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Setting up restic backups on Nixos

Inspired by this blogpost, I decided to set up my own backup solution of my server data with Restic. I currently use it for backup of my workstations, but i still do it the old fashioned way: manually. Luckily, Nixos has services.restic.backups available, so let’s dive in.

Starting with Restic: repositories

Restic works with “repositories” to which you can send backups. So first, we need to create some repository. In this post, I’ll set up a sync to my Google drive through rclone. This is a bit more complex than some of the other options, but I use the Google drive for plenty of things and it’ll most likely always be accessible.

So, first we need to setup rclone to talk to Google drive. Thankfully, rclone has an amazing setup guide, just type rclone config and follow the steps of the setup guide. I setup my Google drive with the name gdrive.

Now, I need to setup a restic repository.

restic -r rclone:gdrive:/backups init
enter password for new repository:

Keep this password safe, losing it will lock you out of the backups. The flipside of having encrypted backups. Off course, we could also let Nixos create this repository:

services.restic.backups = {
  gdrive = {
    user = "backups";
    repository = "rclone:gdrive:/backups";
    initialize = true; # initializes the repo, don't set if you want manual control
    passwordFile = "<path>";

Which will setup the repository with the password provided by the passwordFile keyword.

Configuring Nixos to backup with Restic

We now got a repository ready, time to get some data in it!

services.restic.backups = {
  gdrive = {
    paths = [ "/home/backups/important/data" ];
    user = "backups";

This will backup some important data in the home folder of the backups user. If there are directories that should be excluded or you want to use some other options for restic that you want to user, you can set that with the extraBackupArgs option:

extraBackupArgs = [ "--exclude-file=/home/backups/important/data/not-important" ];

and plenty more things are available, see nixos-option services.restic.backups.gdrive.

There is one option worthwhile expanding on in this post: timerConfig. This option makes use of a systemd timer to enable schedueled backups. The syntac for it can be found in man systemd.timer and man systemd.time. Below is an example to take backups, every Saturday at 23:00.

services.restic.backups = {
  gdrive = {
    timerConfig = {
      onCalendar = "saturday 23:00";

All that is left to say is that you can now trigger backups manually by using the generated systemd service:

# The naming follows restic-backups-<backup name>, so for us here it would be

$ sudo systemctl start restic-backups-gdrive.service

Restoring, the most important part

Restic offers multiple ways to restore your backups. You can restore a snapshot to a specific location with a --target <id> parameter.

$ restic -r rclone:gdrive:/backups restore <id> --target <path>`

Which will restore the snapshot to the <path>. You can modify what will be restored by using a --host <host> (restoring a snapshot from a specific host) and --path <path> (to only restore a snapshot of a specific path). There are also of course the --include/--exclude <sub> which will include/exclude parts of the snapshot (these are by default case sensitive, can be made case insensitive by prefixing i).

Aside from that, you can mount snapshot like a file system (so you can copy from it as usual). This is easily done with the mount <mountpoint> command. This will mount the repository on the mountpoint specified.

$ ls -al /tmp/backups/
total 48
dr-xr-xr-x  1 francis francis     0 11 jan 23:37 ./
drwxrwxrwt 36 root    root    45056 11 jan 23:37 ../
dr-xr-xr-x  1 francis francis     0 11 jan 23:37 hosts/
dr-xr-xr-x  1 francis francis     0 11 jan 23:37 ids/
dr-xr-xr-x  1 francis francis     0 11 jan 23:37 snapshots/
dr-xr-xr-x  1 francis francis     0 11 jan 23:37 tags/

$ ls -al /tmp/backups/snapshots/
total 0
dr-xr-xr-x 1 francis francis 0 11 jan 23:37 ./
dr-xr-xr-x 1 francis francis 0 11 jan 23:37 ../
dr-xr-xr-x 3 francis francis 0 11 jan 20:52 2021-01-11T20:52:25+01:00/
dr-xr-xr-x 3 francis francis 0 11 jan 21:43 2021-01-11T21:43:54+01:00/
lrwxrwxrwx 1 francis francis 0 11 jan 21:43 latest -> 2021-01-11T21:43:54+01:00/

You can browse through the backups by various means: tags, hosts, id, snapshot dates, … .

And last but not least, you can just dump a file from the snapshot to stdout with the dump command. This handy when you just need that 1 SQL dump to restore it for example.


This article was posted on 2021 M1 12. Some things may have changed since then, please mail or tweet at me if you have a correction or question.

Tags: #linux #restic #nixos #backup