The diskshadow command, a hidden gem

Good morning.  In case you haven’t guessed it already I typically write these posts in the morning.  As I write this now it is 6:30AM.  Today I wanted to share a command line utility I just recently discovered.  It has been part of Windows for quite some time though.  At least since Windows Server 2008.  The utility is called diskshadow.  This utility allows direct interaction with VSS (Volume Shadow Copy Service).  You can find the Microsoft technet article here.  In this article I will go over how I used it to troubleshoot a recent issue with VSS.

I was recently troubleshooting a VSS where the snapshot was failing on release.  As is typical, my customer was using a 3rd party backup software.  I wanted to test outside of the backup software, so we installed the Windows Server Backup feature and tried that.  Unfortunately the symptoms were identical.  After quite a bit of digging I ran across the diskshadow utility.  With that utility I received a different error which led me down the path of discovering the problem.  It turned out that the backup software’s filter driver was stepping on VSS and causing the failure.  After removing the backup software, VSS worked without issue.

So how is the diskshadow command used?  It can be used to create a snapshot, mount an existing snapshot, restore a snapshot and several other things.  Below I will cover the commands to take a VSS snapshot, as that is the functionality I find most useful.  To take a snapshot of the C: drive and test the majority of the VSS writers there are just 3 commands that need to be run.

  1. diskshadow (This starts the command and puts you at a diskshadow prompt.  This is similar to ntdsutil and nslookup.)
  2. add volume c: (This adds the C: drive to the snapshot.  You could substitute another drive letter if you want to test a specific writer.  The command can also be repeated with other drive letters to include them in the snapshot.)
  3. create (This starts the snapshot process with VSS.  It is important to note that the create command by itself will create a non-persistent snapshot.  That is the snapshot will be removed on exit from the diskshadow utility.  A persistent snapshot can be created with additional parameters.)

This utility is considerably faster when troubleshooting VSS, taking only about 1-2 minutes to take a snapshot or fail.  It also removes the requirement for a USB drive to temporarily store a backup.  For these reasons I will be using whenever troubleshooting VSS in the future.

I hope you found this article informative.  If you have anything to add or just want to leave a comment, please do so below.

 

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