By Crystal / Last Updated April 2, 2022

What is VMDK in VMware

VMDK stands for Virtual Machine Disk created by VMware. A VMware virtual hard disk contains one or more .vmdk files.

For ESXi VM, the virtual disk files have a virtual disk descriptor (diskname.vmdk) and a virtual disk extent (diskname-flat.vmdk which stores raw files). For VMware Workstation virtual disks, the format is an extent data file (diskname.vmdk). It contains an embedded virtual disk descriptor that defines the structure, geometry, virtual hardware version and identifier of the virtual disk.

vmware vmdk

How to open VMDK in VMware

The following methods will show you how to open VMDK files on ESXi and Workstation virtual machines with power-on or off statue.

Method 1. Use Live DVD to open VMDK files on ESXi

This method is to boot virtual machine from a DVD disc, and you can mount the partitions of your virtual disk and copy files from the virtual disk to a USB hard disk attached to the VM or to your host machine, or to any other machine via the network.

The following procedures are based on an ESXi virtual machine to demonstrate how to use Live DVD to open VMDK files.

1. Log in vSphere Client and access to the virtual machines. Right-click a VM and select Edit Settings.

use live dvd to open vmdk in vmware

2. In the open wizard, find the CD/DVD Drive option. Select Datastore ISO File. Then go to CD/DVD Media option, click BROWSE to select the ISO file that are accessible by the ESXi host.

select ISO file

3. Boot the virtual machine from ISO image, then select Try Ubuntu Without Installing. Once Ubuntu has booted from the Live DVD media, open console (Terminal).

Type sudo -I to list available hard disk devices.

ls -al /dev/sd*

There are two partitions - /dev/sda1 and /dev/sda2.

Make directories to be used as mount points for each partition.

mkdir /mnt/win-disk1

mkdir /mnt/win-disk2

Mount the partitions of the virtual disk to the appropriate directories.

mount /dev/sda1 /mnt/win-disk1/

mount /dev/sda2 /mnt/win-disk2/

Then list files and directories of the mounted partitions.

ls -al /mnt/win-disk2/

ls -al /mnt/win-disk1/

mount partitions of virtual disk

4. Attach a USB hard disk drive (HDD) to the USB port of your ESXi host and connect this HDD to the virtual machine with the USB pass-through feature for copying the necessary files stored on the VMDK file used as a virtual disk by a virtual machine.

Tip: You can also use an SMB (CIFS) share and copy the contents of the virtual disk to another destination via the network.

Method 2. Mount a VMDK file to an ESXi VM

1. In vSphere Client, navigate to Storage >> Datastore Browser, and select the VMDK file on the datastore. Then click Copy to.

copy vmdk to esxi

2. Select the destination datastore to store the VMDK file.

select datastore for vmdk

3. Back to the main screen, right-click a VM and select Edit Settings.

4. In the open wizard, click ADD NEW DEVICE >> Existing Hard Disk.

add existing hard disk

5. Select the recently copied VMDK file and click OK.

Now, you can open the mounted drive in Windows Explorer and then copy the contents of the VMDK file connected to the virtual machine.

Method 3. Mount a VMDK file to a Workstation VM

When there is no sufficient disk space on the ESXi datastore to copy a virtual disk, you can mount the VMDK files to Workstation to open it in VMware Workstation.

1. In vSphere Client, access to Storage >> Datastore >> File >> Download. You can check the files downloaded in a ZIP archive. Then unzip the two files.

download vmdk to workstation

2. Go to VMware Workstation, select a virtual machine and click Edit the virtual machine settings.

add settings of workstation

3. In the open wizard, click Add. Then select Hard Disk >> SCSI >> Use an existing virtual disk. Then find the downloaded .vmdk file. Click Finish.

open vmdk in VMware Workstation

Tip: In this process, if the selected virtual disk is not compatible with the version of Workstation, you can edit the disk descriptor file to solve it.

5. Open the Disk Management in Windows, change your virtual disk status to online, assign a drive letter to a partition and browse the files.

Mount VMDK files in a host OS with Workstation

You should install VMware Workstation on your physical Windows or Linux operating system and mount the VMDK files to your host operating system that should support file systems of virtual disk partitions.

The following steps are based on Windows host to open VMDK in VMware Workstation.

1. Access to Workstation. Click File >> Map Virtual Disks >> Browse.

mount vmdk in Windows host

2. It is recommended that you open the VMDK file in read-only mode to prevent any possible damage of virtual disks that belong to the snapshot chain after writing data. The default drive letter is Z: in this case and the drive is opened in Windows Explorer automatically after mapping. Then click OK.

3. In the open wizard, you can only check the delta virtual disk related to the first snapshot. After you have finished working with it, click Disconnect Virtual Disk.

disconnect virtual disk

To avoid unbootable virtual machines or corrupted disk files due to the accidents such as system upgrades or virus attacks and etc., I recommend you to make backup virtual machines regularly.

How to protect virtual machine in VMware

VMDK file is vulnerable to be damaged that leads to data loss of virtual machine. So, you need to offer a secure insurance for your VMs. You could back up VMware datastore or back up the whole virtul machine in VMware such as cloning VM, coping VM files, exporting VM from ESXi......

For large amounts of virtual machines, the traditional built-in features cannot meet the needs of central backup. It’s necessary to choose a professional backup software to simplify the VM management. Here, I’d like to use AOMEI Cyber Backup to perform the backup procedures. It provides central management of multiple virtual machines and regular backups by scheduling backup tasks.

Secure Steps to protect VM comprehensively:

1. Install AOMEI Cyber Backup and bind your device to it.

Download Free TrialVMware ESXi 6.0 & later versions
Secure Download

2. Navigate to Backup Task >> Create New Task.

create backup task

3. In configuring page, enter a name for backup task and select device and virtual machines, it allows you to back up unlimited virtual machines through central console.

select multiple virtual machines

4. Select Target to store backup files for example local or network path.

backup target

5. Schedule flexible backup strategies and specify the time to run the backup task.

schedule backup

6. Specify the retention policies for each backup which helps to delect the unwanted backup files automatically.

backup cleanup

7. Click Restore, then select the content and destination as restore to original location or new location if the original vmdk is broken.

restore VM

AOMEI Cyber Backup specifies in data protection for virtual machines. You can create an efficient backup task without complicated settings and extra cost. It always safeguards your workloads and offers instant recovery solution.


This article explains multiple solutions to open VMDK in VMware ESXi and Workstatioin. VMDK is important to store virtual machine data, so, in order to avoid data loss, it’s recommended you to back up virtual machines regularly.