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Automating offsite backups with the open source Rdiff-backup package and SSHFS for remote filesystem mounting.
rdiff-backup,sshfs,network backup,linux backup
Friday, April 13th, 2012
James Sinclair
Monday, September 14th, 2009
Using Rdiff-backup with SSHFS

Rdiff-backup is an open source backup system that performs incremental, differential backups on a wide variety of platforms. Many people use rdiff-backup on both sides of a backup operation, but this can be problematic when different operating systems or rdiff-backup versions are in use. This guide will show you how to use rdiff-backup in combination with sshfs to securely mount a remote filesystem on your Linux backup server, eliminating the need to run rdiff-backup on the server being backed up.

Please note that this method of performing remote backups depends heavily upon the security of your backup server, as your backup user will have SSH access to the remote host. The remote host's filesystem will be mounted read-only on the backup server as a basic safeguard, but this does not offer strong protection if a malicious individual were to compromise the backup user's account (or the root account on the backup server).

We assume the remote host to be backed up has an SSH daemon installed, and that you can log into it from the backup server. If you haven't already done so, please review the steps outlined in our getting started guide before following these instructions. All configuration will be performed through the terminal; please make sure you're logged into your backup server as root via SSH.

Install Required Packages

On your backup server, you'll need to install rdiff-backup and sshfs. For Debian and Ubuntu systems, issue the following command:

apt-get update
apt-get upgrade
apt-get install rdiff-backup sshfs

For CentOS or Fedora systems, use this command:

yum install rdiff-backup sshfs

The requested packages will be installed, along with several dependencies.

Configure the Backup User on the Remote Host

On the remote host (the server being backed up), log in as the username that will used for backups from the backup server. If this user does not already have a .ssh directory, create one along with an SSH keypair by issuing the following command:

ssh-keygen -t rsa

Add and Configure a Backup User

Issue the following commands to add a user for rdiff-backup and make the user a member of the fuse group on the backup server. Backups will be stored under this user's home directory.

adduser rdiffbackup
usermod -a -G fuse rdiffbackup

Issue the following commands to create an SSH key for the new user and copy it to the remote server's authorized_keys file. This will allow the rdiffbackup user on your backup server to mount a filesystem on the remote host without the need to enter a password. In these commands, user@hostname means a user account on the server that is to be backed up (, for example).

su - rdiffbackup
ssh-keygen -t rsa
scp ~/.ssh/
ssh "echo \`cat ~/.ssh/\` >> ~/.ssh/authorized_keys"

You can test this by issuing the following command to log into the remote host from your backup server:


You should not be prompted for a password. If you are, please review the previous steps, as something is amiss. Once you're able to log in without a password, issue the exit command to return to the root shell on your backup server.

Create Mount Point and Backup Directories

Issue the following commands to create directories in the rdiffbackup user's home directory for mounting the remote filesystem and storing backups. Change "remotehost" and "remotepath" to values that make sense for your needs.

mkdir -p /home/rdiffbackup/mnt/remotehost/remotepath
mkdir -p /home/rdiffbackup/backup/remotehost/remotepath
chown -R rdiffbackup:rdiffbackup /home/rdiffbackup

An an example, if you wanted to back up the "/home" directory on a remote host named "", you might issue these commands:

mkdir -p /home/rdiffbackup/mnt/
mkdir -p /home/rdiffbackup/backup/
chown -R rdiffbackup:rdiffbackup /home/rdiffbackup

Configure an SSHFS Filesystem Mount

Add a line to your /etc/fstab file that resembles the following example. Change the value for user@remotehost to match your remote host's configuration. Change the values for remotehost and remotepath to the ones you used in the last step for your mount point directory.

{: .file } /etc/fstab : ~~~ :/remotepath /home/rdiffbackup/mnt/remotehost/remotepath fuse user,noauto,ro 0 0

This will allow the `rdiffbackup` user to mount and read the remote filesystem. It will be mounted read-only as a basic safeguard. Run a test backup by issuing the following commands, changing values where appropriate to match the earlier steps:

    su - rdiffbackup
    mount /home/rdiffbackup/mnt/remotehost/remotepath
    rdiff-backup -v5 /home/rdiffbackup/mnt/remotehost/remotepath /home/rdiffbackup/backup/remotehost/remotepath

Examine the contents of your backup directory after the initial backup completes to make sure everything was copied over correctly.

Automate Daily Backups

Create a shell script named `/home/rdiffbackup/` with the following contents. Adjust the values for directories to match those used in the previous step.

{: .file }
: ~~~
    mount /home/rdiffbackup/mnt/remotehost/remotepath
    rdiff-backup /home/rdiffbackup/mnt/remotehost/remotepath /home/rdiffbackup/backup/remotehost/remotepath
    umount /home/rdiffbackup/mnt/remotehost/remotepath

This script will mount the remote filesystem, back it up, and unmount it upon completion. Make the script executable by issuing the following command:

chmod +x /home/rdiffbackup/

Add the following entry to the rdiffbackup user's crontab (edit it with crontab -e) to perform daily backups at 2:00 AM.

00 02 * * * /home/rdiffbackup/

You may wish to consult the cron manual page for guidance on how to specify different times.

Restoring a Backup

To restore a backup, issue a command on the backup server similar to the following. Note that whatever location you specify for "/restoredir" will be overwritten on the backup server; backups are not automatically restored on the remote host. Take care not to specify a directory that contains anything you wish to keep.

rdiff-backup -r now /home/rdiffbackup/backup/remotehost/remotepath /restoredir

This will restore the most recent version of your backup directory to the directory "/restoredir" on your backup server. As rdiff-backup supports restoring filesystems as they existing at specific points in time, you could issue this command to restore the remote host's backed up files as they were ten days ago:

rdiff-backup -r 10D /home/rdiffbackup/backup/remotehost/remotepath /restoredir

Please consult the resources given below for more rdiff-backup usage examples. Congratulations, you've configured your backup server to perform automatic backups using rdiff-backup and sshfs!

More Information

You may wish to consult the following resources for additional information on this topic. While these are provided in the hope that they will be useful, please note that we cannot vouch for the accuracy or timeliness of externally hosted materials.

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