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Copy an EBS AMI image to another Amazon EC2 Region

Since I’ve already created an image I liked in the us-west-1 region, I would like to reuse it in other regions. Turns out there is no mechanism within Amazon EC2 to do that. (See How do I launch an Amazon EBS volume from a snapshot across Regions?). I did find one post that talked a bit about how it can be done “out of band”. So I figured I would give that a try instead of doing a full recreation in the new region.

Prepare the Source Instance and Volume

Start an instance in the source region

Here I’ll start an instance in us-west-1a where I have the EBS image I want to copy. In this case I’ll use the image I want to copy, but it could be any image as long as its in the same region as the EBS AMI image that is to be copied. Though we are going to use the instance info to figure out some parameters for creating the new AMI. So if you don’t make the source instance the same AMI as the one you are copying you will need to supply some of the parameters yourself.

You can use a tool like ElasticFox to do the following creating of instances. Here we’ll do it with command line tools.

Set some Shell source variables on host machine

Just to make using these instructions as a cookbook, we’ll have some shell variables that you can set once and then all the instructions will use the variables so you can just cut and paste the instructions into your shell.


Start up the source instance and capture the instanceid

src_instanceid=$(ec2-run-instances \
  --key $src_keypair \
  --availability-zone $src_availability_zone \
  --instance-type $src_instance_type \
  $src_origin_ami \
  --region $src_region  | \
  egrep ^INSTANCE | cut -f2)
echo "src_instanceid=$src_instanceid"

# Wait for the instance to move to the “running” state
while src_public_fqdn=$(ec2-describe-instances --region $src_region "$src_instanceid" | \
  egrep ^INSTANCE | cut -f4) && test -z $src_public_fqdn; do echo -n .; sleep 1; done
echo src_public_fqdn=$src_public_fqdn

This should loop till you see something like:

$ echo src_public_fqdn=$src_public_fqdn

Create a volume from the EBS AMI snapshot

Normally when starting an EBS AMI instance, it automatically created a volume from the snapshot associated with the AMI. Here we create the volume from the snapshot ourselves

# Get the volume id
ec2-describe-instances --region $src_region "$src_instanceid" > /tmp/src_instance_info
src_volumeid=$(egrep ^BLOCKDEVICE /tmp/src_instance_info | cut -f3); echo $src_volumeid
# Now get the snapshot id from the volume id
ec2-describe-volumes --region $src_region $src_volumeid | egrep ^VOLUME > /tmp/volume_info
src_snapshotid=$(cut /tmp/volume_info | cut -f2)
echo $src_snapshotid
src_size=$(cut /tmp/volume_info | cut -f2)
echo $src_size
# Create a new volume from the snapshot
src_volumeid=$(ec2-create-volume --region $src_region --snapshot $src_snapshotid -z $src_availability_zone | egrep ^VOLUME | cut -f2)
echo $src_volumeid

Mount the EBS Image of the AMI you want to copy

Now we’ll mount the EBS AMI image as a plain mount on the running source instance. In this case we’re going to use the same image as we launched, but it doesn’t have to be the same image or even the same architecture.

ec2-attach-volume --region $src_region $src_volumeid -i $src_instanceid -d $src_device

You should see something like:

ATTACHMENT	vol-6e7fee06	i-fb0804be	/dev/sdh	attaching	2010-03-14T09:02:58+0000

Prepare the Destination Instance and Volume

Set some Shell destination variables on host machine

You’ll want to tune these to your needs. This example makes the destination size the same as the source. You could make the destination an arbitrary size as long as it fits the source data.


Start up the destination instance and capture the dst_instanceid

dst_instanceid=$(ec2-run-instances \
  --key $dst_keypair \
  --availability-zone $dst_availability_zone \
  --instance-type $dst_instance_type \
  $dst_origin_ami \
  --region $dst_region  | \
  egrep ^INSTANCE | cut -f2)
echo "dst_instanceid=$dst_instanceid"

# Wait for the instance to move to the “running” state
while dst_public_fqdn=$(ec2-describe-instances --region $dst_region "$dst_instanceid" | \
  egrep ^INSTANCE | cut -f4) && test -z $dst_public_fqdn; do echo -n .; sleep 1; done
echo dst_public_fqdn=$dst_public_fqdn

This should loop till you see something like:

$ echo dst_public_fqdn=$dst_public_fqdn

Create an empty destination volume

dst_volumeid=$(ec2-create-volume --region $dst_region --size $dst_size -z $dst_availability_zone | egrep ^VOLUME | cut -f2)
echo $dst_volumeid

Mount the EBS Image of the AMI you want to copy

Now we’ll mount the EBS AMI image as a plain mount on the running source instance. In this case we’re going to use the same image as we launched, but it doesn’t have to be the same image or even the same architecture.

ec2-attach-volume --region $dst_region $dst_volumeid -i $dst_instanceid -d $dst_device

You should see something like:

