It’s easy to be impressed by Apple’s Time Machine backup feature. It works in the background, is seamlessly integrated, and when you need to get to restore something whoa.. you’re all of a sudden in space, travelling back in time, bringing something back to the present.
There are two key things to this system. First it’s an incremental backup system which allows you to restore from multiple past versions of files that are backed up (the “time travelling”). Second, it’s very easy to use and provides a very impressive experience.
So do we have anything like that in the Linux world? Well, for the most part we do, and here’s what we’ve got.
Of all of the applications on this list Cronopete tries to mimic the Time Machine experience most faithfully, even if it isn’t the most feature packed or the most flexible of backup tools (neither is Time Machine).
Cronopete requires your backup destination to be a hard drive other than the one your system is installed on, either a second hard drive in your computer or an external USB storage device. This makes sense in so far as saving a backup on the same drive as the original files doesn’t do anything to protect your data from the failure of that hard drive. However, as a side note, this is also why I couldn’t test it myself as I don’t have a second hard drive currently, and it wouldn’t work with my USB stick.
As the main window informs, Cronopete will do hourly backups for the last 24h, daily for the past month, and weekly until you run out of space. You’re also shown the oldest, newest, and the next backup dates.
Screenshots I’ve included are courtesy of Rastersoft’s Cronopete documentation.
One of the best solutions of this type, BackInTime is powered by rsync, relatively well known among the experts. BackInTIme is fairly powerful yet pretty intuitive to use. You can choose what to backup, what to include and exclude either by manual choice or automated rules, how often to sync (as often as 5 minutes is available), and where to save the backed up files. Both local and network destinations are possible, the latter ones being supported via SSH, and both can optionally be encrypted as well.
Also interesting are additional and expert options such as checking for changes and not syncing if there aren’t any changes, doing a backup before initiating a requested restore, and preserving permissions (ACL), extended attributes, and both safe and unsafe links when copying files to a backup.
When you start the application you’ll be greeted with the settings window where you can set up these options.
Being one of the most well known backup tools BackInTime should be available in your distro’s repositories (it is in Ubuntu), but is also downloadable from its download page. There is both a GNOME and KDE4 variant so you can use the version that fits best in your desktop environment.
Deja Dup is the default backup tool in Ubuntu, even included as a Backup icon among its System Settings, and Ubuntu just calls it “Backups”. It is actually a front end to Duplicity unlike BackInTime which is a front end to rsync.
If not the easiest Deja Dup is definitely one of the easiest backup tools for use on Linux, but it doesn’t have the fancy time travel animations. What it does have is a simple user interface with descriptive options, and the ability to backup to just about any location including to the network servers via FTP, SSH, WebDAV, and Windows Shares (SMB).
TimeShift is a similar tool, but it has a very specific purpose, and it is not to backup your actual user data, but rather the system files. As the TimeShift developer explains on its website, “this ensures that your files remains unchanged when you restore your system to an earlier date”.
As such TimeShift doesn’t offer the option of choosing exactly where to backup. It has to be an external drive with sufficient amount of space to backup the entire system. It does allow you to exclude certain files and folders or include others into the backup.
Like Deja Dup, Duplicati also uses duplicity on its back end, but unlike Deja Dup it is far more equipped with options, and in turn more complex. It’s user interface, or look & feel, leaves something to be desired, but then if you’re gonna use Duplicati you’ll probably use it for its features and might not care about the looks as much.
There are a few other applications that could be useful, but unfortunately are not maintained anymore so your mileage may vary. Notable mentions include FlyBack, another application explicitly aiming to duplicate the Time Machine features, and TimeVault, which has a nice timeline GUI for restoring files from different times. Neither of them are currently in development, so they may or may not work on your system.