7 Ways of Staying Backed Up on Ubuntu Linux

You’ve installed a multitude of packages on your heavily customized Ubuntu desktop. Games, themes, and tweaks, it’s got it all. Plus, you’ve got your whole music and movies collection meticulously organized. With a wide relaxed grin you bask in the glory of your new-found productivity so much that you’re already thinking of penning a self-help book. Meanwhile, as you are lost in that reverie, a 3-eyed monster suddenly appears out of nowhere, snatches your laptop and gobbles it up!

OK, I might be exaggerating, but the fact is, we can never be 100 percent sure of our data. No matter how careful we are we always end up in a situation where a format or a reinstall is the only way out. Then, we either scrounge for a good backup media or whine about the lack of good backup services for Linux. If you're more of a whiner, then this article will show how you can safely backup your data in as many ways as possible on Ubuntu. Here are few of the things you'll be able to back up after reading this article: files, settings, installation files (debs), music and movies collection, browser data, passwords and almost all important data.

1. Safe in the clouds - Dropbox, Ubuntu One and more

It is always a good practice to keep all the important documents safely backed up, preferably on a cloud. One of the most widely used online backup services that do that flawlessly is Dropbox. You start with 2 GBs of space, but you can increase it by referring to your friends or buying more storage. However if you’re looking for something more open, then Ubuntu One is a great alternative. Here also, you get 2GBs of initial space, which you can increase by going for the paid plans. Other than that, services like SpiderOak and ZumoDrive, which offer similar features, are also available on Linux. Moreover, if you're really that cloud hungry and don't want to shell out any cash, then going for all the services together will fetch you about 8-10 GBs of free space! For more information, you may see our list of online backup services for Linux.

2. That’s where my /home is: Backing up important settings and files

With every new Ubuntu release, there are many people who opt for a fresh install instead of an upgrade. While this works for folks who have enough resources to back up their whole “home” folder, for others it’s a painful ordeal. Once you format your Linux installation, you lose all of your settings as well as the contents of your home directory. The best way of getting around this problem is to create a separate home partition.

Here’s the process explained in 4 easy steps:

1) Whenever you install Ubuntu on a fresh machine, go for manual partitioning (Advanced).
2) Give around 20-30 GBs of the free space to create a / partition.
3) Using the rest of the free space, create a /home partition. If you want, you can leave about 2-3 GBs for a swap partition.
4) Now, whenever you format your computer, install the new Linux distro in the / partition. There is NO NEED to format the /home partition during a new install (Linux only) or a reinstall. Do make sure you create an account having the same name as the one you had before the format. In this way, all your files as well as your settings will remain intact.

3. Tomboy to the rescue: Never forget which packages to install after a fresh format

Moving on with the issue of fresh installations, installing packages and repositories is also a tedious process. Moreover, sometimes we forget which packages or repositories were installed before the format. This is where Tomboy, GNOME’s note-taking application comes in handy. All you have to do is jot down the command comprising all your quintessential applications as a new Tomboy note and then let Ubuntu One do the magic.

Here's the process in a little more detail:

1) First, start Tomboy by going to Applications > Accessories > Tomboy Notes. Now create a new note consisting of all your important applications and repositories. For example:

sudo apt-get install vlc ubuntu-restricted-extras miro emacs23
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:someppa/someppa && sudo add-apt-repository ppa:someppa2/someppa2

2) Now that you’ve created your note, let’s make sure you can sync it. In Tomboy, go to Edit > Preferences. Then, click on the Synchronization tab and choose Ubuntu One as your sync method. Now whenever you install Ubuntu, you can synchronize, view your essential commands, copy them to the terminal and then enjoy a good cup of coffee.

4. Documents and stuff in Google Docs

If at all Dropbox or Ubuntu One are either too pricey or insufficient for you then upgrading your Google Docs storage might be a good idea. The plans are really cheap: $5/year for 20 GB upgrade and $20/ year for an 80GB one. One great thing about this upgrade is that you can upload any kind of file on your Google Docs account and it will be there in the clouds instantly. So, if you have a small music collection of about 15 GBs then backing it up on Google Docs won't cost you a fortune.

