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Moving a VMware Fusion Virtual Machine

January 31, 2009 by debbie T | Mac SoftwareWindows on the Mac

I realized my Macbook Pro’s hard drive was just too small to keep both XP and Windows 7 VMware Fusion virtual machines, so I decided to move the Windows 7 install to an external hard drive.

I copied the virtual machine file (by default vm files are located in Documents/Virtual Machines) and double-clicked to launch VMware. It automatically started the virtual machine, and a message box appeared asking if the virtual machine was moved or copied. (See screen shot below)


I chose “moved” since I didn’t want to keep the file on my MBP hard drive anymore.

I had read online that if the file has been moved to a new hard drive, it is very important that VMware Fusion keeps the original settings for the Windows activation, so it won’t mess it up later.

Next, I suspended the virtual machine, and exited from VMware Fusion. In Finder, I sent the Windows 7 file (on my hard drive) to the trash. I also had to remove the older Windows 7 install from the list of virtual machines in Fusion.

Once I double-clicked the “moved” Windows 7 virtual machine file on my external a second time, it launched, and was added to the list of virtual machines in Fusion. All seemed to be working just fine.

Now I can expand my Windows XP virtual machine and possibly install some more Windows programs, like Dreamweaver, Flash, Paint Shop Pro, games, etc.

I really love VMware Fusion!

There are 19 comments

  1. I am trying to move a VMware Fusion Windows XP virtual machine from an iMac to a MacBookPro. I cannot find documentation on how to do this. Can you share what you did? What files you copied, or if there is a export or move function somewhere that I am missing? Thank you. Tom

    Comment by Tom Smith on March 30th, 2009
  2. Hey Tom,
    What I did is written in the article above.

    Just copy the whole file found in the Documents/Virtual Machines folder in Finder, then paste it where ever you want it to reside.

    Then double-click on it and the message window will appear asking if you moved or copied it – see screen shot in my article.

    I hope it works for you. It really is pretty easy. I love how portable the virtual machines are!

    Comment by debbie T on March 30th, 2009
  3. So there weren’t any problems with the virtual machine’s hard drive partition or anything, it just seamlessly moved to an external drive? I was just wondering because I wanted to make sure that the partition (and all its data) was moved to the external drive and that the space the partition used on the mac hard drive was freed up. Thanks for the help!!

    Comment by Bob on June 24th, 2009
  4. Bob, there is no partition. I am NOT using Bootcamp, which uses a separate partition.

    I am using Vmware. The Windows install is contained in one big package file, sort of like how iPhoto packages their files.

    I moved it, and yes, it freed up the hard drive space.

    I have used the file on the external drive several times with no problems at all.

    Comment by debbie T on June 24th, 2009
  5. Thanks for that. It works! The VMWare Fusion help files outline a different method which I could not get to work. Much obliged.

    Comment by Charles Low on July 3rd, 2009
  6. same problem.
    unbelievably easy fix – worked a treat.
    thank you debbie!

    Comment by paul r on July 11th, 2009
  7. I am glad to hear this helped, Paul and Charles!!! Have fun!

    Comment by debbie T on July 12th, 2009
  8. I am trying to do this and keep getting an error message each time. I can’t even copy it to my external.

    Comment by tiffany on July 17th, 2009
  9. What is the error message, and how exactly are you trying to copy it? You did exit out of Fusion first, right?

    Comment by debbie T on July 19th, 2009
  10. Hi Debbie, thanks for this post as I had tried this but missed the essential step of double clicking on the newly-copied virtual machine, so that VMWare could update it properly.

    Works like a dream now, thank you!

    Comment by Darren on November 20th, 2009
  11. Awesome, Darren. Glad to hear it!

    Comment by debbie T on November 20th, 2009
  12. Wow! I went all over the internet trying to find these instructions and stumbled on them almost at the point when I was going to give up (happens every time huh?).

    Thanks for these instructions! I went out and bought an external hard drive solely for this purpose, and was mortified that I couldn’t figure out how to relocate the Windows files to my new and slightly expensive drive. Now I can use Windows freely without worrying about my main hard drive space. Mac OS X is amazing, but sometimes I just need Windows. But I don’t like them “touching”.

    Again, thanks so much!

    Comment by Harrison on January 29th, 2010
  13. Hey Harrison, your comment made me smile. A lot of Mac users feel that way, not wanting to contaminate their Macs with Windows! LOL

    I am glad my post helped you out. Enjoy your new external drive!!!

    Comment by debbie T on January 30th, 2010
  14. so you don’t actually move or install vmware on the external drive, only the windows part of it?

    I assume it would not be possible to install vmware on an external drive?

    Comment by mark on July 15th, 2010
  15. No you do not install tge vmware app on the external although it is probably possible somehow.

    It’s sort of similar to installing excel and then accessing a spreadsheet file on an external drive. The file with your windows install is self contained and can be moved or copied anywhere.

    It’s good to also maintain another backup of the file somewhere else too just in case the external drive fails.

    Comment by debbie T on July 17th, 2010
  16. I am trying to COPY my virtual machine from my Mac Pro to my Macbook Pro. I have spent a lot of time and effort installing Windows along with all the design programs I need on VMware on my Mac Pro. Now I’d like to have the exact same setup on my laptop. Has anyone tried the “I copied it” choice? I tried to follow the steps outlined but 2 things differed:

    1. After I copied the virtual machine to my external hard drive (in order to transport it to my laptop), I copied it again to a folder I made in My Documents called Virtual Machines since that’s what you described VMware likes. I had to make this folder since my VMware didn’t already have any machines installed.

    2. When I double clicked on the file and chose “I copied it”, it opened VMware library as expected but after a minute gave the following error message:

    Cannot open the disk ‘/Users/Betsy/Documents/Virtual Machines/Windows Vista.vmwarevm/Windows Vista.vmdk’ or one of the snapshot disks it depends on.
    Reason: failed to lock the file.

    The same message appeared when I double clicked the file directly from the external hard drive (just in case).

    Does anyone understand what this message means? What did I do wrong? Or, is it just some sort of mean block to keep people from having a bunch of copies without paying for more?

    Comment by Betsy on November 16th, 2010
  17. A year late on the reply to Betsy, but it seems maybe you had something open or didn’t probably shut down the VM before the copy?

    What i would do go back in, remove any snapshots you have. do a proper shutdown of Windows Vista (inside the VM – start button, then select shutdown).

    OR you could have the VM disk set to SCSI attached to an IDE, if this makes your head spin you need to find a local person that knows mac’s and VMs.

    Anyone else that may have this trouble I would suggest google. goto http://www.google.com put in the box your error message, you will be surprised to see a lot of information to be had and many technical forums.

    Comment by Dana on October 21st, 2011
  18. Wow, it worked! Thanks!

    Comment by Frank Kim on September 28th, 2012
  19. Note I did not have to restart VMware after moving the VM. I just used the Virtual Machine Library to delete the old one and when asked what to do with the VM file I chose to move it to the trash.

    Comment by Frank Kim on September 28th, 2012