31 Jan 2019

Linux Backup Types Explained and Best Practices

In today's technical world, the importance of Linux seems to be increasing. And there are innumerable reasons behind this popularity, including stability, box security, rock-solid reliability, and much more. If you are a freshly minted Linux administrator, one of the primary challenges in front of you would be to implement a dependable and reliable backup system, isn't it?

Whether you use bootable flash drives for this task or any other sturdy place, the importance of backup cannot be denied. Considering the number of options available out there, selecting one can be quite overwhelming of a process. Having said that, here are some of the best backup types that you can try out.

Linux Backup Types

Full Backups

Just as the name suggests, a full backup is the kind of backup in which your every file and folder of the system is backed up. If the backed up data doesn't change, every full backup that was created will never change. Generally, a full backup takes a lot of time and would also require more space in comparison with other kinds of backups. However, the process of restoring the data from a full backup would be comparatively faster.

Certain Linux admins, by default, do a full backup of smaller data sets or folders that won't consume a lot of space for storage.  Even if you wish to run full backups for the entire data set without compromising with space, you can keep this task for periodic execution. However, one of the major problems with this type of backup would be the longest gap that can pose a great risk to the data.

  • Centralized in one backup set
  • Readily available data
  • Easy to manage version control
  • Slower backup operations
  • Require more storage space
  • Inefficient use of resources

Incremental Backups

Incremental backups are the ones that record every kind of data that was changed since your last performed the backup, whether it was incremental or full. For instance, if you executed a full back up on Monday evening, you can perform an incremental backup on Wednesday evening to target all the files that were changed since the first time.

And then, on Friday, you can execute a job that would copy every sort of change made since Wednesday, so on and so forth. In a simple word, this incremental backup method generates a backup chain. And, these backups would be arranged in an order from the starting point.


  • Less space consumption
  • Faster backup operations and leaner backup images
  • Create multiple versions of the same file
  • Slower recovery operations
  • Require search to individual backup file
  • Initial full backup and all incremental backups would be required for full recovery of backup

Differential Backups

The third type of backup, known as differential backup, are the ones that record every change made since you last executed the full backup. Let's assume you ran a full back up on a Monday night. And then, the following Wednesday, you run a differential backup to record all the changes made since Monday's backup. The backup that you will be executing on Friday will only be recording changes made since the Monday night.

Likewise, this cycle will keep running until you execute your next full backup. Generally, differential backups are popularly called the middle ground between full backups and incremental backups.

Efficient use of storage space
Faster backup operations in comparison with full backups
Faster recovery operation in comparison with incremental backups

  • Slower backup process than incremental backups
  • Slower recovery process than full backups
  • Initial full backup and all differential backups would be required for full recovery of backup

Best Practices for Linux Backup


While taking a Linux backup, planning is one of the essential factors, and it is the universal best practice for taking a backup. Planning is one such critical stage where you can discover every primary component of the strategy.

Right from what you are backing up to the kind of database you are selecting, you will have to plan around everything specifically. Also, this stage will include the kind of back up you are executing and how often you will be doing it. Make sure that you are weaving the plan carefully to integrate it into your daily operations of IT.


Next best practice that can provide you with amazing benefits is the automation. A majority of significant Linux backup utilities would necessitate working from the command line.  To give you an example, StorageCraft's ShadowProtect SPX, custom made for Linux, is a precise instance of how the right set of tools can easily streamline and automate your backup administration.

This SPX lets administrators keep a tab on scheduled backup plans from the inbuilt job timeline feature. And, it can restore the entire systems to either a virtual environment or any hardware just in the matter of a few minutes. This kind of automation would turn out to be advantageous when it comes to handling daily tasks, specifically the ones to recover the disaster. Hence, you can decide upon the automation that you’d be using for your backup before executing the process.

Backup Storage Devices

While creating a Linux backup plan, you may have to revisit your strategy of storage completely. Although backup software can help you optimize your storage space by compressing files, however, making use of these copies would take a lot of storage again, which in turn, raises the requirement for a sturdy option.

Therefore, you can easily connect your Linux box to any of the external hard drive or a NAS appliance. If you are choosing a hard drive, finding one with the space of 1TB at an affordable price wouldn’t be tough. Also, you can even find NAS devices with multiple TB spaces within a certain budget, too.

Security Challenges

If you are backing up a critical set of data, you would have to be completely proactive when it comes to safeguarding it from online risks and threats. If you are sending any kind of data on the internet, it should be encrypted while in transit. Not just that, even if you are storing any backup in the local storage, like bootable flash drive, or any other thing, put a lock key to be extremely sure.

All in all, you would have to ensure that the safety measures are not taken for granted in any given circumstances. In this situation, you can also keep a backup plan.

Backup Protection

Whether you have kept the backup in any of the online platforms or have stored it in a different machine altogether, keeping all of the backup in one place can be counter-intuitive. In case any problem comes up, years of hard work can go up in smoke just like that. This leaves you with two primary options.

You can either create backup copies and keep them in different areas and locations. These locations can be divided online and offline. Or, if you have access to any of the remote servers, you can use network transfer to keep your backups offsite.

Backup Testing

Surely, there might be nothing as deflating as an attempt that leads to failed data recovery. If looked from the bright angle, this feeling of dreariness and devastation can easily go away if you perform routine testing of your backups. Although automation is a good option to cut down the tedious processes; however, there are certain responsibilities you cannot let go off.

If you think that your data was worth backing up and storing in any tape, disc, or server, you must also check it to ensure accurateness now and then.  It will give you peace of mind that your data is secured.


The backup menu of Linux surely comes with a gamut of interesting options. While some admins may want to choose their own robust app and tailor their systems; on the other hand, others might go with a third-party recovery solution.

Regardless of what you are selecting, make sure that you are streamlining everything and ensuring no space for disasters or mistakes. Since choices vary based on requirements, you may not find any wrong or right backup plan. So, figure out the kind of backup you require and plan the strategy accordingly to save time, budget, and expertise. After all, something is better than nothing.

Author Bio: Poonam Srinivasan is the Technical Editor of wiki.meramaal.com. Poonam have a passion for helping people to solve all their problems related to technology from last 4 years. She worked as a freelance Network Engineer previously.


  1. My 'best practice' is the COPY the home directory to a couple of flash drives. I have come to distrust most backup programs as a lot of them will not recover after a few version changes, or go belly up, or get bought out and become useless. I do use a sync program to back up smaller changes (about once a week) but I do a major 'copy to' back up once a month. My one most important file, I keep on Dropbox - while it's important, it's not sensitive, or private. Otherwise, I do use the cloud for the same reason as backup programs.