Parallels Desktop VS VMWare Fusion – deleting multiple snapshots

I have used both Parallels Desktop and VMWare Fusion to run Windows, largely for Windows software development, on a Mac, over the past several years.  There have been a number of reviews comparing them, which I won’t repeat.  Parallels Desktop allowed much better hardware configuration and much better keyboard mapping a couple of years ago, which is why I have been using it over the past couple of years (newer versions of VMWare Fusion may have improved that — I don’t know).

One of the biggest advantage of using Virtual Machines for software development (with either Parallels Desktop or VMWare Fusion) is the ability to easily create snapshots.  When you are doing development, you often need to install or update software components, and never know when you may destabilize your system.  The ability to easily create system backups is similar to commits in source code control, in that you can easily save multiple states that you can go back to if you need to.  As a result, I tend to create a LOT of snapshots.

My biggest complaint about Parallels Desktop in comparison to VMWare Fusion is that it does not allow you to delete multiple snapshots at once.  Deletion of one snapshot (with either Parallels or VMWare) can easily take five to ten minutes or longer.  If you have to delete thirty or forty snapshots, clicking on one, waiting ten minutes, clicking on the next, waiting ten minutes, it can get very time consuming.

VMWare Fusion has had a much better solution for this problem, and is much better than Parallels Desktop in this regard.  In Fusion, you merely select all of the snapshots you want to delete, and then select “Delete”.  It may take a while, but you don’t have to manually select each snapshot, one at a time, delete it, and wait.  It can run overnight, and when you come back, the work is all done!  Alas, Parallels Desktop does not allow you to select more than one snapshot to delete at a time.

Recently, I submitted a request to Parallels about my problem, and to my delight (and surprise), their technician called me on the phone the next day to help me.  Ultimately, they led me to what seems to be a solution, but not without a couple of mis-steps, so I wanted to document my experience for anyone else having this problem.

One thing about snapshots: they are NOT backups.  The virtual disks with either VMWare or Parallels are MUCH more fragile than a regular hard drive controlled with a journaled format by a modern operating system (Windows, Linux, or OS X).  I have had both VMWare and Parallels disk images become corrupted fairly often, which results in ALL of your snapshots (and everything else) being lost.  If you use VM’s, you MUST backup the ENTIRE VM FILE, just as with source code control.  That also has the advantage of backing up all of your snapshot history.  Before doing anything I describe here, be sure you have at least one backup (and preferably more, on different disks) of your VM.  As I mention, my VM DID become corrupted, and I had to use a backup.  You have been warned.

I had backed up my entire VM with all of my old snapshots, and I just wanted to remove all of the old snapshots from my current, working copy.  I had a virtual hard disk with about 100 GB of files, but the VM had swollen to about 450 GB with all of the snapshots.  Parallels has a “Delete snapshots with children” option, which I had used to delete any “branches” I had (usually when I had to go back to a working configuration).  Thus, I just had one long line of snapshots in my Parallels VM.

The technician directed me to use  the prl_disk_tool merge option.  He directed me to the page.  He had me open a terminal session, and copy

prl_disk_tool merge --hdd

onto the command line.  Then, he had me open Parallels, and in the Virtual Machines List, right click on the offending VM and select “Show in Finder”.  Then, right click on the VM file in Finder and select “Show Package Contents”.  Then (and I didn’t know you could do this), click on the large .hdd file and drag it into the Terminal window — that copied the full path of the .hdd file, properly escaped, onto the end of the command line I was building, which left me with a command line like

prl_disk_tool merge --hdd /Users/nachbar/Documents/Parallels/Win 7.pvm/Win 7-0.hdd

Then, press Enter.  I was immediately presented with an operation progress starting at 1%, and slowly increasing to 100% over about 90 minutes.  At the same time, the size of my VM dropped, and the free space on my physical hard drive increased, by about 300 GB.  But that only partially fixed the problem.

I was then able to run my smaller VM with the merged snapshots, but Snapshot Manager showed all of the snapshots still there.  I emailed them back, and they directed me to the page about snapshot manager and deleting snapshots there.  I was able to delete them one at a time, and it was a lot faster (five to ten seconds each).  That page also described “Delete with children”, and so I thought I would use that, figuring that I would be warned if it was going to delete my current VM state.  Big mistake.  I was almost immediately met with the “Unable to Connect to Parallels Service” error described at .  The “Deleting Snapshot” animation continued, however, and I allowed it to run, figuring that if I killed it I would certainly corrupt my VM.  However, after 14 hours, I really had no choice but to kill the Parallels application.  I rebooted, and to my surprise, the VM booted (with a message from Parallels that it had recovered from a serious error).  However, all of the snapshots were still there, and now I could not delete any of them, being met with the “The configuration file you specified is invalid” error.  Thus, still a kind of VM file corruption.

So, I went back to my VM file backup, and started over.  I again ran prl_disk_tool merge, and this time I just deleted the snapshot zombies one at a time, each taking only about 5 seconds (since the underlying snapshots had already been merged).  About half way through, I still had some trouble — I got the “Unable to Connect to Parallels Service” message, and Parallels hung and had to be Force Quit.  Restarting Parallels produced the “Unable to Connect to Parallels Service” error, so I followed the instructions in to restart the Parallels Service.  I also got the “Parallels has recovered from a serious error” message.  I was then able to proceed with deleting more snapshot zombies until I had removed all of them.  Now, my VM is down from 450 GB to about 117 GB, and the VM seems faster (at least on startup, which used to be quite slow).

So, clearly a kludge, and still involving a Force Quit and Serious Error recovery, but ultimately I got to a much smaller VM.  I would note that I usually shut down my VM before doing these procedures.  I’m not sure if it is needed, but it seemed reasonable.

Hopefully, Parallels will catch up to where VMWare has been for many years and allow us to select multiple snapshots to delete at one time.  In the meantime, you may want to try this ON A BACKUP OF YOUR VM if you have a lot of snapshots and a bloated VM.

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