Fedora BTRFS+Snapper – The Fedora 24 Edition


In the past I have configured my personal computers to be able to snapshot and rollback the entire system. To do this I am leveraging the BTRFS filesystem, a tool called snapper, and a patched version of Fedora's grub2 package. The patches needed from grub2 come from the SUSE guys and are documented well in this git repo.

This setup is not new. I have fully documented the steps I took in the past for my Fedora 22 systems in two blog posts: part1 and part2. This is a condensed continuation of those posts for Fedora 24.

NOTE: I'm using Fedora 24 alpha, but everything should be the same for the released version of Fedora 24.

Setting up System with LUKS + LVM + BTRFS

The manual steps for setting up the system are detailed in the part1 blog post from Fedora 22. This time around I have created a script that will quickly configure the system with LUKS + LVM + BTRFS. The script will need to be run in an Anaconda environment just like the manual steps were done in part1 last time.

You can easily enable ssh access to your Anaconda booted machine by adding inst.sshd to the kernel command line arguments. After booting up you can scp the script over and then execute it to build the system. Please read over the script and modify it to your liking.

Alternatively, for an automated install I have embedded that same script into a kickstart file that you can use. The kickstart file doesn't really leverage Anaconda at all because it simply runs a %pre script and then reboots the box. It's basically like just telling Anaconda to run a bash script, but allows you to do it in an automated way. None of the kickstart directives at the top of the kickstart file actually get used.

Installing and Configuring Snapper

After the system has booted for the first time, let's configure the system for doing snapshots. I still want to be able to track how much size each snapshot has taken so I'll go ahead and enable quota support on BTRFS. I covered how to do this in a previous post:

[root@localhost ~]# btrfs quota enable /
[root@localhost ~]# btrfs qgroup show /
qgroupid         rfer         excl 
--------         ----         ---- 
0/5           1.08GiB      1.08GiB

Next up is installing/configuring snapper. I am also going to install the dnf plugin for snapper so that rpm transactions will automatically get snapshotted:

[root@localhost ~]# dnf install -y snapper python3-dnf-plugins-extras-snapper
[root@localhost ~]# snapper --config=root create-config /
[root@localhost ~]# snapper ls
Type   | # | Pre # | Date | User | Cleanup | Description | Userdata
single | 0 |       |      | root |         | current     |         
[root@localhost ~]# snapper list-configs
Config | Subvolume
root   | /        
[root@localhost ~]# btrfs subvolume list /
ID 259 gen 57 top level 5 path .snapshots

So we used the snapper command to create a configuration for BTRFS filesystem mounted at /. As part of this process we can see from the btrfs subvolume list / command that snapper also created a .snapshots subvolume. This subvolume will be used to house the COW snapshots that are taken of the system.

Next, we'll workaround a bug that is causing snapper to have the wrong SELinux context on the .snapshots directory:

[root@localhost ~]# restorecon -v /.snapshots/
restorecon reset /.snapshots context system_u:object_r:unlabeled_t:s0->system_u:object_r:snapperd_data_t:s0

Finally, we'll add an entry to fstab so that regardless of what subvolume we are actually booted in we will always be able to view the .snapshots subvolume and all nested subvolumes (snapshots):

[root@localhost ~]# echo '/dev/vgroot/lvroot /.snapshots btrfs subvol=.snapshots 0 0' >> /etc/fstab

Taking Snapshots

OK, now that we have snapper installed and the .snapshots subvolume in /etc/fstab we can start creating snapshots:

[root@localhost ~]# btrfs subvolume get-default /
[root@localhost ~]# snapper create --description "BigBang"
[root@localhost ~]# snapper ls
Type   | # | Pre # | Date                            | User | Cleanup | Description | Userdata
single | 0 |       |                                 | root |         | current     |         
single | 1 |       | Sat 23 Apr 2016 01:04:51 PM UTC | root |         | BigBang     |         
[root@localhost ~]# btrfs subvolume list /
ID 259 gen 64 top level 5 path .snapshots
ID 260 gen 64 top level 259 path .snapshots/1/snapshot
[root@localhost ~]# ls /.snapshots/1/snapshot/
bin  boot  dev  etc  home  lib  lib64  media  mnt  opt  proc  root  run  sbin  srv  sys  tmp  usr  var

We made our first snapshot called BigBang and then ran a btrfs subvolume list / to view that a new snapshot was actually created. Notice at the top of the output of the sections that we ran a btrfs subvolume get-default /. This outputs what the currently set default subvolume is for the BTRFS filesystem. Right now we are booted into the root subvolume but that will change as soon as we decide we want to use one of the snapshots for rollback.

