Setting up LVM Snapshot as a backup/restore point in ubuntu.


Well, as I see it, with all the great usefulness of Linux, its biggest drawback is with its mixed up way of installing apps. All the dlls go to one directory. All the configuration files to another. And the binaries are also put in a bunch. Yes, Windows works the same way more or less, but with the nature of system/server software installed on Linux, being that most of the software installed is only about 95% mature at any given time, messing up your system twice a month is very probable..

Of course, we can backup the system before and after each installation, but that takes a million years. System backups (as oppose to just data/files backup) requires you to turn off you computer and use some form of bootable live CD and a backup media. And, if the drive is more than 15% full, it might take a long time to do the backup, even with modern hardware.

So, how can this be done?

  • 3
    This isn't a question... also I guess you didn't look very hard; a quick google for "ubuntu lvm snapshot" and the very first thing that comes up is wiki.ubuntu.com/Lvm
    – psusi
    Feb 21, 2014 at 16:55
  • 1
    Nothing to do with... did you read it? It covers everything you said here.
    – psusi
    Feb 21, 2014 at 18:02
  • 5
    Of course you can ask a question and then answer it yourself - but keep in mind that this site is working as Q&A - not intended for free form tutorials.
    – guntbert
    Feb 21, 2014 at 20:06
  • 3
    That's the thing. AskUbuntu provides tutorials, but I could not find an easy way to put one. And since I wanted to share my hard work with anyone that could benefit, I decided just to post that here.
    – rub
    Feb 21, 2014 at 20:40
  • 4
    Voting to reopen so that we can split this into a Q&A
    – muru
    Aug 27, 2015 at 0:57

2 Answers 2


The alternative - LVM Snapshots - You can read about LVM snapshots here: http://www.tutonics.com/2012/12/lvm-guide-part-2-snapshots.html

In short - snapshots are a way of freezing the used sectors on the HardDisk, telling the system to write any change/delete/add on a reserved part of the HardDisk, called a snapshot volume, thus postpone the decision of keeping/discarding the changes on the drive to some future time, as far as the snapshot volume space provides. And so, once you decide to rollback the changes (or keep them), you can do it with one line.

It may seem complex at first, but I can assure you that after the first time effort, all that is needed to use the snapshot mechanism is just 2 line scripts (downloads provided!)

Warranty - No warranty what so ever is given for the instructions below. Use at your own risk!


If you don't have a pre-configured volume group, you will probably need to install a fresh clean Ubuntu. Then, you will have to put some effort into configuring the system correctly for the first time, but from this point on, snapshot will become effortless. And by effortless I mean one liner commands, using pre-configured scripts.

  1. Boot to the ubuntu live cd (no installation yet.. just the live cd)
  2. Open Accessories -> Terminal
  3. We will be clearing the hard drive! Please backup anything important before going through this stage.

    First, let's remove the existing partitions:

    # fdisk /dev/sda
      Enter 'd' to delete - enter for as many partitions you have 
    > d   
    > <enter>
      Enter 'w' to write down changes
    > w
  4. Create the boot partition and the rest of the drive as the other partition

    # fdisk /dev/sda
    > n
      To create a new partition.
    > p
      For Boot Primary partition.
    > 1
      Press <enter> to accept the default start sector.
    > +512M
      To give the boot partition a size of 512MB
    > n
      To create (another) new partition.
    > p
      Should be Primary too.
    > <enter> 
      To accept the default value of 2 (the second partition)
    > <enter>
      To accept the default start sector
    > <enter>
      To accept the whole disk
    > t
      To change the type of the second partition to LVM
    > 2
      To choose the second partition
    > 8e
      To set the type to 'LVM Linux'
    > w
      To write changes and exit.

    To check that the changes worked well run:

    # fdisk --list

    You should get something like this:

      Device     Boot   Start    End        Blocks     Id   System
      /dev/sda1         2048     524287     261120     83   Linux
      /dev/sda2         524288   488397167  243936440  8e   Linux LVM
  5. Remove any previous volume groups / logical volumes:

    # lvdisplay 

    Will display the logical volumes you may have on the system

    # lvremove <existing_logical_volume_name>

    If any volume install that may interfere with this installation need be removed.

    # vgdisplay 

    Will show any existing volume group on the system

    # vgremove <existing_volume_group>

    Same as for the volume groups..

  6. Create the Volume Group 'vgsnap'

    # vgcreate vgsnap /dev/sda2

    Should result with:

      Volume group "vgsnap" successfully created
  7. Create the Logical Volume

    # lvcreate --extents 100%FREE --name lvroot vgsnap

    The root logical volume, starting with 100% of device.

    # lvresize --size -30G /dev/mapper/vgsnap-lvroot

    This will take off 30G for swap & snapshot volumes. Of course - you can choose smaller sizes for the swap/snapshot.

    > 'y'
      for the warning shown.

    And create the swap volume:

    # lvcreate --size 15G --name lvswap vgsnap

    Note: we leave now 15G of unused drive space, reserved for the future snapshot.

  8. Installing Ubuntu

    Close the terimnal and start the Installer.

    Choose "Use LVM..." (You may also choose to enable whole disk encryption - but I didn't test it..)

    Select "Something Else" and press continue. At this stage you will find allot of /dev/mapper/... volumes defined. Some of these are auto generated (lvsnap-*) - you can ignore them for now.

