Gentoo Wiki


This article is part of the HOWTO series.
Installation Kernel & Hardware Networks Portage Software System X Server Gaming Non-x86 Emulators Misc


The goal of this article is to backup a Linux system to multiple DVDs.

Backing up to another drive is optimal as DVD's can become scratched, and some DVD's organic dye only last a couple years, but backing up to a DVD can be practical for extra security or if necessary.

Manual Backup

This process uses command line processes tar ( to compress the operating system ) and growisofs ( a wrapper for DVD implementation of mkisofs ) for the backup and restore.

One can either choose to do a partial-backup, or do a complete system backup.

Partial Backup

Doing a full system backup, often isn't required. Since most applications are often updated within a 6 month release cycle, backing up the entire system often isn't necessary.

To do a partial backup we'll just concentrate on the personal data, configuration files, and any additional programs also added besides what the portage ( or package manager ) has installed.

A good backup for most users needs:


# System-configs, /home

cd /
tar cvpzf backup-partial.tgz /boot /etc /usr/local/portage /home --exclude=/home/<USER>/.mozilla/firefox/*.default/Cache --exclude=/home/<USER>/.Trash --exclude=/home/<USER>/.local/share/Trash/files

This will backup the kernel and the grub files as well.

The user may also wish to add /opt here as well. Many installation program outside the package manager install here.

Full System Backup

Theoretically because all of Linux is just files, a full system backup is possible on a running system. For safety, this isn't the best idea as files can be changed while backing up, though most distros can do this though.

To be able to backup files safely in Gentoo, boot a from another system other than the system being backed up. Gentoo uses baselayout and symlinks to /dev, making this required. An Install CD, another computer, or separate OS that has access to the drive are all possibilities.

The Gentoo Minimum CD works nicely, but any install CD will do.

Tar works very well to limit the space used when burning the DVDs.

Start the Install-CD or other OS and in the console/terminal make a directory to mount the system we intend to save.

mkdir /mnt/gentoo

and mount it:

mount /dev/hda /mnt/gentoo

Now change to that drive/partition:

cd /mnt/gentoo

and compress it:

tar -czpvf Gentoo-Backup.tgz --exclude=sys --exclude=proc --exclude=var/tmp --exclude=mnt --exclude=media --exclude=lost+found --exclude=usr/portage --exclude=usr/src --exclude=var/log/portage --exclude=Gentoo-Backup.tgz *

Not everything needs to compressed here ( though it can be ). Excluded are the /sys and /proc filesystems which are virtual and repopulating systems, and also portage as it changes and needs updated often.

Breaking up a Backup

It will take a number DVD's depending on whats installed to backup the system.

Because UDF (the DVD file system) write support in Linux is in an alpha stage using ISO-9660 format here is better for dependability.

ISO-9660 has a file size limitation of 4 GiB so the files here will be split into 2 segments to fit well onto the DVD.

The archive can be broken up with tar or split.

With tar:

tar -c -M --tape-length=2294900 --file=Gentoo-Backup-part1.tar Gentoo-Backup.tgz

After the first segment, at the prompt specify new (n) and the next split file

n Gentoo-Backup-part2.tar
  • -c (create) and -M (multi-volume) breaks up the file.
  • --tape-length refers to Unix original days when they actually backed up to magnetic tapes on large reels. --tape-length is in 1024 bytes measurements ( or 1 computer kilo ).

With split:

split -b 2240m Gentoo-Backup.tgz GB
  • GB will be the prefix the split files start with.

For those that aren't familiar, DVD's marketing 4.7GB is in metric not binary. This makes the real ( binary ) number at 4.38GB of space on a DVD. So calculated right:

  • DVD - 4.7 GB (metric) = 4.38 GB (binary) = 4592762 x 1024 kB

This doesn't allow for overhead ( filesystem and tar's ) for that the value is reduced to 4589800. Since this size a file isn't allowed on a ISO-9660 filesystem it's split in two. ((2240 [bin MB] * 1024 [bin kB / bin MB]) = 2293764 [bin kB] < 2294900 [bin kB])

Note: 2240m requires UDF filesystem (files larger than 2GB) - To get Linux and Windows filesystem on dvd split further:

split -b 1120m Gentoo-Backup.tgz GB

Burning to DVD

Use growisofs to burn the DVD (this command has support for Rockridge extensions). To burn the compressed archives:

growisofs -Z /dev/dvd -lrJ /Gentoo-Backup-part1.tar /Gentoo-Backup-part2.tar

To try UDF support and large file sizes (untested):

growisofs -Z /dev/dvd -lrJ -udf -allow-limited-size /Gentoo-Backup-part1.tar

Briefly, Rockridge extension are ISO additions that allow:

  • Longer file names (up to 255 characters)
  • Fewer restrictions on characters allowed in filenames
  • UNIX-style file modes, user ids and group ids
  • Symbolic links
  • Deeper directory hierarchy

Backup Restore

Again Boot from the Install CD or other OS.

DVD only Device

If the only device available to restore from is the DVD, it is possible to eject the Gentoo Install CD and place a DVD in after the Installer is loaded.

Boot the Install CD with the '''gentoo docache''' option. When to command prompt is seen:

umount /mnt/cdrom

Place the DVD and mount it:

mount /dev/cdrom /mnt/cdrom
mount /dev/<drive-or-partition> /mnt/gentoo

Putting it Back Together

Make sure the drive or partition is formated first

mkfs.ext3 /dev/<drive-or-partition>
mkfs.reiserfs /dev/<drive-or-partition>

Putting it back together is similar to creating it.

If breaking up was done with tar:

tar -x -M --file=Gentoo-Backup-part1.tar Gentoo-Backup.tgz

Be sure to use the original filename of the original archive or tar will refuse to rebind them. Again you will have to name the next split file.

If breaking up was done with split:

cat GB* > Gentoo-Backup.tgz

Restore the full backup now:

sudo tar xvpfz Gentoo-Backup.tgz -C /

Automatic backup


You can also use the Mondo Rescue. It allows one to do a live backup the entire system to one or more bootable CD/DVD. You can boot from the CD/DVD and restore the entire system.

Last modified: Sun, 06 Jul 2008 12:35:00 +0000 Hits: 8,882