Disaster Recovery

10 outstanding Linux backup utilities

A dependable backup tool is not a luxury - everyone needs to have one. But that doesn't mean you need to spend a fortune to get the feature set that meets your needs. Jack Wallen introduces some great Linux backup solutions, including a few that are cross platform.

A dependable backup tool is not a luxury - everyone needs to have one. But that doesn't mean you need to spend a fortune to get the feature set that meets your needs. Jack Wallen introduces some great Linux backup solutions, including a few that are cross platform.


Whether you're in the IT industry or you're a computer power user, you need to have a backup tool at the ready. With this tool, you will need scheduled backups, one-time backups, local backups, remote backups, and many other features.

Plenty of proprietary solutions are out there. Some of them are minimal and cost effective, while others are feature-rich and costly. The open source community is no stranger to the world of backups. Here are 10 excellent backup solutions for the Linux operating system. In fact, some of these are actually cross platform and will back up Linux, Windows, and/or Mac.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: fwbackups

This is, by far, the easiest of all the Linux backup solutions. It is cross platform, has a user-friendly interface, and can do single backups or recurring scheduled backups. The fwbackups tool allows you to do backups either locally or remotely in tar, tar.gz, tar.bZ, or rsync format. You can back up an entire computer or a single file. Unlike many backup utilities, fwbackups is easy to install because it will most likely be found in your distribution's repository. Both backing up and restoring are incredibly easy (even scheduling a remote, recurring scheduled backup). You can also do incremental or differential backups to speed the process.

2: Bacula

Bacula is a powerful Linux backup solution, and it's one of the few Linux open source backup solutions that's truly enterprise ready. But with this enterprise readiness comes a level of complexity you might not find in any other solution. Unlike many other solutions, Bacula contains a number of components:

  • Director -- This is the application that supervises all of Bacula.
  • Console -- This is how you communicate with the Bacula Director.
  • File -- This is the application that's installed on the machine to be backed up.
  • Storage -- This application performs the reading and writing to your storage space.
  • Catalog -- This application is responsible for the databases used.
  • Monitor -- This application allows the administer to keep track of the status of the various Bacula tools.

Bacula is not the easiest backup solution to configure and use. It is, however, one of the most powerful. So if you are looking for power and aren't concerned about putting in the time to get up to speed with the configuration, Bacula is your solution.

3: Rsync

Rsync is one of the most widely used Linux backup solutions. With rsync, you can do flexible incremental backups, either locally or remotely. Rsync can update whole directory trees and file systems; preserve links, ownerships, permissions, and privileges; use rsh, ssh, or direct sockets for connection; and support anonymous connections. Rsync is a command-line tool, although front ends are available (such as Grsync<http://freshmeat.net/projects/grsync/>). But the front ends defeat the flexibility of having a simple command-line backup tool. One of the biggest pluses of using a command-line tool is that you can create simple scripts to use, in conjunction with cron, to create automated backups. For this, rsync is perfect.

4: Mondorescue

Mondorescue is one of those tools you have around for disaster recovery because one of its strengths is backing up an entire installation. Another strength of Mondorescue is that it can back up to nearly any medium: CD, DVD, tape, NFS, hard disk, etc. And Mondo supports LVM 1/2, RAID, ext2, ext3, ext4, JFS, XFS, ReiserFS, and VFAT. If your file system isn't listed, there is a call on the Mondo Web site to email the developers for a file system request and they will make it work. Mondo is used by large companies, such as Lockheed-Martin, so you know it's reliable.

5: Simple Backup Solution

Simple Backup Solution is primarily targeted at desktop backup. It can back up files and directories and allows regular expressions to be used for exclusion purposes. Because Simple Backup Solution uses compressed archives, it is not the best solution for backing up large amounts of pre-compressed data (such as multimedia files). One of the beauties of Simple Backup Solution is that it includes predefined backup solutions that can be used to back up directories, such as /var/, /etc/, /usr/local. SBS is not limited to predefined backups. You can do custom backups, manual backups, and scheduled backups. The user interface is user friendly. One of the downfalls of SBS is that it does not include a restore solution like fwbackups does.

