Remote Backups Over SSH With Rsnapshot

During a discussion I had with a former coworker at my previous job, he introduced me to Rsnapshot. Rsnapshot is a backup program based on rsync, which allows for simple but effective remote backups over SSH.

I’ve built out my home lab to now support one server, my backup server, SSH-ing into my other servers and backing up the data I care about. This will be an overview on how I have this setup.

Disclaimer: I primarily use NixOS and some Arch Linux for my servers, so some NixOS configuration.nix snippets will be present

Rsnapshot server:

I have one NixOS server with Rsnapshot installed and an SSH key that I’ve generated without a passphrase at /root/.ssh/id_rsa.

At the time of writing, this is my NixOS configuration snippet for rsnapshot:

  services.rsnapshot = {
    enable = true;
    enableManualRsnapshot = true;
    cronIntervals = {
      daily = "0 3 * * *";
      hourly = "0 * * * *";
      weekly = "0 1 * * 1";
      monthly = "0 1 1 * *";
    extraConfig = ''
#Separate everything with tabs, not spaces	
#Convert spaces to tabs in vim with :%s/\s\+/\t/g
snapshot_root	/media/backups/
retain	hourly	24
retain	daily	7
retain	weekly	4
retain	monthly	6

backup	root@ct-1.wireguard:/etc/	ct-1/

On NixOS, this installs and configures rsnapshot to run on an hourly, daily, weekly and monthly basis. The last line in my extraConfig for rsnapshot shows the actual backup that is going to happen over SSH:

backup	root@ct-1.wireguard:/etc/	ct-1/

This will backup the /etc/ folder on the remote server ct-1.wireguard and place it in a folder named ct-1 – if you combine that with my snapshot_root config, the actual backup path for the /etc/ folder would be /media/backups/ct-1/etc.

If you aren’t on NixOS, the Arch Wiki has a great entry on setting up Rsnapshot:

rsnapshot - ArchWiki

Add all of the remote servers and their paths to your rsnapshot configuration.

Target servers:

On the target servers you only need the following setup:

  • SSH access, preferably as root – see my recommendations below on reducing security risk
  • rsync installed

The root user is easiest to use on the remote server over SSH. However, logging in as root is a security risk, so there are a couple of precautions I would take:

  • Configure sshd_config to only allow root login using SSH keys, prohibiting password authentication, with the following configuration: PermitRootLogin prohibit-password
  • In setting up /root/.ssh/authorized_keys, restrict the key to only be used from a specific IP address: StackExchange - How to restrict an SSH key to certain IP addresses?
  • Use a VPN and limit SSH access between your rsnapshot server over the VPN. I like Wireguard for VPN stuff:


Once this is setup as described, you now have a remote backup solution that works over SSH.

Written on April 1, 2023