Rsync-based backup tools worth considering

One of the most overlooked aspects of computing is the sore, critical issue of keeping backups of personal data. Too many people ignore this, until it's too late, and then, all there's left to do is weep silently in front of a blank monitor. Whether it's negligence, innocent mistake, or a disk failure, the data is gone, forever.

Linux people have it somewhat easier. The separation of root and home helps, but there's also a plentitude of solid, robust backup tools available, most of them lurking in the official repositories, waiting for the bold and curious user to download and test them. To wit, we will be fiddling with a handful of Rsync-based frontends, all of which promise to take gentle care of your data. If you will, after me.

Back In Time

Back in Time is a handy, highly rated Rsync manager, available in most of the distributions. When launched for the first time, the software interface consists of six tabs, where you can create your settings. Before that, you can setup one or more profiles, each which can contain completely different backup options. You begin by selecting the snapshot destination and the backup schedule routine. Ideally, the backup location will be a second hard disk, a second computer, or something along those lines. Not the same partition or disk, definitely.

Back In Time general tab

On the Include tab, you can choose which folders and files to backup. Likewise, the Exclude tab lets you remove certain objects from the list. By default, Back In Time automatically deselects the common temporary and backup files, like .cache, .thumb, Dropbox and Ubuntu One files, and others.

Back In Time Include tab

The Auto-remove tabs lets you clean up and compact your archive to save time. For example, you can rotate your snapshots every week, every month, every year, etc. This is a useful feature if you have limited space available. Next, the Options and Expert Options tabs let you tweak notifications, error logging and action, battery usage policy, preservation of links, permissions and other special filesystem related features, and more.

Back in Time options

Once you're satisfied, click OK. You will now move into a powerful snapshot browser, which is also the main interface for your software. This window acts like a file manager, allowing you to see the contents of your disk, but also run your backup tasks, delete and add new ones, test run, and more. Very handy, very intuitive, and preconfigured with safe and sane options for less skilled users.

Bakc In Time main view & snapshot browser

luckyBackup

This Rsync frontend features a similar layout to Back In Time. It is more colorful as well as hectic when it comes to the placement of buttons and options. However, you also get six configuration tabs, where you can setup your policies. You start by providing a description to your task. Then, setup the Include and Exclude filters. Unlike Back In Time, luckyBackup does not preselect the Exclude options, so you will have to mark them yourself.

luckyBackup main view

luckyBackup exclude options

luckyBackup can also setup remote tasks, which is quite useful if you have multiple network locations. Then, under Command Options, you have the same features that correspond to the expert settings we have seen earlier. The last tab, Also Execute, lets you configure pre and post scripts to run before and after the rsync task, respectively. For example, you may be interested in cleaning up temporary files yourself or maybe mounting a specific directory.

luckyBackup command options

For me, luckyBackup behaved okay, but it was buggier than Back In Time. It would also occassionally complain that the target area has not been mounted, although it clearly is. I am not certain how this may affect the integrity of your replications, but it can be unsettling. Lastly, the ability to browse snapshots in a simple manner like our previous candidate is also missing. Nevertheless, luckyBackup, despite some glitches and rough edges on the aesthetics side, is a fairly good backup client, and you may want to consider it for your strategic arsenal.

luckyBackup, not mounted

Grsync

This program is an old friend. I have written about it a lot in the past. It's another friendly GUI for the Rsync tool, offering pretty much the same functionality like the others, with a slightly different presentation layer. Compared to the other two tools, it has the poorest GUI in terms of customization. There are just three tabs. The one labeled Basic lets you setup your source and destination and configure some of the strangely advanced options. Then, on the Advanced tab, you have still more advanced options, including filesystem features, like checksum, symlinks, recursion, compression, and others. The third tab allows you to setup pre and post scripts.

Grsync basic view

Grsync advanced options

While the GUI is somewhat thin on features, the overall usage is very simple. After you've configured your policy, you can dry-run to simulate the execution before committing the changes. Then, let it replicate the data for real. You have a very simple and clear log available during the run.

Grsync run

Grsync may not have the options to customize snapshots as good as those of Back In Time, but it is more robust than luckyBackup, and it offers a very detailed information during the creation of snapshots, which can be very valuable for the user. Overall, it is friendly and simple, but it could benefit from some visual tweaks.

More reading = Enlightenment

Of course, you might want to go to the roots of the subject and gain full control and independence of the backup process. In that regard, you may like my Rsync tutorial. It highlights the basic and a lot of advanced stuff on how to use the software, how to schedule your backups, dry-run them, and more. Should keep you busy for a while.

Rsync dry run

Conclusion

Well, not just the conclusion. It's also time to vote the best of the three candidates. If you ask me, then Back In Time wins, followed by Grsync, with luckyBackup in the third place. Back In Time wins because of its sane default options, easy customization and a powerful snapshot manager. Grsync has fewer settings than luckyBackup, but it never failed during the testing, and did not throw any errors. Moreover, it also excelled in showing the snapshop progress to the user. LuckyBackup was a good tool, but it trails a little behind its friends, especially because of the errors associated with mounted partitions. You cannot afford glitches in backup tools.

The best part about this little comparison is that all of the tools are entirely free for personal use, so if you're even semi-serious about the integrity of your data, you should practice with these powerful Rsync frontends, and find the one that suits your needs the best. You can use them for Windows data backup too. All for free. Really, there's no reason to procrastinate anymore. Start those backups now.

Cheers.

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Comments

by antcj on 19. March 2014 - 2:57  (115116)

FWbackups is another worth looking at
To get it to save to a networked pc, install ssh on both machines.

to do the remote thingy:
Destination tab: type is "remote folder (SSH)"
Host: = ip address of target pc
username:
password:
folder : /home/fred/whatever

use the test button

by Dedoimedo on 19. March 2014 - 4:56  (115119)

SSH has a less optimized bandwidth compression and checking functionality than Rsync. With ssh, you have less freedom what to do when copying files, for instance.
Dedoimedo

by antcj on 19. March 2014 - 5:34  (115120)

Thanks for the reply.
Ive never been able to get a network backup done with rsync, maybe some details if you have time?

by Dedoimedo on 19. March 2014 - 11:45  (115129)

You have a link to the complete CLI tutorial just above.
Dedoimedo

by cristis53 on 19. March 2014 - 11:26  (115128)

Self explanatory working example:
rsync -artv --delete -e ssh root@abc.source.zz:/var/www/html/* ./destination_dir

P.S. No need to config rsync server!

by JamesCA on 17. March 2014 - 15:11  (115077)

Can you please provide site where I can download Back In Time Thx James

by MidnightCowboy on 17. March 2014 - 15:41  (115081)

See your own distro's software center or package manager. MC - Site Manager.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Back_In_Time_(software)

by dollyp on 16. March 2014 - 16:19  (115050)

Thanks for this, as always excellent, article D. I found luckyBackup very difficult to use and it failed for me so I started to use rsync directly. Direct comparisons had failures for lucky but successes for rsync. Since I'm neither competent nor confident in using the command line I'll give your other suggestions a spin.

Regards
Dolly

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