Installing plan 9 on VirtualBox

Download and install plan 9 in a virtual machine.

VirtualBox and Download

The best way to get the experience of plan 9 is to run it in a virtual terminal. I recommend and use VirtualBox if you are running on a Linux system. If you are on a linux system you can use the package manager to download and install this software. If you are on a windows machine the best place to find the software is at

Once you have that configured, you can download a copy of plan 9 from the main website. – and choose the CD download image. Its in a .bz package and you need to unzip this to continue any further. To do that if you are on a windows machine will require WinRAR to decompress the .iso image, but in Linux you can double-click the file to open the archive manager to continue. Once the plan9.iso is present in your system somewhere we can install it in our virtual space.

Its now time to run the program.

Set up a disk for the operating system. Click the ‘NEW’ button in the VirtualBox OSE manager, and you will get a wizard that drives you through the installation. Click next, and type in a name of your installation. Choose ‘Linux’ as the Operating System, and Ubuntu as the version. The memory size should be anywhere near to or greater than the default that it provides ( 512 MB ).

Then you can create a new boot hard disk. Click next and type in the information for your hard disk (it will save this as a .vdi file – which you will need to start the installation) . Set its size to however much you have available, and specify if it is dynamically expanding or a fixed size hard disk.

Its important that you add this hard disk to the list of IDE Controllers . Select settings, and then ‘Storage’ from the left column. In the ‘IDE Controller’ box, it most likely added the hard disk as a SATA controller. Its best to remove this device and add your hard disk as an alternate IDE controller. Click the plus symbol to get a dialog that  lets you select an existing disk. Choose an existing disk and add your .vdi file you created.

Everything should be fine to run after some initial settings have been configured.

Virtual box settings for mouse USB and Network.

Plan 9 relies upon a mouse and as a default, VirtualBox’s settings specify that there is a USB controller selected. Its best that you de-select this option so that you have a mouse when the os starts to run. Go to Settings on the left hand column go to USB and deselect the default USB controller.

You will also want to connect to the internet and so it is important to configure the network adapter in the settings as well. Again go into the settings page and select Network from the left hand column. You need to select

  1. Bridged adapter
  2. eth0
  3. Intel PRO/1000 MT Server (82545EM) 

  4. MAC address (whatever was selected)
Step three is important because your internet connection wont work if this option isn’t selected.


Once the virtual box starts the installation ( or if you want to cleanly install onto a new system )  – you are presented with 2 options. Install onto the system or boot a live version. Booting the live version will let you view the OS, but not be able to make any changes to the system, and that’s why we’ll install a full copy.

After selecting ‘1’ you are presented  options for your system.

  • use DMA for ide drives[yes]:  hit enter
  • mouseport is (ps2, ps2intellimouse,0,1,2)[ps2]: – hit enter
  • vgasize [640x480x8]: -hit enter

The next selection is critical, and you should type vesa

  • monitor is [xga]: vesa

Hit enter and you will get something like this:

The start of the installation wizard for plan 9

The defaults the installation chooses are presented between the brackets. By hitting enter at each pass you are selecting those defaults.


Select, ‘fossil’ as your file server and prepare for partitioning options. In my installation, I have sdC0 as the default option (remember the .vdi file) – so you must select the .vdi hard disk you created.

Entering ‘w’ and ‘q’ at the partitioning prompt (>>>)  are enough to create 4 partitions – 9fat, isect, fossil, swap – (note hitting anything else will give ?) so type ‘w‘ and ‘q‘. Select fmtfossil by hitting enter ( the same for mountfs, and configdist ). You will notice that the installation guide has a list of things it has already completed. You might choose to prematurely end the installation, but those tasks it has already completed will remain set in the options.

Then you are able to choose if you want to download the distribution from the net or from a local media. So type in “local” because everything is from the CD we already downloaded. If you’ve come this far and you choose net, you will have to configure your net connection for use – however its best to just install from the CD.

Hit enter at “mountdist” option and you are shown the storage devices on your system: You need to select where the distribution is contained, and because its on our CD, you must type in /dev/sdD0/data. It then asks if the distribution is at the root of the CD or in another location. If you just hit enter here plan 9 will drop you into a shell to browse for the distribution.

