Oracle’s VirtualBox allows you copy and paste from the host machine to the guest virtual machine and vice versa. Unfortunately, this feature sometimes does not work properly. In this post, I show you how to troubleshoot copy/paste operations in VirtualBox.

Michael Pietroforte

Michael Pietroforte is the founder and editor in chief of 4sysops. He has more than 35 years of experience in IT management and system administration.

Install latest Guest Additions ^

Before you can work with copy and paste, you have to install the VirtualBox guest additions. Once you start the virtual machine, click the Devices menu, and then select Insert Guest Additions CD image.

Install VirtualBox Guest Additions

Install VirtualBox Guest Additions

The Guest Additions CD image should be mapped to drive D:.

CD Drive Virtual Guest Additions

CD drive Virtual Guest Additions

To install the Guest Additions launch VBoxWindowsAdditions.exe. After you reboot the virtual machine, you can enable copy/paste on the Devices menu of the VM under Shared Clipboard. If you are testing software that you don’t trust, you might want to only enable Host To Guest. I usually enable bidirectional shared clipboard when I am working with multiple virtual machines, so I can copy and paste from VM to VM.

Enable Copy and Paste in VirtualBox

Enable copy and paste in VirtualBox

You also can enable copy/paste in the VM’s General settings on the Advanced Tab. The VM settings can be opened in the VirtualBox Manager or through the key combination HOST + S.

Shared Clipboard in VM settings

Shared clipboard in VM settings

Update Guest Additions ^

This is the theory. In practice, I found that copy/paste often isn’t working properly. One possible cause is that you are working with outdated Guest Additions. This is often the case if you updated the VirtualBox but not the Guest Additions on the VM. If you didn’t use the VM for a while and copy/paste causes problems, you should reinstall the Guest Additions.

Reboot the virtual machine ^

Sometimes, the shared clipboard works just fine for a while, and then suddenly you no longer have access to the host clipboard on the VM. This can happen for various reasons. One problem I often encounter is that, after I hibernate the host or the guest, copy/paste no longer works even though it is still enabled in the VM settings. Rebooting the VM usually solves the problem. In some cases, I also had to reboot the host.

Restart the Guest Additions Tray Application ^

If you are in the middle of a test with numerous open applications and windows, rebooting the VM can be very annoying just for making copy and paste work again. In these situations, you can just restart the VirtualBox Guest Additions Tray Application. Open Task Manager by right-clicking the taskbar on the virtual machine and then selecting Start Task Manager (CTRL+SHIFT+ESC doesn’t work in VirtualBox VMs). Search for VirtualBox Guest Additions Tray Application on the Processes tab. (Don’t confuse it with the VirtualBox Guest Additions Service.) Right-click the process and select Open file location. Next, you can end the Guest Additions Tray Application task.

Restart VirtualBox Guest Additions Tray Application

Restart VirtualBox Guest Additions Tray Application

Now, locate VBoxTray.exe in File Explorer and double-click the file to restart the Tray Application.

VBoxTray.exe in File Explorer

VBoxTray.exe in File Explorer

If you often have problems with copy/paste operations in VirtualBox, restarting the Tray Application through the Task Manager is perhaps a bit cumbersome. As an alternative, you can restart the Tray Application with the little PowerShell script below.

Stop-Process -Name VBoxTray
Sleep 5
Start-Process C:\Windows\system32\VBoxTray.exe

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  1. Eqbal 3 years ago

    Thanks much. Issue got resolved 🙂


  2. 3 years ago

    Great, thank you!


  3. DJ 3 years ago

    Awesome, I needed to reboot the VM to get it to work


  4. Mark Heleniak 3 years ago

    Yes, not convenient to reboot VM and sometimes host too.  Thanks for tips on work-around.  Can't wait to give it a try - sort of 🙂


  5. Christopher DePalma 3 years ago

    Thanks, that worked. Confusing UI they have. You can click it enabled but who would know you had to add guest additions also.


  6. Kevin Stein 2 years ago

    you absolute genius!!!!

    this fixed it for me 🙂

    "Devices menu, and then select Insert Guest Additions CD image."


  7. V 2 years ago

    Thnaks alot!!


  8. shai mor 2 years ago

    thanks very helpfull!


  9. Yehor 2 years ago

    Yey! Thanks a lot! That helped 🙂


  10. Alex 1 year ago

    Fixed in two steps

    Devices -> Insert Guest Additions CD image,
    Machine -> Reset

    Thank You, Mr. Michael Pietroforte! 🙂


  11. Trung 1 year ago

    EndProcess & Restart VirtualBox Guest Additions Tray Application.  This works for me.  Thanks


  12. Mayur Lanjwar 1 year ago

    Thanks it worked for me in Oracle Linux 7.5


  13. Mobeen Asghar 1 year ago

    Thanks, Man! Solved


  14. Johny Why 8 months ago

    Your method works on a bootable OS. Any way to get shared clipboard on the windows installer screen in the VM? Thx!


    • Author
      Michael Pietroforte 8 months ago

      I doubt that this is possible because copy and paste only works after the Guest Additions have been installed.


  15. Cornel 4 months ago

    Worked with:

    Devices -> Insert Guest Additions CD image,
    Machine -> Restart.

    Thank you!


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