$USER@bit-of-a-byte ~ $ cat $(find /var/log -name '*.log' -print | awk 'NR>5&&NR<=10')

ThothBackup - Part 1

As many people may have guessed, this backup system very quickly got much larger than I initially expected. Because of the size of the backup project, the number of people interested, and how quickly things are changing along the way, I’ve decided to approach this project in a new way.

In the sidebar to the left you will notice there is a new link to a “Projects” directory. Here you will be able to find all my larger works. The project is now called ThothBackup, and what follows is a list of things I have learned along the way. All of this data will be consolidated and entered in a more coherent fashion into the project pages, so keep an eye out for those to update.

But for now, we have a lot of ground to cover, so let’s get to work.

Part 1 - Cross Platform is hard

One of the biggest parts of the backup project was its ability to be cross-platform. I want the system to be easy enough to use that anyone and everyone could grab a client, get it configured, and get going. To facilitate this, the initial idea was to use tools that were built into the operating system. On Linux and macOS this is easy enough, as rsync is installed on most distributions by default, and if it isn’t installed it is just a quick package manager installation away.

Then however, entered Windows. Initially I assumed that it would be easy to use with windows as well. After all, rsync.net has a nice little guide explaining how to set it up. However, their client can detect when you’re not using rsync.net servers (which is totally fair, there’s no hate from me on that) and limits using the program to 30 days. The other alternative is cwRsync, which was initially freeware, but has since changed to being a paid product. Obviously asking someone to play for a program to even be able to start to use the backup isn’t a great selling point.

The first idea that I had was to write something on my own. Maybe have shell scripts on all platforms check for required code and fetch anything that is needed. However, shell scripts are hard for many people to debug, and the sight of a command prompt can strike fear into the hearts of many windows users.

The second iteration of the idea was to write something in Python. However at that point the client is becoming a software project in its own right, and I didn’t start this to develop software, I started it because I wanted to set up a neat little backup service for my friends and family.

Thankfully, there are many other software suites that are both cross platform and useful for this task. We ended up going with SyncThing. SyncThing is an open-source (MPL2, which is a permissive form of copyleft) synchronization library that is cross-platform and written in Go. I’m a huge fan of Go even though I don’t actually write it myself, as it is a fantastic language for exactly this type of thing. Even better, SyncThing comes with easy to use and easy to understand GUIs, and is capable of NAT and Firewall punching via relays, and makes device configuration dependent on acceptance from both the server and the client. The protocol it uses is open source, and based on the usage reports at least one person is using it on 30 million files with 2,000 peers. Last, but most certainly not least, traffic is encrypted with 128 bit AES, and the protocol maintains perfect forward secrecy.

All of this (and a whole lot more, it really is an awesome bit of software) makes SyncThing perfect for our use case. This may not always remain the case, but it gives me somewhere to start. Even if we end up moving beyond SyncThing in the future, you really should give it a look. It is a phenomenal piece of software.

Part 2 - Changes in Sync Methods

As hinted above, the original plan to synchronize systems wasn’t going to work without more work than I was willing to put in to a single component of the system. Once we threw out the initial way the system was supposed to work, we had to retool the way things worked on the operating system too.

The original way the sync process was meant to work was that every user’s operating system would get its own Server Account, and rsync or some other synchronization system would be tunneled through SSH. I wasn’t sure if authentication would be handled by system accounts or LDAP, because I never got that far. But I did specifically pick the operating system (OpenSUSE) because of that distribution’s system configuration manager (YaST).

Now with the use of SyncThing, a daemon process would run under a single user, and all clients would then connect to that daemon process which would then write to disk using that daemon’s permission set. Thus, no need to worry about ACLs or anything of the like. It was interesting to work with ACLs though. You can see some of my old code if you browse through the commits history of the ThothBackup GitHub repository.

Part 3 - Filesystem Considerations

When I was testing the original synchronization strategy, I had everything being deposited onto BTRFS subvolumes that were mounted with the compress option. To be entirely honest, I wasn’t that impressed with the way the compression was working.

In the new system, BTRFS subvolumes are still being used (User, System Name, Operating System, Drive Name, Backup Client, Archive Client, etc) except now the subvolumes are mounted with compress-force option. Additionally, I have learned about out-of-band BTRFS deduplication and plan to play around with that at this stage in the project as well.

Part 4 - Operating Systems

I really, really like OpenSUSE. Like, a whole whole lot. It may very well be my favorite binary distribution, and I’ve used quite a few. I think the whole way it works is simply phenomenal, I like the company behind it, and it honestly boils down to just that: I like it.

