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A clone is a copy of an existing virtual machine. The existing virtual machine is called the parent of the clone. When the cloning operation is complete, the clone is a separate virtual machine though it may share virtual disks with the parent virtual machine: see Full and Linked Clones).
If you want to save the current state of the virtual machine, so you can revert to that state in case you make a mistake, take a snapshot. If you want to make a copy of a virtual machine for separate use, create a clone.
Why Make a Clone?
Installing a guest operating system and applications can be time consuming. With clones, you can make many copies of a virtual machine from a single installation and configuration process.
Clones are useful when you must deploy many identical virtual machines to a group. For example:
With clones you can conveniently make complete copies of a virtual machine, without browsing a host file system or worrying if you have located all the configuration files.
Full and Linked Clones
There are two types of clone:
A full clone is an independent virtual machine, with no need to access the parent. Full clones do not require an ongoing connection to the parent virtual machine. Because a full clone does not share virtual disks with the parent virtual machine, full clones generally perform better than linked clones. However, full clones take longer to create than linked clones. Creating a full clone can take several minutes if the files involved are large.
A linked clone is made from a snapshot of the parent. (See Understanding Snapshots.) All files available on the parent at the moment of the snapshot continue to remain available to the linked clone. Ongoing changes to the virtual disk of the parent do not affect the linked clone, and changes to the disk of the linked clone do not affect the parent.
A linked clone must have access to the parent. Without access to the parent, a linked clone is disabled. See Linked Clones and Access to the Parent Virtual Machine
Linked clones are created swiftly, so you can easily create a unique virtual machine for each task you have. You can also easily share a virtual machine with other users by storing the virtual machine on your local network, where other users can quickly make a linked clone. This facilitates collaboration: for example, a support team can reproduce a bug in a virtual machine, and an engineer can quickly make a linked clone of that virtual machine to work on the bug.
Full Clones and Snapshots of the Parent
A full clone is a complete and independent copy of a virtual machine. However, the full clone duplicates only the state of the virtual machine at the instant of the cloning operation. Thus the full clone does not have access to any snapshots that may exist of the parent virtual machine.