ATTACHMENT	vol-450ed02c	i-65be1f0e	/dev/sdh	attaching	2010-03-14T09:39:20+0000

Copy the data from the Source Volume to the Destination Volume

Copy your credentials to the source machine

We’re going to use rsync to copy from the source to the destination tunneled thru ssh. This eliminates any issues with EC2 security groups. But it does mean you have to copy an ssh private key to the source machine that will then be able to access the destination machine via ssh.

scp -i $src_fullpath_keypair $dst_fullpath_keypair ${src_user}@${src_public_fqdn}:.ssh

Mount the source and destination volumes on their instances

ssh -i $src_fullpath_keypair ${src_user}@${src_public_fqdn} sudo mkdir -p $src_dir
ssh -i $src_fullpath_keypair ${src_user}@${src_public_fqdn} sudo mount $src_device $src_dir
ssh -i $dst_fullpath_keypair ${dst_user}@${dst_public_fqdn} sudo mkfs.ext3 -F $dst_device
ssh -i $dst_fullpath_keypair ${dst_user}@${dst_public_fqdn} sudo mkdir -p $dst_dir
ssh -i $dst_fullpath_keypair ${dst_user}@${dst_public_fqdn} sudo mount $dst_device $dst_dir

Get the FQDN of the Amazon internal address of the destination machine

We’re assuming that the dst instance is the us-east equivalent base AMI of the us-west source base AMI so we can use these kernel and ramdisk to build the new AMI later.

ec2-describe-instances --region $dst_region "$dst_instanceid" > /tmp/dst_instance_info
dst_internal_fqdn=$(egrep ^INSTANCE /tmp/dst_instance_info | cut -f5); echo $dst_internal_fqdn
dst_kernel=$(egrep ^INSTANCE /tmp/dst_instance_info | cut -f13); echo $dst_kernel
dst_ramdisk=$(egrep ^INSTANCE /tmp/dst_instance_info | cut -f14) ;echo $dst_ramdisk

Commands to run on the source machine

You could do the rsync by logging into the source machine and do the following. I tried to do this by using ssh commands, but the fact that the first ssh from source to destination has to be authenticated was a blocker for me. You could log into the source machine and then sudo ssh to the destination machine (you have to do sudo ssh since the rsync has to be run with sudo and the keys are stored separately for the sudo user and the regular user).
I’ll show both ways.
Here’s how you can ssh to the source machine:

ssh -i $src_fullpath_keypair ${src_user}@${src_public_fqdn}

Set up some shell variables on the source machine shell environment

# This is the key you just copied over
# You need to use the Public FQDN of the destination since its cross region

Do the rsync

We are using the rsync options

  • P Keep partial transferred files and Show Progress
  • H Preserve Hard Links
  • A Preserve ACLs
  • X Preserve extended attributes
  • a Archive mode
  • z Compress files for transfer
rsync -PHAXaz --rsh "ssh -i /home/${src_user}/.ssh/id_${dst_keypair}" --rsync-path "sudo rsync" ${src_dir}/ ${dst_user}@${dst_public_fqdn}:${dst_dir}/

If you want to do the rsync from your local host

I found that I still had to log into the source instance

ssh -i $src_fullpath_keypair ${src_user}@${src_public_fqdn}

and then on the source instance do:

sudo ssh -i /home/${src_user}/.ssh/id_${dst_keypair} ${dst_user}@${dst_public_fqdn}

and accept “The authenticity of host” for the first time so the destination host is in the known keys of the sudo user
Then back on your local host you can issue the remote command that will run on the source instance and rsync to the destination host:

ssh -i $src_fullpath_keypair ${src_user}@${src_public_fqdn} sudo "rsync -PHAXaz --rsh \"ssh -i /home/${src_user}/.ssh/id_${dst_keypair}\" --rsync-path \"sudo rsync\" ${src_dir}/ ${dst_user}@${dst_public_fqdn}:${dst_dir}/"

Complete the new AMI from your Local Host

The remaining steps will be done back on your local host. This assumes that the shell variables we set up earlier are still there.

Some Cleanup for new Region

Ubuntu has their apt sources tied to the region you are in. So we have to update the apt sources for the new region.
We’ll do this by chrooting to the mount /dst directory and running some commands as if they were being run on an ami with the /dst image. We might as well update things at the same time to the latest packages.

# Allow network access from chroot environment
ssh -i $dst_fullpath_keypair ${dst_user}@${dst_public_fqdn} sudo cp /etc/resolv.conf $dst_dir/etc/

# Upgrade the system and install packages
ssh -i $dst_fullpath_keypair ${dst_user}@${dst_public_fqdn} sudo -E chroot $dst_dir mount -t proc none /proc
ssh -i $dst_fullpath_keypair ${dst_user}@${dst_public_fqdn} sudo -E chroot $dst_dir mount -t devpts none /dev/pts

cat <<EOF > /tmp/policy-rc.d
exit 101
scp -i $dst_fullpath_keypair /tmp/policy-rc.d ${dst_user}@${dst_public_fqdn}:/tmp
ssh -i $dst_fullpath_keypair ${dst_user}@${dst_public_fqdn} sudo mv /tmp/policy-rc.d $dst_dir/usr/sbin/policy-rc.d

ssh -i $dst_fullpath_keypair ${dst_user}@${dst_public_fqdn} chmod 755 $dst_dir/usr/sbin/policy-rc.d