But, after all the changes above I began to consider if I shouldn’t change distributions. Originally I thought of changing to BSD, but I was concerned about software availability. I know FreeBSD tends to have a very well maintained ports collection, but I was still.. concerned. Most tools in this arena seem to cater toward Linux, and if I was already changing multiple systems to avoid having to write new software, did I really want to run the risk of needing to write server side software?

After much deliberation, I ended up settling on Debian Stable with backports. The initial installation is extremely lean, and there is a truly massive amount of documentation available for Debian. It paid off well too. The initial install of Debian stable clocked in at 60MB of ram used, where as OpenSUSE was running around 200MB after reboot.

Conclusion #### {: #thoth-1-conclusion }

There is honestly still quite a bit more that needs to be discussed. One of the most amusing things that the past week or so has taught me is that Sydney’s computer is as good of a backup test as a normal single family household. His System has 4 drives, over one million files, a quarter of a million directories, and about a terabyte of used storage on it. Combining his single computer with my mac and a windows virtual machine, and we have as much testing as we could need.

Notes #### {: #thoth-1-notes }

I’m going to start including a little section at the bottom of each post to remind me what I need to work on. Hopefully having this publicly viewable will encourage me to actually follow through on writing more than one blog post every 18 days.

  • stage 1 project page
  • stage 2 project page
  • talk about security improvements that can be done
  • rewrite the server side new client script
  • talk about specific SyncThing configuration options used
  • write utility script to keep server config files up to date in git

Yet Another Backup System - Part 1

Introduction ## {: #yet-another-introduction }

I’ve been wanting to get back into blogging, or at least writing more consistently, and I’ve also been looking for projects to work on. One of my favorite things to do, oddly enough, is to work on systems that will manage large amounts of data. So, I’ve decided to start a new project.

This is the first in a series of posts detailing the creation of a multi-tiered backup system for me, some of my friends, and potentially (but not likely) others as well. I will warn people ahead of time that I’m not building any hardware that could be called “resilient,” instead I’m using things that I already have around the house, plus a few extra cheap purchases, and a lot of software to make things work.

Speaking of software, almost everything used will be cross-platform and open source. I will likely be writing a lot of “glue,” in the form of shell scripts or potentially even some ruby. I will also be trying to focus on keeping things secure on untrusted servers, and secure in transit, to sometimes ridiculous levels. That being said, this is NOT a zero-knowledge system. Since it is for me, family, and friends, they are made aware of this ahead of time. In time, it is possible that this setup will grow and evolve to make a zero-knowledge system that functions similarly to this initial design idea, but that’s far down the line.

None of these blog posts will likely be as refined as my Icinga2 tutorials. One of the things I am trying to do is just get myself into the habit of documenting my projects. If I keep having to revise, edit, and source, I’ll eventually give up. So if there is anything you are interested in learning more about, Google will likely be your best friend.

Essentially, these are meant to explain how I built the system, and why I did what I did. Sometimes that may be as simple as “because I like them more” and other times it may have to do with more in depth research.


The server will exist in an environment with a battery backup system provided for the server, any data drives, and the core router that the server will be connected to. Connection to the internet is provided with a 100mbps symmetrical fiber connection that can be upgraded instantly to 1Gbps symmetrical if needed. Connections between the server and the fiber node is provided via CAT-7A cabling. Routing is handled by a Ubiquiti EdgeRouter Lite, with 3gbps line rate and one million packet per second routing. IPv6 and IPv4 are supported.

Eventually the router will be able to provide routes both to the public internet and to the dn42 darknet and Tor services.


The hardware isn’t exactly great, but it is the best that can be done at this time. The server consists of a Mac Mini Model 2,1 made circa early 2007. It contains a dual core Intel Core2 Duo processor running at 2.0 GHz. /proc/cpuinfo is provided here:

