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             B A C K U P N I N J A   /()/

  a silent flower blossom death strike to lost data.

Backupninja allows you to coordinate system backup by dropping a few simple configuration files into /etc/backup.d/. Most programs you might use for making backups don't have their own configuration file format. Backupninja provides a centralized way to configure and coordinate many different backup utilities.


The key features of backupninja are:

  • easy to read ini style configuration files
  • you can drop in scripts to handle new types of backups
  • backup actions can be scheduled
  • you can choose when status report emails are mailed to you (always, on warning, on error, never)
  • console-based wizard (ninjahelper) makes it easy to create backup action configuration files
  • passwords are never sent via the command line to helper programs
  • works with Linux-Vservers

The following backup types are supported:

  • secure, remote, incremental filesytem backup (via rdiff-backup) incremental data is compressed. permissions are retained even with an unpriviledged backup user
  • backup of mysql databases (via mysqlhotcopy and mysqldump)
  • basic system and hardware info
  • encrypted remote backups (via duplicity)
  • backup of subversion repositories


See the installation documentation.


The following options are available:

  • -h, --help: this usage message
  • -d, --debug: run in debug mode, where all log messages are output to the current shell
  • -f, --conffile FILE: use FILE for the main configuration instead of /etc/backupninja.conf
  • -t, --test: test run mode. This will test if the backup could run, without actually preforming any backups. For example, it will attempt to authenticate or test that ssh keys are set correctly.
  • -n, --now: perform actions now, instead of when they might be scheduled. No output will be created unless also run with -d.
  • --run FILE: runs the specified action FILE (e.g. one of the /etc/backup.d/ files). Also puts backupninja in debug mode.


ninjahelper is an additional script which will walk you through the process of configuring backupninja. Ninjahelper has a menu driven curses based interface (using dialog).

To add an additional 'wizard' to ninjahelper, follow these steps:

  1. To add a helper for the handler "blue", create the file blue.helper in the directory where the handlers live. (ie /usr/share/backupninja).

  2. Next, you need to add your helper to the global HELPERS variable and define the main function for your helper (the function name is always <helper>_wizard). for example, blue.helper:

       HELPERS="$HELPERS blue:description_of_this_helper"
       blue_wizard() {
         ... do work here ...
  3. Look at the existing helpers to see how they are written. Try to re-use functions, such as the dialog functions that are defined in, or the vserver functions defined in lib/vserver.

  4. Test, re-test, and test again. Try to break the helper by going backwards, try to think like someone who has no idea how to configure your handler would think, try to make your helper as simple as possible. Walk like a cat, become your shadow, don't let your senses betray you.


Configuration files

The general configuration file is /etc/backupninja.conf. In this file you can set the log level and change the default directory locations. You can force a different general configuration file with backupninja -f /path/to/conf.

To preform the actual backup, backupninja processes each configuration file in /etc/backup.d according to the file's suffix:

  • .sh: run this file as a shell script.
  • .rdiff: filesystem backup (using rdiff-backup)
  • .dup: filesystem backup (using duplicity)
  • .mysql: backup mysql databases
  • .pgsql: backup PostgreSQL databases
  • .sys: general hardware, partition, and system reports.
  • .svn: backup subversion repositories
  • .maildir: incrementally backup maildirs (very specialized)

Support for additional configuration types can be added by dropping bash scripts with the name of the suffix into /usr/share/backupninja.

The configuration files are processed in alphabetical order. However, it is suggested that you name the config files in "sysvinit style."

For example:


Typically, you will put a .rdiff config file last, so that any database dumps you make are included in the filesystem backup. Configurations files with names beginning with 0 (zero) or ending with .disabled (preferred method) are skipped.

Unless otherwise specified, the config file format is "ini style."

For example:

    # this is a comment

    fish = red
    fish = blue

    apple = yes
    pear = no thanks \
    i will not have a pear.

The example configuration files document all options supported by the handlers shipped with backupninja.


By default, each configuration file is processed everyday at 01:00 (1 AM). This can be changed by specifying the 'when' option in a config file.

For example:

    when = sundays at 02:00
    when = 30th at 22
    when = 30 at 22:00
    when = everyday at 01            <-- the default
    when = Tuesday at 05:00

A configuration file will be processed at the time(s) specified by the when option. If multiple when options are present, then they all apply. If two configurations files are scheduled to run in the same hour, then we fall back on the alphabetical ordering specified above. If two configurations files are scheduled close to one another in time, it is possible to have multiple copies of backupninja running if the first instance is not finished before the next one starts.

Make sure that you put the when option before any sections in your configuration file.

These values for when are equivalent:

    when = tuesday at 05:30
    when = TUESDAYS at 05

These values for when are invalid:

    when = tuesday at 2am
    when = tuesday at 2
    when = tues at 02

SSH keys

In order for rdiff-backup to sync files over ssh unattended, you must create ssh keys on the source server and copy the public key to the remote user's authorized keys file. For example:

    root@srchost# ssh-keygen -t rsa -b 4096
    root@srchost# ssh-copy-id -i /root/.ssh/ backup@desthost

Now, you should be able to ssh from user root on srchost to user backup on desthost without specifying a password.

Note: when prompted for a password by ssh-keygen, just leave it blank by hitting return.

The included helper program ninjahelper will walk you through creating an rdiff-backup configuration, and will set up the ssh keys for you.

Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3)

Duplicity can store backups on Amazon S3 buckets, taking care of encryption. Since it performs incremental backups it minimizes the number of request per operation therefore reducing the costs. The boto Python interface to Amazon Web Services is needed to use duplicity with S3 (Debian package: python-boto).


If you are using Linux-Vservers there are some special capabilities that different handlers have to make vserver backups easier.

Set the variable vservers to be yes in /etc/backupninja.conf and see the example configuration files for each handler to configure the vserver specific variables.

Additional vserver variables that can be configured in /etc/backupninja.conf, but they probably don't need to be changed:

  • VSERVERINFO (default: /usr/sbin/vserver-info)
  • VSERVER (default: /usr/sbin/vserver)
  • VROOTDIR (default: $VSERVERINFO info SYSINFO |grep vserver-Rootdir | awk '{print $2}')

.sh configuration files

Shell jobs may use the following features:

  • logging and control flow functions: halt, fatal, error, warning, info, debug, passthru. All such functions take a list of strings a parameters. Those strings are passed to whatever logging mechanism is enabled, and colored if relevant.

  • Using exit N is useless, and has unspecified consequences. Just don't do it.

  • when=TIME works as documented above; at may also be written when = TIME.

  • The $BACKUPNINJA_DEBUG environment variable is set when backupninja is invoked with the -d option.

Real world usage

Backupninja can be used to implement whatever backup strategy you choose. It is intended, however, to be used like so:

  1. First, databases are safely copied or exported to /var/backups. Typically, you cannot make a file backup of a database while it is in use, hence the need to use special tools to make a safe copy or export into /var/backups.

  2. Then, vital parts of the file system, including /var/backups, are nightly pushed to a remote, off-site, hard disk (using rdiff-backup). The local user is root, but the remote user is not priviledged. Hopefully, the remote filesystem is encrypted.

There are many different backup strategies out there, including "pull style", magnetic tape, rsync + hard links, etc. We believe that the strategy outlined above is the way to go because:

  1. hard disks are very cheap these days;
  2. pull style backups are no good, because then the backup server must have root on the production server;
  3. rdiff-backup is more space efficient and featureful than using rsync + hard links.

More information


See the FAQ.

Mailing list

The backupninja mailing list is suitable for usage and development questions.