Taking Snapshots

OpenStack's snapshot mechanism allows you to create new images from running instances. This is a very convenient for upgrading base images or taking a published image and customizing for local use. To snapshot a running instance to an image using the CLI:

$ nova image-create <instance name or uuid> <name of new image>

The Dashboard interface for snapshots can be confusing because the Images & Snapshots page splits content up into:

  • Images

  • Instance snapshots

  • Volume snapshots

However, an instance snapshot is an image. The only difference between an image that you upload directly to glance and an image you create by snapshot is that an image created by snapshot has additional properties in the glance database. These properties are found in the image_properties table, and include:

name value




<uuid of instance that was snapshotted>


<uuid of original image of instance that was snapshotted>



 Ensuring snapshots are consistent

Content from Sébastien Han's OpenStack: Perform Consistent Snapshots blog entry (http://www.sebastien-han.fr/blog/2012/12/10/openstack-perform-consistent-snapshots/)

A snapshot captures the state of the file system, but not the state of the memory. Therefore, to ensure your snapshot contains the data that you want, before your snapshot you need to ensure that:

  • Running programs have written their contents to disk

  • The file system does not have any "dirty" buffers: where programs have issued the command to write to disk, but the operating system has not yet done the write

To ensure that important services have written their contents to disk (such as, databases), we recommend you read the documentation for those applications to determine what commands to issue to have them sync their contents to disk. If you are unsure how to do this, the safest approach is to simply stop these running services normally.

To deal with the "dirty" buffer issue, we recommend using the sync command before snapshotting:

# sync

Running sync writes dirty buffer (buffered block that have been modified but not written yet to the disk block) to disk.

Just running sync is not enough to ensure the file system is consistent. We recommend you use the fsfreeze tool, which halts new access to the file system and create a stable image on disk that is suitable for snapshotting. fsfreeze supports several file systems, including ext3, ext4, and XFS. If your virtual machine instance is running on Ubuntu, install the util-linux package to get fsfreeze:

# apt-get install util-linux

If your operating system doesn't have a version of fsfreeze available, you can use xfs_freeze instead, which is available on Ubuntu in the xfsprogs package. Despite the "xfs" in the name, xfs_freeze also works on ext3 and ext4 if you are using a Linux kernel version 2.6.29 or greater, since it works at the virtual file system (VFS) level starting at 2.6.29. xfs_freeze supports the same command-line arguments as fsfreeze.

Consider the example where you want to take a snapshot of a persistent block storage volume, detected by the guest operating system as /dev/vdb and mounted on /mnt. The fsfreeze command accepts 2 arguments:

  • -f: freeze the system

  • -u: thaw (un-freeze) the system

To freeze the volume in preparation for snapshotting, you would do, as root, inside of the instance:

# fsfreeze -f /mnt

You must mount the file system before you run the fsfreeze command.

When the "fsfreeze -f" command is issued, all ongoing transactions in the file system are allowed to complete, new write system calls are halted, and other calls which modify the file system are halted. Most importantly, all dirty data, metadata, and log information are written to disk.

Once the volume has been frozen, do not attempt to read from or write to the volume, as these operations hang. The operating system stops every I/O operation and any I/O attempts is delayed until the file system has been unfrozen.

Once you have issued the fsfreeze command, it is safe to perform the snapshot. For example, if your instance was named mon-instance, and you wanted to snapshot it to an image, named mon-snapshot, you could now run the following:

$ nova image-create mon-instance mon-snapshot

When the snapshot is done, you can thaw the file system with the following command, as root, inside of the instance:

# fsfreeze -u /mnt

If you want to backup the root files ystem, you can't simply do the command above because it will freeze the prompt. Instead, run the following one-liner, as root, inside of the instance:

# fsfreeze -f / && sleep 30 && fsfreeze -u /

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