processor       : 0
vendor_id       : GenuineIntel
cpu family      : 6
model           : 15
model name      : Intel(R) Core(TM)2 CPU         T7200  @ 2.00GHz
stepping        : 6
microcode       : 0xd1
cpu MHz         : 2000.000
cache size      : 4096 KB
physical id     : 0
siblings        : 2
core id         : 0
cpu cores       : 2
apicid          : 0
initial apicid  : 0
fpu             : yes
fpu_exception   : yes
cpuid level     : 10
wp              : yes
flags           : fpu vme de pse tsc msr pae mce cx8 apic sep mtrr pge mca cmov pat pse36 clflush dts acpi mmx fxsr sse sse2 ss ht tm pbe syscall nx lm constant_tsc arch_perfmon
pebs bts rep_good nopl cpuid aperfmperf pni dtes64 monitor ds_cpl vmx est tm2 ssse3 cx16 xtpr pdcm lahf_lm pti tpr_shadow dtherm
bugs            : cpu_meltdown spectre_v1 spectre_v2 spec_store_bypass l1tf
bogomips        : 3999.68
clflush size    : 64
cache_alignment : 64
address sizes   : 36 bits physical, 48 bits virtual
power management:

processor       : 1
vendor_id       : GenuineIntel
cpu family      : 6
model           : 15
model name      : Intel(R) Core(TM)2 CPU         T7200  @ 2.00GHz
stepping        : 6
microcode       : 0xd1
cpu MHz         : 1000.000
cache size      : 4096 KB
physical id     : 0
siblings        : 2
core id         : 1
cpu cores       : 2
apicid          : 1
initial apicid  : 1
fpu             : yes
fpu_exception   : yes
cpuid level     : 10
wp              : yes
flags           : fpu vme de pse tsc msr pae mce cx8 apic sep mtrr pge mca cmov pat pse36 clflush dts acpi mmx fxsr sse sse2 ss ht tm pbe syscall nx lm constant_tsc arch_perfmon
pebs bts rep_good nopl cpuid aperfmperf pni dtes64 monitor ds_cpl vmx est tm2 ssse3 cx16 xtpr pdcm lahf_lm pti tpr_shadow dtherm
bugs            : cpu_meltdown spectre_v1 spectre_v2 spec_store_bypass l1tf
bogomips        : 3999.68
clflush size    : 64
cache_alignment : 64
address sizes   : 36 bits physical, 48 bits virtual
power management:

The server has been modified substansially from it’s factory state. The sound card has been removed, as has the WiFi card and Bluetooth card. IR functionality has been disconnected. Any extraneous wires have been removed. The original 160GB Hitachi hard drive has been replaced with a 240GB solid state drive from OWC. The ram has been maxed out with 4GBs, again provided from OWC. The system is not capable of addressing all 4GB despite being a 64-bit system due to limitations imposed in the EFI. The CMOS battery was replaced, and the processor was unseated, cleaned, and thermal material replaced. The fan was also replaced to head off any potential issues caused by old age. You can see a picture of the internals of the system below.

Modified MacMini2,1

The system is connected to the router with a Fluke-Certified CAT-7A S/FTP dual shielded cable. The interface it is connected to supports a 1Gbps full-duplex connection.

The primary data disk is a G-Disk USB-C 4TB external drive. This drive utilizes a white label Western Digital Red WD40EFRX. It is connected to the Mac Mini via an Anker PowerLine+ USB-C to USB-A nylon cable.

The older Mac Mini’s would refuse to boot if the system could not detect that a monitor was connected to the system. Apple claims that this is because the Mac Mini was intended to be a true personal computer, which would generally prohibit the system’s operation without a display device. Strangely, no such detection is present to test for either a keyboard or a mouse.

To bypass this issue, a DVI Dummy Plug is installed in the Mini’s DVI port. This plug uses EDID to tell the system that a 1920x1200 capable display is connected. This has also been reported to be useful in accelerating VNC Remote Administration, however no GUI is present on the system.

Operating System

The operating system used on the server is OpenSUSE Leap 15 x64. You may remember that I mentioned above that the EFI used on the system is 32-bits. This limitation is bypassed by formatting the internal server drive to utilize a legacy MBR partition table. From this, GRUB2 loads in legacy mode, which is 32-bits. This provides the shim that allows the 32-bit system firmware to load a 64-bit operating system. Over 72 hours of stress testing revealed no instability with the operating system booted via this method.

OpenSUSE was installed using the Server profile. Originally the Transactional-Server profile was used, however the early morning reboots could cause issues, and the installation did not seem to play well with LVM.

Hardware Stress Testing

The internal solid state drive was tested via an OpenSUSE Live distribution. The computer was first suspended and resumed to bypass the system’s EFI’s proclivity for freezing the internal drive’s security interface. Once the interface was unlocked, smartctl was used to trigger the drives internal SMART short test, conveyance test, and extended test, in that order. All results were nominal. The internal drive was then wiped via hdparm by sending an ATA Enhanced Secure Erase Command with a non-null password.