5. Debs, debs and more debs

As mentioned before, having a separate /home folder is a great backup solution in itself. However, one thing that method misses out on is the backup of installed packages. This is because all the packages you installed are stored in the / partition, which gets formatted during a reinstall. If you're using a fast and/or an unlimited data connection, you'll never need to do this. But, if you're one of those people who finish reading War and Peace while downloading an mp3, then APTonCD is just what you need. Quoting the team directly, here's what it does:

“APTonCD is a tool with a graphical interface which allows you to create one or more CDs or DVDs (you choose the type of media) with all of the packages you've downloaded via APT-GET or APTITUDE, creating a removable repository that you can use on other computers. APTonCD will also allow you to automatically create media with all of your .deb packages located in one especific repository, so that you can install them into your computers without the need for an Internet connection.”

6. Traditional backup

1) Déjà Dup: If you're a fan of doing things old style, then again you won't be disappointed. Déjà Dup offers a clean and easy-to-use interface for taking regular backups. To install it just search for the term deja-dup in Ubuntu Software Center, or type the following command in the terminal:

sudo apt-get install deja-dup

2) Crashplan: If you are looking for a dedicated service with professional support and a plethora of options then Crashplan is what you might need. They offer some great features like automatic backups and email reporting. Moreover, it works across all operating systems including Solaris. The free plan offers both incremental and differential backups along with guaranteed restore.

3) Rsync: For those of you who spend their days staring at terminals filled with lines of code, rsync is a perfect tool. To get started, just open a terminal, type 'man rsync' without the quotes. For more information of how to use rsync please take a look at this tutorial.

7. Browser backup: Bookmarks, Passwords and Stuff

Now once all your settings and files are backed up, it's time to tackle another petty annoyance – browser data. For syncing bookmarks, there are a lot of choices available including our very own Ubuntu One, which syncs Firefox bookmarks across computers. As for syncing passwords, Lastpass is the best service out there. Here's a list of the popular synchronization tools for every browser that works on Ubuntu:

Ubuntu One:

As far as contacts are concerned, Ubuntu One syncs Evolution contacts seamlessly. If you're using Thunderbird, then you can sync your Google Contacts with Thunderbird address book using a nifty little add-on called Zindus.


It is important to find a backup/sync tool that is easy-to-use, least intrusive, and just works. Besides backing up useful data that's on the computer, it is also advisable to scan all-important physical documents and back them up safely on the cloud. Even though this article enlists all the major backup tools for Ubuntu, many of them work across other distributions and some of them even work on Windows and Macs.

This article was written by Abhishek, a TechSource contributor and longtime FOSS enthusiast/advocate.


  1. I use Synaptic to back up my list of installed packages: Select "save markings as" and in the new window check the box "save full state ...". that way you can save a text file containing all installed packages, which can be loaded into synaptic after a re-install. Note that this only works if the new install is of the same type (32 or 64 bits) as the previous installation.

    Note that I'm writing this without having Synaptic in front of me, so the texts may be called slightly differently.

    You will have to make a backup of the text file of course.

    I backup most files to an external disk which I keep somewhere else. Created a few simple backup scripts for that (which not everybody will know how to do, I'm aware of that).

  2. Why Ubumtu. Why not Linux. Why do all these stupid articles have to bla bla bla about ubumtu. Most real linux user can't stand bumtu's, the only people that do are newbs that fell for the hype. If people would start making articles for LINUX and not a bunch of bumtu garbage we might take you a bit more serious.

  3. I, for one, take the article seriously. I use many linux distros and for my desktop, with over a decade of experience, the linux distro of choice is (hands-down) Ubuntu.

    However, a more relevant point is that certain things are missing here. Bacula, backup-manager (sometimes called backup-mgr), back-in-time, and the snapshot capabilities of the up and coming btrfs would have made for an even better discussion.

    I'd like to see the author's point of view on these tools.

  4. Not just for the old-fashioned:

    rsync /home to /media/some_mounted_secondary_drive
    and put that one-liner in cron.

    Why? All the space you want. Any backup frequency, Usually no need to install anything.

    - continuous-snapshot filesystems so oops-deletes don't get you
    - remote rsync targets in-case of fire/theft. Use with a (or old PC) @ parent's / friend's house. Set backup to 2am to not bug em.

  5. rdiff-backup

    Simple, powerful, fast!

  6. thaNK GOD excellent saved me