Backup Journey to rsnapshot

When I started producing backup worthy files (code, documents, projects, etc …), I realised the importance of backups after losing important files which happens to everybody. So I started my journey with backup solutions.

Backup generation 1: My first backup was simple directory copy operation, I copied my important directories to external floppy (then CD), and since it is manual operation I always forget about it and my backups was always old.

Backup Generation 2: Later when I moved to Linux I automated the backup process using a “cron” job, I backed up everything daily to a single file ‘backup.tar.gz’

Backup Generation 3: One day I noticed that I deleted a file by mistake … no problem I’ll restore it from backup … but it wasn’t there! I realised that I deleted the folder 2 days ago and the backup is overwritten daily! The solution is to backup daily to a different file name e.g. ‘backup-monday.tar.gz’ to have one week worth of backups.

Backup Generation 4: It happened again I deleted a file and had to restore from backup, this time I am prepared 🙂 Unarchive ‘backup-moday.tar.gz’ and couldn’t find the file, try ‘backup-sunday.tar.gz’ not found either, finally I found it on ‘backup-saturday.tar.gz’, it took me a while but at least I found the file. But now I have another problem, all these backups are taking large amount of my disk space.

So far the problems I have are:

  • Backups takes long time to complete: I have to copy all files and directories and compress them!
  • Backups eat my disk space: complete backup for 7 days is too much to handle, I also want weekly and monthly backups but can’t afford to lose more disk space!
  • Searching and restoring the backup is very slow process.

Then I found rsnapshot!


rsnapshot is backup tool that solve all my previous problems and more, this how it works:

Using rsync and hard links, it is possible to keep multiple, full backups instantly available. The disk space required is just a little more than the space of one full backup, plus incrementals.


To install rsnapshot from Ubuntu or Debian systems:

$ sudo aptitude install rsnapshot


rsnapshot isn’t a deamon (server or a service), it works periodically as a cron job, and by default it is disabled, to activate open the file /etc/cron.d/rsnapshot and uncomment all jobs:

$ sudo vi /etc/cron.d/rsnapshot
# Uncomment all lines to activate rsnapshot 
0 */4 * * * root /usr/bin/rsnapshot hourly 
30 3 * * * root /usr/bin/rsnapshot daily 
0 3 * * 1 root /usr/bin/rsnapshot weekly 
30 2 1 * * root /usr/bin/rsnapshot monthly 


The default configuration for rsnapshot is to backup the following local directories, /home, /etc, and /usr/local. If you want to change it edit the file /etc/rsnapshot.conf.

$ sudo vi /etc/rsnapshot.conf 
snapshot_root /var/cache/rsnapshot/
retain          hourly  6
retain          daily   7
retain          weekly  4
retain          monthly  3
backup  /home/          localhost/
backup  /etc/           localhost/
backup  /usr/local/     localhost/

Where is My Data?

rsnapshot backup everything in the directory defined in snapshot_root in the config file, by default it is /var/cache/rsnapshot/, after running for few days you would have the following directory structure:


Of course the number of directories reflect the retain value in the configuration.

What I have now is a the following backups:

  • Hourly backup: performed every 4 hours, and I keep the last 6 versions, i.e. 24 hours worth of backups.
  • Daily backup: I keep the last 7 version to cover the whole week.
  • Weekly backup: I keep the last 4 weeks to cover a whole month.
  • Monthly backup: I keep the last 4 monthly backups.

To give you a perspective on how much rsnapshot disk space the hourly.0 size is 7 GB, hourly.1 size is only 120 MB

NOTE: You would need root permission to access the directory /var/cache/rsnapshot

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