Linux is a stable and reliable environment. But any computing system can have unforeseen events, such as hardware failures. Having a reliable backup of critical configuration information and data is part of any responsible administration plan. There is a wide variety of approaches to doing backups in Linux. Techniques range from very simple script-driven methods to elaborate commercial software. Backups can be done to remote network devices, tape drives, and other removable media. Backups can be file-based or drive-image based. There are many options available and you can mix and match your techniques to design the perfect backup plan for your circumstances.
What's your strategy?
There are many different approaches to backing up a system. For some perspectives on this, you may want to read the article "Introduction to Backing Up and Restoring Data" listed in the Resources section at the end of this article.
What you back up depends a lot on your reason for backing up. Are you trying to recover from critical failures, such as hard drive problems? Are you archiving so that old files can be recovered if needed? Do you plan to start with a cold system and restore, or a preloaded standby system?
What to back up?
The file-based nature of Linux is a great advantage when backing up and restoring the system. In a Windows system, the registry is very system specific. Configurations and software installations are not simply a matter of dropping files on a system. Therefore, restoring a system requires software that can deal with these idiosyncrasies. In Linux, the story is different. Configuration files are text based and, except for when they deal directly with hardware, are largely system independent. The modern approach to hardware drivers is to have them available as modules that are dynamically loaded, so kernels are becoming more system independent. Rather than a backup having to deal with the intricacies of how the operating system is installed on your system and hardware, Linux backups are about packaging and unpackaging files.
In general, there are some directories that you want to back up:
contains all of your core configuration files. This includes your network configuration, system name, firewall rules, users, groups, and other global system items.
contains information used by your systems daemons (services) including DNS configurations, DHCP leases, mail spool files, HTTP server files, db2 instance configuration, and others.
contains the default user home directories for all of your users. This includes their personal settings, downloaded files, and other information your users don't want to lose.
is the home directory for the root user.
is where a lot of non-system software will be installed. IBM software goes in here. OpenOffice, JDKs, and other software is also installed here by default.
There are directories that you should consider not backing up.
should never be backed up. It is not a real-file system, but rather a virtualized view of the running kernel and environment. It includes files such as /proc/kcore, which is a virtual view of the entire running memory. Backing these up only wastes resources.
contains the file representations of your hardware devices. If you are planning to restore to a blank system, then you can back up /dev. However, if you are planning to restore to an installed Linux base, then backing up /dev will not be necessary.
The other directories contain system files and installed packages. In a server environment, much of this information is not customized. Most customization occurs in the /etc and /home directories. But for completeness, you may wish to back them up.
In a production environment where I wanted to be assured that no data would be lost, I would back up the entire system, except for the /proc directory. If I were mostly worried about users and configuration, I would back up only the /etc, /var, /home, and /root directories.
As mentioned before, Linux backups are largely about packaging and
unpackaging files. This allows you to use existing system utilities and
scripting to perform your backups rather than having to purchase a
commercial software package. In many cases, this type of backup will be
adequate, and it provides a great deal of control for the administrator.
The backup script can be automated using the
cron command, which controls scheduled events in
tar is a classic UNIX command that has been
ported into Linux.
tar is short for
tape archive, and was originally designed for packaging
files onto tape. You have probably already encountered tar files if you
have downloaded any source code for Linux. It is a file-based command
that essentially serially stacks the files end to end.
Entire directory trees can be packaged with
tar, which makes it especially suited to backups.
Archives can be restored in their entirety, or files and
directories can be expanded individually. Backups can go to file-based devices
or tape devices. Files can be redirected upon restoration to replace to a
different directory (or system) from where they were originally saved.
tar is file system-independent. It can be used
on ext2, ext3, jfs, Reiser, and other file systems.
tar is very much like using a file
utility, such as PKZip. You point it toward a destination, which is a file
or a device, and then name the files that you want to package. You can
compress archives on the fly with standard compression types, or specify
an external compression program of your choice. To compress or uncompress files
through bzip2, use
To back up the entire file system using
a SCSI tape drive, excluding the /proc directory:
tar -cpf /dev/st0 / --exclude=/proc
In the above example, the
-c switch indicates that the archive is
being created. The
-p switch indicates that we want to preserve the
file permissions, critical for a good backup. The
-f switch points
to the filename for the archive. In this case, we are using the raw tape
device, /dev/st0. The / indicates what we want to back up. Since we wanted
the entire file system, we specified the root.
tar automatically recurses when pointed to a
directory (ending in a /). Finally, we exclude the /proc directory, since
it doesn't contain anything we need to save. If the backup will not fit on
a single tape, we will add the
-M switch (not shown), for
To restore a file or files, the
tar command is
used with the extract switch (
tar -xpf /dev/st0 -C /
-f switch again points to our file, and
that we want to restore archived permissions. The
indicates an extraction of the archive. The
-C / indicates that we
want the restore to occur from /.
restores to the directory from which the command is run. The
switch makes our current directory irrelevant.