A quick installation of OpenSUSE Leap 15 was then performed.

The hardware was then tested from inside the new installation utilizing the Stress-NG test suite for over 24 hours. During this time, four virtual memory test workers iterated over 100% of the available memory to force swapping as well as check for ram errors. Two CPU test workers were ran on the aggressive settings, and an IO worker was deployed to check the SSD interface. All systems passed the stress test perfectly, with benchmarks appropriate for a system from 2007.

The external drive was then connected to the system. A battery of tests were performed. First, the drive was tested via smartctl. As the drive is connected via USB, the -d sat,16 option was passed to allow communication directly with the USB-SATA bridge. The drive was tested out of the box using the SMART short self test, conveyance test, and extended self test. This first round of testing took 10 hours to execute. After the inital round of tests, the SMART attributes table and its corresponding values was recorded.

Then the badblocks command was ran to write to and read from every sector on the drive. The full command was badblocks -wsv -t random -b 4096 -c 4096 -p 4 -o /root/sdb.log /dev/sdb. This performed four read-write-verify passes. Each pass took approximately 50 hours to complete.

Once the badblocks battery was complete, smartctl was once again used to run the same testing sequence of short, conveyance, and extended self tests. The attribute table was once again dumped, it’s values recorded, and the values then compared to those from the table dumped prior to running badblocks.

As these tests are actually still in progress, the results are not yet definitive.

Conclusion ## {: #yet-another-conclusion }

This first post simply outlines the primary variables in this project. Hardware, operating system, and environment should all be assumed to remain static for the remaining project entries. Should anything change, I will likely update this entry versus notating it in the respective entry where the change was made. It will be made clear that this entry has been edited, should that come to pass.

Extensive testing was performed to detect any chance of infant-mortality in the hardware. I have previously had negative experiences utilizing hardware right out of the box.

Collegi Pixelmon - Developer Log

The following post is an extreme rough draft. In fact, it isn’t even actually a post. These are my development notes from my refactoring of the collegi data infrastructure. As such, they’re arranged in no real sensible order besides having been written chronologically. Additionally, these have not been proofread, grammar checked, copyedited, or spell checked, as i write them in an IDE and not an actual text editor. As such, please don’t judge my writing ability off of them. More importantly, however, these do not have the standardized links that i provide to new concepts or commands in my blog posts, as embedding links to things I already know or have access to in a developer log that on average no one else sees just seems silly.

So, if you have questions, use google, and expect these to be updated over time.

The logs as of this posting run from 10/13/2016 to 10/16/2016, so over three days of work. There is a -LOT- more to be done.

They are broken down into the following format. Each list is a set of specific actions I took, and sometimes the list ends up with notes in it because, again, no one generally sees these, but under the task list is the space reserved for notes on the above list. Then a new task list is declared, then notes, then tasks, and so on and so forth. Generally each new task heading would signify a new blog post, talking about the tasks and the notes, so keep that in mind.

These were requested by Kan, a player on our server. Enjoy!


  • Made a backup of the repository as it stood on 2016-10-13 in the event anything breaks too badly during this.
  • Removed all existing submodules from the git repository. Committed the removal.
  • Ran the previous backup script to make sure that 10/13 was backed up. This included new additions to git annex.
  • Forced git annex to drop the old SHA256E key-value backend files that were made obsolete by the conversion to SHA512E key-value backend.

Notes 1: During this time, and while watching the way the version 1.0 backup script ran, I noticed there is a significant performance penalty for moving the location of the local mirror. Borg uses the entire path as the file name, so any deviation in the path spec causes it to treat the files as brand new. Note that this does not cause any issues with de-duplication, but the process of adding these files causes a massive performance hit. This made me start thinking about including the local mirror in the git annex so that as long as the annex was kept in tact in regards to metadata, the paths would remain the same as all additions to Borg would take place from the same root directory.

The problem with this would be the fact that annex keeps everything as symlinks. As such, I am looking into the unlock feature of version six repositories.