6: Amanda

Amanda allows an administrator to set up a single backup server and back up multiple hosts to it. It's robust, reliable, and flexible. Amanda uses native Linux dump and/or tar to facilitate the backup process. One nice feature is that Amanda can use Samba to back up Windows clients to the same Amanda server. It's important to note that with Amanda, there are separate applications for server and client. For the server, only Amanda is needed. For the client, the Amanda-client application must be installed.

7: Arkeia

Arkeia is one of the big boys in the backup industry. If you are looking for enterprise-level backup-restore solutions (and even replication server solutions) and you don't mind paying a premium, Arkeia is your tool. If you're wondering about price, the Arkeia starter pack is $1,300.00 USD - which should indicate the seriousness of this solution.  Although Arkeia says it has small to midsize solutions, I think Arkeia is best suited for large business to enterprise-level needs.

8: Back In Time

Back In Time allows you to take snapshots of predefined directories and can do so on a schedule. This tool has an outstanding interface and integrates well with GNOME and KDE. Back In Time does a great job of creating dated snapshots that will serve as backups. However, it doesn't use any compression for the backups, nor does it include an automated restore tool. This is a desktop-only tool.

9: Box Backup

Box Backup is unique in that not only is it fully automated but it can use encryption to secure your backups. Box Backup uses both a client daemon and server daemon, as well as a restore utility. Box Backup uses SSL certificates to authenticate clients, so connections are secure. Although Box Backup is a command-line solution, it is simple to configure and deploy. Data directories are configured, the daemon scans those directories, and if new data is found, it is uploaded to the server. There are three components to install: bbstored (backup server daemon), bbackupd (client daemon), and bbackupquery (backup query and restore tool). Box Backup is available for Linux, OpenBSD, Windows (Native only), NetBSD, FreeBSD, Darwin (OS X), and Solaris.

10: Kbackup

Kbackup is a simple backup utility that backs up locally to any media (hard drive or mounted device) that can be written to. It's designed to be a backup device that ANY user can take advantage of. To that end, it is simple and doesn't have a long feature list. Outside of being able to back up files and directories, the only other feature is that the user can save backup profiles that can be opened and backed up quickly. Kbackup uses the tar format to restore backups, which is as simple as using ARK as a GUI for unpacking the backup files.

Backup of choice?

Did we over look your favorite Linux backup tool? If so, tell us what it is and how you deployed it. As we all know, a good backup solution is worth its weight in code.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

58 comments
rjwinslow
rjwinslow

I have an HP 1Tb appliance that provides a USB interface, so I like cp -r /home/me (or whatever) "/media/HP Desktop Drive/me" Flexable, intuitive, simple - as usual YMMV

johnywhy
johnywhy

anyone know of a method to do incremental backups on an individual file? such that PARTS of the file are backed up, instead of the entire file.

dutchglory
dutchglory

Most backup tools for Linux work great for making a backup. But the most problems start when you want to restore the backup. developers tend to forget this part of their backup tool with result, many mistakes and recovering completely fails. There should be [b]MUCH[/b] more testing and listening to users on forums or bugreportsystems. Only then you get a perfect working backup tool... DutchGlory

citricguy
citricguy

I've been using BackupPC for years on both windows and *nix servers. It is way simple to use and is a snap to setup.

nathan
nathan

I have several clients in small offices that use Linux servers setup as simple Samba Domain controllers. I use Flexbackup http://www.edwinh.org/flexbackup/ It's easy to setup, just edit and ini file and it runs tar or dump and others so you don't have to have a copy of flexbackup to access the data. Runs off a cron job. Add a cron job to delete old backup and maintain more then one ext HDD set and your good to go.

lixprotip1
lixprotip1

I tried bacula, might as well spend the next 10 years trying to configure it. Backup teddy is WAY easier.

