Snapshots preserve the state and data of a virtual machine at the time you take the snapshot. When you take a snapshot of a virtual machine, an image of the virtual machine in a given state is copied and stored. Snapshots are useful when you want to revert repeatedly to a virtual machine state, but you do not want to create multiple virtual machines.

You can take multiple snapshots of a virtual machine to create restoration positions in a linear process. With multiple snapshots, you can save many positions to accommodate many kinds of work processes. Snapshots operate on individual virtual machines. Taking snapshots of multiple virtual machines, for example, taking a snapshot of a VM for each member of a team, requires that you take a separate snapshot of each team member's virtual machine.

Snapshots are useful as a short term solution for testing software with unknown or potentially harmful effects. For example, you can use a snapshot as a restoration point during a linear or iterative process, such as installing update packages, or during a branching process, such as installing different versions of a program. Using snapshots ensures that each installation begins from an identical baseline.

With snapshots, you can preserve a baseline before making changes to a virtual machine.

Several operations for creating and managing virtual machine snapshots and snapshot trees are available in the vSphere Client. These operations enable you to create snapshots, restore any snapshot in the snapshot hierarchy, delete snapshots, and more. You can create snapshot trees where you save the virtual machine state at any specific time so that you can restore that virtual machine state later. Each branch in a snapshot tree can have up to 32 snapshots.

A snapshot preserves the following information:

  • Virtual machine settings. The virtual machine directory, which includes the disks added or changed after you take the snapshot.
  • Power state. The virtual machine can be powered on, powered off, or suspended.
  • Disk state. State of all the virtual machine's virtual disks.
  • (Optional) Memory state. The contents of the virtual machine's memory.

The Snapshot Hierarchy

The vSphere Client presents the snapshot hierarchy as a tree with one or more branches. Snapshots in the hierarchy have parent to child relationships. In linear processes, each snapshot has one parent snapshot and one child snapshot, except for the last snapshot, which has no child snapshot. Each parent snapshot can have more than one child. You can revert to the current parent snapshot or restore any parent or child snapshot in the snapshot tree and create more snapshots from that snapshot. Each time you restore a snapshot and take another snapshot, a branch (child snapshot) is created.

Parent Snapshots
The first virtual machine snapshot that you create is the base parent snapshot. The parent snapshot is the most recently saved version of the current state of the virtual machine. Taking a snapshot creates a delta disk file for each disk attached to the virtual machine and optionally, a memory file. The delta disk files and memory file are stored with the base .vmdk file. The parent snapshot is always the snapshot that appears immediately above the You are here icon in the Snapshot Manager. If you revert or restore a snapshot, that snapshot becomes the parent of the You are here current state.
Note: The parent snapshot is not always the snapshot that you took most recently.
Child Snapshots
A snapshot of a virtual machine taken after the parent snapshot. Each child snapshot contains delta files for each attached virtual disk, and optionally a memory file that points from the present state of the virtual disk (You are here). Each child snapshot's delta files merge with each previous child snapshot until reaching the parent disks. A child disk can later be a parent disk for future child disks.

The relationship of parent and child snapshots can change if you have multiple branches in the snapshot tree. A parent snapshot can have more than one child. Many snapshots have no children.

Caution: Do not manually manipulate individual child disks or any of the snapshot configuration files because doing so can compromise the snapshot tree and result in data loss. This restriction includes disk resizing and making modifications to the base parent disk by using vmkfstools.

Snapshot Behavior

Taking a snapshot preserves the disk state at a specific time by creating a series of delta disks for each attached virtual disk or virtual RDM and optionally preserves the memory and power state by creating a memory file. Taking a snapshot creates a snapshot object in the Snapshot Manager that represents the virtual machine state and settings.

Each snapshot creates an additional delta .vmdk disk file. When you take a snapshot, the snapshot mechanism prevents the guest operating system from writing to the base .vmdk file and instead directs all writes to the delta disk file. The delta disk represents the difference between the current state of the virtual disk and the state that existed at the time that you took the previous snapshot. If more than one snapshot exists, delta disks can represent the difference between each snapshot. Delta disk files can expand quickly and become as large as the entire virtual disk if the guest operating system writes to every block of the virtual disk.