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My desktop backup solution

November 29, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

I was inspired by a good blogpost by Martin Pitt to setup my own desktop backup solution. I liked the idea of not requiring the computer to be on all the time, and having the backup pushed from the client rather than pulled from the server. However, my needs were slightly different from his, so I adapted it.

His solution uses rsnapshot locally, then pushes the resulting directories to a remote server. I didn’t want to use local disk space (SSD ain’t cheap), but I had a local server with 2Tb available. So in my solution, the client rsyncs to the server, then the server triggers rsnapshot locally if the rsync was successful. This is done over SSH and the server has no right whatsoever on the client.


In the examples the client to back up will be called mycli and the server on which the backup will live is named mysrv. As a prerequisite, mycli will need rsync and openssh-client installed. mysrv will need rsnapshot and openssh-server installed. OpenSSH needs to have public-key authentication enabled.

SSH setup

On the client side, generate a specific passwordless SSH key for the backup connection:

mkdir ~/.backup
ssh-keygen -f ~/.backup/id_backup

On the server side, we’ll assume you want to put backups into /srv/backup. First of all, create an rbackup user that will be used to run the backup serverside:

sudo mkdir /srv/backup
sudo adduser --home /srv/backup --no-create-home --disabled-password rbackup

Next, add your backup public key (the contents of mycli:~/ .backup/id_backup.pub) to mysrv:/srv/backup/.ssh/authorized_keys. The trick is to prefix it (same line, one space separator) with the only command you want the rbackup user to perform via that SSH connection:

command="rsync --config /srv/backup/rsyncd-mycli.conf --server
--daemon ." ssh-rsa AAAAB3NzaLwm0ckRdzotb3...5Mbiw== ttx@mycli

Finally, you need to let rbackup read those .ssh files:

sudo chgrp -R rbackup /srv/backup/.ssh
sudo chmod -R g+r /srv/backup/.ssh

rsync setup (server-side)

Now we need to set up the rsync configuration that will be used on those connections:

# /srv/backup/rsyncd-mycli.conf
max connections = 1
lock file = /srv/backup/mycli/rsync.lock
log file = /srv/backup/mycli/rsync.log
use chroot = false
max verbosity = 3
read only = false
write only = true

 path = /srv/backup/mycli/incoming
 post-xfer exec = /srv/backup/kick-rsnapshot /srv/backup/mycli/rsnapshot.conf

The post-xfer exec command is executed on successful transfers to /srv/backup/client/incoming. In our case, we want rsync to trigger the /srv/backup/kick-rsnapshot script:

if [ "$RSYNC_EXIT_STATUS" == "0" ]; then
   rsnapshot -c $1 daily

Don’t forget to make that one executable 🙂

rsnapshot setup (server-side)

rsnapshot itself is configured in the /srv/backup/mycli/rsnapshot.conf file. This is where you specify how many pseudo-weekly copies you want to keep (read rsnapshot documentation to understand the interval concept):

# /srv/backup/mycli/rsnapshot.conf
config_version    1.2
snapshot_root    /srv/backup/mycli
cmd_rm      /bin/rm
cmd_rsync   /usr/bin/rsync
cmd_logger  /usr/bin/logger
interval    daily    6
interval    weekly    6   
verbose     2
loglevel    3
lockfile    /srv/backup/mycli/rsnapshot.pid
rsync_long_args    --delete --numeric-ids --delete-excluded
link_dest   1
backup      /srv/backup/mycli/incoming/    ./

Now you just have to create the backup directory hierarchy with appropriate permissions:

mkdir -p /srv/backup/mycli/incoming
chown -R rbackup:rbackup /srv/backup/mycli

The backup (client-side)

The client will rsync periodically to the server, using the following script:

set -e

# Check if last backup was more than a day before
now=`date +%s`
if [ -e $TOUCHFILE ]; then
   age=$(($now - `stat -c %Y $TOUCHFILE`))
   unset age
[ -n "$age" ] && [ $age -lt 86300 ] && exit 0

nice -n 10 rsync -e "ssh -i $HOME/.backup/id_backup" -avzF \
     --delete --safe-links $HOME rbackup@mysrv::mycli

That script ensures that at most once per day, you will sync to the server. You can run it (as your user) as often as you’d like (I suggest hourly via cron). On successful syncs, the server will trigger rsnapshot to do its magic backup rotation ! Using the same model, you can easily set up multiple directories or multiple clients.

Like with Martin’s solution, you should set up various .rsync-filter files to exclude the directories and files you don’t want copied to the backup server.

The drawback of this approach is that the server keeps an extra copy of your backup (in the incoming directory). But in my case, since the server has plenty of space, I can afford it. It also does not work when you are away from your backup server.

I hope you find that setup useful, it served me well so far.

Categories: Ubuntu
  1. November 30, 2010 at 11:38

    Hi, I’m aproaching the backup problem at another angle; distribute and update the files over multiple hosts/offline disks. checkout http://www.github.com/thouters/ltr/ (work in progress)

  2. Colin Watson
    December 2, 2010 at 17:14

    http://www.greenend.org.uk/rjk/2010/rsbackup.html takes a similar approach and is packaged up quite neatly. I use this.

    • Thierry Carrez
      December 3, 2010 at 08:02

      Oh ! I didn’t know about that one. I’ll definitely check it out, thanks !

  3. Marcus
    June 13, 2011 at 14:08

    how do you handle ecnryption / encrypted home with this one?

    • Thierry Carrez
      June 14, 2011 at 08:45

      Encrypted home is decrypted while you’re logged in, so you can backup then… but you’re right, it may indeed fail if it runs from cron while you’re not logged in. I haven’t hit that corner case yet, but I guess you could ensure that the backup script only runs while you’re logged in, by probing existence of a file in your home directory for example…

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