How to clone an installation : Ubuntu (5.10 / 6.06.1 / 6.10)

By | 2006/12/05

How many times have you reinstalled your machine? I know I long ago lost count. It isn’t that it is unreliable but, in my case, I often upgrade to new versions or reinstall to test things out. How nice would it be if you could clone your current installation and fairly easily reinstall to just about the same stage you were before you changed? This post will tell you how!

The first thing to remember is that Ubuntu uses the APT package management system which handles installed packages and their dependencies. If we can get a list of currently installed packages you can very easily duplicate exactly what you have installed now on a future machine. Below is a command you can use to export a list of your installed packages.

sudo dpkg --get-selections | grep '[[:space:]]install$=' \| awk '{print $1}' > package_list

update: (see comments) – the blog reformats the single-quotes around the parameters for grep & awk. Note that both should be the character on the quote key. Also, the “–get-selections” is a double-dash, although it doesn’t appear as such.

At this point you should end up with a file called “package_list” which consists of a long list of every package your currently have installed.

The next step would be to tell the clone machine to install each of those packages. You’ll have to copy that file to the clone machine (via network, usb drive, email, etc) and also make sure to duplicate the /etc/apt/sources.list file. Without the same access to repositories it may not be able to find the packages.

To tell your system to use the previously exported package list use the following command (after making sure to also clone your /etc/apt/sources.list file):

  1. sudo aptitude update
  2. cat package_list | xargs sudo aptitude install

Note: this should only be used between the same distribution and the same release version. Example, only use this to clone a 6.06.1 to 6.06.1 machine. You will run into problems in trying to clone from 6.06.1 to 6.10 or similar.

19 thoughts on “How to clone an installation : Ubuntu (5.10 / 6.06.1 / 6.10)

  1. Stefan

    Awesome tip!
    However, copy-pasting you code doesn’t work for two reasons:
    1) get-selections should have 2 leading dashes, not one.
    2) The params for grep and awk should be enclosed in single quotes.
    I guess your text editor automatically put open quote and close quote – two different symbols.

  2. Ubuntu Tutorials


    Thanks for the notice. I do see that the blog reformats the single quote. I’ll update the post to make notice of that.

  3. Miguel Guhlin

    Howdy! Thank you for sharing this tip. On my blog, I was trying to show how to backup an entire hard drive, partitions and all. Unfortunately, the process didn’t work for me…I ran out of disk space at around 311 megs even though dealing with a 120gig hard drive.

    Any suggestions for using dd to backup an entire hard drive? Or a better solution?


  4. Ubuntu Tutorials

    I in fact do have some other tips on backups 🙂

    Check out the ‘sbackup’ package which stands for Simple Backup. The backup config has some really good default settings & the backup restore is really easy to use!

  5. mark

    why don’t you use aptoncd for this it will be very simple one to clone all your packages

  6. roger

    this tip is copied from ubuntu hacks book

  7. Ubuntu Tutorials

    many of these tutorials are based on other resources–I don’t claim to have invented them. I just aim to create a central place to find easy to follow tutorials.

  8. fast_rizwaan

    dpkg –get-selections | grep ‘[[:space:]]install’ | awk ‘{print $1}’ > package_list2

  9. fast_rizwaan

    "dpkg --get-selections | grep '[[:space:]]install' | awk '{print $1}' > package_list2"

  10. Aaron Toponce


    And what’s your point? Making information available to millions, strengthening the community and providing resources to others that may not otherwise have them available.

    I’ve asked this before, and I’ll ask it again: what are YOU doing to help the Ubuntu community?

  11. Abhinay

    It is a Very useful command. Thanks for your tutorial.
    I have doubt,
    ” sudo dpkg –get-selections | awk ‘{print $1}’ ” and ” sudo dpkg –get-selections | grep ‘[[:space:]]install$’| awk ‘{print $1}’ ” does the same. then Why to use grep ?
    Thank you

  12. Ben_K

    OK. This copies off the packages, but what about the customized configuration files? Do we just try to clone /etc, and hope that gets everything, or is there a more sophisticated way to do it?

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  14. atif

    hello,i am the new user of ubuntu linux i have installed this but yet it is not being started.bcoz it ask for commands and i dont know about these commands. i installed the breezy

  15. Mike

    Hi UT,

    Great tutorial, thanks–but I can’t get it to run. I ran:

    sudo dpkg –get-selections | grep ‘[[:space:]]install$=’ \| awk ‘{print $1}’ > package_list grep: |:

    with the correct dashes & quotation marks as noted, but the output was:

    No such file or directory
    grep: awk: No such file or directory
    grep: {print $1}: No such file or directory

    Am I missing something?

    Also, since Sbackup is mentioned in the comments, I’ve been trying it. It behaves exactly as the tutorial describes except that it doesn’t back up–does nothing in fact.

    I’m running Ubuntu 6.06.2, kernel 2.6.15-51-686 on a 2.80GHz Pentium 4 CPU.

    Thanks in advance for any suggestions.

  16. udienz

    awesome article… but i use different method
    $ sudo dpkg –get-selections | grep ‘install$=’ | awk ‘{print $1}’ > package_list

  17. Luis Casamayou

    I find a simpler method

    sudo dpkg –get-seleccions > ubuntuSel.txt

    In te nuw system:
    sudo dpkg –get-selections < ubuntuSel.txt
    sudo aptitude install

  18. oatkinson

    Will this work going between 64bit 9.04 and 32bit 9.04?

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