Add a USB device to VirtualBox on Windows

VirtualBox is one of the most preferred virtualization software in the industry. It has come a long way from supporting only USB 1.0 devices to even USB 3.0 devices now. But if you take a quick look at the file explorer or device manager in a Windows VM, you will see that the USB devices such as flash drives are not showing up.


Your keyboard and mouse will work fine for the most part, but USB devices connected to the host system will not show up in the Windows virtual machine. Do not lose hope! We will discuss how to add a USB device to a VirtualBox virtual machine.


Why are USB devices not enabled by default?

When you connect a USB device to the host machine, it mounts and you can use it. But to use the USB device in the virtual machine, you need to unmount it from the host OS and then mount it on the virtual machine. There is built-in support to add USB devices in VirtualBox. But that only supports USB 1.0 devices that are rarely in use anymore. Rather, newer versions of VMWare support USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 devices by default.

If you check out your USB drives, most will be USB 2.0 or USB 3.0 devices. But if you try to add them in VirtualBox you will see a “cannot connect the USB device [name]” error. You see the error because VirtualBox is missing the binary packages to offer these functions.

An easy solution is to download the VirtualBox Extension Pack which provides support for USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 devices. Remember that it supports not only flash drives but also other devices such as network adapters, hard drives, webcams and more.

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You need to download the VirtualBox Extension Pack and then install it on your host system. After that, you need to add the USB device through the settings menu of the virtual machine. For Windows and Mac, the process of adding a USB device is GUI oriented. However, on Linux, you have to put in a little more effort to mount USB devices. Check out our guide to the VirtualBox vs. VMware Player to understand the differences between the two virtualization programs.

Add a USB device to VirtualBox

The process of adding a USB device to a Windows virtual machine in VirtualBox consists of two steps. First you need to download and install the expansion pack. Next, you need to enable USB device support and add a device to the list.

1. Download and install the extension pack

Repeat the following steps to download the VirtualBox extension pack.

  1. Launch a web browser on your host computer. Then visit the official VirtualBox download page.
  2. Scroll down and locate the VirtualBox 6.1.32 Oracle VM VirtualBox Extension Pack section. Click on the All supported platforms button to start the download.
  3. Open the file download location and Double click on the VirtualBox extension package file. It will automatically launch VirtualBox with a pop-up window to start the installation.
  4. Click on the to install knob. Scroll down and accept the EULA by clicking the I agree with that knob.
  5. UAC will appear. Click on the Okay button to start the installation.
  6. You will see the message stating that the installation was successful.
  7. To check if the expansion pack has now been added to the VirtualBox, click File > Preferences.
  8. Click on the Extensions option in the menu. You will see the recently added expansion pack with the version name.
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2. Add a USB device to the virtual machine

Repeat the following steps to add a USB device to the virtual machine.

  1. launch VirtualBox on your system. Right click on the Windows virtual machine, then select Settings options from the context menu.
  2. Click on the USB option present in the vertical menu. You will notice that the Enable USB controller option is automatically checked. But it only supports USB 1.1 controller.
  3. Then click on the USB 2.0 or USB 3.0 controller radio button. Choose the option that corresponds to the generation of the USB device that you want to attach to the virtual machine.
  4. Then navigate to the Filters for USB devices section and click on the Add USB devices icon with a + sign on it.
  5. You will see a list of the available devices. Click on the USB device that you want to connect to the virtual machine.
  6. The USB device name will now appear in the USB Device Filters section. You can add more devices to this list. VirtualBox will mount all these devices on your virtual machine as soon as you start it.
  7. Now click on the Okay to save the current settings. utilities, select the virtual machine and then click the Get started button to turn it on.
  8. Wait for the virtual machine to boot. Open the Explorer app and click This PC. You will see the list of all available storage devices, including the USB devices you added earlier.
  9. To access the USB device in the host machine, you must first power down the virtual machine.

In the case of a USB flash drive, you can: eject it from the virtual machine. It is automatically activated on the host OS and accessible through File Explorer.

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How to remove a USB device from a VirtualBox

After you add USB devices to a virtual machine in the USB settings, VirtualBox will mount them every time you power on the virtual machine. It will continue to do this unless you remove the devices from the list or change the USB controller settings.

To remove a USB device from a virtual machine in VirtualBox:

  1. Launch VirtualBox on your system. Right click on the virtual machine, then select Settings options from the context menu.
  2. Click on the USB option present in the vertical menu. Scroll down to the USB Device Filters section.
  3. Click on the USB device name in the list to select it. Then click on the Remove selected USB filter icon (the one with a cross sign).
  4. Then click on the Okay to apply changes and close the Settings window.
  5. Navigate up and click on the Get started button to boot the virtual machine.
  6. Open File Explorer and click This PC. You will notice that the removed USB device is not displayed in the app.

To reconnect the USB device to the virtual machine, you must add it again to the USB Device Filters section.

Easily add and use USB devices in VirtualBox

Unlike VMWare, VirtualBox does not support USB 2.0 and 3.0 devices by default. You need to download and install the expansion pack and then add each USB device to the virtual machine. But once you add these devices to the list, they become usable in the virtual machine. Make sure to add only those devices you need in the virtual machine.

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