    Select: /dev/mapper/vgsnap-lvroot volume. Choose "ext4" as format, and mount as '/'

    Select: /dev/mapper/vgsnap-lvswap volume, and choose "swap area"

    If you are to create an encrypted drive (I have no clue if that would work with the snapshots?), you will probably want to select the /dev/sda2 and mark the "volume for encryption". Didn't test it though..

    Note: The unused 15G are left free for the snapshot volume.

    Select: /dev/sda1 partition. Format it as 'ext2' and mount it as '/boot'

    Below - choose: /dev/sda1 partition as boot


Using the snapshot

The following steps will show how to use the snapshot at any given time:

  1. Mounting the snapshot:

    Create the snapshot volume

    # lvcreate --size 15G --snapshot --name lvsnap /dev/mapper/vgsnap-lvroot

    Create the mount directory

    # mkdir /mnt/vgsnap-lvsnap

    Mount the snapshot as read-only mount

    # mount -o ro /dev/vgsnap/lvsnap  /mnt/vgsnap-lvsnap

    Snapshot is On!

    At this point you may start messing up your system, installing beta drivers, and even (No! That's just inappropriate).

    From now on you may at any time (as far as the snapshot size provides..) return to previous state, or, if satisfied with the new look - keep it.

  2. Automatic snapshot volume free disk space monitoring: Using a tweaked version of the script provided here: http://blog.rimuhosting.com/2012/02/20/cron-script-for-checking-disk-space/ I created monitor_snapshot script.

    How to use/install it? - Pretty much as with the link above:

    # cd /etc/cron.hourly
    # copy /home/<user>/Downloads/monitor_snapshot
    # chmod +x monitor_snapshot

    Before running it for the first time you better edit the values in it, such as your email address (where the notifications are to be sent, etc..) If properly configured, the cron daemon will run the script every X hours/days - as you decide - and notify you once the snapshot is about to be full.

    To test the script run:

    # sh /etc/cron.hourly/monitor_snapshot

    It will print the percentage (number) of free space in the snapshot.

    Important! Once you're done with your tests/installations - rollback or keep changes - and Umount the snapshot!

  3. Rolling back changes: (See rollback_snapshot script, with the following instructions in it, link at the end of document)

    # lvconvert --merge /dev/vgsnap/lvsnap

    This will also umount the snapshot, but will discard any of your changes. Also - You will see a warning that suggest that the revert will only occur next activation, so:

    # reboot

    Note: If you skip merging in, your changes shall be committed once you Umount the snapshot.

  4. Committing changes - umounting the snapshot: (See commit_snapshot script, with the following instructions in it - link at the end of document)

    # umount /mnt/vgsnap-lvsnap
      Will unmount (commit0 the snapshot
    # lvremove /dev/mapper/vgsnap-lvsnap
    # rm -rf /mnt/vgsnap-lvsnap/
    # rm /etc/cron.hourly/monitor_snapshot
      Remove the cron daemon script (that is unused)
  5. Re-mounting the snapshot: (See remount script, with the following instructions in it - link at the end of document) Pretty much as before:

    # lvcreate --size 15G --snapshot --name lvsnap /dev/mapper/vgsnap-lvroot
    # mkdir /mnt/vgsnap-lvsnap
    # mount -o ro /dev/vgsnap/lvsnap /mnt/vgsnap-lvsnap

    If you saved the monitor_snapshot at your home dir you can restore it back:

    # cp /home/<user>/monitor_snapshot /etc/cron.hourly/
    # chmod +x /etc/cron.hourly/monitor_snapshot

That's all folks! Following instructions are for quitters only ;)

  1. Discarding the snapshot volume (If no longer required)

    # rmdir /mnt/vgsnap-lvsnap
    # lvremove /dev/vgsnap/lvsnap

    (You might also want to resize the root partition or swap to occupy the missing 15G reserved for swap)

  2. Discarding the volume group - Possible only by removing the volume group's volumes, which probably means deleting the OS installation. But of course, there's no real need to remove the volume group...

    To remove the volume group:

    # vgremove vgsnap

Important Note! - formatting / running fdisk and removing all partitions will NOT remove the volumes nor the group, as these are written on a different part of the drive... So, just use the remove instructions given above and remove the volumes and group if required.

  • Thanks a lot for these detailed instructions... wow.
    – lucasart
    May 17, 2019 at 2:46
  • This is an amazing answer, would have upvoted twice if I could! Just a note, the scripts linked aren't available anymore
    – Nico
    Dec 28, 2021 at 8:43

Creating a cronjob for doing backup by using the lvcreate -s -L <size> -n <snapshot_name> <volume_name>

Here volume name is the name of the volume whose snapshot you want to take. For further details you can also go through this tutorial

  • 1
    Nice guide! Note however, that my intentions where to provide a means to backup without a backup media. As a form of lazy backup. At the old days this was a life saver, with Norton GoBack and Windows 2000 :) I used to really mess up with the systems I worked on, and being able to count on that I can revert my mistakes in no-time was a breeze! Backups are probably the right way to go on a real server, but for a workstation not put on a VMWare/VirtualBox (which provide snapshots externally) I believe snapshots are the way to go.
    – rub
    Oct 3, 2015 at 7:58

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