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Creating Encrypted FTP Backups With duplicity And ftplicity On Debian Lenny

When you rent a dedicated server nowadays, almost all providers give you FTP backup space for your server on one of the provider’s backup systems. This tutorial shows how you can use duplicity and ftplicity to create encrypted (so that nobody with access to the backup server can read sensitive data in your backups) backups on the provider’s remote backup server over FTP. ftplicity is a duplicity wrapper script (provided by the German computer magazine c’t) that allows us to use duplicity without interaction (i.e., you do not have to type in any passwords).

I do not issue any guarantee that this will work for you!


1 Preliminary Note

In this tutorial I call the backup server where I have an FTP account with the username backupuser and the password secret. On my own server, I want to backup the directory /home/exampleuser.


2 Installing duplicity

First we make sure our system is up-to-date:

aptitude update

aptitude safe-upgrade

Then we install duplicity as follows:

aptitude install duplicity ncftp


3 Our First Backup

Now let’s do our first backup:

FTP_PASSWORD=secret duplicity /home/exampleuser

server2:/home/exampleuser# FTP_PASSWORD=secret duplicity /home/exampleuser
GnuPG passphrase:
Retype to confirm:
No signatures found, switching to full backup.
————–[ Backup Statistics ]————–
StartTime 1269961692.60 (Tue Mar 30 17:08:12 2010)
EndTime 1269961692.85 (Tue Mar 30 17:08:12 2010)
ElapsedTime 0.24 (0.24 seconds)
SourceFiles 44
SourceFileSize 1576302 (1.50 MB)
NewFiles 44
NewFileSize 1576302 (1.50 MB)
DeletedFiles 0
ChangedFiles 0
ChangedFileSize 0 (0 bytes)
ChangedDeltaSize 0 (0 bytes)
DeltaEntries 44
RawDeltaSize 727995 (711 KB)
TotalDestinationSizeChange 204486 (200 KB)
Errors 0


As you see you will be asked for a GnuPG passphrase. You can type in any password you like; this has to be done everytime you run duplicity. The backup will be encrypted with the help of GnuPG. Permissions and ownerships will be preserved in the backup.

To create the backup in a subdirectory on the backup server, you’d modify the command as follows:

FTP_PASSWORD=secret duplicity /home/exampleuser

When you run duplicity for the first time, it will create a full backup; afterwards, it creates incremental backups. To force the creation of a full backup again, you can use the full switch:

FTP_PASSWORD=secret duplicity full /home/exampleuser

To exclude a directory from the backup, e.g. /home/exampleuser/tmp, you can use the –exclude switch:

FTP_PASSWORD=secret duplicity –exclude /home/exampleuser/tmp /home/exampleuser

If you are backing up the root directory /, remember to –exclude /proc, or else duplicity will probably crash.

To learn more about the available duplicity options, take a look at

man duplicity


4 Restore A Backup

Now let’s assume we have deleted everything in /home/exampleuser and want to restore it from our FTP backup. This is how it’s done:

FTP_PASSWORD=secret duplicity /home/exampleuser

Please note that in this case the remote location comes before to local folder!

5 Automatic Backups With ftplicity

Because duplicity asks for a GnuPG password everytime we use it, it’s hard to use it for automatic backups (e.g. via cron). Fortunately there’s ftplicity, a duplicity wrapper script, which allows us to call duplicity without being asked for a password.

First we generate a GnuPG key that ftplicity will use (so that we don’t have to type in a password anymore):

gpg –gen-key

server2:/home/exampleuser# gpg –gen-key
gpg (GnuPG) 1.4.6; Copyright (C) 2006 Free Software Foundation, Inc.
This program comes with ABSOLUTELY NO WARRANTY.
This is free software, and you are welcome to redistribute it
under certain conditions. See the file COPYING for details.

