndroidX86:

Connecting to the network from Android x86

For more info, look at these stackoverflow threads: here and here.

Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Right Ctrl-I is how to capture the mouse. Sometimes you need to do this:
    • Click on window that holds that instance of Android
    • Press Right Ctrl-I
    • Press Escape
    • Wiggle the mouse
  • Right Ctrl-Q sends the Quit signal.
  • You can see a command prompt with Alt-F1. Switch back to graphics mode with Alt-F7.
  • Escape for the back button,
  • The menu key to unlock the machine (Usually found next to the right Ctrl button.)

At the command prompt, get you IP address by typing: netcfg

Connect to Debug

If you are developer, you will want to know how to set up debug sessions for the code you write in Eclipse. Start by going to command line, in the Android SDK platform-tools folder, and typing the following, where is the IP address that your virtual device is using. You can get this IP address by selection Alt-F1 inside Android. That will take you to the command line. Now get the IP address by running ifconfig of netcfg. Once you have the address, write something like this, where the IP address you use will likely differ from what is shown here:

adb connect

connected to

After you have connected to the device, go back to Eclipse. Run you run your program, don’t accidentally choose the emulator. Instead, choose your copy of Android running in VirtualBox. See Figure 01 to see what the moment of decision looks like. Obviously you don’t want to choose emulator-5554. Instead, choose another option, such as the instance of VirtualBox run at a specific IP address on a specific port. The actual IP address will, of course, likely differ in your case.

ADB Connect

Figure 01: Here both the emulator and an instance of Andoird in VirtualBox are running. The VirtualBox instance is highlighted.

Modify a Hard Drive created with Virtual Box

VirtualBox comes with a number of applications, or command line utilities, that you can use to query or modify the behavior of VirtualBox.

You might first want to explore the size of a VirtualBox VDI image using the showhtinfo command of the VBoxManage.exe application:

J:\VirtualBox\AndroidIceCream>"c:\Program Files\Oracle\VirtualBox\VBoxManage.exe" showhdinfo AndriodIceCream.vdi
UUID: e9603964-8a41-4bb5-848b-167b3d293f49
Accessible: yes
Logical size: 8192 MBytes
Current size on disk: 1067 MBytes
Type: normal (base)
Storage format: VDI
Format variant: dynamic default
In use by VMs: AndriodIceCream (UUID: e818838b-30f5-4799-9c97-15736d24cb3b)
Location: J:\VirtualBox\AndroidIceCream\AndriodIceCream.vdi

The next step will be to modify the VDI file. You can use the command line help to see some of your options:

J:\VirtualBox\AndriodIceCream>"c:\Program Files\Oracle\VirtualBox\VBoxManage.exe" modifyhd

VBoxManage modifyhd <uuid>|<filename>
[--type normal|writethrough|immutable|shareable|
[--autoreset on|off]
[--resize <megabytes>|--resizebyte <bytes>]

J:\VirtualBox\AndroidIceCream>"c:\Program Files\Oracle\VirtualBox\VBoxManage.exe" modifyhd --resize 45000 AndroidIceCream.vdi

C:\Users\Charlie\VirtualBox VMs\AndroidVista>

This grows the harddrive to 45 GB. It happens very quickly.

Don’t forget that after you grow a virtual hard drive, you will probably need to tell the operating system that you have made the change. For instance, in Windows, you will want to go into the Control Panel | System Maintenance and choose Create and format hard disk partitions from the Adminstrative Tools section. You should then right click on your main partition, and extend it so that it takes up the entire disk.

Working with the AVD or Android x86 from the Command Line

Here is and example of how to use the Android Virtual Debugger (AVD) to connect to Android x86 and install an application. You can do all this from the command line of your Windows, Linux or Mac. The example shown here uses Windows conventions, but it should be obvious how to modify the commands for use on a MAC or Linux Box:

C:\Users\Charlie\Documents\android-sdk>cd platform-tools

cd C:\Users\Charlie\Documents\android-sdk\platform-tools>
adb connect
connected to

adb install c:\Users\Charlie\workspace\AndEngineTest01\bin\AndEngineTest01.apk
4260 KB/s (397066 bytes in 0.091s)
        pkg: /data/local/tmp/AndEngineTest01.apk