VBox: Access to individual physical hard disk partitions
This "raw partition support" is quite similar to the "full hard disk" access described above.
However, in this case, any partitioning information will be stored inside the VMDK image, so you can e.g. install a different boot loader in the virtual hard disk without affecting the host's partitioning information. While the guest will be able to see all partitions that exist on the physical disk, access will be filtered in that reading from partitions for which no access is allowed the partitions will only yield zeroes, and all writes to them are ignored.
To create a special image for raw partition support (which will contain a small amount of data, as already mentioned), on a Linux host, use the command
VBoxManage internalcommands createrawvmdk -filename /path/to/file.vmdk -rawdisk /dev/sda -partitions 1,5
As you can see, the command is identical to the one for "full hard disk" access, except for the additional -partitions parameter. This example would create the image /path/to/file.vmdk (which, again, must be absolute), and partitions 1 and 5 of /dev/sda would be made accessible to the guest.
VirtualBox uses the same partition numbering as your Linux host. As a result, the numbers given in the above example would refer to the first primary partition and the first logical drive in the extended partition, respectively.
The numbers for the list of partitions can be taken from the output of
VBoxManage internalcommands listpartitions -rawdisk /dev/sda
The output lists the partition types and sizes to give the user enough information to identify the partitions necessary for the guest.
Images which give access to individual partitions are specific to a particular host disk setup. You cannot transfer these images to another host; also, whenever the host partitioning changes, the image must be recreated.
Creating the image requires read/write access for the given device. Read/write access is also later needed when using the image from a virtual machine. If this is not feasible, there is a special variant for raw partition access (currently only available on Linux hosts) that avoids having to give the current user access to the entire disk. To set up such an image, use
VBoxManage internalcommands createrawvmdk -filename /path/to/file.vmdk -rawdisk /dev/sda -partitions 1,5 -relative
When used from a virtual machine, the image will then refer not to the entire disk, but only to the individual partitions (in the example /dev/sda1 and /dev/sda5). As a consequence, read/write access is only required for the affected partitions, not for the entire disk. During creation however, read-only access to the entire disk is required to obtain the partitioning information.
In some configurations it may be necessary to change the MBR code of the created image, e.g. to replace the Linux boot loader that is used on the host by another boot loader. This allows e.g. the guest to boot directly to Windows, while the host boots Linux from the "same" disk. For this purpose the -mbr parameter is provided. It specifies a file name from which to take the MBR code. The partition table is not modified at all, so a MBR file from a system with totally different partitioning can be used. An example of this is
VBoxManage internalcommands createrawvmdk -filename /path/to/file.vmdk -rawdisk /dev/sda -partitions 1,5 -mbr winxp.mbr
The modified MBR will be stored inside the image, not on the host disk.
The created image can be attached to a storage controller in a VM configuration as usual.