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Using USB Dongles In VMware: Definitive Guide

Olga Weis Olga Weis Apr 19, 2023

Whenever there is a need to coincidently run some field-specific software on various operating systems, opting for virtualization technologies is the very best choice. But the functionality of said software won't be available without a hardware license dongle, and using USB license dongles in VMware may involve some difficulties.

In VMware, USB dongle passthrough is supported to a limited extent only. Meaning, you can’t access a USB license key from VMware VMs if said key isn’t plugged directly into the VMware ESXi host machine.

From this article, you’ll find out how to use USB dongles in a VMware virtual machine even if you’ve got a number of those you need to access at the same time, and some of them reside on other machines.

Software for forwarding USB license dongles to VMware

Donglify is a special-purpose software tool you can use to pass through a USB dongle to VMware ESXi virtual machines.
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Available on Windows 7/8/10/11, Server 2008 R2/2012/2016/2019/2022, Windows 10/11 on ARM, macOS 10.14+
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This app does excellent work both redirecting USB license dongles to the virtual machines running on the same VMware host hardware and while passing dongles through to VMs hosted by other machines across the network.

Donglify makes use of TCP/IP to share USB license keys connected to VMware hosts over the network. Thanks to that, you’ll never experience an unfamous issue with flawed VMware USB dongle support.

How to connect USB dongles to VMware virtual machines

The most convenient way to add a license key to VMware is to share access to the USB dongle from the computer that dongle is plugged into. For instance, you need to access an eLicenser USB dongle in VMware, and here is what you need to do:
Sign up for your Donglify account on the official website.
Install Donglify both on the host with a physically attached USB dongle (server), and on every other real or virtual machine (client) that will connect to the shared dongle.
 install donglify
Start the app on the server and client machines, then use your account credentials to sign in.
 sign in to dongle on vmware host
On the server, click "+" to reveal the list of USB license keys you can share.
 list of usb dongles
Check the radio button next to your dongle and click the "Share" button.
 share usb dongle to vmware
On a client machine, find the dongle you’ve just shared on the list and click "Connect".
 connect usb license dongle to vmware
Once the link is up, the dongle will show up in the client’s Device Manager as though it was connected physically. That’s how easy it is to pass through a USB dongle from a server to VMware so you can start using the USB dongle on VMware virtual machines right off the bat.

Prefer video instructions? Here you can check out how Donglify redirects USB license dongles to VMware virtual machines:

Share dongles

Things to consider when connecting USB dongles to VMware with Donglify

Internet connection is a must-have

You won’t be able to share and connect USB dongles to VMware unless all involved machines are connected to the Internet, even if they’re all in the same LAN.

Windows-Mac cross-platform support

With the newest update, Donglify is no longer a Windows-exclusive app. From now on, you can share your dongles with both Windows and Mac machines.

Dedication to USB dongles

Donglify was specifically designed for sharing USB dongles, thus it won’t work for other USB devices.

Configuring USB dongle redirection for VMware ESXi hosts using built-in instruments

All the USB devices connected to an ESXi host can be added to virtual machines running on the said host. In particular, you can utilize the USB passthrough technology to add USB security dongles physically plugged into a host to a virtual machine that resides on that host (only one at a time). However, this method won’t work for dongles attached to other machines.

To set up a passthrough of your dongle to a VMware ESXi virtual machine, you’ll need to see that these two services are up and running:

  • USB Arbitrator (installed and enabled by default): detects connected USB devices and routes their traffic to the correct virtual machine’s guest operating system. Plus, the arbitrator monitors the USB device and makes sure no other system connects it while it’s still in use.

  • USB Controller: software virtualization of the USB host controller function in the virtual machine that provides a USB function to the USB ports. Must be present before you can start adding USB devices to a virtual machine.

How to passthrough USB dongles from VMware ESXi hosts

Before you start, check that your VM is compatible with ESX/ESXi 4.0 (or later) and a USB controller is present.

  1. Right-click a virtual machine in the inventory and select "Edit Settings".

  2. Go to the "Virtual Hardware" tab, click "ADD NEW DEVICE" and select "Host USB Device" from the drop-down menu. After that, you’ll see the new USB device at the bottom of the "Virtual Hardware" list: host usb device
  3. Expand the "New Host USB Device" drop-down list box and pick the device for adding (one at a time). You can add as many USB devices as you need: new host usb device
  4. Untick the "Support vMotion while the device is connected" checkbox If you don’t plan to migrate a virtual machine with USB devices attached to reduce migration complexity and thereby upswing performance and stability. vmotion support
  5. Click the "OK" button.

Some important things to take into account:

  • Virtual hardware version must be 7 or higher.
  • You can only add one USB controller of each type to a virtual machine.
  • The USB arbitrator monitors up to 15 USB controllers, so all the rest can’t be used for attaching USB devices meant for passing through to VMs.
  • The maximum amount of USB devices you can attach to each VM is 20.
  • Each USB device can only be connected to one virtual machine at a time.
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