Btrfs snapshots and LXC

In my previous post I talked about LXC, which is a light-weight virtualization technology for Linux. One thing which LXC lacks is the ability to make snapshots. As the VM is running as a regular process in RAM, at the moment it’s not possible to just make a copy of the ram file, as it is in VMware etc…

So, in order to work around this, we’re only going to be taking snapshots of VM’s when they’re shutdown and we’re going to be making use of the Btrfs snapshot functionality.

First of all, we need to create a Btrfs filesystem. I assume that you have a spare drive or partition which you can use for this:

$ sudo mkfs.btrfs -L btrfs-test /dev/sda8 

WARNING! – see before using 

fs created label btrfs-test on /dev/sda8
nodesize 4096 leafsize 4096 sectorsize 4096 size 10.00GB 
Btrfs Btrfs v0.19

Now we can mount the filesystem:

$ sudo mount /dev/sda8 /lxc

Before we set about creating our VM’s, we’re going to create some “subvolumes”, which we’ll be able to snapshot. We’re going to use this feature of Btrfs to handle the snapshotting of our VM’s.

$ sudo btrfs subvolume create /lxc/vm0
Create subvolume ‘/lxc/vm0’

Now that we’ve done this, we can go ahead and create a VM using the template scripts, and configure it, as described in my previous post.

$ sudo /usr/lib/lxc/templates/lxc-ubuntu -p /lxc/vm0

Now that we’ve created a brand new VM, we’re going to create a snapshot of it’s “clean” state, so that we can roll back to it, should something go wrong. We do this by creating a snapshot called “clean” of the /lxc/vm0 subvolume.

$ cd /lxc/
$ sudo btrfs subvolume snapshot vm0 vm0-clean
Create a snapshot of ‘vm0’ in ‘./vm0-clean’
$ sudo btrfs subvolume list /lxc
ID 256 top level 5 path vm0
ID 258 top level 5 path vm0-clean

Now we can start the VM:

$ sudo lxc-start -n vm0 -f /lxc/vm0/config

And install/configure our software:

$ sudo apt-get install apache2 postgresql

Now, suppose that we’re humming along nicely, but then realise that we’ve made a mistake and installed apache2 instead of tomcat6 and postgresql instead of mysql-server and want to start over. All we would need to do is to delete the “vm0” subvolume and rename the “vm0-clean” directory to “vm0”:

$ sudo btrfs subvolume delete /lxc/vm0
Delete subvolume ‘/lxc/vm0’
$ sudo btrfs subvolume list /lxc
ID 258 top level 5 path vm0-clean
$ sudo mv vm0-clean vm0
$ sudo btrfs subvolume list /lxc
ID 258 top level 5 path vm0

Notice how the ID of the snapshot doesn’t change, even though we’ve renamed it.

Now, when we start up the VM, we can see that the “apache2” and “postgresql” packages haven’t been installed yet, because we’ve rolled our VM back to the original snapshot that we’ve taken.

Now, perhaps the scenario with installing the wrong packages isn’t that realistic (it would probably be easier to just remove the packages instead of rolling back the snapshots), however, this was just chosen to demonstrate the capabilities of the technology and you can probably imagine a scenario where a snapshot would be more useful. e.g. testing out a software upgrade, which you’re concerned might break some functionality.

NOTE: Another way of using snapshots is to mount them directly, by passing the “-o subvol=…” option at mount time, as described at:

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