System backup to DVD

The purpose of this article is to explain how to span large archives into multiple files. One would do this, for example, to store on numerous DVDs.


I had an occurrence where the only form of storage media I had were DVDs. It became necessary to create a full operating system backup and I was able to do so with the DVDs. (A system backup with DVDs is atypical because DVDs have dyes which have limited time usage.) The following explanation is for an Operating System multi-volume archive creation that can also be used on other large archives.

Operating System archive creation

From an Install CD I did my archive creation. Such an archive will nearly always need to be done from such an external operating system (a running operating system is always adding or editing files that necessitates using an external operating system).

My disk partitions I label according to the Operating System. The archive name I used begins with my hostname which is my computer model:

mkdir               /mnt/LABEL
mount /dev/disk/by-label/LABEL
cd                  /mnt/LABEL
archive_name=$HOSTNAME_$(date +%F)_DISTRO.tar.xz
tar cavf $archive_name .

Archive Multi-voluming

I can now divide the archive to multiple volumes. I do this so that they fit on a DVD. A few explanations first:

  • DVD storage capacity varies. For me I used a 4.7 Gigabyte DVD.
  • DVD storage capacity will likely need to be converted so a multi-volume file will fit on a DVD. DVD storage capacity is almost always calculated with metric prefixes (i.e. a base of 1000); however, typical computer numerology uses the binary prefixes a base of 1024. The metric 4.7 Gigabyte converted to binary is 4.37721 Gibibyte (GB to GiB conversion fraction: 1,000,000,000/[1024 x 1024 x 1024] = 0.9313226).
  • The UDF file system, typically used for DVD data storage, at the time of this writing was still experimental on Linux and I choose to use the ISO-9660 file system for reliability. However, this file system has a file size limit of four GiB. Since my writable DVDs had a capacity of 4.7 GB I had to split up the files to two per DVD. File system overhead also has to be factored in and I reduced 2.188608100 GiB to 2.188000 GiB.

There are two methods that typically do this:


I default to the split command because the open source philosophy “do one job and do it good”. It is easy to operate: -b/--bytes= is converted to Mebibytes and -d appends a numerical suffix. (Notice the period following to the second value.)

split -b 2240M -d HOSTNAME_DATE_DISTRO.tar.xz HOSTNAME_DATE_DISTRO.tar.xz.


tar can also do it. Gibibytes is converted to Kibibytes (1024 bits). To _c_reate a _L_ength-limited _M_ulti-volume archive:

tar -cML 2284284 -f HOSTNAME_DATE_DISTRO.tar.xz.00 HOSTNAME_DATE_DISTRO.tar.xz

The first multi-volume file will be created and then the name of the next file will be requested:

Prepare volume #2 for HOSTNAME_DATE_DISTRO.tar.xz.00

If the save location is in another location the path will need to be entered on every new entry (e.g. n /mnt/Backup/HOSTNAME_DATE_DISTRO.tar.xz.02).

DVD writing

I believe growisofs is a good way to do this:

growisofs -Z /dev/dvd -rJ HOSTNAME_DATE_DISTRO.tar.xz.{00,01}

Operating System archive restore

Boot from the Install CD, then:

mkdir /mnt/LABEL
mount /dev/dvd /mnt/dvd
mount /dev/disk/by-label/LABEL /mnt/LABEL

File system creation I am assuming is already done. To join the multi-volume archives (if done by split and tar respectively):


Then the archive will just need decompressing:

tar xvf HOSTNAME_DATE_DISTRO.tar.xz -C /mnt/LABEL

External links


One thought on “System backup to DVD

  1. Pingback: System backup to DVD | 0ddn1x: tricks with *nix

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