It’s all about VMware Tools

All you need is Tools

What is VMware Tools?

VMware Tools is a free, optional but highly recommended set of utilities and drivers that enhances the performance of the virtual machine’s guest operating system and improves management of the virtual machine making possible many of the ease-of-use features.  With VMware Tools installed in the guest operating system, better performance and new features are available:

  • Improved video and mouse performance
  • Sharing folders between host and guest file systems
  • Copying and pasting text, graphics, and files between the virtual machine and the host or client desktop
  • Provides the ability to take quiesced snapshots of the guest OS
  • Synchronization of the clock in the virtual machine with the clock on the host or client desktop
  • Scripting that helps automate guest operating system operations

VMware Tools components

VMware Device Drivers – replaces some of the guest operating system drivers for physical hardware to ensure network connectivity and prevent drive compatibility issues. VMware Device Drivers smooth mouse operations, make folder sharing available and improve sound, graphics and networking performance.

VMware Tools balloon driver (vmmemctl) is among the utilities installed in the guest operating system with VMware Tools. It cooperates with the hypervisor to allocate memory from the operating system and return it to the hypervisor.

VMware Services – handles communication between the guest and host operating systems. This program, starts when the guest operating system boots and runs in the background, is called vmtoolsd.exe in Windows guest operating systems, vmware-tools-daemon in Mac OS X guest operating systems, and vmtoolsd in Linux, FreeBSD and Solaris.

VMware User Process – is responsible for features as copy and paste, drag and drop, and Unity with VMware products that support these features. The program file for VMware User Process is called vmtoolsd.exe on Windows guest operating systems and vmware-user on Linux, Solaris, and FreeBSD.

Installing VMware Tools

Although the guest operating system can run without VMware Tools, many VMware features are not available until you install VMware Tools. For example, if you do not have VMware Tools installed in your virtual machine, you cannot use the shutdown or restart options from the toolbar. You can use only the power options.

The installers for VMware Tools are ISO image files. There is an ISO image file for each type of guest operating system. When you select the command to install or upgrade VMware Tools, the virtual machine’s first virtual CD-ROM disk drive temporarily connects to the VMware Tools ISO file for your guest operating system.

Upgrade. When and How?

Is it mandatory to upgrade VMware Tools following a patch or an upgrade to vSphere?  The short answer is no, in most cases a VMware Tools upgrade is optional.   However, it is always recommended that you run the latest version of VMware Tools.  So what’s the benefit of making the tools upgrade optional if it’s always going to be recommended?

Being aware that upgrading VMware Tools across a large number of virtual machines can be difficult, VMware has extended the tools support matrix which it allows VMs running older versions of VMware Tools to run on newer versions of ESXi and also it allows VMs with newer versions of VMware Tools to run on older versions of ESX/ESXi.

Although upgrading VMware Tools is optional, it is still highly recommended. The extended support is meant to facilitate upgrades and should not be seen as an excuse to avoid upgrading VMware Tools.

For more information check out the VMware Compatibility matrix (Fig. 1). To view the details for the VMware Tools support with each ESX/ESXi release:

  • select the radio button next to “Solution Interoperability”
  • select “VMware ESX/ESXi” as the first solution
  • select “VMware Tools from VMware ESX/ESXi” as the second solution
  • select “Add” to see the result
VMware Product Interoperability Matrixes

Fig. 1 – VMware Product Interoperability Matrixes

I plan ESX/ESXi patch or upgrade. Will I need to upgrade also VMware Tools?

Often it is useful to know in advance if VMware tools need to be upgraded after a ESX/ESXi patch campaign. That means to correlate the build number of ESX/ESXi with Tools version (four digit number). 

You can get that information from here: http://packages.vmware.com/tools/versions. This web page is always updated to reflect the latest VMware Tools to ESXi host version mappings:

# VMware version-mapping file.
#
# This file provides a one-to-one mapping between VMware Tools for
# ESX/ESXi version-number codes, and paths to OSP repositories suitable
# for that Tools version.
#
# The ESXi server mapping is only to show that the particular version of
# Tools ships with that particular ESXi server build number, but the Tools
# can work with a greater range of ESXi versions.
#
# Column 1: Tools version on NGC/VI Client
# Column 2: ESXi server version
# Column 3: Tools version on guest Setup/About page
# Column 4: ESXi server build number
#
9442        ../../unsupported/tools/esx/beta2 9.7.2    1919049
9350        esx/5.5p02                        9.4.6    1892794
9349        esx/5.5ep04                       9.4.5    1881737
9349        esx/5.5ep03                       9.4.5    1746974
9349        esx/5.5ep02                       9.4.5    1750340
.
.
.

When do I need reboot

VMware Tools upgrades has always required an operating system reboot as new device drivers and kernel modules will not go into effect until the next reboot. For Windows operating systems, you can suppress a reboot by specifying it in advanced installer option. For UNIX/Linux operating systems, the new device drivers and kernel modules will be staged when you upgrade VMware Tools, but will only be activated upon the next reboot. In both case, you can continue to run your virtual machine in a partially upgraded state for a limited amount of time until your next maintenance window, but it is recommended that you reboot as soon as possible.

Starting with vSphere 5.1, there is something called Zero-down time VMware Tools upgrade where an Windows 2000 or later operating system reboot will no longer be required for upgrading of VMware Tools. However, this statement is partially accurate and VMware published KB 2015163 to help identify when it would require a reboot.

In conclusion, you may have to reboot if:

  • One or more components of VMware Tools is installed
  • The components have been updated since the last install or upgrade
  • The components require a reboot to upgrade

References

VMware vSphere 5.5 Documentation Center – VMware Tools
VMware KB 1018377 – Installing VMware Tools in a Windows virtual machine
VMware KB 2015163 – Determining if a VMware Tools upgrade requires a reboot of a Windows guest operating system
VMware vSphere Blog – Clarification on (Zero-Down Time) VMware Tools Upgrade in vSphere 5.1
VMware vSphere Blog – Is a VMware Tools Upgrade Required When Upgrading vSphere?
VMware vSphere Blog – How do I Correlate VMware Tools Version Numbers to a Corresponding ESX/ESXi Version?

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Gica Livada

Technical Consultant at IRIS Luxembourg SA
Gica is working in Luxembourg and is former member of the VMware Centre of Excellence team from IBM Delivery Center in Brno, Czech Republic. He is passionate about virtualization and cloud technologies, holds multiple industry certifications from IBM, VMware, Citrix, Microsoft and he is also vExpert 2014, 2015 and 2016.

Latest posts by Gica Livada (see all)

About Gica Livada

Gica is working in Luxembourg and is former member of the VMware Centre of Excellence team from IBM Delivery Center in Brno, Czech Republic. He is passionate about virtualization and cloud technologies, holds multiple industry certifications from IBM, VMware, Citrix, Microsoft and he is also vExpert 2014, 2015 and 2016.
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