Do I need VMware tools?

VMware tools are a set of utilities and drivers installed within the guest operating system of a virtual machine running on VMware products like vSphere ESXi. They enable several functionality like shared folders, improved mouse performance, time synchronization and more.

Do I need VMware tools?

Meta description: VMware tools provide functionality for virtual machines on VMware products like shared folders, improved mouse performance & more. We discuss if you need them installed.

What are VMware tools?

VMware tools are a suite of utilities and drivers that enable several features in VMware virtual machines:

  • Shared folders – Allows transferring files between host and guest operating system using a shared folder
  • Drag and drop – Transfer files to and from virtual machine using drag and drop
  • Copy and paste – Allows copying text or images back and forth between host and guest
  • Graphics acceleration – Provides improved 2D and 3D graphics performance
  • Time synchronization – Keeps the guest OS time accurately synchronized with the host
  • ThinPrint Support – Provides accelerated printing for ThinPrint enabled printers
  • vSphere vMotion Support – Provides support when migrating virtual machines
  • Scripting API – Allows automation of guest operations

Why should I install VMware tools?

Here are some key benefits provided by VMware tools:

  • Enables shared folders for easy file transfers
  • Drag and drop makes transferring files easy without network
  • Copy/paste improves productivity between host and guest
  • Graphics acceleration enhances VM display performance
  • Automatic time sync keeps VM clock accurate
  • Essential for vSphere vMotion migrations
  • Needed for VM snapshots and backups
  • Guest customization during provisioning requires VMware tools
  • Enables advanced reporting with performance metrics
  • Scripting guest OS using VMware API calls needs VMware tools

So in summary, VMware tools extend functionality, improve manageability, and enable advanced VMware infrastructure features. Most VMware administrators recommend installing tools by default.

What features don’t work without VMware tools?

The following features require VMware tools installed in the guest operating system:

  • Shared Folders – disabled without tools
  • Drag and drop file transfer – won’t work
  • Copy and paste text/images – not functional
  • Time synchronization – inaccurate time in VM
  • VM migrations with vMotion – not supported
  • VM snapshotting – disabled
  • Guest customization – fails during provisioning
  • Performance reporting – no metrics gathered
  • Scripting and automation – API not accessible

So for full functionality and manageability, it is recommended to run VMware tools. Some capabilities are restricted and performance impacts can occur without them.

Is it mandatory for VMware tools to be installed?

VMware tools are generally recommended but not absolutely mandatory in all cases. Here are some considerations:

  • Production VMs – VMware tools should almost always be installed for full functionality, performance monitoring, migrations etc. Most admins require them in production.
  • Template VMs – Tools are recommended to enable rapid provisioning with guest customization. But some organizations skip installing tools in templates to avoid compatibility issues down the road if tools upgrade breaks compatibility with OS or apps layered on the templates.
  • Utility VMs – For short-lived utility VMs like sandbox testing servers, tools may not provide any tangible benefit so can be optional in such use cases.
  • Old OS versions – Installing VMware tools for old operating systems like Windows XP/2003 or RHEL 5.x that are past support dates can sometimes have compatibility issues. IT policy may allow excluding tools install if potential OS issue exist.

So in summary – VMware tools are strongly recommended but not enforced as an absolute requirement in 100% of VMware virtual machines. IT organizations can define policy based on use case.

What are the main components of VMware tools?

VMware tools consist of the following components that provide different services:

VMware devices

  • VM communication interface – Enables API calls from guest OS
  • VMware mouse driver – Provides improved mouse synchronization
  • VMware video driver – Offers 2D/3D graphics acceleration
  • VMware SCSI I/O driver – Improves storage performance

Management Agents

  • VMware tools service – Manages and updates VMware tools suite
  • Scripting API plugin – Allows automation of guest OS operations

User Process Services

  • Shared Folders – File system driver providing shared folder access
  • Time Synchronization – Service to sync guest time

Virtualization Capabilities

  • Heartbeat provider – Confirms VM is active via heartbeats
  • ThinPrint engine – Accelerates printing for thinprint printers
  • Backup tools – Quiesces file activity for vSphere backups

The agents and drivers coordinate together to enable VMware tools capabilities inside guest operating systems.

How do I install VMware tools?

VMware tools can be easily installed inside a VM from vSphere Client using below methods:

Using vSphere Client console window:

  1. Power on target VM
  2. Right-click VM > Guest OS > Install VMware Tools
  3. Mount the VMware Tools virtual CD drive in the VM
  4. Login to VM and open CD drive to access VMwareTools.iso
  5. Run the VMware Installer and follow prompts

Using Datastore ISO method:

  1. Browser to VM’s parent datastore
  2. Upload VMwareTools .ISO from local machine
  3. Connect CD/DVD drive on a VM to point to this ISO
  4. Login to VM and open CD drive to access VMwareTools.iso
  5. Run the VMware Installer and follow prompts

Which guest OS versions support VMware tools?

VMware maintains a compatibility guide here documenting which VMware tools versions map to which OS versions.

In summary, VMware tools 10.x and later support:

  • Windows Vista and higher
  • Linux kernels 2.6.x and higher
  • Mac OSX Leopard and higher

Older operating systems may work with legacy VMware tools versions if still needed.

What problems can occur without VMware tools?

