How To Image SUSE Linux Systems Using ``tbku``
This document describes how to use the TundraWare Inc. ``tbku``
utility to "image" or "clone" SUSE Linux systems.
It's worth noting that most/much of this will also be relevant to
other Linux distributions, though some of the fine points may be
What follows is a description of activities that can (and
will) clobber the contents of a hard drive. Never do any
of this until you understand what's going on fully.
Obviously, you should have backups of whatever machine
you're targeting so that if (when) you make a mistake, you
can recover your data. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED! If you
proceed, you do so at your own risk ... and no, I will
*not* come to your house and help you recover your hard
Why Bother Imaging?
Suppose we need to build a new instance of a ``SUSE Linux`` system.
Perhaps we need to replace one that just had a hard drive failure.
Maybe we want to build a new server that is based on our "standard"
system configuration. In other words, we want to go from "bare metal"
hardware to a fully running *and configured* system as quickly as
There are a number of commercial and open source solutions to this
problem, but they all have one thing in common: We want to minimize
the amount of manual labor needed to install, configure, and otherwise
customize the final system. This is especially important in large
data centers where it is impractical to manually (re)install each and
every server, its applications, and its customization information.
"Imaging" or "Cloning" allows us to keep a copy of the entire OS *as
configured* - that means with all its applications and configuration
options set up as desired. We then load or "Provision" a new hard
drive with this image and *voila'*, "instant" running system.
When Does Imaging NOT Make Sense?
Imaging works best when the system you are targeting is very similar
or identical to the system that made the image in the first place.
For example, Imaging is a great way to restore a single machine from
its own backups - say after a hard disk crash or upgrade.
Imaging is more complex when the source of the image and the target
machines are different. The more different they are, the harder it
will be to get the image running on the new target machine.
As a practical matter, production Data Centers tend to keep a separate
restore image around *for each different system variant*. So, for
example, you might find a separate image for IBM web servers, IBM
applications servers, Dell database servers, Toshiba laptops, and so
Imaging may- or may not make sense when initially installing a new
configuration. Say you have a system that is a web server, but you
now want to build a separate machine that is a database server.
Typically, you would initially install SUSE Linux with the
installation disk, configure the database and *then* create a system
image of your database server. However, this is kind of time
consuming (unless you already have an ``AutoYAST`` configuration ready
to go). It may be simpler to image the target machine with your web
server image, boot it, reconfigure it as a database server, and then
take an image of your newly configured server for future
What Is ``tbku``?
``tbku`` is a shell script that makes it easy to create tarballs of
some of all of your filesystems. ``tbku`` does not help you with
*restoring* your image, it's just handy for creating the image in the
If you've never used it before, take a moment to download it and read
the documentation. You'll find the latest copy at:
There is no fee for using ``tbku`` in any context, personal or
commercial. However, there are some licensing terms you have to abide
by to use it, so take a moment to read the license in the distribution
You don't *have* to use ``tbku`` to create your backup
image. The description below should work fine so long
as you have a backup of all the relevant files that
preserves all the appropriate file information such as
ownership and permissions. ``tbku`` just makes it easy
to automate the creation of such backups.
The Big Picture
Before diving into the details, it's good to get a sense of the
overall process. Imaging a system requires the following steps:
A. Create the master image:
- Create a baseline system configured as you want it.
- Take an "image" of it. (That's where ``tbku`` is helpful.)
- Save the image somewhere (DVD, USB drive, network drive ...)
you can get at when you need it to (re)install a system.
B. Use the master image to (re)provision a machine:
- Prepare the target hard disk to receive the image.
- Dump the image onto the hard disk.
- Adjust the configuration if/as needed for the new hardware.
Creating The Master Image
Unlike other approaches that make an image of *the disk*, ``tbku``
creates an image of *files* on the disk. This means that your new
target disk does not have to be physically the same as the one on
which the master image (sometimes called a "snapshot") was made. You
can clone systems back and forth between SCSI, IDE, and SATA. You can
clone from smaller disks to larger ones or go the other way.
The whole point of imaging is to avoid having to do
custom configuration for each new installation.
However, some configuration changes may be necessary
when the target environment or hardware is different
than the system on which the master image was created.
This is discussed a bit more below in the `Gotchas`_
Creating The Master Image
1. Select the machine whose existing SUSE Linux installation
you want preserved or used as a standard installation image.
2. Image that system with ``tbku`` using the following
Notice that we do *not* backup the dynamic kernel-created
filesystems like ``/dev`` or ``/proc``, nor do we backup
utility mountpoints like ``/mnt`` or ``/tmp``.
Also, if you have ``tbku`` writing your backup to the local
disk, make sure that directory is *not* included in the
fileset. Doing so would create a recursive backup wherein
the backup would be copied to itself.
The exact fileset you use will vary somewhat depending on
how you've laid out your directory tree and just what you
want included in your image. Use the fileset above as a
point of departure, and tune it for your exact needs.
