Virtual machines can connect to smart card readers that interface to serial ports, parallel ports, USB ports, PCMCIA slots, and PCI slots. A virtual machine considers a smart card reader to be a type of USB device.

A smart card is a plastic card that has an embedded computer chip. Many government agencies and large enterprises use smart cards to send secure communication, digitally sign documents, and authenticate users who access their computer networks. Users plug a smart card reader into their computer and insert their smart card in the reader. They are then prompted for their PIN to log in.

You can select a smart card reader from the Removable Devices menu in a virtual machine. A smart card can be shared between virtual machines, or between the host system and one or more virtual machines. Sharing is enabled by default.

When you plug a smart card reader into the host system, the reader appears as two separate USB devices in Workstation. This is because you can use smart cards in one of two mutually exclusive modes.

Shared mode

(Recommended) The smart card reader device is available as Shared smart_card_reader_model in the Removable Devices menu. In Windows XP guest operating systems, the shared reader appears as USB Smart Card Reader after it is connected to the virtual machine. In Windows Vista and Windows 7 guest operating systems, the generic smart card reader device name appears under the Windows Device Manager list. The smart card reader can be shared among applications on the host system and among applications in different guest operating systems.

USB passthrough mode

The smart card reader device is available as smart_card_reader_model in the Removable Devices menu. In USB passthrough mode, a single virtual machine directly controls the physical smart card reader. A USB passthrough smart card reader cannot be used by applications on the host system or by applications in other virtual machines. You should use USB passthrough mode only if connection in shared mode does not work well for your scenario. You might need to install the driver provided by the manufacturer to use USB passthrough mode.

You can use smart cards with Windows operating systems and most Linux distributions. VMware provides full smart card support for Windows virtual machines running on Linux hosts. Using smart cards in Linux typically requires third-party software to effectively authenticate to a domain or enable secure communications.


Although smart cards should work with common Linux browsers, email applications, and directory services, these products have not been tested or certified by VMware.