Back to the future

This is likely to be my final post for now on the subject of backup software. Recently, I have looked at a number of different backup programs but the current offering – 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.

Back In Time is yet another variant on the graphical-front-end-to-rsync model. The 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 and 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 to this list include items such as .* that will eliminate backing up any hidden files or folders.

Additional 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 backup 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, one of the downsides 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.

References:

Back In Time a simple backup tool for Linux
http://backintime.le-web.org/

Review: Backups with Back in Time
http://fosswire.com/post/2009/04/back-in-time-review/

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