The two other
tar commands that you will
probably use often are the
-d switches. The
switch lists the contents of an archive. The
-d switch compares the
contents of the archive to current files on a system.
For ease of operation and editing, you can put the files and directories
that you want to archive in a text file, which you reference with the
-T switch. These can be combined with other directories listed on
the command line. The following line backs up all the files and
directories listed in MyFiles, the /root directory, and all of the iso
files in the /tmp directory:
tar -cpf /dev/st0 -T MyFiles /root /tmp/*.iso
The file list is simply a text file with the list of files or directories. Here's an example:
Please note that the
tar -T (or
files-from) command cannot
accept wildcards. Files must be listed explicitly. The example above shows
one way to reference files separately. You could also execute a script to
search the system and then build a list. Here is an example of such a
cat MyFiles > TempList
find /usr/share -iname *.png >> TempList
find /tmp -iname *.iso >> TempList
tar -cpzMf /dev/st0 -T TempList
The above script first copies all of our existing file list from MyFiles
to TempList. Then it executes a couple of
commands to search the file system for files that match a pattern and to
append them to the TempList. The first search is for all files in the
/usr/share directory tree that end in
.png. The second search is
for all files in the /tmp directory tree that end in
the list is built, then
tar is run to
create a new archive on the file device /dev/st0 (the first
SCSI tape drive), which is compressed using the gzip format and
retains all of the file permissions. The archive will span
Multiple volumes. The file names to be archived will be
Taken from the file TempList.
Scripting can also be used to perform much more elaborate actions such as incremental backups. An excellent script is listed by Gerhard Mourani in his book Securing and Optimizing Linux, which you will find listed in the Resources section at the end of this article.
Scripts can also be written to restore files, though restoration is often
done manually. As mentioned above, the
-x switch for extract
-c switch. Entire archives can be restored, or
individual files or directories can be specified. Wildcards are okay to
reference files in the archive. You can also use switches to dump and
dump and restore
dump can perform functions similar to
dump tends to look at file
systems rather than individual files. Quoting from the
dump man file:
"dump examines files on an ext2 filesystem and determines which files need
to be backed up. These files are copied to the given disk, tape, or other
storage medium for safe keeping.... A dump that is larger than the
output medium is broken into multiple volumes. On most media, the size is
determined by writing until an end-of-media indication is returned."
The companion program to
restore, which is used to restore files from a dump
restore command performs the inverse
function of dump. A full backup of a file system may be restored and
subsequent incremental backups layered on top of it. Single files and
directory subtrees may be restored from full or partial backups.
restore can be run across the network, so you can
back up or restore from remote devices.
restore work with tape drives and file
devices providing a wide range of options. However, both are limited to
the ext2 and ext3 file systems. If you are working with JFS, Reiser, or
other file systems, you will need to use a different utility, such as
Backing up with dump
Running a backup with
dump is fairly
straightforward. The following command does a full backup of Linux with
all ext2 and ext3 file systems to a SCSI tape device:
dump 0f /dev/nst0 /boot
dump 0f /dev/nst0 /
In this example, our system has two file systems. One for /boot and another for / -- a common configuration. They must be referenced individually when a backup is executed. The /dev/nst0 refers to the first SCSI tape, but in a non-rewind mode. This ensures that the volumes are put back-to-back on the tape.
An interesting feature of
dump is its built-in
incremental backup functionality. In the example above, the 0
indicates a level 0, or base-level, backup. This is the full system backup
that you would do periodically to capture the entire system. On subsequent
backups you can use other numbers (1-9) in place of the 0 to change the
level of the backup. A level 1 backup would save all of the files that
had changed since the level 0 backup was done. Level 2 would backup
everything that had changed from level 1 and so on. The same function can
be done with
tar, using scripting, but it
requires the script creator to have a mechanism to determine when the last
backup was done.
dump has its own mechanism,
writing an update file (/etc/dumpupdates) when it performs a backup. The
update file is reset whenever a level 0 backup is run. Subsequent levels
leave their mark until another level 0 is done. If you are doing a
dump will automatically
track multiple volumes.
Restoring with restore
To restore information saved with
restore command is used. Like
dump has the ability
to list (
-t) and compare archives to current files (
Where you must be careful with
dump is in restoring data. There are two
very different approaches, and you must use the correct one to have
dump is designed with file
systems in mind more than individual files. Therefore, there are two
different styles of restoring files. To rebuild a file system, use the
-r switch. Rebuild is designed to work on an empty file system and
restore it back to the saved state. Before running rebuild, you should
have created, formatted, and mounted the file system. You should not run
rebuild on a file system that contains files.
Here is an example of doing a full rebuild from the dump that we executed above.
restore -rf /dev/nst0
The above command needs to be run for each file system being restored.