MarthaD67
MarthaD67

I found RSYNC to be a little more annoying to use (I'm not good at LINUX). Also, there was a problem writing the script because Godaddy wants something just below the shebang: TERM=linux export TERM I think the problem was linked possibly to me using Godaddy as a hosting provider. I know they suck at times. There is a tutorial @ http://www.fortasse.com/2010/01/tutorials/tutorial-automatic-backup-script/ which describes a Godaddy working script. So far, it hasn't caused me issues. It doesn't use RSYNC, but I will try to adapt it to do so. Nothing like having your whole years worth of site in super compressed GZIP files. It's not as space costly as some would think (my whole year is perhaps 1 GB). Anyway, is there any way to make a script that is compliant all the time? For example, will the commands I pasted above work on every server? I have some sites not on Godaddy. Martha D.

youareno6
youareno6

You mention Arkeia, but no Storix? Arkeia sucks when it comes to Bare-metal because it does not support LVM. There is also Microlite, but they are a little buggy.

kleosubmit
kleosubmit

Great article. I think the list of apps reviewed still stand up as the some of the best Linux backup utilities. I'd like to suggest one more -- Kleo Bare Metal Backup for Servers http://www.kleobackup.net. Kleo is graphical wrapper around the excellent open source program partimage. Partimage has always been one of the best open source image backup programs around, but it suffers from a complicated user interface. For example, if you wanted to store your partimage backup on the network, you'd first need to manually find the target, and manage mounting the remote share. Kleo is a wizard interface that makes the job of running partimage simple without trading away any of the power. Kleo will scan the network and list possible targets. You pick your destination, and Kleo handles the job of connecting to the network share and invoking partimage with exactly the right set of command line options. We bundled Kleo with the Carroll-Net Server Rescue Kit. A LiveCD jam packed with with 100s of specialized server recovery tools. All the best tools we like to have at hand when attempting server recovery -- Gparted, NTpasswd, Dd_rescue, install-mgr, grub, and many more. Both Kleo & the Carroll-Net Server Recovery kit are free for any use, personal or business. The Server Recovery Kit is released as GPLv2 and Kleo is released as Freeware. You download a copy of Kleo or read more information online at http://www.kleobackup.net Jim C. http://www.carroll.net

artmartz
artmartz

A backup is no better than it's restore. I've been looking at D?j? Dup. It's nice feature is its integration into Nautilus. It has a Restore to Previous Version option when you right-click that lets you restore a folder or record from its backup.

jcooke
jcooke

One that is cross platform and a great application for us is SEP Sesam. It is truly enterprise capable.

cheth
cheth

Acronis works well if you want to do an image backup that works with Windows as well.

kansalbpa
kansalbpa

I use rsync , best for my requirements..

mbbs
mbbs

How about FOG ? If you need to image a lot of desktops, this seems a usefull tool, comparable to Ghost enterprise, but completely free

enthdegree
enthdegree

There's one of them in every comment section, but I've never been that guy. Here's my comment: If you guys were real men, you would use a 'tar+cp' program/script that you wrote yourself, or maybe 'rsync' in a pinch.

Michael Brumlow
Michael Brumlow

None of these backup tools seem to support point in time snapshots of an entire file system. Which is very important for fast moving environment.

quinox
quinox

I use rsnapshots. very effective backup utility and works the same as the snapshot mechanisem of NetApp. Further SEP Sesam backup is also very good with a front-end and very suitable for large enterprises. http://www.sep.de/home.php

stoffell
stoffell

the name might let you think it's only used to backup PC's, but you can use it to backup servers, cross-platform, using rsync, ssh, smb, .. It's a truly great tool, worth a try.

sethumohan
sethumohan

A worthy article and lots of information. SMB & Enterprise customers are running databases and mail servers on various Linux flavours, have you got list of backup tools for these too namely Symantec Netbackup, Netbackup Puredisk, Symantec Backup Exec.

jck
jck

Do some/most/all of these work with backing up to an external USB drive? If so, I am going to be buying some more externals and prepping. ugh...if Cedega was just built-in to Linux :^0

steven.drake
steven.drake

Try Microlite Backup Edge. Can create bare metal disaster recovery backups to tape or DVD that can be restored to new hard drive(s) - not simply file backup/restore. When paired with HP Proliant servers, can boot from the disaster recovery media and restore entire system simply (OBDR). Been using it for years with SCO Openserver 5, Caldera, SLES9, and SLES10.