Its possible that you will get caught in this shell, so you can type ‘lc’ to look around and if you have a list of files something like

/% lc

386         acme   cron   mips  sparc64

68000   adm     dist     mnt   sys

… … …

You are probably in the right place, so you can type exit to leave, and enter to start into copydist.


Hit enter to copy the distribution over to your .vdi you created and it should start installing the file system and this might take some time.

After that, you can hit enter again at bootdisk to let plan 9 decide how to boot the system.

There are 4 options for boot method, floppy, plan9, win9x, winnt. Again choose the default value by pressing ctrl-d and at the finish menu, press enter.

Running the System:

Run the installation from VirtualBox and enter ‘glenda’ as your user name.

Note that on running plan 9 initially you might not have mouse support. The mouse plays a key role in plan 9 and it is important that you have it working: Go to your virtual box settings and select “settings” scroll down the left hand column to USB, and deselect, “enable USB controller” . To do this you might have to shut down the running system to get access to the settings of VirtualBox.

Note that you might also want an internet connection, so ensure that you have changed the network settings in virtual box to Intel PRO/1000 MT Server (82545EM) option. To configure network support at startup you will want to un-comment out one line in the /bin/termrc file: ip/ipconfig! Comments begin with a hash(#). Do this now to avoid having to run ip/ipconfig every time you start a session.

See the next tutorial to learn how to edit files in Sam – or alternatively you can follow the instructions that are given in the start-up page of plan9.

Installation on other systems.

The installation is pretty strait forward, however if you want to install on a system that you use regularly, you must be careful about partitioning your hard disk space so that you don’t overwrite a windows system or even your linux system. You are most likely the safest if  you try to install plan 9 on a virtual system. If your virtual system is not virtualBox then you can look at the man pages for virtual images at

In summary:

  • Test out plan 9 on your system with Virtual Box.
  • Create a new hard disk, or use an existing hard disk that you can download from and tell Virtual Box that its the hard disk that you want to use.
  • De-select the USB controller in Virtual Box USB settings.
  • Add the Intel PRO/1000 MT Server (82545EM) option in your network devices to get internet connection with plan9
  • Choose vesa as your monitor option.
  • Choose all defaults for your system (by hitting enter).
  • Partition your system with the recommended settings.
  • At mountdist option, once you find the location of the plan 9 distribution (commands are lc, exit and cd), exit the shell and continue on with the installation.
  • Run the system with ‘glenda’ as your user name.

9 thoughts on “Installing plan 9 on VirtualBox

  1. vrtra says:

    It would be nice if you could treat drawterm connections to the VM too. The use for drawterm is that the local system is mounted on /mnt/term by default. So it is easy to copy stuff back and forth.

    • iainws says:

      Thanks for the advice. I have to admit I tried doing that today to no avail.

      I will explain what I did:
      1. I downloaded drawterm into my current linux version
      2. I then ran the commands from this webpage:
      where it tells how to install with these two instructions.
      echo 'key proto=p9sk1 dom=livecd user=glenda !password=password' >/mnt/factotum/ctl
      aux/listen1 -t tcp!*!17010 /bin/cpu -R &

      I then try to connect to the server from my linux box but get a message:
      cpu can’t dial: cpu: no translation unit found

      Anyhow I will continue to work on getting a nice experience out of it.

      • vrtra says:

        Are you able to ping your VM? do you have a bridged connection? what is the exact line you are using with drawterm?

  2. lmdlzzns says:

    Why сhoose ‘Linux’ as the Operating System, and Ubuntu as the version?

  3. it does not says:

    it doesn’t work with virtualbox v4.2.0 on windows xp with service pack 3

  4. Gonzalo says:

    How can out of “prompt” in plan9?

    • Gonzalo says:

      How can exit of “prompt” in pLAN9 (Working in virtualbox, “Ctrl + \” not have effect to exit of “prompt”)? My computer is a A860 DELLVOSTRO


      • Gonzalo says:

        i resolved this….

        Well the “CTRL + \” is accomplished by pressing instead of \ you must press the key that has “]}` ” (key special) and CTRL in my computer model. This is form “CRTL+ key special ”

        i hope will serve someone

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