This process could be repeated to add the incremental backups if required.
If you need to work with individual files, rather than full file systems,
you must use the
-x switch to extract them. For example, to extract
only the /etc directory from our tape backup, use the following command:
restore -xf /dev/nst0 /etc
Interactive restore (-i)
One more feature that
restore provides is an
interactive mode. Using the command:
restore -if /dev/nst0
will place you in an interactive shell, showing the items contained in the archive. Typing "help" will give you a list of commands. You can then browse and select the items you wish to be extracted. Bear in mind that any files that you extract will go into your current directory.
dump vs. tar
have their followings. Both have advantages and disadvantages. If you are
running anything but an ext2 or ext3 file system, then
dump is not available to you. However, if this is not
dump can be run with a minimum of
scripting, and has interactive modes available to assist with restoration.
I tend to use
tar, because I am fond of
scripting for that extra level of control. There are also multi-platform
tools for working with .tar files.
Virtually any program that can copy files can be used to perform some
sort of backup in Linux. There are references to people using
dd for backups.
cpio is another packaging utility along the
tar. It is much less common.
dd is a file system copy utility that makes binary
copies of file systems.
dd might be used to
make an image of a hard drive, similar to using a product like Symantec's
dd is not file based, so you
can only restore data to an identical hard drive partition.
Commercial backup products
There are several commercial backup products available for Linux.
Commercial products generally provide a convenient interface and reporting
system, whereas with tools such as
tar, you have to roll your own. The commercial
offerings are broad and offer a range of features. The biggest benefit you
will gain from using a commercial package is a pre-built strategy for
handling backups that you can just put to work. Commercial developers have
already made many of the mistakes that you are about to, and the cost of
their wisdom is cheap compared to the loss of your precious data.
Tivoli Storage Manager
Probably the best commercial backup and storage management utility available now for Linux is the Tivoli Storage Manager. Tivoli Storage Manager Server runs on several platforms, including Linux, and the client runs on many more platforms.
Essentially a Storage Manager Server is configured with the devices appropriate to back up the environment. Any system that is to participate in the backups loads a client that communicates with the server. Backups can be scheduled, performed manually from the Tivoli Storage Manager client interface, or performed remotely using a Web-based interface.
The policy-based nature of TSM means that central rules can be defined for backup behavior without having to constantly adjust a file list. Additionally, IBM Tivoli Storage Resource Manager can identify, evaluate, control, and predict the utilization of enterprise storage assets, and can detect potential problems and automatically apply self-healing adjustments. See the Tivoli Web site (see the link in the Resources section) for more details.
Figure 1. Tivoli Storage Manager menu
Backups and restores are then handled through the remote device.
Figure 2. Tivoli Storage Manager interface
Go forth and back up
The first step to having a good backup is to have a plan. Know the data that you need to preserve and what your recovery strategy needs to be. Then use the tools that best meet that strategy.
Linux comes with some useful backup tools right out of the box. The two
most common are
dump/restore. Both are capable of doing full system
backups. Using creative scripting, you can design a custom backup scheme to back up systems both locally and remotely.
However, writing your own backup scripts can be a large responsibility, especially when it is a complicated enterprise. Commercial software, such as the Tivoli Storage Manager, cuts across the learning curve and lets you take immediate control of your backups, but you may have to adjust your strategy to fit what the tools can do.
- Check out the other parts in the Windows-to-Linux roadmap series (developerWorks, November 2003).
- The Linux Administrator's Security Guide is a security guide with an excellent section on the practicalities of Linux backup and recovery.
- Introduction to Backing Up and Restoring Data is an overview that is independent of operating system or system architecture. In this article, the author explores backup techniques as well as planning backups.
- Linux Administration Made Easy is an older reference, but still useful, as the general procedures and techniques for Linux have remained consistent.
- The Linux System Administrator's Guide is an introduction to system administration of a Linux system for novices.
- The TAO of Backup is an interesting presentation of backup philosophy, presented as philosophy. It is associated with a commercial product, but the information is well written.
- The IBM developerWorks tutorial "Backing up your Linux machines" walks you through the process of creating and following through with a backup strategy.
- Storing backup data and other bits on a CD is easy: learn how in the IBM developerWorks article "Burning CDs on Linux".
- If you're transitioning to Linux from a Windows environment, you'll also want to read the Technical FAQ for Linux users.
- The Tivoli Storage Manager was voted Best Data Storage Solution at LinuxWorld 2003. Learn more about Tivoli Storage Manager for Linux from the Linux at IBM site.
- The Tivoli product page has more information on Tivoli including security and privacy features.
- File permissions and security are addressed in Chapter 3 of the Introduction to Linux guide at the Linux Documentation Project.
- Find more resources for Linux developers in the developerWorks Linux zone.