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  • Ubuntu Backup Software

    Posted on April 30th, 2009 admin 24 comments

    Backing up files can be useful in case you suffer hard drive issues, but it can also be helpful in case of “messing up” a file, and needing a backup of it.  There are many different backup options available for ubuntu.  Some backup to the internet, where your files exist in “the cloud,” and allow you to easily share the files with others, while other simply allow backing up to another hard drive, directory, or remote computer.  There are advantages and disadvantages to each of these approaches that I will be detailing as I analyze different peices of software available for backup.

    All software packages that I will be mentioning in this post are available for other distributions of linux, but I am mainly going to focus on the installation and configuration for ubuntu.


    Dropbox is one of my favorite pieces of software.  In addition to dropbox backing up files, it is also great for sharing files between computers, and friends.  Their software works on Macs, PCs, and Linux operating systems.  In this review, I am going to be focusing on the ubuntu linux operating system.

    After you download the software for your computer, and create an account, a folder is created in your home folder (or wherever you chose to put it) labeled dropbox.  This folder initially comes with a few files in it to show you how it works.  There is also a photos folder in here by default (you can delete it) that you can add folders and images to, and then share via the web.  To do this, you place all of the files you want to share into a folder, and then right click on the folder, and select dropbox/copy public gallery link.  You can send this link to any friends, or share it on the web.  Here is an example of one of my dropbox albums that I made:


    Files are automatically synced to the dropbox servers (hosted by amazon s3), and all revisions of your files are saved (so if you mess up a document that you are creating and saved, you can go back to a previous save point.  This is very similar to svn revisioning, expcept it automatically occurs every time you save.  When a file is being uploaded, the overlay icon changes from a checkmark, and when it is done it changes back to a checkmark.  Uploads and downloads are generally very speedy (obviously depending on your connection).

    Syced Dropbox Folders

    Syced Dropbox Folders

    Folder Syncing

    Folder Syncing

    There is also a web interface for dropbox from which you can share folders, restore files and revisions of files, and even upload files.  I have used the dropbox software in the past to share folders with other people, and to upload files to my computer when I am on a public computer.


    • Fast syncing
    • Easy to use
    • Sharing features
    • Photo albums
    • Revisions saved


    • You can’t host the data yourself
    • You are limited to 2gb of space unless you pay more.
    • All files you want to sync have to be in the dropbox folder (they have said they will fix this in the future)

    Overall, Dropbox offers a great way to sync, share, and backup your files between different computers.  The features are a little bit limiting, but they do this to try and keep the software simple to use.  The development of this application is very active, and I can see them sticking around for a while.

    Dropbox – Secure online backup, file sync and sharing made easy


    Unison is a great piece of software through which you can backup folders and sync folders between computers.  This is an open source software that works on Macs, PCs, and Linux operating systems.

    This software does not have the ability to be accessed from a web interface (I am sure you could share the folder you backup to if you have a webserver though), and does not have the ability to share folders and make photo albums, but it is great at syncing files between computers, or for using to backup your files.

    I use unison in addition to dropbox for files that do not change very often, yet I still want to backup.  Since dropbox only gives 2gb for free, I use that for backing up and sharing my school files, and other documents, while I use unison to backup my pictures and music to my server.

    When you first open unison, you can create different profiles and select two directories to sync:

    Unison Profile

    Unison Profile

    You can sync two local directories, or you can choose to sync a local directory with a remote directory, such as a ssh directory.  On my computer, I sync local folders to a remote ssh server.

    Unison Checking for Changes

    Unison Checking for Changes

    After unison finishes checking for changes, you can choose what to do with the changes on each on, and then sync the files.  Unison can be run from the command line, so setting up a cronjob to automatically sync/backup a folder would not be very difficult.


    • Open source
    • You can backup to your own server
    • Unlimited (or as much storage as you have) storage for no extra cost
    • It’s in the repositories


    • The interface can be a little bit confusing at first
    • Folders are not automatically synced (but can be via a cronjob)

    Overall, unison provides a great way to sync/backup folders on computers to a server.  It may not be as easy or intuitive to use as dropbox, but you own the backups instead of relying on “cloud” storage.

    sudo apt-get install unison


    SBackup is another service that allows you to backup a specific directories to a remote server, or to a local directory. By default the program backs up the folders you chose to you /var/backup directory.

