Tip: Pack files into a new disk image

Note: This requires libguestfs ≥ 1.4

If files/ is a directory containing some files, you can create a new disk image populated with those files using the command below (virt-make-fs can also be used for this):

$ guestfish -N fs:ext2:400M -m /dev/sda1 tar-in <(tar -C files/ -cf - .) /


  1. guestfish -N fs:ext2:400M creates a prepared disk image which is 400MB in size with a single partition formatted as ext2. The new disk image is called test1.img.
  2. -m /dev/sda1 mounts the new filesystem when guestfish starts up.
  3. tar-in [...] / uploads and unpacks the tar file into the root directory of the mounted disk image.
  4. <(tar -C files/ -cf - .) is a bash process substitution which runs the tar command and supplies the output (ie. the tar file) as the input on the command line.

This is a quick way to create “appliances” using febootstrap and libguestfs, although you should note that I don’t think these appliances would really work, I just use them for testing our virtualization management tools, like the ability to detect and manage disk images:

$ febootstrap -i fedora-release -i bash -i setup -i coreutils fedora-13 f13
$ echo '/dev/sda1 / ext2 defaults 1 1' > fstab
$ febootstrap-install f13 fstab /etc 0644 root.root
$ febootstrap-minimize f13
$ guestfish -N fs:ext2:40M -m /dev/sda1 tar-in <(tar -C f13 -cf - .) /
$ guestfish --ro -i -a test1.img

Welcome to guestfish, the libguestfs filesystem interactive shell for
editing virtual machine filesystems.

Type: 'help' for a list of commands
      'man' to read the manual
      'quit' to quit the shell

Operating system: Fedora release 13 (Goddard)
/dev/vda1 mounted on /
><fs> cat /etc/fstab
/dev/sda1 / ext2 defaults 1 1


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6 responses to “Tip: Pack files into a new disk image

  1. Amadeus

    Sounds very useful! I am thinking in particular in backup/restore situations.

    I e.g. use BackupPC for backing up my KVM guests.

    Could guestfish now be used to create a bootable image?

    And could it be a LVM LV instead of a file?

    • rich

      Can guestfish be used for backups is a pretty common question. I should add it to the FAQ. The short answer is no. The longer answer is here:


      Also you shouldn’t use this to create appliances. Do it properly and use something like puppet and kickstart.

      And could it be a LVM LV instead of a file?

      Yes. The guestfish -N option can only create files, so it’s a (very little) bit more effort.

      • Amadeus

        I wasn’t thinking about using guestfish for the backup. My back ups are done correctly with BackupPC, so I was wondering if guestfish can create a bootable image, where I have restored a boot partition from BackupPC?

        About LVM:

        So you would let guestfish create the file, and use

        dd bs=1M if=/dev/zero of=/dev/vg_server1/vm10
        qemu-img convert ~/vm10.qcow2 -O raw /dev/vg_server1/vm10


      • rich

        Yes, guestfish should be able to create a bootable partition (eg. by installing grub or by copying in NTLDR/BOOTMGR). Why doesn’t BackupPC make your restored images bootable?

        To create an LV, you can do it directly (tested):

        tar -C files/ -cf files.tar .
        lvcreate -L 10G -n MyLV VG
        guestfish -a /dev/VG/MyLV <<EOF
          part-disk /dev/sda mbr
          mkfs ext2 /dev/sda1
          mount-options "" /dev/sda1 /
          tar-in files.tar /

        Unlike the plain file case, you need to run guestfish as root in this case (so that it can write to the LV). Note that /dev/sda* refers to the partition names on the disk image, inside the LV, not on the host.

  2. Amadeus

    About BackupPC: It uses rsync to do the backup and restore, so it is completely file based back up.

    Very cool script you gave me there! I am definitely going to try that tomorrow.

    How would you install grub?

    Right now I read device type from /etc/grub.conf and do:

    grub-install –recheck –root-directory=/ /dev/xvda
    grub –device-map=/dev/null –batch <<EOT
    device (hd0) /dev/xvda
    root (hd0,0)
    setup –stage2=/boot/grub/stage2 (hd0)

    Is there a better and perhaps automated way?

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