Since we took a snapshot let's go ahead and make some changes to the system by updating the kernel:

[root@localhost ~]# dnf update -y kernel
[root@localhost ~]# rpm -q kernel
[root@localhost ~]# snapper ls
Type   | # | Pre # | Date                            | User | Cleanup | Description                   | Userdata
single | 0 |       |                                 | root |         | current                       |         
single | 1 |       | Sat 23 Apr 2016 01:04:51 PM UTC | root |         | BigBang                       |         
single | 2 |       | Sat 23 Apr 2016 01:08:18 PM UTC | root | number  | /usr/bin/dnf update -y kernel |

So we updated the kernel and the snapper dnf plugin automatically created a snapshot for us. Let's reboot the system and see if the new kernel boots properly:

[root@localhost ~]# reboot 
[dustymabe@media ~]$ ssh root@ 
Warning: Permanently added '' (ECDSA) to the list of known hosts.
root@'s password: 
Last login: Sat Apr 23 12:18:55 2016 from
[root@localhost ~]# 
[root@localhost ~]# uname -r

Rolling Back

Say we don't like that new kernel. Let's go back to the earlier snapshot we made:

[root@localhost ~]# snapper rollback 1
Creating read-only snapshot of current system. (Snapshot 3.)
Creating read-write snapshot of snapshot 1. (Snapshot 4.)
Setting default subvolume to snapshot 4.
[root@localhost ~]# reboot

snapper created a read-only snapshot of the current system and then a new read-write subvolume based on the snapshot we wanted to go back to. It then sets the default subvolume to be the newly created read-write subvolume. After reboot you'll be in the newly created read-write subvolume and exactly back in the state you system was in at the time the snapshot was created.

In our case, after reboot we should now be booted into snapshot 4 as indicated by the output of the snapper rollback command above and we should be able to inspect information about all of the snapshots on the system:

[root@localhost ~]# btrfs subvolume get-default /
ID 263 gen 87 top level 259 path .snapshots/4/snapshot
[root@localhost ~]# snapper ls
Type   | # | Pre # | Date                            | User | Cleanup | Description                   | Userdata
single | 0 |       |                                 | root |         | current                       |         
single | 1 |       | Sat 23 Apr 2016 01:04:51 PM UTC | root |         | BigBang                       |         
single | 2 |       | Sat 23 Apr 2016 01:08:18 PM UTC | root | number  | /usr/bin/dnf update -y kernel |         
single | 3 |       | Sat 23 Apr 2016 01:17:43 PM UTC | root |         |                               |         
single | 4 |       | Sat 23 Apr 2016 01:17:43 PM UTC | root |         |                               |         
[root@localhost ~]# ls /.snapshots/
1  2  3  4
[root@localhost ~]# btrfs subvolume list /
ID 259 gen 88 top level 5 path .snapshots
ID 260 gen 81 top level 259 path .snapshots/1/snapshot
ID 261 gen 70 top level 259 path .snapshots/2/snapshot
ID 262 gen 80 top level 259 path .snapshots/3/snapshot
ID 263 gen 88 top level 259 path .snapshots/4/snapshot

And the big test is to see if the change we made to the system was actually reverted:

[root@localhost ~]# uname -r
[root@localhost ~]# rpm -q kernel



11 Responses to “Fedora BTRFS+Snapper – The Fedora 24 Edition”

  • Hi great artical!

    Sorry if this is an idiotic question, but would there be anything prohibiting this set-up working with CentOS? I notice in your F22 article you say “In Fedora 22 the support for rollback was added” what is that referring to, snapper itself?

    I’m looking at building a new server and would very much like to use BTRFS, as a server I’m limited to an LTS distro.


    • Hi Dominic,

      The comment “In Fedora 22 the support for rollback was added” was referring to the commit at [1]. Look at the diff of the changelog where it says “enable rollback support”.

      As for trying this on CentOS, I have not tried this and I don’t think anyone else has since the snapper package isn’t in EPEL/CentOS. I encourage you to reach out to the centOS mailing lists and try to get a community for it if you think it is useful enough. As an alternative, depending on what you are doing, CentOS Atomic host might be something that would satisfy your needs.

      Thanks for reading.

      [1] – http://pkgs.fedoraproject.org/cgit/rpms/snapper.git/commit/?id=70a2c540593eff65d6db3c640e81b1abe9194d99

  • Hi, thanks a lot for this, I’m going to try it out! The script looks good, but I have a question (I might misunderstand). If I read correctly, you’re installing your modified grub to the MBR and telling grub to read the encrypted partiton /dev/sda1 (so /boot is encrypted). What if I want to install it on an EFI partition? Create an efi system partition on sda1, install grub there, and move the luks partition to sda2? Or would you recommend going legacy boot? Thanks a lot and sorry for the noob question!

    • Hey Kevin! I would recommend legacy boot rather than EFI since with legacy boot you have /boot included in the btrfs snapshots. This is the way I’m doing it for now.

  • I’ve been spending some more time on this and I really appreciate all the work, I think this setup is as good as it gets. One more thing though, is there any way to exclude /home from the Btrfs subvolume, perhaps by mounting it to another partition in the LVM? I don’t think I would ever like to rollback home. Suse does it this way as well I believe. Thoughts?

    • You can simply have home be a separate subvolume that doesn’t get included in the snapshots. You can do this by running something like `btrfs subvolume create home` and adding a line like `/dev/vgroot/lvroot /home btrfs subvol=home 0 0` to your /etc/fstab. Hope this works for you.

  • Hi. Excellent instruction, but the script for the installation does not work. When setting a password for root -“authentication token manipulation error”. How to fix this?
    Which distro Fedora do you use? Please give a link.

    • I’m not sure what problem you’re having. Please be more specific.

      For this post i was using Fedora 24 Server to bootstrap the system.

      • When call this command:
        echo -n $ROOTPASS | chroot /mnt/sysimage passwd –stdin root
        “authentication token manipulation error”

        Works only on the condition: if you put the right 600, and then open the file in vi and add a blank line:
        chroot /mnt/sysimage chmod 600 /etc/shadow
        chroot /mnt/sysimage vi /etc/shadow

        What is the cause of the error, I did not understand.

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