Lack of VMware tools can lead to the following problems:

  • No shared folders connectivity
  • Unable to transfer files easily to VM
  • Poor mouse movement synchronization
  • Display graphics show artifacts/poor performance
  • Time drifts out of sync between VM and host
  • Backup jobs can timeout and fail
  • VM snapshots hang at quiesced state
  • No performance data available in vCenter reports
  • Scripts and API calls fail to reach guest OS

So it is highly recommended to run tools for reliability and manageability.

Key Takeaway

  • VMware tools extend functionality – Enable shared folders, drag/drop, improved graphics and time sync capabilities
  • Recommended for production VMs – Admins typically install by default for full manageability
  • Some exceptions – Policy may allow exclude tools on templates, utility VMs or deprecated OS versions
  • Easy installation options – Simple install from vSphere console or ISO image
  • Supported across OS versions – Wide guest OS support maintained by VMware
  • Avoid problems without tools – Functionality gaps lead to difficult troubleshooting downstream

In summary, VMware tools provide substantial benefits to optimize the virtualization experience, with few downsides to installing them in most VMware virtual machine use cases. Check your specific IT policies on requirements for your environment.

Conclusion

VMware tools consist of services and drivers inside the guest operating system that enable various functionality like shared folders, drag and drop, graphics acceleration and time synchronization. By default, VMware administrators widely recommend deploying VMware tools to provide the best performance, stability and ease of management. The range of features supported depend on VMware tools being installed and up to date. IT policies and procedures may have specific guidance on categories of VMs that can have tools installation set as optional if applicable. Otherwise following VMware best practices involves running the latest supported tools version.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What features don’t work without VMware Tools installed?
    Several major features like shared folders, drag/drop, copy/paste, graphics acceleration, automated time sync, vMotion migrations, VM backups and snapshots require VMware tools installed inside the guest OS in order to function. Running VMs without tools installed leads to management gaps.
  2. Is it bad to run VM without VMware Tools?
    While possible in some use cases, it is generally bad practice to operate production VMs without VMware tools over an extended period. Doing so means missing key functionality around migrations, backups, restores, graphics performance etc. Even basic file copy operations becomes more complex without shared folders capability.
  3. Do I have to upgrade VMware Tools?
    VMware recommendeds keeping your virtual machines up to date with the latest compatible VMware tools versions. Newer versions add support for the newest vSphere infrastructure features. Staying current also takes avantages of tools enhancements and bug fixes done by VMware engineering.
  4. Can I uninstall VMware Tools?
    Technically yes, as VMware tools is ultimately just another application installed on top of the guest operating system. But if you fully uninstall, it will disable all the additional integration features that VMware tools enables. Generally it is not recommended to proactively uninstall tools without a specific issue remediation need driving that kind of change.
  5. What does VMware Tools do for Windows?
    For Windows guest VMs, VMware tools enables viewed drag and drop file copy, shared folders networking connectivity, copy/paste sharing between host and guest, time syncronization services, accelerated graphics display drivers, quiescing and thinprint printing support.
  6. Does VMware Tools increase resources?
    VMware tools does consume additional CPU and memory resources due to the extra services and drivers it installs. But the tradeoff is worth the much improved functionality and performance gained. Overall resource usage increase is generally minimal, in the range of 2-5%
  7. What’s included in VMware Tools suite?
    Main components are VM communication interface, mouse driver, video driver, SCSI drivers, tools service, scripting plugin, shared folders, time sync, heartbeat provider and thinprint engine.
  8. Does VMware tools have to match host version?
    Not necessarily an exact match, but VMware does recommend keeping your VMware tools updated to match close the VMware infrastructure version you are running in order to properly support the latest product capabilities. The compatibility matrix provides the mapping details.
  9. Is open-vm-tools a replacement for VMware tools?
    Open-vm-tools is an open source implementation from VMware that provides some core capabilities, but lacks several VMware tools features. Many admins still choose to run official VMware tools even if leveraging other open source virtualization pieces.
  10. Can I copy VMware tools ISO to Windows VM?
    Yes, the VMware tools installer supports running directly from an ISO uploaded and mounted inside the guest as an alternative to installing tools from the vSphere console menu.
  11. Can I uninstall open-vm-tools?
    You technically can fully uninstall open-vm-tools or VMware tools if desired from the Linux guest VM, as it is userspace code. But doing so will disable the VM enhanced functionality provided via the drivers and services, which is generally not recommended for production VMs.
  12. Why VMware tools status is outdated?
    The VMware tools status can show as outdated when the running tools version is too far behind the vSphere server version available. Try reinstalling tools fully from the latest ISO to get back on a compatible tools version.
  13. How long can a VM run without VMware tools?
    There is no definite limit regarding VM uptime without VMware tools active. In fact some use cases like OS templates may run for long periods with tools intentionally not installed if customization occurs at deploy time. But for optimal manageability and least troubleshooting, production VM instances should run with the tools suite operational.
  14. Does VMware tools work on Hyper-V?
    No, VMware developed tools specifically provide extra functionality between VMware guest operating systems and the vSphere hypervisor infrastructure components. Running on an alternate virtualization platform, only that platform’s enhanced integration toolset applies for Hyper-V as an example.
  15. What’s the difference between open-vm-tools and VMware tools?
    Open-vm-tools is VMware’s opensourced implementation that provides a subset of functionality, while VMware tools includes all capabilities for maximum VM guest OS integration with the ESXi hypervisor and offers official support from VMware when issues arise.

 

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