    The interface is relatively easy to use.  You can manually do backups, use the recommended automatic backup schedule/settings, or do use a custom backup schedule.  The gui provides an easy way to select directories that you want to include/exclude, when you went to backup, where you want to backup to, and what you want to do with old backups (purging).

    SBackup Gui

    SBackup Gui

    The interface appears to be well though out, and it is quite easy to use.  There is a separate interface from which you can restore files and directories from your backup to your computer.

    SBackup looks perfect for anytime you want to automatically/manually backup folders on your computer.  It does not offer instant syncing like some other services, or “cloud storage,” but it is relatively fast and easy to use for its intended functionality.


    • Easy to use
    • No command line required
    • Can sync to your own server/backup drive


    • Requires extra storage to backup to
    • No “cloud storage”
    • No sharing features


    SpiderOak is another service that is quite similar to dropbox. I found it after I began using dropbox, and I was wondering what alternatives there were to dropbox. One particular function that I noticed/liked was the ability to select specific folders to sync instead of just having one folder where I had to move all of my files to. It seemed to be a lot easier to switch to using spideroak as opposed to switching to using dropbox.

    Spideroak does work on Windows, Mac, and Linux operating systems like dropbox, and unison do. This allows you to use it for crossplatform syncing.

    SpiderOak Gui

    SpiderOak Gui

    The interface seems to be a bit more complex than both dropbox and unison, but once you get used to it, it is quite powerful. Dropbox focuses on making their program easy to use and setup, while SpiderOak appears to put more focus on functionality.

    There is a web interface for SpiderOak that you can use to accces and edit your files remotely. This is great for printing or editing files from the library or other remote location.

    SpiderOak Webinterface

    SpiderOak Webinterface

    Spideroak does say that they encrypt your data when you upload it, so they do not know what your data is, and cannot access it. I am unsure if this means you use your own encryption key, or if they use one encryption key for all of their files as dropbox does (this seems to be one common complaint against dropbox.


    • Powerful software
    • Sharing functionality


    • A little bit difficult to get used to
    • Syncing does not automatically occur when files get updated, but instead at a preset interval.

    Overall, the software appears to be a very powerful and easy way to backup your files between computers, or to the internet. The interface is a little bit difficult to grasp at first, but after a while, it become easier to use, and more intuitive.


    20 responses to “Ubuntu Backup Software” RSS icon

    • ln -s /path/to/folder you want to back up ~/Dropbox

    • That command works great for backing up folders to the dropbox folder (it creates a symlink). The only issue is that it does not add the sync status icons on the files in the original folder, only in the symlink folder.

    • If we are talking backup apps for an Ubuntu desktop user, then there are two very good ones that must be mentioned in such a list: Areca Backup and Back-In-Time. Areca is the most powerful backup utility an Ubuntu desktop user might want (Only Bacula for a server installation might do more.) I really recommend Back-In-Time however. This is very easy to set up, and is quite similar in functionality to the Mac OS X Time Machine. Back-In-Time can be used in conjunction with Dropbox for a killer backup solution.



    • I might do another post in the future as a continuation of this one, and review a few more backup options (I’ll definitely keep those in mind).

      The other piece of software that I have heard of is iFolder ( I tried getting it installed on my laptop/server, but I ended up having trouble and sort of giving up since there were only suse packages available, and converting them/compiling wasn’t working very well for me (I had dependency issues and such).

      Has anyone had any success getting iFolder to install under ubuntu?

    • Another vote here for back-in-time. Bigtime. Best I’ve seen, period, end of discussion and I’ve tried a lot. Spanks Sbackup and sends it running home to mama.

    • I vote for Areca.
      I have been using it for ages and it works great.
      I also use it on Windows. (It is written in Java)

    • Another +1 for back-in-time! Small, fast, easy. I share my own remastered Ubuntu and wanted one type of each software on it, video, audio, etc… and for backup software, I tried everything I could find that would install, and went with Back-in-time.

