There are many ways to back up important files on your computer. It’s a personal choice which one to use based on habits, preferences, and what is being backed up. We will outline a few options here, but the final solution may be a mix of several of these options.
The key to good backups is having the data automatically backed up, accessible, secure, and distributed. All backup solutions should be evaluated against these 4 criteria:
As a rule of thumb, a good backup consists of three copies: the original copy, a quickly accessible copy, and an off-site copy.
User files are the most common data to back up. This includes documents, pictures, and other personal files. Typically, these documents are all saved in your home directory (
Déjà Dup is a popular, straightforward backup option. It can be used to back up user data locally, remotely, or to a cloud server. It can also be set up to run automatically on a regular basis.
To install Deja Dup, search for it in the Pop!_Shop, or run this command:
sudo apt install deja-dup
Once Deja Dup is installed, it will be labeled as “Backups” in the Activities overview.
With Deja Dup (Backups) open, you can select the folders you wish to save or ignore using the pages listed on the left. By default, Deja Dup will backup your entire home directory, which includes your Documents, Pictures, Music, and Videos folders. It ignores your Downloads folder and any items in the Trash. Use the plus and minus buttons as needed to modify both categories.
On the Storage location page, you can configure the location where your backup will be stored.
The available options are:
Local Folder - Back up data to an internal or external hard drive, SSD, or USB flash drive.
Pros: Easy to set up, automatic, accessible, and secure. Backups typically happen quickly because they’re using a high-speed direct connection.
Cons: Single point of failure. If the computer is lost or if both drives fail, the data is lost.
Network Server - Back up data to another computer or storage device (NAS) on your network.
Pros: Same advantages as the local backup, but with less of a single point of failure.
Cons: Requires some networking knowledge and the ability to set up another computer or storage device to hold the data. Backups typically take longer because of slower transfer speeds over the network (but still faster than internet storage.)
Google Drive - Back up to Google’s cloud service.
Pros: Remote (off-site) location provides geographical redundancy, and is accessible anywhere there is an internet connection.
Cons: Requires a Google account. Your data could be accessible by Google or third parties (including law enforcement.) Will be slower to back up (depending on your internet speed), and uses your data transfer/bandwidth.
To schedule backups to run automatically, select Scheduling from the list on the left, then flip the switch to enable automatic backups. Schedule the backup for a time when you know the location will be available (for example, when you know you’ll have the USB drive plugged in). Many people choose to let their backups run overnight or on weekends.
To restore your data with Deja Dup, select the Overview page, then click the Restore… button. This will allow you to select the location containing the Deja Dup backup folder, and will copy the data from the most recent backup to its original location.
Many online services offer small amounts of free storage and desktop cliens with automatic synchronization. A few examples of companies that offer cross-platform cloud storage are:
Google Drive does not have a native Linux client, but there is built-in support within Pop!_OS and Ubuntu. However, the built-in support does not automatically copy and keep files locally as the above desktop clients do.
One solution to keep the data from being read by cloud storage providers is to keep all of the files in password-protected archives. A .zip or .7z file with a password is encrypted, and can’t be easily accessed by anyone without the password.
Another option is Nextcloud. Nextcloud is an open-source cloud solution that is completely controlled by the user. The remote server needs to be set up manually (or a trusted third party could be paid to set up and maintain the server.)
With an external drive attached, data can be manually copied to an external drive. Use the file browser to copy data from the internal drive to the external drive.
Pros: Easy and straightforward to copy data from one place to another.
Cons: Because the process is manual, updates and changes to the data may be missed over time. No geographic redundancy.
In certain situations, you may only have access to a command-line interface. The command-line
rsync program verifies data integrity and avoids re-copying files that are already backed up.
An example of the rsync command would be:
rsync -a ~/ OUTPUT_DIRECTORY
-a tells rsync to output as an archive,
~/ refers to your home directory as the source location, and
OUTPUT_DIRECTORY should be replaced with the location of your external disk or your remotely mounted server.
If you access your email through a web browser, manual backup is likely unnecessary, as the data is always being held on a remote computer. If you use a local client such as Thunderbird or Evolution, then the data may be stored in multiple locations (such the email server and other client devices), or only in one. If the IMAP protocol is used, the data is synchronized between all clients; if the POP protocol is used, then the data is only stored on the client where the email was viewed.
Pros: All data is always on a remote server.
Cons: Requires internet access. Email providers may have access to data.
Pros: Data is synchronized between the remote server and local devices. No single point of failure.
Cons: Requires internet access. Email providers may have access to data.
Pros: Data is more secure, as it’s only in one location at any time.
Cons: The client storing data is a single point of failure.
Most user configuration files are stored in the home folder. These can generally be copied and saved just like any other file, but restoring these files may not always work. Occasionally, programs change how, where, or in what format their configuration files are stored. This means they won’t always be restorable, or may not function as intended. It’s recommended to back these up as needed, but remember that they may not restore correctly.
Most user configuration files can be found in the home directory, and begin with a period (for example, the
Because programs are readily available online (usually through software repositories), we don’t recommend backing them up. They are spread throughout the file system and are difficult to restore properly. To back up programs, we recommend keeping a list of package names for the programs that you use so they can be reinstalled with a single package manager command, like so:
sudo apt install gnome-tweak-tool mousepad aptitude thunar
System-wide program configuration files can be found in many locations of the OS. The most common location is the
/etc folder. Most of these can be backed up in the same ways that user configuration files can, with the same caveat about changes in configuration format when restoring these files. (Unless you have modified system-wide configuration files manually, most configuration is usually stored per-user in the home directory.)