The Internet Vagabond

Automatic Backups with RClone, systemd, and Backblaze

Quick Note

Backups are not complicated. They may seem like it, but in reality the complications arise from restoration. If you’re not doing anything fancy with your data now, then don’t do anything fancy with your backups. Follow the 3-2-1 methodology: 3 copies of (important) data, in 2 different locations, 1 of which is off-site. Many others have written about this in better detail than I ever can; Jeff Geerling has a great article and several videos about it on his site. The time (and often money) investment now can reduce worry, stress, and loss should the data you care about ever become unusable.

(There are no affiliate links in this post, nor was I paid to recommend any product or service.)

My Needs

Backups are as important as the data you have. If all you’ve got is a directory full of meme GIFs that you don’t mind losing, then backups may be a waste of time and money. I have recently taken to buying as much of my music as possible (especially through Bandcamp, and especially on Bandcamp Fridays!). While much of the music I buy does exist on a remote server at a company somewhere, the cost of having to re-download and re-organize all of it well outweighs the cost of proper backups. Not to mention the music which I can’t get anywhere else anymore. Nor to further mention the other data which I have. All of this is to say: backups are worth it to me.

Recently I wanted to setup NFS on my home network. I was concerned about messing something up, and erasing the directory I had intended to share, so I wanted to backup the data. For a while I’ve been intending to setup backups (as everyone probably does), but it was never a priority. This project helped to prioritze it. I had read about RClone, a command-line utility for interacting with an incredible number of cloud services. I messed around a bit with it, found it to my liking, and started shopping around for a cloud storage solution. Enter Backblaze. The folks that publish all those hard-drive stats? Turns out they also run a business where they provide cloud storage. It’s inexpensive, reliable, and straight-forward. The last step was to automate it with systemd timer units.

Backblaze Setup

First step is to setup Backblaze. Create an account, verify email address, all that jazz. I’d recommend enabling multi-factor authentication on the Account -> My Settings page, under Security. Next, click on the Account -> Application Keys page, and generate a new key. Fill in the blanks (I gave my key full access to all buckets), copy the important bits, and store them somewhere safe (like your password vault).

RClone Setup

Download and install RClone. Next run rclone config and walk through the prompts. I’m using Backblaze, so I select “Backblaze B2” as my storage backend. Then I add the application key ID and application key secret (key) at the relevant prompts. For all of this configuration, I named the remote “backblaze”, though a shorter name can make commands easier. Regardless, verify the configuration is setup properly by running rclone lsd backblaze:, which will list buckets. Unless a bucket was already configured, nothing will show up, and also there won’t be any errors.

Backup Configuration

Now, figure out how you want to backup your data. I have a BTRFS RAID setup with multiple sub-volumes, each for a different data type: one for Books, one for Music, and so on. Since creating a bucket doesn’t cost anything, I decided to split my backups similarly. I created the buckets I wanted, and did a “manual” RClone sync of the data.

rclone sync --fast-list --transfers 20 /path/to/Books backblaze:bucket-for-Books-backups

The “–fast-list” and “–transfers” options are specified on the RClone Backblaze B2 page, along with some others that may be of interest.

At this point, my data was “backed-up”, and I could muck about with it more confidently. Also, at this point, configuring back-ups is done. Run those RClone sync commands once a week, and all is set. I don’t want to remember to do things, though.

Automating the Process

The first thing to do is create a user-agnostic location for the configuration file and some additional files. I chose /etc/rclone, and copied the RClone configuration file generated previously to this directory as backblaze.conf.

Next, I created a filter file. RClone has extensive filtering options. For my current needs, a single file will suffice.


# Exclude BTRFS snapshot directories
- .snapshots/**
# Exclude Syncthing configuration directories
- .stfolder/**

systemd timer units ( [Arch Wiki] [Manual] ) are triggers that activate on a schedule. That schedule can be dynamic (relative to a previous/other trigger), or static (at 6:15 every day). A timer unit triggers a service unit, which does the work. For my backups, I decided to run a sync every hour, at sometime between the 15 and 45 minute mark of that hour. To simplify having multiple timer units that all do the same thing, I setup a template unit (see the Note here: Arch Wiki).


Description=RClone Backup Timer Template

# Run every hour, sometime between the 15 minute and 45 minute mark
OnCalendar=*-*-* *:15:00

# The %i is whatever value is after the "@" for the configured unit. For
# example, rclone-backup@Books.timer will run the rclone-backup@Books.service


Then I can enable and start a timer for each directory to backup. To minimize configuration, I also setup the service file to be a template. This requires a bit of inflexible coordination: the directory name must match to a part of the bucket name.


Description=RClone Backup of %I

ExecStart=/usr/bin/rclone sync -v --config "/etc/rclone/backblaze.conf" --fast-list --transfers 20 --filter-from "/etc/rclone/default.filter" /path/to/%i/ backblaze:bucket-for-%i-backups

The --config option allows us to specify the configuration in the /etc directory. I include -v to have some additional output in the journal. Again, --fast-list and --transfers are used to speed up the process and keep costs lower. Then I --filter-from the “default.filter” file.

Place each of these files (rclone-backup@.timer and rclone-backup@.service) into /etc/systemd/system. For each directory, enable and start the timer unit; systemctl enable rclone-backup@Example.timer and systemctl start rclone-backup@Example.timer will backup /path/to/Example/ to the bucket-for-Example-backups bucket.

Next Steps

I would like to get some sort of metrics and dashboards setup to track backup status and statistics. It could be very useful to be notified if a backup ever fails.

Eventually, I’ll upload this to a repository somewhere for ease of access and backup. When I do, I’ll update this post.

Bill Niblock 2023-05-07
[ technology ]