Ottawa PC Users' Group, Inc.
 Product Review 


Exploring Linux - Part 22
by Alan German

As noted in the previous article in this series, several of the backup packages available for Linux are based on the rsync file synchronization utility.

One such program is Lucky Backup (
http://luckybackup.sourceforge.net/). This package lets you create a backup profile by specifying both the source and the target locations of the files to be processed. The resulting backup is a file-by-file copy of the source to the target disk. This requires a bit more disk space, due to there being no file compression, but it does make file retrieval very simple.

Lucky Backup lets you run a simulation so that you can see what is going to happen without copying any files. Then, when you run the actual file transfer there shouldn't be any surprises. But – surprise! While, on my system, the simulation worked just fine, the actual file transfer generated dozens of error messages in very evident red text. Most of these were to the effect that rsync copy operations were not permitted due to file ownership (chown) issues. However, the confounding issue was that the files were actually transferred, and the backup process did appear to have been successful.

Nevertheless, the production of so many "errors" did not induce a great deal of confidence in Lucky Backup, and life is too short to see if the error messages can be eliminated. So, for me, it was on to the next backup program.

 

 

My ultimate selection for backup software is Back In Time (http://backintime.le-web.org/). This program is available through the Ubuntu Software Centre and installs itself with an entry in Applications – System Tools. Actually, it creates two entries, one to simply run the program, and another to run the program as root (in order to process files for which the regular user doesn't have sufficient permissions). Running the program as a regular user works just fine for my purposes.

The first time the program is run, the settings dialogue box is displayed. The initial tab lets you specify the target drive, the folder where the backup files are to be stored, and select a schedule for the backup process. If, like me, you intend to run the backups manually just leave the default for the scheduled backup as "Disabled", rather than selecting one of the timed options (e.g. every 5 minutes, daily, weekly, etc.)

The next two tabs are for specifying the files and folders to be included in or excluded from the backup. In my case, I chose to initially include my entire data partition (/media/DataDisk) and then to exclude certain files and folders, such as SyncToy*.* (configuration files for Microsoft's SyncToy utility). Additional default entries on this list include items such as .* that will eliminate backing up any hidden files or folders.

A number of tabs provide further program options, including the ability to automatically remove backup files after a given period of time or when disk space becomes an issue. There are a couple of "expert options" that the program says to only change "if you know what you are doing". Needless to say I gave the latter a wide berth!

Once the configuration has been set, running the backup process is as simple as clicking on an icon on the main menu bar. The program then makes what it terms a "snapshot". This and subsequent snapshots are listed by date in a panel on the left side of the program's window, together with an option to view the current state of the source disk ("Now"). Clicking on any snapshot causes a listing of the files and folders that the snapshot contains to be displayed in the right-hand panel of the program's window in a tree-directory format.

The beauty of this layout is that it is easy to browse through the entire backup, and identify any single file or folder that needs to be restored. Simply clicking on the "Restore" icon (a dustbin with a "return" arrow) causes the selected item to be restored from the target disk to its original location on the source. Now, what could be simpler than that?

However, it's also possible to restore an entire snapshot. In my case, I click on the /media/DataDisk entry under "Backup folders" and then click on the "Snapshots" icon in the upper-right corner of the dialogue box. All of the available snapshots are now listed. Simply selecting one of the available snapshots allows me to either compare the backup to the current disk status, and display any differences, or to actually restore the backup.

One useful aspect of Back In Time is that it has the ability to create "hard links" of files within backups. This is an rsync feature whereby the backup process stores a link to a file that is already stored on an existing backup rather than creating a second copy of the file itself. Intended to save space by eliminating storage redundancies, the downside to this facility is that it isn't available when storing backups on FAT volumes such as (normally) external USB drives.

Perhaps the only real limitation of the program that I have found to date is the rather sparse documentation that is included in the software through the help menu. There is a comprehensive list of the various commands that are available, but a lack of detail on how to use some of them. Fortunately, Back In Time is pretty intuitive when it comes to basic usage, and there are many tutorials available on the Internet covering various versions of the program.

Back In Time functions very efficiently and seems to provide all the features that I need. Consequently, I think that this one is a "keeper" and, for now at least, will become my standard application for data backup under Linux.

For those who remain unconvinced, or who would like more details of the backup programs mentioned in this and the previous article, please check out the series of blog posts on the subject commencing with "Backing up a step" at:
http://linuxnorth.wordpress.com/2012/02/23/backing-up-a-step/.


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