3. Save the resulting ``.tar.gz`` (tarball) file somewhere
it can be retrieved later when you want to image another
machine. This can be a network server, a USB drive,
a DVD or whatever makes sense in your environment. As
with all backup systems, it's pretty important to make
multiple copies of the backup image, and keep a couple
of them off-site.
Provisioning With The Master Image
Now that we have a "snapshot" or master image, we can use it to
Provisioning Machines With A Master Image
1. Boot the SUSE Linux installation disk and load the
2. Now we have to prepare the disk to receive a Linux
filesystem. The example below assumes we are installing on
``/dev/hda`` - a PATA master on the first IDE controller -
but that the image came from a system that boots from the
first SCSI drive, ``/dev/sda``. Keep in mind you can do
what follows with any of the drives on your system. Just
substitute the device names as appropriate::
# Partition the drive:
# Delete and create partitions as you like
# Make sure the partition that will mount /
# is toggled to be bootable
# Be sure to use the 'write' option before exiting
# Suppose you end up with this:
# /dev/hda1 is for swap (type 82)
# /dev/hda2 is for your filesystem (type 83)
mount /dev/hda2 /mnt
# Now, let's create the top level directories that that
# were not backed up and/or will be used by the kernel
# for its own filesystems:
mkdir dev media mnt proc sys tmp
# Now it's time to mount your backup medium. Depending
# on your backup medium this can be one of several
# devices. CD/DVDs are often found at /dev/hdc. USB
# drives show up as SCSI drives such as /dev/sda1, and
# so on. You'll also need to know the type of the
# backup medium (see: man mount for the details):
mount -tvfat /dev/sda1 /mnt/mnt # This is a USB drive
# OK, time to dump the image previously created by tbku
# onto our shiny new filesystem (make sure your current
# directory is still /mnt before doing this):
tar -xzvf mnt/my-system-image.tar.gz
# Now we have to make sure that the boot tables and
# default file mounts are correct - Our target system
# may have a different drive type or device (SCSI, SATA,
# PATA) than the system from which tbku took the image:
# We need to make sure that things are mounted to
# reflect the partitioning you did with fdisk. This is
# done by editing:
# Remember that drives can be named by device name
# (/dev/xxxx) or by the drive id name (/dev/disk/by-id/xxxx).
# In our case the relevant portion of /mnt/etc/fstab
# looks like this:
/dev/sda1 swap swap defaults 0 0
/dev/sda2 / reiserfs acl,user_xattr 1 1
# But now it needs to look like this:
/dev/hda1 swap swap defaults 0 0
/dev/hda2 / reiserfs acl,user_xattr 1 1
# Be sure not to disturb the other stuff in the fstab
# file, or at least make sure it still makes sense.
# Now, check and fix the device map file:
# Since we took the tbku image from a system that boots
# from SCSI, the file looks like this:
# But our new system wants to boot from PATA so it
# now needs to look like this:
# We also have to correct any differences in the boot
# menu that appears when you first start the system.
# This is in:
# Near the top of this file you'll see something like
# hd0 is right - we made sure of that when we edited
# the map file above. Make sure that the offset (1 in
# this case) is also right. This is the number,
# *counting from 0* of the root/boot partition within that
# drive. In our case, (hd0,1) is correct because our
# root/boot partition is /dev/hda2.
# Following this are the individual menu entries.
# Make sure you check each line of every entry.
# Suppose we find this:
title SLED 10 - 220.127.116.11-0.2.5
kernel /boot/vmlinuz-18.104.22.168-0.2.5-default root=/dev/sda2
resume=/dev/sda1 splash=silent showopts
# As with the previous gfxmenu statement, make sure
# root (hd0,1) is right.
# All references to /dev/sda2 have to be changed to /dev/hda2
# All references to /dev/sda1 have to be changed to /dev/hda1
# Repeat this for every menu entry.
# Finally, let's make sure that the boot loader is
# properly installed and configured:
grub-install --root-directory=/mnt /dev/hda
We're DONE! Well ... maybe. If the environment or hardware of your
target machine is similar/same as the machine from which you took the
original image OR if the kernel you plan to boot has support for your
new target hardware, you should just be able to boot and run at this
point. If not, read the following `Gotchas`_ section for further
This may all seem complex the first time you do it, but after a couple
of times, you'll be able to do this in your sleep. This is one of
those things where describing it is more complicated than just doing
Depending on how large your backup image is, a complete system restore
can typically be done in less than an hour. That's less than an hour
to a *completely configured system* with all your applications, custom
configuration, and so on as you last left them.
If you use the approach described above to reprovision the same
machine - say after a disk failure or disk upgrade - then that's all
you have to do. Your "target" machine is essentially identical to the
one from which you got the backup image ... the same machine.
However, there are circumstances where you cannot avoid doing some
configuration on the newly provisioned machine. This is the case
where there is a significant difference between the machine that took
the snapshot and the machine receiving it. This might be because the
target machine has different hardware, needs a different IP address,
uses a different chipset, and so on.
