Creating Consistent EBS Snapshots with MySQL and XFS on EC2

In the article Running MySQL on Amazon EC2 with Elastic Block Store I describe the principles involved in using EBS on EC2. Though originally published in 2008, it is still relevant today and is worth reviewing to get context for this article.

In the above tutorial, I included a sample script which followed the basic instructions in the article to initiate EBS snapshots of an XFS file system containing a MySQL database. For the most part this script worked for basic installations with low volume.

Over the last year as I and my co-workers have been using this code in production systems, we identified a number of ways it could be improved. Or, put another way, some serious issues came up when the idealistic world view of the original simplistic script met the complexities which can and do arise in the brutal real world.

We gradually improved the code over the course of the year, until the point where it has been running smoothly on production systems with no serious issues. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t any areas left for improvement, but does seem like it’s ready for the general public to give it a try.

The name of the new program is ec2-consistent-snapshot.


Here are some of the ways in which the ec2-consistent-snapshot program has improved over the original:

  • Command line options for passing in AWS keys, MySQL access information, and more.

  • Can be run with or without a MySQL database on the file system. This lets you use the command to initiate snapshots for any EBS volume.

  • Can be used with or without XFS file systems, though if you don’t use XFS, you run the risk of not having a consistent file system on EBS volume restore.

  • Instead of using the painfully slow ec2-create-snapshot command written in Java, this Perl program accesses the EC2 API directly with orders of magnitude speed improvement.

  • A preliminary FLUSH is performed on the MySQL database before the FLUSH WITH READ LOCK. This preparation reduces the total time the tables are locked.

  • A preliminary sync is performed on the XFS file system before the xfs_freeze. This preparation reduces the total time the file system is locked.

  • The MySQL LOCK now has timeouts and retries around it. This prevents horrible blocking interactions between the database lock, long running queries, and normal transactions. The length of the timeout and the number of retries are configurable with command line options.

  • The MySQL FLUSH is done in such a way that the statement does not propagate through to slave databases, negatively impacting their performance and/or causing negative blocking interactions with long running queries.

  • Cleans up MySQL and XFS locks if it is interrupted, if a timeout happens, or if other errors occur. This prevents a number of serious locking issues when things go wrong with the environment or EC2 API.

  • Can snapshot EBS volumes in a region other than the default (e.g., eu-west-1).

  • Can initiate snapshots of multiple EBS volumes at the same time while everything is consistently locked. This has been used to create consistent snapshots of RAIDed EBS volumes.


On Ubuntu, you can install the ec2-consistent-snapshot package using the new Alestic PPA (personal package archive) hosted on Here are the steps to set up access to packages in the Alestic PPA and install the software package and its dependencies:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:alestic &&
sudo apt-get update &&
sudo apt-get install -y ec2-consistent-snapshot

Now you can read the documentation using:

man ec2-consistent-snapshot

and run the ec2-consistent-snapshot command itself.


If you find any problems with ec2-consistent-snapshot, please create bug reports in launchpad. The same mechanism can be used to submit ideas for improvement, which are especially welcomed if you include a patch.

Other questions and feedback are accepted in the comments section for this article. If you’re reading this on a planet, please click through on the title to read the comments.

[Update 2011-02-09: Simplify install instructions to not require use of CPAN.]