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Clone your Ubuntu installation onto a new hard disk

By Keir Thomas

This article is excerpted from the newly published book Ubuntu Kung Fu and published with the express permission of the publisher, the Pragmatic Programmers, LLC.

Three things must be done. First, you must discover how Ubuntu refers to the hard disks. Second, you must install ddrescue and then use it to clone the disk. Third, once ddrescue has finished, you must use the Gparted utility to expand the disk partition(s) (assuming that the new disk is bigger than the old one, which is almost certainly going to be the reason for upgrading in the first place).

It's not a good idea to clone a hard disk that's in use (any more than it's a good idea to repair a car while it's being driven), so you must use your Ubuntu install CD's live distro mode. To carry out the following instructions, boot from your Ubuntu install CD, and select Try Ubuntu from the boot menu.

Note that all the following stages are carried out using the Ubuntu install CD's live distro mode. At no point in the process do you need to boot into your standard Ubuntu installation, apart from to test the cloned disk at the end.

Preparing to clone

Before starting, it's a good idea to do three things in preparation. First, back up all valuable personal files to CD/DVD-R/RW disc, a USB keystick, or an external hard disk. The instructions that follow involve drastic fundamental disk management and the possibility of data loss.

Second, it's a good idea to check the filesystem of the original hard disk for errors and possibly enact repairs. Ideally, you should check the Windows filesystem for errors too.

Third, remove any USB memory sticks, card readers, or other kinds of attachable storage, such as MP3 players or mobile phones. This will avoid confusion when partitioning.

After all this, open a terminal window, and type the command sudo fdisk -l, which will scan the hard disks and list their partitions. Here are the results from my test system:

Disk /dev/sda: 81.9 GB, 81964302336 bytes
255 heads, 63 sectors/track, 9964 cylinders
Units = cylinders of 16065 * 512 = 8225280 bytes
Disk identifier: 0x1c381c37
Device Boot Start End Blocks Id System
/dev/sda1 * 1 4742 38090083+ 7 HPFS/NTFS
/dev/sda2 4743 9964 41945715 5 Extended
/dev/sda5 4743 9744 40178533+ 83 Linux
/dev/sda6 9745 9964 1767118+ 82 Linux swap
/Solaris
Disk /dev/sdb: 120.0 GB, 120034123776 bytes
255 heads, 63 sectors/track, 14593 cylinders
Units = cylinders of 16065 * 512 = 8225280 bytes
Disk identifier: 0xb94838a4
Disk /dev/sdb doesn't contain a valid partition table

Two hard disks are listed in the results: look for the headings Disk /dev/sda and Disk /dev/sdb. Beneath each heading is technical information about the disk, and beneath that the partitions on that disk are listed.

It should be obvious that, on my test computer, /dev/sdb is the new hard disk because it has no partitions (it "doesn't contain a valid partition table"), while /dev/sda has the standard partition layout of an Ubuntu system. Yours will probably be similar, if not identical.

Look for the reference to your new hard disk and make a note of it. In my case, I make a note of /dev/sdb. Then type sudo cfdisk -z /dev/sdb to start the cfdisk partitioning program, which we'll use to write an initial partition table to the disk. If necessary, replace /dev/sdb with the details of the new hard disk you discovered earlier. When cfdisk starts, type W (note that's Shift+w) and then type yes to write a blank partition table. Then press q to quit cfdisk. You can ignore the handful of minor errors that are reported.

Cloning the disk

Now that we have this information, we can install ddrescue and use it to clone the disk. This needs to be installed because it isn't a default system tool. Although the computer is running the Ubuntu install CD live distro mode, it's still possible to install additional software from the online repositories. However, before doing this, it's necessary to enable the Universe software repository (of course, you will need to use NetworkManager to get online too, if you haven't already). Click System -> Administration -> Software Sources, and put a check in the box alongside Community-maintained Open Source software (universe). Then click the Close button, and agree to refresh the list of software when asked.

After this, type sudo apt-get install gddrescue at the prompt to install ddrescue.

Use ddrescue by first specifying the old hard disk, then the new hard disk. Add the -v command option to provide a status report as the command progresses:

$ sudo ddrescue -v /dev/sda /dev/sdb

It's extremely important that you ensure you get the old and new disks in the right order. Otherwise, you might well overwrite the data on your old disk!

Once the cloning has finished -- it will probably take an hour or more, depending on the size of the original hard disk -- you should shut down the computer, remove the old disk (you must disconnect the old disk before you can continue!), and boot from the cloned copy to test things. If you use Windows XP/Vista, it might object to a new hard disk as part of its Windows Genuine Advantage system, and you might have to revalidate online. Of course, Ubuntu will work fine without any such worries.

Assuming everything works correctly, you can move on to the next step: expanding the partitions to take advantage of the larger hard disk.

Expanding the partitions

Before attempting to expand the partitions, it's a good idea to check that your Ubuntu partition's filesystem is sound. To do this, boot into the Ubuntu install CD's live distro mode as before. Open a terminal window and type the command sudo fsck.ext3 -f /dev/sda5 to perform a disk check (assuming that Ubuntu is installed alongside Windows on your hard disk in the standard configuration).

Once this has completed, close the terminal window and click System -> Administration -> Partition Editor. What happens next depends on your requirements. If you just want to expand the Ubuntu partition, follow these steps:

  1. In the Partition list, right-click the linux-swap entry and select Swap off. This will stop Ubuntu's live distro mode from accessing the swap partition so that it can be moved on the hard disk.
  2. Before anything else can happen, you must resize the extended partition that contains Ubuntu. Right-click the extended entry in the list and select Resize/Move. In the dialog box that appears, change the Free Space Following (MiB) box to read 0, then press Tab. This will cause the partition to be expanded to fill the space. Click the Resize/Move button when done. Bear in mind that no changes are carried until you click the Apply button, which you will do after making all the changes to the disk's partitions.
  3. Right-click the linux-swap partition once again, and select Resize/Move. In the dialog box that appears, click and drag the graphical representation of the partition to the end of the free space (in other words, click and drag it to the right of the graphical display). After this, the Free Space Following (MiB) box should read 0. Click Resize/Move.
  4. Back in the main GParted program window, right-click the ext3 entry in the list, and select Resize/Move. Click and drag the rightmost edge of the partition in the graphical representation so that it "grows" to fill the free space. Eventually the Free Space Following (MiB) box will read 0. When this is the case, click the Resize/Move button.
  5. Finally, click the Apply button on the main GParted toolbar. Then click Apply in the dialog box that appears, and sit back and wait while the partitions are moved and resized. If you want to see what's happening, click the small arrow alongside Details in the Applying pending operations dialog box.
  6. When GParted has finished, close the program, then open a terminal window. Enter sudo fsck.ext3 -f /dev/sda5, which will once again check the Ubuntu partition for errors (and, again, these steps assume that Ubuntu is installed alongside Windows on your hard disk in the standard configuration). If there are any errors, you'll be prompted to repair them. Usually you can agree to the repair.

After the filesystem check, you can reboot your computer from the new hard disk. You should find the Ubuntu partition is now larger.

If you want to resize your Windows partition too, these steps are still relevant. However, you will have to move the swap and ext3 partitions, as well as the extended partition containing them, before resizing the NTFS partition.

If you want to dispose of the old hard disk or pass it on to somebody else, be sure to securely wipe it. However, don't do so until you're 100% sure your new cloned copy is working correctly. I usually wait at least a week or two to ensure the copy works fine before doing anything to the old disk.

 

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