Please select what kind of key you want:
(1) DSA and Elgamal (default)
(2) DSA (sign only)
(5) RSA (sign only)
Your selection? <– ENTER
DSA keypair will have 1024 bits.
ELG-E keys may be between 1024 and 4096 bits long.
What keysize do you want? (2048) <– ENTER
Requested keysize is 2048 bits
Please specify how long the key should be valid.
0 = key does not expire
<n>  = key expires in n days
<n>w = key expires in n weeks
<n>m = key expires in n months
<n>y = key expires in n years
Key is valid for? (0)
Key does not expire at all
Is this correct? (y/N)
 <– y

You need a user ID to identify your key; the software constructs the user ID
from the Real Name, Comment and Email Address in this form:
“Heinrich Heine (Der Dichter) <>”

Real name: <– your name, e.g. Falko Timme
Email address: <– your email address, e.g.
You selected this USER-ID:
“Falko Timme <>”

Change (N)ame, (C)omment, (E)mail or (O)kay/(Q)uit? <– O
You need a Passphrase to protect your secret key. <– Type in your desired password (twice to confirm it)

Now the key will be generated. It’s a good idea to open a second console and type some letters so that the random number generator can gain enough entropy:

We need to generate a lot of random bytes. It is a good idea to perform
some other action (type on the keyboard, move the mouse, utilize the
disks) during the prime generation; this gives the random number
generator a better chance to gain enough entropy.
We need to generate a lot of random bytes. It is a good idea to perform
some other action (type on the keyboard, move the mouse, utilize the
disks) during the prime generation; this gives the random number
generator a better chance to gain enough entropy.
gpg: /root/.gnupg/trustdb.gpg: trustdb created
gpg: key 
7C6E958B marked as ultimately trusted
public and secret key created and signed.

gpg: checking the trustdb
gpg: 3 marginal(s) needed, 1 complete(s) needed, PGP trust model
gpg: depth: 0  valid:   1  signed:   0  trust: 0-, 0q, 0n, 0m, 0f, 1u
pub   1024D/7C6E958B 2007-12-10
Key fingerprint = 1FDC 60FB 8A27 90D8 553C  3C3E 8E1F 66F7 7C6E 958B
uid                  Falko Timme <>
sub   2048g/F1BB98F4 2007-12-10


I’ve highlighted the key ID (7C6e958B) because we’ll need it in a moment.

Next we download ftplicity:

cd /tmp
tar xvfz 0613-216.tar.gz
cp ftplicity-1.2/ftplicity /usr/local/bin

Now we create /root/.ftplicity/conf. It has the following variables:

  • GPG_KEY: the ID of our GnuPG key;
  • GPG_PW: the password we typed in when we created the GnuPG key;
  • ZIEL: the backup server (incl. the FTP username);
  • ZIEL_PW: the FTP password in the backup server;
  • QUELLE: the source directory (i.e., the directory to be backed up);
  • HOECHSTALTER: the age of the oldest backup; older backups will be deleted;
  • VERBOSITY: amount of information displayed on the screen by ftplicity;
  • TEMP_DIR: a directory for temporary files; when you restore a backup, this directory must at least have enough space for the biggest file in the backup.

vi /root/.ftplicity/conf

# Daten fuer GPG-Schluessel
# Zugangsdaten fuer FTP-Server (URL-Format)
# Basisverzeichnis fuers Backup
# aeltester Wiederherstellungszeitpunkt
# Ausfuehrlichkeit der Bildschirmausgaben (9 fuer Fehlersuche)
# Verzeichnis fuer temporaere Dateien. Beim Restore muss dort
# mindestens Patz fuer die groesste Datei im Backup sein

Afterwards we change the permissions of the file so that only root has read and write permissions:

chmod 600 /root/.ftplicity/conf

We can now create three other files, although that is totally optional:

  • /root/.ftplicity/exclude: contains a list of directories to be excluded from the backup (one directory per line);
  • /root/.ftplicity/pre: contains command(s) to be executed prior to the backup (e.g. create a MySQL database dump);
  • /root/.ftplicity/post: contains command(s) to be executed after the backup.

