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How to use ZFS on root in Ubuntu 19.10

ZFS on root is a new feature of Ubuntu 19.10. With it, Ubuntu users can experience the raw power of the ZFS file system on the root Linux partition. In this guide, we’ll go over how to set up ZFS on root for Ubuntu.

Before we begin

ZFS is a robust file system, and it’s excellent to see that Canonical is adding value to Ubuntu by making it easier than ever to set it up and use it. This feature will no doubt improve the Ubuntu desktop experience. However, the new ZFS feature is highly experimental and under active development. Please, do not use this feature on production computers, as you could potentially lose valuable data or experience a system failure.

Making the Ubuntu live disk

Setting up ZFS on the root partition in Ubuntu Linux requires a fresh installation of the newest Ubuntu, version 19.10 Eoan Ermine. No other releases of Ubuntu currently support users setting up the ZFS file system on root.

Creating a new Ubuntu live disk is an easy process, and it starts by downloading the latest release of Ubuntu. Head over to Ubuntu’s website, find the “Download” button, look for “Ubuntu Desktop,” and click on the “19.10” button to grab Ubuntu 19.10.

After downloading the latest Ubuntu 19.10 ISO image to your computer, it is time to get an ISO burning tool. Go to Etcher.io, grab the newest release, and open it up on the desktop.

Once the Etcher ISO burning tool is open and ready to go on the desktop, find the blue “Select image” button, and click on it with the mouse. Then, use the open-file dialog to find the Ubuntu 19.10 ISO image in the file system on your computer.

When the Ubuntu 19.10 ISO file finishes loading into Etcher, insert a USB flash drive into your computer’s USB port. Then, find the “Select drive” button and select it. Choose your USB flash device as the drive in the menu.

Start the ISO burning process in the Etcher app by clicking on the “Flash!” button. Wait a couple of minutes and allow Etcher to burn the Ubuntu 19.10 ISO file to your USB device. When Etcher completes the burning process, reboot your computer, access the BIOS, and configure it to boot from the USB.

Installing Ubuntu with ZFS on root

Once your USB device successfully boots into Ubuntu, the installation can begin. To start, look at the “Welcome” screen in the Ubuntu live disk, locate the “Install Ubuntu” button, and click it with the mouse.

After selecting the “Install Ubuntu” button, you will be presented with the “Keyboard layout” page. Look through this page for your keyboard layout (if Ubuntu hasn’t automatically detected it.) Then, click the “Continue” button to apply your layout choice.

On the next page, after “Keyboard layout,” you will see the “Updates and other software” page. Here Ubuntu asks you, “What apps you would like to install to start with,” and “other options.”

Under “What apps would you like to install to start with,” select the “Normal installation” option. Or, if you prefer a more lightweight Ubuntu, select the “Minimal installation” option. For “Other options” check “Install third-party software for graphics and Wifi hardware and additional media formats,” as it will set up various drivers and codecs for your system.

Following the “Updates and other software” page comes the “Installation type” page. Here, Ubuntu asks you to choose an installation method. To use ZFS on Linux, you must find and select the “EXPERIMENTAL: Erase disk and use ZFS” option. Then, locate the “Install Now” button, and click it with the mouse to move on to the next page of the Ubuntu 19.10 installer.

Note: by choosing the “EXPERIMENTAL: Erase disk and use ZFS” option Ubuntu will delete absolutely everything on the hard drive and format it to the ZFS file-system. Dual-booting will not work!

After the “Installation Type,” is the “Where are you” page. Here, Ubuntu asks where you are in the world, so it can determine the time-zone you live in. Using the mouse, click on the map in the timezone near where you live. Alternatively, type out a timezone in the text box. When your timezone is set, click the “Continue” button to move to the next page.

When you get past the “Where are you” page in the Ubuntu installer, you will see the “Who are you” page. Here, Ubuntu asks you to create a new user for your new installation. Fill out your full name under “Your name,” name your computer in the “Your computer’s name” box, and set up your username/password in the username and password boxes.

With your name, computer name, username, and password set up, Ubuntu will finish up the installation process. When the installation process is complete, reboot Ubuntu to use your new Ubuntu ZFS installation!

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