Operating systems

DIY: Create a distribution or backup of your Debian-based desktop/server

Jack Wallen thinks Remastersys should be one of your go-to tools if you have a production environment where Linux is deployed as servers or desktops.

If you have a desktop or server setup that you want to have a full backup of or wish you could easily clone, you can do so with software packages that cost upwards of $1,200. But if your business is working within the confines of a small budget and your machine runs a Debian-based platform, Remastersys is the tool for you. Remastersys can help you deploy multiple machines or even take a sandbox server and copy it onto production hardware.

With Remastersys, you can:

  • Make a full system backup (including personal data) to a live CD or DVD that you can use anywhere and install.
  • Make a distributable copy (without personal data) that you can use as an installation/live disk.

Once you master the ISO, you can install it on any machine that meets the original system requirements for the distribution (which varies by distribution and release).

The true beauty of Remastersys is it allows you to take a pre-existing Debian-based machine, get it set up the way you need it, and create a live distribution based on that setup. There is a 4 GB file single file size limitation set by genisomage; this means those full backups will have trouble if the compressed size does not fall under 4 GB. You might need to move multimedia files over to an external drive.

Let's install Remastersys on a Ubuntu 11.04 system, and then use it to create a distribution copy of the desktop/server. (There is a GUI for this tool, but since so many DIY users focus their Linux efforts on servers, I thought I'd stick with the command line.)

Installing Remastersys

First, you need to add Remastersys to the apt repositories. To do this, open the /etc/apt/sources.list file and add one of the following based on the distribution release you are using:

For Gutsy and Earlier - up to version 2.0.11-1:

# Remastersys

deb http://www.geekconnection.org/remastersys/repository remastersys/

For Hardy and Newer with original grub - version 2.0.12-1 and up:

# Remastersys

deb http://www.geekconnection.org/remastersys/repository ubuntu/

For Karmic with grub2 - version 2.0.13-1 and up:

# Remastersys

deb http://www.geekconnection.org/remastersys/repository karmic/

For Lucid and Newer - version 3.0.0-1 and up

# Remastersys for Lucid and newer:

deb http://www.remastersys.com/repository lucid/

Save that file and then issue these commands to install rRemastersys:

sudo apt-get update

sudo apt-get install remastersys

Once the installation is complete, it's time to start the process of creating the distribution that can be used to install a near-perfect clone on other machines. Remember, this will not have your personal data included on the disk, so anything in /home will be excluded. If you have other multi-media directories (housing numerous or large media files) outside of /home, this would be a good time to relocate those files to an external drive.

Before you run the command to create the ISO, you should update your desktop/server, and run sudo apt-get upgrade until there are no updates available to your system. Then remove any applications that are unnecessary to save room. I recommend moving any themes/images/wallpapers you want to make available to those who install the distribution by following these tips:

  • Move all background images you want available to /usr/share/backgrounds/.
  • Move all GDM themes you want available to /usr/share/gdm/themes/.
  • Move all other themes you want available to /usr/share/themes/.
  • Move all icons and cursors you want available to /usr/share/icons./

You can take a look at the /etc/remastersys.conf file and make changes to suit your distribution needs (such as naming the live CD, changing the live user name, etc.).

It's "go" time. Issue the commands:

sudo su

remastersys dist

The commands will take quite some time to run, so go get some coffee and eat a scone. Once it's done, you'll have an .iso file that can then be burned to a CD or DVD (depending upon the size).

If you want to make a full backup distribution of your system, you can run remastersys backup, and the resulting ISO will include user data. As long as you remember the 4 GB limit, you'll be okay.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

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