How-To Geek

How to Back Up Your Linux System With Back In Time


Ubuntu includes Déjà Dup, an integrated backup tool, but some people prefer Back In Time instead. Back In Time has several advantages over Déjà Dup, including a less-opaque backup format, integrated backup file browser, and more configurability.

Déjà Dup still has a few advantages, notably its optional encryption and simpler interface, but Back In Time gives Déjà Dup a run for its money.


Back In Time is available in Ubuntu’s Software Center. Unlike Déjà Dup, Back In Time also has a GUI that integrates with KDE. If you’re using Ubuntu’s default Unity desktop, install the GNOME version.


Back In Time is also available in Fedora, Mandriva, and other Linux systems’ repositories.

Backing Up Files

Back In Time installs two shortcuts – “Back In Time” and “Back In Time (root).” The root version runs with root permissions, which are required to access and back up certain system files. If you’re just backing up your personal files, select the “Back In Time” shortcut.


You’ll see the Settings window after you launch Back In Time. This window is more complex than Déjà Dup’s, but it also offers greater configurability. For example, Back In Time lets you create different profiles with separate backup settings, a feature Déjà Dup lacks.


You’ll have to specify a location for your backup snapshots in the “Where to save snapshots” box on the General tab and a list of files or folders you want to back up on the Include tab. The other options in the Settings window are optional.


Unlike Déjà Dup, Back In Time allows you to configure when your backups are automatically removed. Déjà Dup only removes older backups when the storage space fills up, while Back In Time offers much finer-grained control on the Auto-remove tab.


Once you’re done configuring your backups, click the OK button and use the “Take snapshot” button to take your first snapshot. Back In Time uses rsync as its backend, which offers incremental backups – future backups will only copy changes and will complete quickly.


Restoring Files

Unlike Déjà Dup, which uses a Duplicity-based, opaque backup format, Back In Time uses rsync directly. Your backup snapshots are stored as files and folders on your hard disk, allowing you to browse them directly. You could perform a backup to a removable hard drive, plug it directly into Windows, and access your files without converting or extracting anything. Unfortunately, this does mean that Back In Time doesn’t offer the same encrypted backup feature Déjà Dup does.

Screenshot at 2012-03-30 21_57_08

Back In Time offers a graphical snapshot browser that makes it easy to browse your backup snapshots and restore individual files, while Déjà Dup offers no such browser. Déjà Dup’s Nautilus integration allows you to restore individual files from a file browser window, but only if you know the folder they were originally contained in. There’s no way to browse a snapshot without restoring the entire thing to another folder.


Back In Time is a more powerful, configurable tool with a less opaque backup format. Déjà Dup still wins when it comes to encrypted backups and the simplest possible interface, though.

Do you use Déjà Dup, Back In Time, or another solution to back up your Linux system? Leave a comment and let us know.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 04/4/12

Comments (9)

  1. MJ

    Seems quite powerful. I will consider this if I switch to Linux as my main OS. Thanks for the info!

  2. Gregg

    CrashPlan works well for me.

  3. Stephen

    Since this app is a front end for rsync, you could create/mount a TrueCrypt volume use that as the backup location and then unmount the volume when the backup is done. That would provide great encryption.

  4. dragonbite

    Right now I manually use Grsync, but I may look at this instead. One thing I like is that the files are still browsable “just in case”, and can be automated.

  5. cam2644

    Worthwhile info here. Certainly useful to try out.

  6. TheFu

    A key item for Back-In-Time is that the target file system must support hardlinks – any good POSIX FS will. My Mom has been using B-i-T for almost 2 yrs now. I set it up and forgot about it. If you need encryption, that can be performed at the file system layer with a little effort. It can also write to NFS mounted storage.

    B-i-T is great for a small computer backup method.

    Personally, I like rdiff-backup best. It feels like rsync from the CLI interface, but has lots of other capabilities important to backups. rsync rocks for mirroring, but not-so-much for backups, IMHO.

  7. Spleenico

    Use it for years and very happy with it.

  8. Chris Hoffman

    File-system level encryption makes sense for lots of scenarios, but — especially if you want to dump the encrypted archive in the cloud (Ubuntu One) or on a USB stick as “just another file” — Deja Dup really is easier to use for less advanced users.

  9. andriajohn

    Good to know about the How to Back Up The Linux System With Back In Time

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