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Burning CDs for Backups

A visual tutorial to burning CDs on the math cluster.


k3b, the KDE is one of the nicer CD burning utilities available on Linux, so that's what we'll cover here.

You can also use Nautilus, the GNOME file manager, to create CD images that you can burn with k3b or transfer to another machine.

Using k3b

Starting k3b

Screenshot of k3b; main window. Start k3b by typing k3b at a shell prompt or selecting “K3B” from the “Sound & Video” menu in the system drawer (generally at the far lower-left corner of your screen). You should see a splash screen (not shown here), a “tips” dialog, and then the main window.

Starting a Data CD Project

Screenshot of k3b; selecting New Data Project.Create a new data CD project by double-clicking on the “New Data CD Project” shortcut icon in the lower pane.

Adding Files and Directories to Your CD Project

Screenshot of k3b; data project window.Use the directory tree in the leftmost upper pane to navigate to the top of the set of directories that you want to burn to a CD.

Screenshot of k3b; files added, ready to burn.Select the files and directories in the upper-right pane, and drag them down to the lower pane.

Screenshot of k3b; burn CD button selected.Click the Burn button in the lower-right corner of the window when you're happy with the contents of your CD project.

The CD Burning Process

When we create a CD, we call it “burning” because the CD writing drive uses a laser to melt tiny pits into the aluminum surface of the disk. (The part of the disk that's modified is actually the top of the disk, not the bottom, so in some ways it's even more important to protect the “label” side of a CD than the part that the drive reads!)

Screenshot of k3b; CD writing options dialog.This dialog shows you the various options that you can choose when burning a CD. We're not going to talk about most of them, but of possible interest to you is the “Only create image” checkbox, which would allow you to create an ISO-9660 format image file, sometimes called an “iso” (EYE-so) by people who like to think of themselves as “1337”. You can burn the .iso file to a CD later (using an option from the Tools menu) or transfer it to another machine for burning or storage. You can mount an ISO-9660 image on other machines. In Mac OS X and Windows XP, you can mount the image by double-clicking on it. In Linux, you can use a command such as

root# mount -tiso9660 -oloop /path/to/image/file.iso /mount/point

Depending on your desktop environment (GNOME, KDE, etc.) and its specific version, you may be able to mount images just by double-clicking on them in Linux, too.

Screenshot of k3b; CD writing dialog.When you're ready to burn your CD, click on the Burn button.

Screenshot of k3b; insert media dialog.If you don't already have a black CD-ROM or CD-RW in the drive, you may see this dialog box asking you to insert media.

Burning Underway

Screenshot of k3b; progress dialog.While your disk is burning (or the ISO file is being created), you'll see this dialog, which gives you an idea of what's happening during the process. It's important that the buffer status stay relatively full while the disk is burning so that the drive always has data being fed to it. If it drops too low, the burn might stall, and you might end up with a bad CD (often called a “coaster”, as that role is about all it's good for).


Screenshot of k3b; success dialog.If all goes well, you'll be rewarded with a dialog box like the one shown, announcing the successful burning of your CD. You might want to try the CD in a couple of different machines before you delete any files, though, just to be sure.

Using Nautilus to Create an Image File

You can use Nautilus, the GNOME file manager, to create ISO-9660 images. Theoretically, Nautilus should be able to call a lower-level program to burn the contents of the image to a CD, but that functionality does not appear to be available with the version of Nautlius included in CentOS 3.

Screenshot of Nautilus; burn:/// window.If you insert a blank CD-R or CD-RW disc in the drive. Nautilus should open a blank window.

Screenshot of Nautilus; files added, ready to burn.Drag file or folder icons to that window from another Nautilus window, then click the “Write to CD” icon to create an image.

Screenshot of Nautilus; burn dialog.Options dialog.

Screenshot of Nautilus; image file dialog.File picker dialog for saving the ISO image file.

Screenshot of Nautilus; progress dialog.Nautilus's progress and success dialog.