Here’s a sample /root/.ftplicity/exclude and /root/.ftplicity/pre file (the syntax of /root/.ftplicity/post is the same as in /root/.ftplicity/pre):

vi /root/.ftplicity/exclude


chmod 600 /root/.ftplicity/exclude

vi /root/.ftplicity/pre

/usr/bin/mysqldump –-all-databases -u root -pyourrootsqlpassword > /home/exampleuser/db.sql

(It should be noted that the database gets locked during the creation of SQL dump; this might not be an issue for a small web site, but can be a problem for high-traffic web sites – your visitors won’t be able to access database-driven pages during mysqldump. Here’s a link to an interruption-free MySQL backup method: How To Back Up MySQL Databases Without Interrupting MySQL)

/root/.ftplicity/pre must be executable (as well as /root/.ftplicity/post if you choose to create one):

chmod 700 /root/.ftplicity/pre

As I said before, you only need /root/.ftplicity/conf; the other files are optional.

Now ftplicity is ready to be used; to create our backup, we simply run

ftplicity backup

If all goes well, you won’t be prompted for a password:

server2:~# ftplicity backup
NcFTP version is 3.2.1
Reading globbing filelist /root/.ftplicity/exclude
Last full backup date: Tue Mar 30 17:11:19 2010
————–[ Backup Statistics ]————–
StartTime 1269964060.17 (Tue Mar 30 17:47:40 2010)
EndTime 1269964060.25 (Tue Mar 30 17:47:40 2010)
ElapsedTime 0.08 (0.08 seconds)
SourceFiles 44
SourceFileSize 1576302 (1.50 MB)
NewFiles 0
NewFileSize 0 (0 bytes)
DeletedFiles 0
ChangedFiles 0
ChangedFileSize 0 (0 bytes)
ChangedDeltaSize 0 (0 bytes)
DeltaEntries 0
RawDeltaSize 0 (0 bytes)
TotalDestinationSizeChange 1038 (1.01 KB)
Errors 0


To automate the backups, we can create a cron job (I create two cron jobs, one that runs daily and creates incremental backups, and one that runs once a month, creates a full backup and deletes old files):

crontab -e

# run the (incremental) backup each night at 03:23h
23 3 * * * /usr/local/bin/ftplicity backup
# do a full backup once per month & delete old backups
47 4 1 * * /usr/local/bin/ftplicity full && /usr/local/bin/ftplicity purge –-force


6 Restoring A Backup With ftplicity

Of course, you can use ftplicity also to restore a backup (again, you won’t be asked for a password). The syntax is very easy:

ftplicity restore /home/exampleuser

You can take a look at the ftplicity help to learn what other options you have:

ftplicity –help

server2:~# ftplicity –help

Usage: ftplicity <command> [<options> …]

backup:    incremental backup
full:      force full backup
list:      list all files in the backup
status:    information on backup sets
verify:    list files changed since latest backup
purge [–force]:
list obsolete backup archives [and delete them]
cleanup [–force]:
purge incomplete backup archives (after crashed backup)
restore <destination path> [<age>]:
restore backup to <destination path> [as of <age>]
fetch <file/directory> <destination> [<age>]
restore single file/directory (see example)

list and delete obsolete backup archives:
ftplicity purge –force
restore latest backup to /mnt:
ftplicity restore /mnt
restore /etc/passwd from 4 days ago to /root/pw:
ftplicity fetch etc/passwd /root/pw 4D
(see “man duplicity”, section TIME FORMATS)

files in /root/.ftplicity
conf      main configuration file
pre       will be executed befor backups
post      will be executed after backups
gpgkey    contains a copy of the used GPG key
exclude   list of excluded files and directories
(see “man duplicity”, section FILE SELECTION)