# This has to be done to set up the Locale & apt sources
ssh -i $dst_fullpath_keypair ${dst_user}@${dst_public_fqdn} DEBIAN_FRONTEND=noninteractive sudo -E chroot $dst_dir /usr/bin/ec2-set-defaults

# Update the apt sources
ssh -i $dst_fullpath_keypair ${dst_user}@${dst_public_fqdn} DEBIAN_FRONTEND=noninteractive sudo -E chroot $dst_dir apt-get update

# Optionally update the packages
ssh -i $dst_fullpath_keypair ${dst_user}@${dst_public_fqdn} DEBIAN_FRONTEND=noninteractive sudo -E chroot $dst_dir apt-get dist-upgrade -y

# Optionally update your gems
ssh -i $dst_fullpath_keypair ${dst_user}@${dst_public_fqdn} sudo -E chroot $dst_dir gem update --system
ssh -i $dst_fullpath_keypair ${dst_user}@${dst_public_fqdn} sudo -E chroot $dst_dir gem update

Clean up from the building of the image

ssh -i $dst_fullpath_keypair ${dst_user}@${dst_public_fqdn} sudo chroot $dst_dir umount /proc
ssh -i $dst_fullpath_keypair ${dst_user}@${dst_public_fqdn} sudo -E chroot $dst_dir umount /dev/pts
ssh -i $dst_fullpath_keypair ${dst_user}@${dst_public_fqdn} sudo -E rm -f $dst_dir/usr/sbin/policy-rc.d

There are a few more shell variables we’ll need

I got the kernel and ramdisk from the destination instance since it has the us-east-1 equivalent base AMI to the us-west-1 one that we are copying from.

# Some info for creating the name and description

# Make sure you set this as appropriate
# 64bit

# You will need to set the aki and ari values base on the actual base AMI you used
# It will be different for different regions.  These are set for x86_64 and us-east-1
ebsopts="--kernel=${dst_kernel} --ramdisk=${dst_ramdisk}"
ebsopts="$ebsopts --block-device-mapping /dev/sdb=ephemeral0"

now=$(date +%Y%m%d-%H%M)
# Make this specific to what you are making
description="Runa Chef ${chef_version} Ubuntu $release $codename $tag $arch $now"

Snapshot the Destination Volume and register the new AMI in the destination region

# Unmount the destination filesystem
ssh -i $dst_fullpath_keypair ${dst_user}@${dst_public_fqdn} sudo umount $dst_dir

# Detach the Destination Volume (it may speed up the snapshot)
ec2-detach-volume --region $dst_region "$dst_volumeid"

# Make the snapshot
dst_snapshotid=$(ec2-create-snapshot -region $dst_region -d "$description" $dst_volumeid | cut -f2)

# Wait for snapshot to complete. This can take a while
while ec2-describe-snapshots --region $dst_region "$dst_snapshotid" | grep -q pending
  do echo -n .; sleep 1; done

# Register the Destination Snapshot as a new AMI in the Destination Region
new_ami=$(ec2-register \
  --region $dst_region \
  --architecture $arch \
  --name "$prefix" \
  --description "$description" \
  $ebsopts \
  --snapshot "$dst_snapshotid")
echo $new_ami


You should now have a shiny new ami in your destination region. Use the value of $new_ami to start a new instance in your destination region using your favorite tool or technique.


  1. Michael Kohl Michael Kohl March 15, 2010

    I’m glad my post was helpful! I was too lazy too actually write down instructions as detailed as yours, but will now update my original blog entry with a link to this one!


  2. Martin Martin April 6, 2010

    Thanks for writing this, but it should definitely be made easier by amazon !

  3. nanao nanao April 21, 2011

    Looks like this will work only for linux ebs ami, not windows ami, is this correct? I need to move windows ebs ami, any other suggestions?

    I’ve tried Cloudy_Scripts, it also does work for windows ami.

  4. nanao nanao April 21, 2011

    … Cloudy_Scripts, it also does NOT work …

  5. […] Regiones: toda estructura de Amazon está dividida en regiones. Las regiones son arquitecturas físicamente INDEPENDIENTES entre sí. Puedes montar máquinas en una u otra región, pero no puedes crear máquinas en una región y migrarlas a otras. Son independientes, y eso hay que tenerlo en cuenta. Hay cinco regiones disponibles: dos en USA (una por costa), una en Irlanda, otra en Tokyo y otra en Singapur. Es buena idea tener una máquina en una región y algún clon en otra; pero para ello, tendrás que copiar la AMI de una a otra. Aquí te explican cómo hacerlo (no es fácil). […]

  6. EC2 Administrator EC2 Administrator June 1, 2012

    We don’t use command line.

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