Virtual networking labs – VirtualBox internal networks and bridges

So far, we have been playing with virtual networking for one virtual machine, connected to the host. Now let us see how we can establish virtual networks connecting more than one machine.

Lab3: Virtualbox host-only networking with more than one machine

In this lab, we will connect two virtual machines that both use host-only networking. To run the example, you can again clone my repository and use the prepared Vagrantfile.

git clone
cd lab3
vagrant up

This will bring up two virtual machines, boxA and boxB. When both of them are running, use vagrant ssh boxA and vagrant ssh boxB to connect to them.

When we inspect the network on the host, we see nothing which is really unexpected. Again, there is the virtual device vboxnet0 which has an IP address assigned to it, and there is a new entry in the routing table which sends all traffic for the network to this device.

In each virtual machine, the situation is as in the last post. There is a virtual network interface enp0s3 which is connected to the NAT device, and there is a virtual interface enp0s8 which is connected to vboxnet0 via the mechanisms discussed in the previous post. However, the trick is that both machines are actually connected to the same virtual device, as in the following diagram.


So we should expect that the machines can talk to each other via this device, and in fact they can. You should be able to ping boxB as from boxA and similary boxA as from boxB.

When you run ifconfig -a to get the MAC addresses of the enp0s8 interfaces on both machines and also run arp -n to display the ARP cache, you will see that the MAC address of boxA is known on boxB and vice versa. This demonstrates that the machines can see each other on the Ethernet level, i.e. on layer 2, not only layer 3, as if they were connected to the same Ethernet segment.


Again, the virtual device has a MAC and an IP address and can be reached from the host. Via the route for the network pointing to it, we can also reach both virtual machines from the host as in the case of an individual machine as before. So we could summarize the host-only network as a virtual network to which the machines are attached and which is also connected to the host networking stack.

Lab4: VirtualBox internal networking

This is very useful for many purposes, but sometimes, you want a virtual network that is completely separated from the host network.

This networking option does not require the virtual device vboxnet0, and to verify this, let us first remove it. To do this, open the VirtualBox GUI by running virtualbox, navigate to “Global Tools -> Host Network Manager”, locate vboxnet0 in the list and remove it.

Now let us bring up the virtual machines using Vagrant. If you have not yet done so, run vagrant destroy to complete lab3. Then switch to lab4, start Vagrant there and open two additional terminals with SSH sessions on the machines.

cd ../lab4
vagrant up
gnome-terminal -e 'vagrant ssh boxA' ;   gnome-terminal -e 'vagrant ssh boxB'

When you inspect the virtual machines, the situation is very similar to what we have seen in lab3, when we connected two machines with a host-only network.

  • Each machine has two interfaces, enp0s3 (the NAT interface) and enp0s8 (the internal networking interface)
  • Each machine has a route for the network pointing to enp0s8
  • The machines can see each other as and
  • If you ping the machines and then inspect the ARP cache, you will again find that the MAC address of the respective other machine is stored in the cache, indicating that the machines appear to be on the same Ethernet network

There is, however, a difference on the host. There is no additional virtual networking device being created, and there is no additional routing table entry on the host (nor any local routing table entry). Thus, the new network to which the machines are attached is actually completely isolated from the host network.


We have now considered host-only networking, NAT networking and internal networking in some detail. However, VirtualBox offers a couple of additional networking models. A model which is used similarly by other hypervisors like KVM is bridged networking. To get a feeling for this, we will first study Linux bridging in some detail before starting to see how VirtualBox applies this.

Lab 5: Linux bridging basics

In this lab, we will use a Linux bridge to connect two Ethernet networks and gain a basic understand of bridges.

A Linux bridge is essentially the virtual equivalent of a classical, physical Ethernet bridge. Recall that a bridge connects Ethernet networks on the link layer level. A bridge device has several ports, and is able to direct Ethernet frames entering in one port to the correct outgoing port to forward the packet into the part of the network where the target address is located. Most bridges are able to learn which MAC addresses are behind which port in order to operate efficiently.

Linux bridges are similar. They are virtual network devices to which you can attach other devices. They will then pick up traffic flowing into the bridge from one of these devices, evaluate the Ethernet address of the target and forward the packet to the respective target device (assuming that this is attached as well).

Let us see this in action. For this lab, I have created a configuration which has three virtual machines. Two of them are connected to a private network myNetworkA, two of them are connected to private network myNetworkB, and they all have a NAT device for SSH access.


Now, in this configuration, there is no way how boxC can reach boxA, because the networks myNetworkA and myNetworkB are completely isolated. Let us now set up a bridge to change this. Before we do this, however, we need to change a setting within VirtualBox. VirtualBox allows us to specify per network interface whether switching this device into the promiscuous mode should be allowed. For a bridge, we need this, because the Ethernet devices attached to the bridge should receive packets which are directed towards any other port on the bridge. If the VirtualBox setting is not changed, putting the devices into the promiscuous on the OS level will silently fail, and the bridge will not work (I had a bit of a hard time figuring this out, until I found this post in the VirtualBox forum). To change this setting, run the following commands on the host machine.

vm=$(vboxmanage list vms | grep "boxB" | awk '{print $1}' | sed s/\"//g)
vboxmanage controlvm $vm nicpromisc2 allow-all
vboxmanage controlvm $vm nicpromisc3 allow-all

Now we set up the actual bridge on box B. Switch into boxB and enter the following commands

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install bridge-utils
sudo brctl addbr myBridge
sudo ifconfig enp0s8 promisc
sudo ifconfig enp0s9 promisc
sudo brctl addif myBridge enp0s8
sudo brctl addif myBridge enp0s9
sudo ifconfig myBridge up
# check that interfaces are in promiscuous mode
ifconfig -a

On boxA, run

sudo ifconfig enp0s8 netmask

And finally, enter the following commands on boxC:

sudo ifconfig enp0s8 netmask

Let us see the bridge in action by dumping the traffic on the bridge device on boxB. To do this, switch to boxB and enter

sudo tcpdump -e -vvv -i myBridge

Then, in either boxA or boxC, try to ping the other machine. You should see the ICMP packages moving forth and back along the bridge. When you run arp -n on boxA and boxC, you will also see that each host knows the other host on the Ethernet level, i.e. the bridge did actually implement a connection on layer 2 (as opposed to an IP-based router which operates on layer 3). Thus with the bridge in place, the network now looks as follows.


To summarize, a virtual Linux bridge does exactly what a traditional switch in hardware does – it connects two Ethernet networks transparently on the Ethernet layer. But there is more to it, and in the next post, we will dig a bit deeper into how this works and how it can be applied in the context of virtualization.


Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s