The best Ubuntu backup tools

Backing up is that boring but essential job we all have to do. After all if the worst should happen and drives crash or a computer is stolen how else are you going to recover your valuable data? (You do have backups right?).

But as it is one of the least exciting tasks to do it helps if you can use a bit of software that not only makes it a breeze but can automate it for you as well.

Ubuntu’s software repositories contain quite a few packages to choose from so there’s no excuse for not using any software. So here’s our take on the available packages and what they can do for you. To install any of these search for them by name in the Ubuntu Software Center and to launch them type their name into the Search bar (click the Ubuntu icon in the top left if you’re running Unity on Ubuntu 11.04).

File Backup Manager is easy to use but limited in features.

File Backup Manager

File Backup Manager has a basic but effective GUI and supports incremental backups but no scheduling encryption or compression. Creating a backup profile uses an easy to follow wizard that allows for remote hosts as well as local media. Importantly adding includes and excludes is easily done a necessary feature – many backup programs will default to backup your user directory but this can include directories for your browser caches and Downloads directory which unless you clean it out regularly will likely be full of fluff and will only unnecessarily increase your backup volume.

By default the program doesn’t include hidden directories which means your user-settings for the desktop won’t be stored or elements like purchased music from Ubuntu One.

File Backup Manager makes use of rdiff-backup under the hood and on the whole is a good little program. However if you need scheduling encryption or compression you’ll need another tool.

Deja Dup

Deja Dup takes the simplistic approach to Applesque levels and presents just two very large buttons – Backup and Restore. Swipe one (you really can’t miss them) and Deja Dup will do the rest. Except you probably do want to play with the configuration first such as setting a backup destination whether you want to encrypt the backups and which folders to include or exclude (again removing Downloads is probably a good idea). Note the preferences selection is a separate program to the main one.

Deja Dup also makes it easy to set up a schedule and conveniently how long backups should be kept ranging from a week to indefinitely.

Under the hood Deja Dup makes use of duplicity which is a command-line based backup tool for creating encrypted compressed incremental backups based rsync (which incidentally you can also use to make backups but the programs covered here add extra features such as scheduling).

Deja Dup has been put forward for inclusion as part of the base install for Ubuntu so we may well see it as standard from 11.10 onwards.


KBackup is as you might expect KDE based and presents an excellent file-tree view by default that makes it easy to select whole directory trees or individual files alike. Backups get rolled into .tar files and compression is optional. There’s also no option for encryption but scheduling is fine-grained and can be specified by number of days apart. It also has a handy feature to set the maximum archive size making it easy to produce backups for removal media like CD and DVD.

The big omission with KBackup is that has no restore component – presumably once you have your .tar files you’ll be comfortable extracting from them at a later date.

On the whole a good tool for advanced users but if you want restoring to be easy opt for another program.

Lucky Backup

Lucky Backup won’t win any awards for interface design but it can’t be faulted for its flexibility. Setting up a backup profile is just a matter of selecting source and destination but Lucky’s options open up once you click Advanced for settings. For exclusions it comes with pre-defined templates including temporary folders cache folders and trash among others but if these don’t suit you can also define your own and here you can even specify directories and files via wildcard.

For network backups Lucky lets you define user logins and options to use rsync servers or SSH. Finally you can toggle the command-line options that get used which include whether permissions are preserved symlinks followed and if the destination is FAT or NTFS based. You can even tell Lucky to run a command before and after backup beings great for cleaning out directories or forcibly closing programs before backup begins.

Scheduling sets up cron jobs and it helps to have a little familiarity with cron here and incremental backups are supported.

The biggest failing of Lucky is no support for encryption or compression.

Back in time

Back in time has slightly more scheduling options than some of the other programs here including to create a backup at every boot or reboot. Its exclude options are also excellent with a range of wildcard based excludes defined by default that includes caches the trash Ubuntu One sync folder and temporary files. It can also be configured to automatically delete snapshots that are older than a given time period (including years) if free space on the destination volume hits a limit and a ‘smart remove’ feature to keep at least one snapshot for given periods (such as last few days weeks or months) even when auto-removing.

As with Lucky there are no encryption or compression options and again it too uses rsync as an underlying engine however its interface makes it easy to browse snapshots and revert your backup data to the state of a previous snap shot with ease.

Depending on what you want to do Back in time Lucky Backup and Deja Dup are the better programs from Ubuntu’s repositories. Give each a spin but settle on one thing: that you have a means to make easy regular backups of your data!