How to clone existing KVM virtual machine images on Linux

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I wanted to clone my Debian or Ubuntu Linux KVM VM for testing purpose. How do I clone existing virtual machine images under KVM?

You can use a simple command named virt-clone. It is a command line utility for cloning existing virtual machine images using the “libvirt” hypervisor management library. It will copy the disk images of any existing virtual machine, and define a new guest with an identical virtual hardware configuration. Elements which require uniqueness will be updated to avoid a clash between old and new guests.

How to clone your VM and spawn new instances in KVM

The syntax is
# virt-clone --original {Domain-Vm-Name-Here} --auto-clone
# virt-clone --original {Domain-Vm-Name-Here} \
--name {New-Domain-Vm-Name-Here}


First VM/domain with devices to clone must be paused or shutoff. To gracefully shutdown a domain named ubuntu-box1, run:
$ sudo virsh shutdown ubuntu-box1
OR you can paused it as follows:
$ sudo virsh suspend ubuntu-box1
$ virsh list

Sample outputs:

Domain ubuntu-box1 suspended

 Id    Name                           State
 1     freebsd                        running
 5     ubuntu-box1                    paused

Let us generate a new guest name, and paths for new storage automatically for a vm called ubuntu-box1
$ sudo virt-clone --original ubuntu-box1 --auto-clone
Sample outputs:

WARNING  Setting the graphics device port to autoport, in order to avoid conflicting.
Allocating 'ubuntu-box-1-clone.qcow2'                                                              |  40 GB  00:00:04     

Clone 'ubuntu-box1-clone' created successfully.

The above command cloned the guest called “demo” on the default connection, auto generating a new name called ubuntu-box1-clone and disk clone path. You can start or resume original domain:
$ sudo virsh start ubuntu-box1
$ sudo virsh resume ubuntu-box1
Next, start ubuntu-box1-clone, enter:
$ sudo virsh start ubuntu-box1-clone
Verify it:
$ virsh list
My dhcpd server gave IP address to ubuntu-box1-clone VM, run:
$ ping -c2
Finally, ssh into the box:
$ ssh vivek@
Sample sessions:

Fig.01 virt-clone command cloned existing virtual machine images
Fig.01 virt-clone command cloned existing virtual machine images

Please note, virt-clone does not change anything inside the guest OS, it only duplicates disks and does host side changes. So things like changing passwords, changing static IP address, ssh-keys, hostnames etc are outside the scope of this tool. Once login using to cloned VM using ssh, you can change those:
$ ssh vivek@
$ sudo -s
# echo 'ubuntu-box1-clone' > /etc/hostname
# sed -i 's/ubuntu-box1/ubuntu-box1-clone/g' /etc/hosts
# reboot
# /bin/rm -v /etc/ssh/ssh_host_*
# dpkg-reconfigure openssh-server
# passwd vivek

You can use virt-sysprep instead of virt-clone if you need to clone the VM and make/reset anything inside the guest OS.

Posted by: Vivek Gite

The author is the creator of nixCraft and a seasoned sysadmin, DevOps engineer, and a trainer for the Linux operating system/Unix shell scripting. Get the latest tutorials on SysAdmin, Linux/Unix and open source topics via RSS/XML feed or weekly email newsletter.

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6 comment

  1. Very much interesting article
    Just wanted to clarify does this copy happens bit by bit copy considering data integrity
    Also does the clone data hash value remains same?

    1. 100% replica or clone as your VM was paused or shutdown. You can recover from bad install or mistakes such as rm -rf /bin/ easily.

  2. Getting error UUID mismatch between and , any idea why? I check libvirt.xml and the uuid’s match

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