There is no general way to solve these sorts of problems. You'll have
to dig through ``YAST`` (if the system boots at all) and/or the individual
configuration tools to correct things.
Imaging is not the answer to every new installation
problem. At some point, it becomes simpler to
do a fresh install of SUSE Linux than to try
and "tweak" an existing image to get it running
As a personal preference, I like to work directly with configuration
files from the command line whenever I can. If the target machine
will not boot, you sort of have no other choice. You'll have to do
something like this to get to those files to edit them. Boot the
installation CD and select ``Rescue System``, then mount the target
mount /dev/hda2 /mnt
You can then edit the files found under ``/mnt``.
What Problems Can I Expect?
So, you've decided to image a machine that is somehow different
than the original source of the image. Here's what you'll
A. Environmental Differences
Your newly imaged machine may work fine except that its
environment needs to change. The most common thing here is
the need to reconfigure the NIC with new network parameters
like IP address, netmask, DNS server, default route, and
so on. Similarly, you may want to change the machine
name or domain name.
This is all easily done via ``YAST`` or by editing the relevant
configuration files directly. Keep in mind that changing the
OS environment may also require changes in your applications'
configuration. For instance, changing your machine name, IP,
and so forth can break Apache.
B. Different Hardware
This is the tougher situation to handle after a machine
has been newly imaged. Modern SUSE Linux kernels come with
enough standard driver support built-in that they should
boot on most standard hardware ... unless you've hand
tuned the kernel on the machine where the image was taken.
However "booting" and "running properly" are two different
things. In the process of preparing this documentation, I
discovered that my newly imaged test machine *refused* to set
the PATA drive into UDMA modes 5/6. Why? Because the machine
used to create the original image had an older (different)
chipset than the newly imaged machine. I had to figure out
which additional drivers the kernel needed to load for it
to work properly on the new hardware.
Hardware differences show up in a number of places:
1. CPU Architecture
If you built your image on a machine that is configured
exclusively to run, say, on Xeon chipsets, and then try
to image another machine with a Pentium 4, um ... it's
not going to work. The kernels in your image have to be
compatible with the CPU architecture on your target
2. Motherboard Chipset
Motherboards have so-called "Northbridge" and
"Southbridge" chipsets. The Northbridge chip(s) control
memory and high speed graphics (like AGP). The
Southbridge chip(s) control the slower I/O functions and
peripherals of the motherboard. If the machine you're
imaging uses wildly different chipsets than the machine
where the image was taken, you're going to probably have
This was the case in the example above. By default, SUSE
Linux could boot IDE in its slowest possible mode, but
it could not exploit the higher speed UDMA features
of the new Southbridge chipset - that required the
installation of a driver specific for that chipset.
If you have different Southbridges, you'll run into this
with any of the on-board controllers:
3. Peripheral Cards
If your newly imaged machine has different PCI and/or
video cards than the machine that produced the image,
you may, again, have to install additional or different
Let's assume you can boot your machine fine, but you need to get
additional or different drivers to load for the machine to run
optimally. The kernel configuration is in this file::
In that file, you'll see a line something like this::
INITRD_MODULES="piix aic7xxx processor thermal fan reiserfs edd"
Now, suppose we want to add the drivers for, say, a VIA chipset.
We'd edit that line as follows::
INITRD_MODULES="piix aic7xxx sata_via via82cxxx processor thermal fan reiserfs edd"
Then we have to create a new ``initrd`` like this::
Now unmount the drive and reboot.
If you *cannot* boot your new system, boot the
installation CD as before and get into the ``Rescue
System``. Mount the target drive under ``/mnt`` as we
did previously. This will allow you to edit
``/mnt/etc/sysconfig/kernel`` as needed. You can then
run ``mkinitrd`` with options to write the updated file
onto your target drive. See ``man mkinitrd`` for the
The trick here is know *which* drivers you'll need. That's going
to take some digging on your part. Generally, you'll find
the compiled driver modules under::
But, it's going to be up to you to figure out which of these your
particular hardware actually needs.
In the end, unless the differences in source and target hardware are
fairly small/simple, you're typically better off to do a new
installation for each class of hardware you run, and create separate
image for each of them.
Tim Daneliuk - email@example.com
Comments and/or improvements welcome!
Several of Novell's terrific Dedicated Support Engineers answered my
(often stupid) questions. These guys know SUSE Linux inside out and
were most generous with their time and advice. Anything you see here
that's right is probably mostly due to them. Anything that's wrong is
likely my malfunction. In any case, I owe Aaron Gresko and Jared
Hudson a big "Thanks!" for their help.
This document was produced using the very useful ``reStructuredText``
tools in the ``docutils`` package. For more information, see:
This document is Copyright (c) 2008, TundraWare Inc., Des Plaines, IL
Permission is hereby given to freely distribute, copy, or otherwise
disseminate this document without charge, so long as you do so without
modifying it in any way.
``$Id: Imaging-SUSE-Linux-With-tbku.txt,v 1.116 2008/03/17 17:33:01 tundra Exp $``