    • You should try NSsbackup, it’s a fork of SBackup. SBackup isn’t really being developed at the moment so none of the bugs are getting fixed.

      For example, you can’t set it to not make a backup if your external drive isn’t plugged in and then it fills up your normal drive with backup images instead.

      There’s always rsync!

    • Another vote for back-in-time!!!!! Great software for me. :)

    • what about flyback?
      Or timevault?

    • The term ‘backup’ is not explained in your topic. Do you mean a simple ‘copy’ or do you mean a ‘copy + user rights’, because in the latter case, how does the interchange with MS-Windows and other OS work.
      As most backup softwares write out the data in a customized format, retrieving them – bypassing the tool and version that created them – is almost impossible.

      Moreover, I find backup solutions for a home user – who doesn’t have a server running 24/7 in his attic – overkill.
      Attach a 32 of 64 Gb thumbstick, format it to the FS of your liking and copy the files over. or burn it on a DL DVD and you have 9GB+ of data available. As most of us have external devices attached to our systems with Hard Disks ranging from a ‘small’ 250Gb to 1.5 or 2TB there is no limit to the amount of data that you can safeguard without resorting to ‘backup software’

    • Alain, your observations and points are spot on! I periodically copy my entire /home directory to a separate drive for safekeeping. Data resides in places other than dedicated directories (eg. Documents, Photos, etc.) and I want to preserve all of my data and settings.

      I use the following command at the command line (where the actual date is substituted in place of ):
      cp /home/tim/ -a –target-directory=/media/pip/Backup//

      One default thing I would like to see distros do is creating a separate partition for /home during installation. This helps by separating a user’s data from the installation of the underlying OS and makes it much easier to preserve the user’s data if the user decides to reinstall or switch distros.

    • Thanks for this post!

    • Alain, I agree that some backup solutions are overkill for home users. That is why I presented other options such as dropbox and spideroak. These allow you to backup your files to a remote location for free without needing to run a server. If you want a more complete backup solution, there are other options that you can backup your whole drive with.

      Also, backup software such as unison is a gui front for command line tools such as cp and rsync. Some people are not comfortable using the command line, so something like Unison is perfect for them.

      Tim, I agree with creating a separate directory for home. I have recently started doing that when I install ubuntu, and it makes reinstalling a lot easier knowing that all of my settings will be retained. I agree that this should probably be done by default. The only issue I could foresee would be how to decide how big to make this directory (you would need to either provide a recommendation to the user based upon the free space, or have a default setting), but this would not be very difficult to fix.

    • No mention of Amazon ? There are some great utilities like s3cmd and there are lots of howtos to setup cron tasks to automate backup. It’s very cheap even for a lot of storage and the 2GB Dropbox free limit is too low.

    • @Alain
      “As most of us have external devices attached to our systems with Hard Disks ranging from a ’small’ 250Gb to 1.5 or 2TB there is no limit to the amount of data that you can safeguard without resorting to ‘backup software’”

      Just copying the complete backup set of data over every so often misses one of the most important aspects of most backup software – incrementalism. That means you backup all the data in full once and then further backups (all copied to your USB stick, drive or wherever) are just the changes from that original. The advantage of this is that you then have a history, so if you discover that one of your files is corrupt for example you can go back several days/weeks/months/whatever to whenever it wasn’t.

      With the straight-copy system you’re suggesting it’s a lottery that the file you want to restore wasn’t also corrupted/deleted/whatever in the backup you made a few days ago. Or in other words it’s only one step up from the people who think that RAID is a backup solution.

    • This reminded meof something I was watching on the television the other day.

    • If you really want to bauckp your Mac properly and faster, you need an external hard drive to make a bootable bauckp that you can restore from if your internal hard drives goes south (which it will, and at the worst possible time).You can connect via FireWire or USB 2.0, and use SuperDuper ($30) to make the bauckp: . The drives I use at work to make our Mac bauckps are the NewerTech miniStack:As long as you do a bauckp everyday before you shutdown the Mac, everything will always be up-to-date if you need to restore from a crash or other problem. Don’t waste your time with swapping DVDs and only having a single bauckp that’s not updated daily.

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