Have I really not written about `rsync`?

Kyun-Chan, a shy, Japanese pika disguised as a deer
Kyun-Chan, a shy, Japanese pika disguised as a deer

There’s lots of great backup tools out there – borg, rdiffbackup, bareos, zfs and btrfs send/receive, pvesync, etc. and the cutest mascotted backup program ever, of course, pikabackup (it’s adorable!) all with their own traits and best-practice use cases.

I have to say, though, call me DIY, a glutton for punishment, or just plain nerdy, but I really like my hand-written backup scripts more than anything else. Part of it is because I want to know what is happening in the process intimately enough that debugging shouldn’t be a problem, but I also find something satisfying about going through the process of identifying what each flag will do and curating them carefully for a specific use case, and (of course) learning new things about how some of my favorite timeless classics.

rsync is definitely one of those timeless classics. It’s to copying files what ssh is to remote login: Simultaneously beautiful and indispensable. And so adaptable to whatever file-level copy procedure you want to complete. For example, check out what the Arch wiki suggests for replacing your typical copy (cp) and move (mv):

# If you're not familiar, these are bash functions
# source: https://wiki.archlinux.org/title/rsync
# guessing cpr is to denote 'cp w/ rsync'

cpr() {
rsync --archive -hh --partial --info=stats1,progress2 --modify-window=1 "$@"

# these are neat because they're convenient and quiet

mvr() {
rsync --archive -hh --partial --info=stats1,progress2 --modify-window=1 --remove-source-files "$@"

It seems rsync flags are pretty personal, if someone’s familiar, usually they’ll have some favorite flags – whether they’re easy to remember, they saw them somewhere else, or think they look cool to type. I know for me, mine are -avhP for home (user files) and -aAvX for root (system files), but I painstakingly researched the documentation for this next script to create my own systemd.timer backups to (you guessed it) rsync.net:

TIMESTAMP="$(date +%Y%m%d_%Hh%Mm)"
EXCLUDE_LIST={"*.iso","*.ISO","*.img",".asdf","build",".cache",".cargo",".config/google-chrome/Default/Service\ Worker/CacheStorage",".conda","containers",".cpan",".docker","Downloads",".dotnet",".electron-gyp","grive","go",".java",".local/share/flatpak",".local/share/Trash",".npm",".nuget","OneDrive",".pnpm-store",".pyenv",".rustup",".rye",".ssh",".var","Videos","vms",".yarn"}

rsync --log-file=$LOGFILE \
    -AcDgHlmoprtuXvvvz \
    --ignore-existing \
    --fsync --delete-after \
    --info=stats3,name0,progress2 \
    --write-batch=$BATCHFILE \
    --exclude=$EXCLUDE_LIST \
    $HOME $RSYNCNET:$(hostname); \
    ssh RSYNCNET cp $LOGFILE $(hostname)/.

where $LOGFILE is the (very detailed) log of the backup, $TIMESTAMP is the time the script is invoked, and the $EXCLUDE_LIST is stuff I don’t want in my backups, like folders from other cloud services, browser cache, $HOME/.ssh, development libraries, flatpaks, and build directories for AUR and git repos.

A quick note about --exclude, it can be a little fiddly. It can be repeated for one flag at a time without an equals sign, e.g. --exclude *.iso --exclude ~/Videos, but if you want to chain them together, then they need the equals sign. I had them working from a separate file once years ago with each pattern on separate lines, but now I can’t remember how I did it, so the big one-line mess with curly braces, commas, and single-pattern quotes is how I’ve been rocking it lately. It’s ugly, but it works.

Here’s the manual for rsync in case you actually want to know what the flags are doing (definitely recommend it): https://linux.die.net/man/1/rsync

And another quick, but good, rsync reference by Will Haley: https://www.willhaley.com/blog/rsync-filters/ – this guy does all sorts of interesting stuff, and I liked his granular, yet opinionated, walk-through of rsync: how he sees it. (spoiler: two people’s rsyncs are rarely the same)

Of course, file-level backups are not the same as system images, and for that I use fsarchiver. If you’re not familiar, I definitely recommend checking them, and their awesome Arch-Based rescue ISO distro out: https://www.system-rescue.org/

I wrote my own script for that, too (of course), but I’ll probably link it in a repo since it’s quite a bit longer than the script for rsync. It is timed to run right before the rsync backup, in the same script, along with dumps of separate lists of my supported dist (pacman -Qqe) and AUR (pacman -Qqm) packages.

Oh, and also, if you ever need to do file recovery, check out granddaddy testdisk: https://www.cgsecurity.org/testdisk_doc/presentation.html

What’s your favorite backup software, and why? Any stories about how they got you (or failed to get you) out of a bind? Unfortunately, everybody’s got one these days… would love to hear about them in the comments below…

Author: Avery Freeman

MBA / Audio Engineering alumnus enjoys taking adjunct courses in data sciences, management, and software development. Passionate about collaboratively improving humanity through open source information ecosystems. Tenaciously solves problems of near-universally intolerable tediousness. Proficient in SQL, Python, Javascript, has forgotten SAS, and misses OpenSolaris. Eminently effervescent about Unix-like operating systems and software defined networks, including an unmistakable urge to Berkeley packet filter all the things. Fanatically fond of zfs and linux volume manager. Has lived in Tokyo, SF, Oakland, and now Seattle. Can't forget cooking, hiking, gardening, and playing with your cat.

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