Skip to content

This chapter is geared towards advanced users. Solid tech skills are required.

rsnapshot — Schedule your server backups

Server backups

rsnapshot is a tool to schedule server backups. It's FOSS, reliable and saves disk space. This is due to the fact that rsnapshot performs incremental backups: after an initial full backup, only modified files are backed up.

rsnapshot installation


If something goes wrong, you want to be able to restore the server to a previous state. Install rsnapshot:

sudo apt install rsnapshot

rsnapshot configuration


After successfully installing rsnapshot, we're going to configure a number of settings such as the location of the backup directory, external dependencies, backup intervals, logging, which files to backup, and so on. More details below.

Show me the step-by-step guide

Backup directory

Open rsnapshot's configuration file:

sudo vi /etc/rsnapshot.conf

Add or modify the following lines to define where rsnapshot should store server backups. Replace $PATH with the path to the actual backup folder, which can be located on the server's hard drive, an external drive connected to the server or a remote location. Also set the flag no_create_root to avoid that rsnapshot automatically creates a backup folder:

snapshot_root   $PATH
no_create_root  1


Still in rsnapshot's configuration file /etc/rsnapshot.conf, uncomment the following lines to tell rsnapshot about external dependencies:

cmd_rsync           /usr/bin/rsync
cmd_du              /usr/bin/du
cmd_rsnapshot_diff  /usr/bin/rsnapshot-diff

To make sure rsnapshot is pointing towards the right binaries, run the following commands and double-check if all paths are correct:

whereis cmd_rsync
whereis cmd_du

Backup intervals

Below settings in rsnapshot's configuration file /etc/rsnapshot.conf define how frequently backups are performed. Hourly, daily, weekly and monthly backups are supported. In this example, we'll keep the 3 last daily backups, 7 last weekly updates and 2 last monthly updates. Adjust according to your own backup strategy:

retain  daily   3
retain  weekly  6
retain  monthly 2


You might want to enable logs for debugging purposes. Create a log file:

sudo touch /var/log/rsnapshot.log

Enable logging in rsnapshots configuration file /etc/rsnapshot.conf:

verbose     5
loglevel    5
logfile     /var/log/rsnapshot.log

Backup files

Decide which server files to backup. You can specify one or several directories of your choice (use one line for each directory). You can also exclude certain sub-directories using the exclude function. Make sure to use one line for each directory, and to add a trailing / at the end of each directory path. In this example, we'll backup the entire root filesystem /, exluding the folders tmp, proc, mnt and sys:

backup  /   .   exclude=tmp,exclude=proc,exclude=mnt,exclude=sys


Verify the syntax of the configuration file (the terminal should prompt "Syntax OK"):

sudo rsnapshot configtest

Now test your hourly, daily, weekly or monthly backup strategies:

sudo rsnapshot -t hourly
sudo rsnapshot -t daily
sudo rsnapshot -t weekly
sudo rsnapshot -t monthly

rsnapshot scheduled backups

Scheduled backups

rsnapshot allows you to automatically schedule backups at certain intervals. More details below.

Show me the step-by-step guide

Run the shortest backup strategy to create a first full snapshot. In our example, that's the daily backup (adjust accordingly):

sudo rsnapshot daily

Open the cron configuration file to schedule backups at certain intervals:

sudo vi /etc/cron.d/rsnapshot

In this example, we'll schedule daily snapshots at 1:00am, weekly snapshots every Monday at 6:30pm and monthly snapshots on the 2nd day of every month at 7:00am. Define your own schedules as needed, the crontab guru can be of help:

#0 */4 * * *    root    /usr/bin/rsnapshot hourly
0 1  * * *      root    /usr/bin/rsnapshot daily
30 18 * * 1     root    /usr/bin/rsnapshot weekly
0 7 2 * *       root    /usr/bin/rsnapshot monthly

rsnapshot restoration


Caution! Here be dragons.

Exercise extreme caution when performing system restoration. It can irrevocably overwrite data and lead to data losses.

If something went wrong, you might still be able to restore your server to a previous state by restoring one of rsnapshot's backups. More details below.

Show me the step-by-step guide

The command below lists all existing snapshots, replace $PATH with the path to the actual backup folder:

ls -l $PATH

Depending on your backup strategy, the output might look someting like this:


The following command restores the server to a previous state:


Make sure to provide the correct $SOURCE_PATH (= the backup directory) and $DESTINATION_PATH (= the target directory on the server). For example, the following command will restore the weekly snapshot of the entire filesystem from 3 weeks ago to the root / of the server:

sudo rsync -avr /path/to/rsnapshot/backup/folder/weekly.3/ /