Jaqui
Jaqui

mirror? ;) use the usually included mirror script / cron job to automatically back up across the network. [rsync, ftp, ssh, sftp, rcp, scp all supported in this usage. ]

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

The current backup aproach compresses data to a safe location so it can be restored but the stock image has to be put in place and fine tuning changes done by hand. The Linux based solutions I've looked at do the backup part well but leave me a directory of dated tar.gz to restore manually or through backup software after the system reinstall. My ideal is independent system install, user setup and user data. If a machine's software bakes, remotely reimage the machine then have the user setup synced back down from LDAP with user data hosed on the network by default. Some expensive appliances do this already but what is available in the software realm? How do the articles backup solutions stand up to the benchmark of remote or boot disk reimaging followed by automated restore? I've been looking at Bacula on test servers but it's pretty industrial software that really needs a dedicated backup server to do it right. Do the other's provide a good restore from metal approach?

dmmst19
dmmst19

rdiff-backup uses a diff process to store just the changed parts of files. I used it for a while and found performance to be an issue when using on the whole system (mostly due to i/o on our slow disk). But for a smaller set of files it could be a good fit.

jhwilder
jhwilder

You are correct dutchglory, restoring your system with "free" tools can be a real pain. I have used BackupEDGE for many years. The thing I like best is the ability to boot from a recovery CD and automatically restore the system to the most recent backup. It's not free, but at $500 for a new license, it pays for itself the first time your have to restore a system.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

simple enough to drop on a box and setup in no time. Local backup plus remote backup over common transfer protocols. I hope it matures out of the monthly beta versioning soon and expands to provide support for other platforms.

bjswm
bjswm

Actually enthdegree, your suggested solution is the one I was using. However I recently discovered storebackup - http://savannah.nongnu.org/projects/storebackup - and I am currently giving that a shot. It seems to do pretty much what I was trying to do, and more, and do it better. Of course, this is not an enterprise backup solution.

usterk
usterk

Did you use it for backing up servers in production envirement?

mikes
mikes

G4L works with USB hard disks, but make sure you have USB 2 for both the device and port on computer. Recently had a co-worker that had a USB 2.0 drive, but her computer only had USB 1 ports, so it took forever to backup.

pgit
pgit

If you want to get clever, you can set up an ftp server to use a USB drive then use G4U as I mentioned above. One backup utility I tried, can't recall the name now but it's a popular one, has an option to write to USB directly. But I could never get that one to restore. "Image may be corrupt" every single time I tried, and I was testing on very simple, extremely small partitions. (a single 20GB Linux install in one partition)

dbl
dbl

Have you tried RESTORE? You seem pretty OS Savvy.

dbl
dbl

Anyone here tried RESTORE, a Linux distro that does not much else bu enterprise backups?

ryumaou@hotmail.com
ryumaou@hotmail.com

I've used mkCDrec for bare-metal, disaster recovery type of restores. It's FOSS and, once you get the dependencies worked out, pretty simple. It's command-line, so it's easy to setup in a bash script and throw in your crontab. Basically, it just makes a an ISO, or a series of ISOs, depending on the size of your server and if you use DVDs or not. You burn those to disk and just boot off the first one, run one shell script and follow the instructions. It was amazingly easy, really. I wrote a brief review of it on my blog back in the day, here: http://www.ryumaou.com/hoffman/netgeek/2004/10/mkcdrec-linux-restores/

drsw
drsw

In terms of backup, I like the Unitrends appliances (http://www.unitrends.com) - in particular, the hot BareMetal. I also like the fact that these things are running Linux (CentOS.)

