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Moving linux install to a new computer


Moving or cloning a Linux installation is pretty easy, assuming the source and target processors are the same architecture (e.g. both x86, both x64, both arm…).


When moving, you have to take care of hardware dependencies. However most users won’t encounter any difficulty other than xorg.conf (and even then modern distributions tend not to need it) and perhaps the bootloader.

  • If the disk configuration is different, you may need to reconfigure the bootloader and filesystem tables (/etc/fstab, /etc/crypttab if you use cryptography, /etc/mdadm.conf if you use md RAID). For the bootloader, the easiest way is to pop the disk into the new machine, boot your distribution’s live CD/USB and use its bootloader reparation tool.

    Note that if you’re copying the data rather than physically moving the disk (for example because one or both systems dual boot with Windows), it’s faster and easier to copy whole partitions (with (G)Parted or dd).

  • If you have an xorg.conf file to declare display-related options (e.g. in relation with a proprietary driver), it will need to be modified if the target system has a different graphics card or a different monitor setup. You should also install the proprietary driver for the target system’s graphics card before moving, if applicable.

  • If you’ve declared module options or blacklists in /etc/modprobe.d, they may need to be adjusted for the target system.


Cloning an installation involves the same hardware-related issues as moving, but there are a few more things to take care of to give the new machine a new identity.

  • Edit /etc/hostname to give the new machine a new name.
    Search for other occurrences of the host name under /etc. Common locations are /etc/hosts (alias for and /etc/mailname or other mail system configuration.

  • Regenerate the ssh host key.

  • Make any necessary change to the networking configuration (such as a static IP address).

  • Change the UUID of RAID volumes (not necessary, but recommended to avoid confusion), e.g., mdadm -U uuid.

See also a step-by-step cloning guide targeted at Ubuntu.

My current desktop computer installation was cloned from its predecessor by unplugging one of two RAID-1 mirrored disks, moving it into the new computer, creating a RAID-1 volume on the already present disk, letting the mirror resynchronize, and making the changes outlined above where applicable.

I’m not sure if this answers your question, but typically you do the exact opposite — you move your user folder and reinstall everything. In theory all your customization and individual configuration files should be in your user folder, so that’s the only thing you really need to transfer

Some package managers have a way to list all installed packages (Debian/Ubuntu have dpkg --list, Gentoo has /etc/world, etc.), so you can just:

  1. Install the base distro on a new system
  2. Tell it “install all the packages I had on the other computer”
  3. Copy your user folder

And you should end up with a functionally identical system

Indeed while under Windows it is almost impossible to move an installation to a new PC by just copying harddrive contents or switching the harddrive between the PCs, this works amazingly well under Linux. I switched from a Thinkpad R52 to a Thinkpad T400 by just copying the contents of my old harddrive to the new one (by putting the old one in an external closure connected via USB and copying everything under a Gparted-Live-CD). All I had to do after that was manually putting Grub into the MBR and boot. Everything still worked for me.

As Michael said, normally a new PC is a nice opportunity to get rid of the cruft accumulated over time, however sometimes you just have to get into work again really fast and then just copying the harddrive contents work great with Linux, as all drivers included in the kernel are available to the kernel without installation, nowadays the drivers are auto-loaded instead of manually listed in modprobe.conf and even xorg autoconfigures itself for me.

Only if you had to manually configure drivers on the old PC (e.g. Raid systems, proprietary graphic drivers etc) you might run into problems.

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