I maintain a server, where I run the Twitter bot @first_tmrs_only, Chanslate and keep my private Git repos, using gitolite.

Until recently, I used the Digital Ocean’s backup service, which takes snap shots of the whole drive, but would have added a cost to my monthly bill and the service is triggered when DO deems that sufficient changes have happened on the drive.

I’d rather have a backup process I have more control over.

Plus, I have been using laurent22/rsync-time-backup for a while to keep my local laptops backed up and the option of remote backup was recently added to the program. So I was itching to try it out.

SSH from server to local machine

However, only the backup destination could be remote, not the source. So the script had to be run on the server and the destination had to be a disk connected to my laptop (the one I was SSH-ing from).

My router is notoriously difficult to set up to allow port forwarding and I didn’t want to open up my laptop to random SSH attempts on the wild internet. So I decided to use RemotePortForwarding. There were a few hoops I had to jump through, though.

# Starting the SSH connection with RemotePortForwarding
ssh -R 2000:localhost:22 augustus

Then I tested it:

# On the remote machine
ssh -p 2000 [email protected]

It prompted me for my password and it worked!

Making SSH easier

However, having the machine prompt me for a password each time it ran a command on my local machine was not going to work (ssh is called several times during the operation to test for markers, old backups, etc.). Hence, I generated an SSH key pair on the remote server:

# On the remote machine
mkdir -p ~/.ssh
ssh-keygen -p -f ~/.ssh/id_rsa

Then I copied the id_rsa.pub, which was also generated on the server, to my local computer’s ~/.ssh/authorized_keys. However, since I was going to run the backup command with a sudo, I had to move the id_rsa to the root account.

Now, running SSH commands on my local computer didn’t need me to enter a password on the remote machine and the SSH port will be exposed only during the duration of my connection to the server.

What to backup

Then to prepare the exclude file, I took inspiration from a Digital Ocean blog post and wrote the following in augustus-backup-exclude-file:


I erred on the side of safety, backing up my entire config along with the binaries.


Now before I could checkout the laurent22/rsync-time-backup, thanks to musically-ut/lovely-forks, I noticed eaut/rsync-time-machine was a flamey fork and decided to check it out.

It turned out that eaut had built on top of rsync-time-backup and had added features which were going to be necessary for me to use it, i.e. specifying a custom port to SSH to: -p 2000. Hence, I checked it out on the remote machine.

The backup

This was the command I finally ran on the remote machine:

# Command to backup / to a USB drive called `Serenity` on my laptop
sudo time ./rsync_tmbackup.sh --ssh-opt '-p2000' \
  backup / [email protected]:/Volumes/Serenity/backups/ \

The first run is expected to last a rather long time as the whole server is backed up.


To make things a little more comfortable for myself, I slipped the following into my ~/.ssh/config:

Host augustus
     RemoteForward 2000 localhost:22

Now I have a way to SSH back to my local machine every time I SSH into my server augustus.