Choosing a graphical backup tool


Article from Issue 267/2023

Graphical backup solutions help you protect your data with just a few mouse clicks. We study six popular options.

Many users still perceive the need for regular backups as a chore, but an abundance of graphical backup solutions in the Linux environment means that backup no longer requires complicated command-line input. These individual backup applications focus on different needs and therefore come with different feature sets.

Many (but not all) of these graphical tools are based on Rsync, a command-line program for synchronizing files on different local or remote disks [1]. This article looks at six easy-to-use graphical applications for the Linux desktop. Other articles in this issue examine some other leading backup alternatives.

Back In Time

Back In Time [2] is an Rsync-based backup program that has been under development since 2008. The project's GitHub page says Back In Time is "inspired by FlyBack." (FlyBack is another open source backup tool modeled on Apple's Time Machine.) Both a command-line version and a Qt-based graphical variant are available. The application, written in Python 3, is available in the repositories of all major Linux distributions. Back In Time uses profiles; you can create a profile defining a specific backup scenario, and then conveniently perform the backup at the push of a button.

After completing the install, you will find two new entries for Back In Time in the menu of your desktop environment. The first entry launches the software with the rights of the logged-in user, and the second entry is for the root user. Launching the application with root privileges allows backups of the drives and directories that a logged-in user might not be able to access, including complete snapshots of the disk.

Back In Time opens to a Settings window (Figure 1), where you create the main profile and configure several other options. In the General tab, you first need to specify the software location and choose whether to back up locally or to a remote drive. You can also choose to encrypt the data and define a backup interval. Please note that the target media needs to be formatted with the ext3 or ext4 filesystem. The FAT32 filesystem commonly used for USB memory sticks does not support hard links and is therefore not suitable for backing up Linux filesystems.

Figure 1: Back In Time works with profiles that are easy to configure.

You define the datasets to include in the backup using the Include and Exclude tabs. In Include, specify the directories and files to back up, whereas Exclude already offers a choice of predefined exclusion patterns. The exclusion patterns could include directories and various file name extensions that the backup action will not take into account. You can also add additional directories, files, or templates. In addition, you can exclude files over a certain size; the default size is 500MB.

The Auto-remove tab offers parameters that let you automate the task of removing obsolete datasets. The free space available on the target medium, the age of the files, or the number of free inodes can serve as criteria.

The Options tab offers general settings, such as how to handle incomplete snapshots, the level of detail for logs, and whether to display notifications. In the last tab Expert Options, you can change various parameters relating to cron jobs and Rsync.

After completing the settings, press OK. The software saves the profile and opens the backup window (Figure 2). The window contains a conventional menu and buttonbar, as well as a snapshot list. Next to it are two areas with a file manager, where you can see the source drive along with all the hidden files.

Figure 2: The Back In Time backup window.

Right-click on files and directories to open a context menu that allows you to exclude a directory or file from the backup. After you have made any further changes, click on the diskette symbol in the buttonbar to start the backup. If you have enabled a schedule in the Settings dialog, Back In Time will create backups automatically in the future. Please note that, depending on the volume of data and the speed of the target drive, the backup can take quite a while to complete.

If you want to restore an existing backup, highlight the desired snapshot in the top left corner of the Snapshots table, and then select the Restore option in the menubar. In the context menu, select the Restore entry if you want to restore the data to the original location. If you want Back In Time to store the data in a location other than the source directory, select the Restore to option.

Back In Time then displays a safety prompt and asks you to confirm that you want to restore the data. A log window provides progress information so that you can correct any problems that occur.


Like Back In Time, the free Cronopete [3] is a backup tool modeled on Time Machine that focuses on simple, largely automated backup. Most popular Linux distributions have the software in their repositories. However, the project's website also offers packages of the small program for various Debian, Ubuntu, Fedora, and Arch variants.

After the install, you will find two new entries in your desktop menu. One is used to define backup actions, the other to restore existing backups. On the start screen, first click Configure now to enter the configuration dialog. Cronopete then opens an easy-to-use settings window where you define the automatic backups, the datasets, and the target folders (Figure 3).

Figure 3: The Cronopete program window hardly requires any training.

At the bottom of the window, slide the Enable backups slider to the right to enable automatic backup. Then close the window, which prompts Cronopete to drop a control icon into the system tray. Right-click the icon to open a small context menu, and click the Back Up Now option. The application creates a backup of the desired data. If you want to make changes to the configuration later, click the Configure the backups option in the context menu of the control icon.

Cronopete creates a short log for each new backup action, deleting the old logs. You can view the current log in the Log tab of the main window.

To restore a backup set, find the launcher in the working environment menu called Cronopete: restore backup. You can also click on the Cronopete icon in the system tray and select the Restore files option in the context menu.

A very unusual looking window then opens in full screen mode (Figure 4). It shows a vertical timeline on the left, with the existing backups appearing one above the other in their own file windows. Top right on the screen are two blue arrows that you can use to toggle between the individual backups in the file managers. In the timeline, a small red bar shows you the current backup status. This means that you can browse through the individual backups and move freely within the backed up directories in the file managers, although, unlike in conventional file managers, you can't open the files.

Figure 4: Triggering a restore action in a very unusual looking window.

Pressing the Restore files button in the titlebar lets you restore the backup to its original location. A click on the Exit button terminates the program.

Déjà Dup

Déjà Dup [4] is one of the most intuitive programs for local backups. Virtually all of the major Linux distributions have the Gnome-based Déjà Dup in their repositories, which makes it convenient to install. Déjà Dup is actually a graphic front end for the open source duplicity backup tool.

Launching the application takes you to a very plain user interface offering just two options and a vault icon. The Déjà Dup interface follows the traditional Gnome guidelines, doing without menus or buttonbars and with the controls integrated into the titlebar.

First of all, you will need to configure some settings. You can access the configuration dialog via the hamburger menu in the titlebar. Select the Preferences option. The dialog that opens has just a few options. Use the General tab to define the retention period for the individual backups and configure automatic backup actions. You can only choose between weekly and daily for automated backup frequency.

By default, the software creates the backup in the Google Drive cloud. However, you can specify a computer on your LAN or a local folder instead. A local folder only makes sense if you specify an external drive as the target. After selecting the target drive, specify a target folder that needs to already exist on the drive.

In the Folders tab, which you can access from the titlebar in the main window, specify the directories you wish to back up and the ones you wish to exclude from the backup. After you click on the plus symbol, the software opens the integrated file manager; you do not need to type in folder names but can select the directories at the push of a button.

Déjà Dup then lists the folders to be backed up. If you have set up several partitions on your computer's drive, you can back up directories across partitions, provided that the partitions are mounted. Clicking the magnifying glass icon in the corner of the titlebar also lets you quickly access functions by entering search terms.

Once you have completed all the settings, close the window. The application now opens the backup window, where you can enable automated backups. If you want to start a manual backup instead, click Back Up Now (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Déjà Dup is definitely a no-frills program.

Afterwards, Déjà Dup prompts you to protect the backup against unauthorized access with a password (Figure 6). If you click the radio button to the left of Allow restoring without a password, the restore will work without authentication. After clicking Next, the backup starts; a progress bar provides information on the status.

Figure 6: Déjà Dup lets you password protect your data against unauthorized access.

To restore the data, click Restore in the titlebar. Déjà Dup displays the backed up folders, and you can select the desired directories with a mouse click. Then click the Restore button in the bottom left of the program window. In another dialog, you can specify whether you want the application to restore the data to the original location or to an optional directory.

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