Scotty Bones
Scotty Bones

When it comes to backing up the entire OS. I use Remastersys. It only works on Debian based distributions though. The great thing is it can do both a live-cd backup (all user accounts, settings and documents are maintained) or a custom distro (all root settings maintained) that can be installed on multiple machines. Normally it has to be run manually. Which is fine if you are looking to create a custom image for multiple machines or want to do a quick backup before attempting a potentially system breaking change. I'm sure it would not be that difficult to set up a script with custom options and a cron job, if you wanted a regular OS backup. If I happen to totally bork a system, It's as easy as burning a DVD and reinstalling. It's also great for creating systems in a virtual environment like VirtualBox, so things can be tested before deployment. As for incremental document backups...well thats why I'm checking out this post.

rgoodwin
rgoodwin

I use MONDO all the time for cloning and bare metal restores. I use BACULA and some custom scripts for nightly backups. Have a failure - boot from MONDO media and reimage existing or new hardware, restore latest nightly backup and go.

pgit
pgit

"Ghost for Linux." This has never let me down. Backup takes a while, 6-7 hours on a 250GB drive for eg, but the restore takes about half as long. It's a bootable live CD (netBSD) that fires up an ftp client. Yes, you have to have an ftp server waiting for the image, but I have a system set up for this that is isolated. One machine with an OS (Mandriva) running a DHCP and ftp server, into which I throw an extra hard drive sufficient to hold the .gz image, and a switch. No internet, no security concerns. I even have it set up on a laptop that the ftp server uses a USB disk. Mobile backup lab. If I want to isolate I have to haul a switch with me and set up a DHCP server on the laptop. As I say it has never failed me. I have need the images for a bare metal (emergency!) restore numerous times and not once has failed. Most of these restores were complex dual boot machines with 8-9 partitions or more and tons of original data. The backup and restore commands are stupid-simple. They're displayed on the screen so it's really idiot proof. I can't recommend G4U enough. The ONE drawback is sometimes it just won't boot on a given machine. But I get around that by removing the drive and slaving it in another. In that case I will consider using dd to image the drive rather than G4U, but I have both options. I've used mondo rescue, and only gotten one good restore. I don't trust a system that breaks up the backup and spreads it over multiple writable DVDs. Too many places to fall down. I've gotten to #4 out of 5 only to have a read error, a bad spot on the DVD. And good luck with bacula. 'nuff said. It'd be easier to dance with an octopus. I agree the big consideration is the restore part. Unless you test you don't know if it'll be a godsend of a huge let down. But I've gotten to where I don't test most of the G4U backups anymore. It's that reliable.

jck
jck

All my recent boxes (including 2 laptops) have USB 2.0. I even have eSATA on them. I am gettin ansy. If I have any time in the near future, I'll be working with that. Maybe I will get into using Cedega...as long as their phone support is toll-free and good.

pgit
pgit

I've checked out G4L, much like G4U but nicer interface and a few more options. Thanks for the tip. This place rocks! =D

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I went through Mondorescue and Bacula yesterday afternoon and evening. Mondo's limitation is that it only supports the *nix stuff well. You have to mount your Windows partitions to capture them as blob files which means a dualboot system at minimum. You also have to stop your database servers and similar daemons to avoid data file curruption. As a *nix only system imager, it is easy to install and use though. It writes to various destinations though sftp/ssh is not supported. The ISO boots and lets you compare the image, restore in part or restore in full. Bacula is a monster to setup but supports multiple OS. I still have to get a client workstation setup and run through the backup process then try a restore. It seems better for doing a full system image followed by incremental backups. G4L is not in the Debian Lenny repositories but neither was Mondo so it may simply be a matter of getting the .debs or a liveCD. I think I was looking between it and Clonezilla in the past before other projects got in the way. I'll have to look at G4L today and give it a proper run. It means shutting down the system to take an image but may trump Mondo for doing recovery disks that anyone can through at one of our servers instead of my build scripts that take a little knowledge followed by the dev's restoring there layers that run on top of mine.

