Ubuntu & Deja Dup - Get up, backup

Updated: November 2, 2018

What has more umlauts than lebkuchen? Deja Dup. Properly spelled with a whole bunch of accents, this is a simple but versatile backup tool, included in Ubuntu by default. Normally, I have my own backup methods, but while playing with Ubuntu 18.04 Unity, I had the tool pop up and prompt me to configure some redundancy for me files and folders. And I thought, all right, this is a fairly non-aggressive offer - it does not pop up right away, it lets you use your system for a few days before gently raising its head.

And so I am going to show you how to use Deja Dup, as well as outline the various interesting feature it has. I was not expecting much, but then, as I clicked through the GUI, I realized there's more to this than just a seemingly bland interface. Follow me.

Teaser

Backup prompt

All right, so going about your merry business, you may see this window.

Backup reminder

Backup configuration

By default, there are no backups. You can both manually perform backups or activate a schedule task. But let's progress step by step. First, you need to choose which Folders you want to save and which ones to ignore. There does not seem to be any files filter from what I can gather (like *.tmp or such). Trash and Downloads are ignored by default. What does get backed up is your entire home directory. So this is, on its own, not a replacement for system libraries, although you can do that. Timeshift is a better option for that.

Backup settings

Ignore folders

Location, location, location

This is an interesting one. Deja Dup works with remote (online and network) and offline sources. However, the online list is quite limited, and if only offers Google and NextCloud. You can't configure Dropbox or OneDrive, for instance. Weird, because the tool does integrate with online accounts in Gnome-based desktops.

Backup location

When it comes to network locations, you have far more choice. You can use all sorts of protocol, including SSH, NFS, Samba, FTP, and then a few other, somewhat less popular ones. You get both secure and insecure protocols, so to speak, and IPv6 is also supported.

Network locations

Online accounts integration

This worked, but not as smoothly as I'd expect. Trying to launch the facility from within Deja Dup caused Gnome Center to crash, however this seems strictly related to my use of the Unity desktop. You can manually access and configure the online accounts.

Gnome Center crash

Online accounts

Local storage & scheduling

For the first test, I decided to try local storage - a different partition on the disk. No issues there. The last step is to choose the scheduling - you can do daily or weekly. I did not see any option to configure a different timeframe, like hourly - or choose a specific time slot for the backup to run. Deja Dup uses its own scheduling service and does not rely on cron.

Location set

Backup testing

Well, no backup is good until completed - and then recovered. Anyway, I tried running a backup, and it asked me to install a few dependencies. Why. Really, sort it out right away, it's just a few KB. Then, the tool complained about a failed backup, because it had timed out. So you should configure everything BEFORE enabling backups, as the tool may choose to run right away, but won't be able to.

Dependencies

Backup failed

Then, you can also protect your backups with a password - not sure if this means encryption, seems like it does, via duplicity, which does use rsync in its own backend. This is a good thing, plus it prevents accidental restores and such like.

Password

And we're ready - and running:

Backup configured

The last backup message is wrong - it's the bogus failure from earlier.

Backup 1

Backup 2

Backup 3

Indeed, behaves like a simple rsync backup. You can pause backups, if you want. Runs fine, and you can check the log to see exactly what it's doing. Simulation and time estimate are missing, which would be a nice thing. Anyway, the backup completed just fine. No errors or weird behavior.

Restore

This is even more important than shuffling a bunch of files to a different location. The restore procedure was simple and elegant. One, you need the password. Then, you need to choose from where you want to restore your backup, and which among the available copies. By default, Deja Dup has an infinite retention policy, unless the backup location is running low on space. In the settings, you can shorten this somewhat, but again, a bit more flexibility would be helpful.

Restore, where

Restore, when

Conclusion

Deja Dup is a deceptively clever tool. It looks too simple - blame Gnome for that - but it has an extensive set of options and features. In my testing, it was reliable. But then, Deja Dup can also be improved. Better and more fine-grained control of backup data (file control), better scheduling (exact times and/or conditions for when the backup ought to run), and slightly more clarity around backup retention. I am also not sure regarding encryption, and whether backup passwords actually mean exactly that. Lastly, the support for additional cloud services would be a nice thing, because there's no reason for any particular one or two to be featured and for the rest to be excluded. Duplicity does support numerous cloud platforms, there's no reason for Deja Dup to behave differently.

All that said, most Linux distributions do not promote backups well enough, and/or do not necessarily include simple and practical tools that even less skilled users can try with confidence. Ubuntu backups are not a new thing, of course, but I finally got around to testing the functionality, and I'm glad I did. This seems like a nice compromise between nothing and other, somewhat more difficult rsync frontends. Simple use, password protection and multi-location support are the main selling points. If you don't have your own robust backup mechanism in place, this is a good choice to start. Definitely worth checking out. Take care.

Cheers.

You may also like: