How to enable EFI on VirtualBox virtual machines running Linux

Most modern PCs rely on the EFI partition to boot into operating systems. How to enable EFI support on a Linux virtual machine in VirtualBox.

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While BIOS-based machines are the default for VirtualBox, in the real hardware world almost all new PCs use EFI firmware. It’s easy to use the new standard for setting up Linux virtual machines, even though it’s officially experimental.

Here’s how you can easily set up an EFI-based Linux virtual machine on VirtualBox. But first, let’s find out what EFI really is.

What is EFI?

EFI, also known as UEFI, stands for Extensible Firmware Interface. It is intended to replace the old BIOS system that has existed since the original IBM PC was developed in 1981.

Why was this done? Given that the BIOS has been around for so long, its limitations have long been apparent as PCs have become more powerful. EFI allows much larger boot partition sizes than BIOS.

It also enables Secure Boot and reduces the risk of the firmware being corrupted or taken over by malware. For these reasons, Microsoft has made UEFI support mandatory for PC manufacturers since Windows 8.

EFI is not only supported by real PCs, but also for virtual machines, including Oracle VirtualBox, as operating systems become more supportive.

Step 1: Enable EFI on VirtualBox

VirtualBox EFI selection

To enable support for EFI in a Linux virtual machine, all you have to do is select a menu option.

In the VirtualBox machine selector, click the virtual machine in which you want to enable EFI, then click settings. Switch to system tab and check the box that says Enable EFI (special operating systems only). Linux is pretty special, isn’t it?


Now you can boot and install a Linux virtual machine with EFI in VirtualBox.

Step 2: Install and boot a Linux distribution

Debian EFI partitioning scheme

Installing a Linux virtual machine with EFI should be similar to installing from the BIOS. You can boot the installation media as usual. In this case we use Debian. To get the best results, it’s easier to create a brand new virtual machine.

The process should be almost identical to a BIOS install, but the partition scheme will be different as it uses GPT instead of the old MBR style. The installer should present an appropriate partition scheme for the virtual disk you are creating.

Now you can boot a Linux VM with VirtualBox

Now that you can change your VirtualBox Linux VMs from BIOS to UEFI, you can take advantage of the features.

If you want to learn more about the benefits of the new standard for PC firmware, read on.

uefi mainboard

What is UEFI and how does it improve security?

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