mikes
mikes

G4L is a linux program that is similar to G4U, and generally can support additional hardware with later kernels. It also include udpcast and ntfsclone as backup process, and can use ftp servers, ssh and cifs (windows) for saving images as well as external disks. It can do backups using lzop compression, which is about twice as fast as gzip compressions, but makes images about 10% larger. Uses Dialog GUI and has UDPCAST options as well.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I'll add it to my list. On initial scans, the restore process looks cumbersome in the same way as boxbackup. It's good to have another option on my list though should it fit a need best. Bacula - been looking at it a while, industrial but feature rich. Mondorescue - seems competitive with Bacula but I haven't read the information yet. Amanda - reading it now, cross platform support is a benefit but I have to read the restore process docs. Off the list for me: Box Backup - looks good and cross platform but the restore process is my primary criteria since they all do the various scheduled backups. Arkeia - enterprise pricing, will keep it in mind for future but looking for something to use at home and on client's systems. fwbackup back in time kbackup - all gui only or meant for desktop local backups. Good programs but not fitting my needs. simple backup solution - no restore rsync - use it regularly now for file transfer and existing backup scripts but looking for a backup specific app.

jck
jck

I'm gonna try and boot Kubuntu tonight and see what happens. I might be putting Linux on my gaming machine soon. I think I have space to spare with 500GBs on the 2nd drive lol :D

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I should have expected a liveCD from the start along the same theme as the Clonezilla disk. Found the website, hit the download ftp and it was .ISO only. Perfect though, it's in my library to try out with a VM. It means shutting the server down during the backup but like Mondorescue, it's a good way to do complete images.

mikes
mikes

G4L like G4U is a program that runs on its own OS from Ram to be able to image the disk or partitions. They can backup any OS. G4U can boot from CD or Floppies. G4L can not do a floopy boot, but can do a boot from CD, or usign other boot loader. The kernel and ramdrive.gz can be added to grub and/or grub4dos. It then loads the kernel and filesystem in ram, and can then image the disks. With grub4dos, it can even be loaded from an ntfs partition. I have it as an option on my classrom grub menu.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

For me it's a budget priced NAS box that only provides samba and ftp. It was the first machine in my router's "no internet access" rule which limits risk to things already inside my network. I've not used sshfs with large files so I've been lucky in not seeing it break badly. most of my transfers are scp or more often rsync over ssh for large or multiple files. G4L supporting ssh is even better than sshfs but I'll have to test and see how it manages a 36 gig system; transfer and disk spanning ISO images.

pgit
pgit

Well, again it depends on the circumstance. If you're talking over a public network, then indeed ssh is the way to go. But as I've said I have a machine set up to serve whatever destination (internal or external HD in the server) that is totally isolated. I have seen sshfs crap out on huge file transfers. Never seen ftp do so, it's a very reliable protocol. So long as I have the luxury of hauling the machine into my lair, there's zero risk of using ftp. Actually I can do it on site as well, isolating the system with a laptop as the destination for the image.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

That one's a winner for me. No opening an FTP port when I can just stick with the existing ssh.

pgit
pgit

Thanks for the tip. I'll give G4L a workout, too.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

That sounds familiar as I went through backup options a while back looking for something. In my case, I need centralized backup preferably with a small client on each machine, cross platform support and, ideally, bare metal restores. For general home use against a USB drive though, I did find a number of great options which should have included Simply Backup if it didn't.

rMatey
rMatey

It's in the Ununtu repositories. I've used Simple Backup. It adds another program called Simple Backup Restore. Suits my needs for a desktop with a USB disk drive. Use it for both my laptop and desktop.