Difference between Host and Guest Operating Systems

Virtualization is the process of creating a virtual version of an operating system. It also creates virtual versions of servers, network resource etc., Generally, some applications don’t have the compatibility to run in a system. Using virtualization concept, this application can be made to run in the same computer.

Virtualization breaks the system into multiple parts called virtual machines. The system on which virtualization is applied is known as a Host system and the OS is known as host OS. The virtual machines formed are known as Guest systems and their OS is known as guest OS.

What is a Host Operating System?

Host operating system is a software that directly runs on the system’s hardware. A system is considered as a host when virtualization is done on it and broken down into multiple parts. The operating system which runs on this host system is known as host operating system. A host system has the capability to run type 2 hypervisors.

A hypervisor is a software that partition the host operating system, creates and run several virtual machines. A hypervisor is also known as Virtual Machine Monitor (VMM). Type 2 hypervisors are the one that break the host operating system into multiple virtual machines.

Host systems have the direct access to the system’s hardware. Host provides the environment needed by these virtual machines to run. A single host system can be separated into numerous virtual systems based on user’s requirement. All these systems have sufficient resources, memory, processing, etc.

Container based virtualization can also be done on the host operating system. In virtual machines, we install separate guest operating systems for every virtual machine. Where as in container-based virtualization, the actual or the host operating system is shared by all the container objects thus making them light weight objects. It reduces the quantity of resources used by each OS as they work on the host OS.

What is a Guest Operating System?

The software which runs on the virtual machines in the environment provided by the host system is known as the guest operating system. It doesn’t depend on the system’s hardware. These guest systems are created by the type 2 hypervisors.

Guest operating systems are run by virtual machines. They differ from the actual host operating systems in many ways. A single host system may contain one or many guest operating systems.

These guest operating systems created are independent of each other. They are even independent of the host system. Host and guest systems share system’s resources. But their functions are completely different. These guest systems can be accessed only if the host system is started first.

These guest operating systems can be used to run the applications which are not supported by the host systems. They can even run different operating systems. For example, if the host system is of windows type, the guest systems may be of Mac and Linux type. All these three systems function independent of the each other.


  • It reduces the cost of buying other systems as we can divide a single system into multiple machines

  • It completely utilizes the system’s full capacity and increase the productivity

  • User can use same application on multiple operating systems at the same time

  • It automatically backup the data

  • If any problem or malware attacks the virtual machine, it doesn’t affect the actual host system. They are more reliable


  • System must satisfy the requirements for virtualization. If its requirements are not satisfied, its running speed and performance decreases

  • Virtualization software is paid. We need to pay monthly subscription fees. The free versions don’t support the complete features

  • As the complete data is present in a third-party application, this data could be at risk. Users always have concern regarding data privacy.

  • If the host system is weak and not secured properly, it may get infected with malware easily through these virtual machines

Difference between Host OS and Guest OS

The following table highlights the major differences between a Host operating system and a Guest operating system −


Host Operating System

Guest Operating System


Host operating system is a software which runs on the hardware of the host system

Guest operating system is a software that is run on the virtual machine in the host system


Host OS directly interacts with the system’s hardware

Guest OS doesn’t interact with the hardware. It interacts with the virtual machine


Only a single host operating system is present

Guest OS may be single or multiple based on the user requirements


Host OS is independent of the Guest operating system

We must start the host system to run guest operating system


Host Operating system interacts with the hardware

Guest operating system interacts with the virtual machine


Host operating system provides the environment for virtualization

Guest operating system can run multiple applications on different operating systems within the same computer and same hardware


Host operating system is the actual operating system of the computer. It acts as a base and provides the suitable environment to create the virtual machines or guest operating systems. Guest operating systems are the OS of virtual machines. They share memory and resources of the host system but they work independent of them. They can even run applications that are not even compatible with the host system.

Updated on: 03-Jul-2023


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