Notes 2: Dropping unused from a local area goes -much- faster than dropping from remote. Who knew, right? :tongue:


  • git-Annex drop completed, but Finder isn’t showing a reduction in used drive space, but I think this is more an error on the side of finder than something with git annex, as du -h showed the directory was down to the size it should have been. Once I manage to get this finder thing figured out, I’ll move on to the next part.
  • Finder is taking too bloody long to figure its shit out, so I moved on to the next step in cleaning up the repository. I’m rewriting the commit history to completely remove files I don’t need from the actual git repo. In theory this shouldn’t touch git-annex at all, but that remains to be seen.
  • Ran BFG Repo Cleaner on the following directories and files:
    • collegi.web
    • collegi.pack
    • collegi.git
    • .DS_Store
    • .gitmodules
    • collegi.logs (Just for a moment, and we made backups.)
    • collegi.configs
  • Ran filter branch to purge any empty commits left after the above.
  • Expired original ref-logs, repacked archive.

Notes 3: At this point we had gone from 230 commits to 102 commits. We were also left with the original envisioning of what this repo would be, which was a simple git annex to push files to Backblaze b2 from the Borg repository. Now to verify that all of our data is still 100% ok.


  • Ran git fsck
  • Ran git annex fsck

Notes 4: Wow this is going to take a long fucking time. Who woulda thunk it.

Notes 5: So apparently the current version of git-annex is using the old mixed hashing method, which is a format that “we would like to stop using” according to the wiki. Might need to migrate. Need to figure out how.

Notes 6: From the wiki: “Initial benchmarks suggest that going from xX/yY/KEY/OBJ to xX/yY/OBJ directories would improve speed 3x.” It’s worth migrating.


  • Run git annex uninit
  • Reading through the git-annex-init man page to see what else we should change now since we’re already migrating. Post Uninit we’re going to have to run a full borg data consistancy check.

Notes 7: Ugh. The document I found was actually an theoretical one, and while it is true that git-annex does use the new hashing format in bare repositories there is no actual way to move to the new one in a regular repo. So I am running an uninit for basically no reason. The only good thing about this that I can think of is that I will be able to reform the final git-annex repo in a much saner fashion. The bad news is that I have lost the log files, unless git-annex is going to bring those back for me. I am annoyed.

Notes 8: Good news! I just remembered that I had made a rsynced backup of the repository before I started fucking with it. So I didn’t actually lose the log files, I just went ahead and pulled them out of the git-annex backup.


  • After the git annex had uninitialized, I decided that if I was going to do this whole damn thing over again I was going to do it right.
  • Started a new borg repository in new-collegi. Pulled out contents from the original borg repository, using backups to restore any files that got hit in the above clusterfuck, then recompressed with maximum LZMA compression.
  • During this period I also standardized how the borg create paths would work. The server would exist within a collegi.mirror directory, and the entire directory would be added to borg upon each run of the backup script. This effectively means we never have to worry about the LZMA penalty discussed below again after the first re-add, unless we do major server restructuring, because paths will remain stable between commits.

Notes 9: The initial speed penalty for using LZMA is absolutely jaw dropping. One borg create took eight hours to complete. Eight. However, I quickly noticed that due to Borg’s de-duplication mechanism, the add times got faster the more data I added, and gzip-9 to lzma-9 did actually yield some improvement. It also reduces the incentive for me to do this fucking disaster again, because of how much it absolutely fucking sucks.

Notes 10: As an example of what I mean by the above, the initial adding of 1.8.9 took six hours with LZMA-9. When the map was changed from NewSeed over to Collegi, it took another four hours just to update the paths and what not, even though the data hadn’t updated, just the paths have changed. (This is indicated by the fact that the total repository size barely increased, all the size that changed could be explained by new metadata.) However, when the paths are kept the same, adding 100GB of data takes 13 to 15 minutes. So, the benefit of LZMA-9 is worth the initial startup, imho.

Notes 11: borg extracting from the GZIP-9 archives takes about 40 minutes, and that’s from highly de-duplicated and GZIP-9 archives. What this means is that pulling from an lzma-9 is probably going to take about an hour, depending on just how de-duplicated the archive is (as in, how many different chunk files contain parts needed to reassemble the original content).

Notes 12: Have hit the series of backups where things have moved into the Users path, and I’m restructuring them. It made me think about how I will handle the mirror directory in the future. I think I am going to do a few new things with respect to the new setup. The mirror directory will be a part of the git-annex repository, so there will be a new folder inside it called collegi.mirror or something similar, and then I can move the new backup script to be ran from the root directory, which will be beneficial. That way everything is neatly packaged. the issue becomes mirroring this, because uploading that much constantly changing data to backblaze would be literally stupid, and not at all within our budget. What I will likely do is initialize a “bare repository” on my time machine drive, and mirror the entirity of the git-annex repository to that.

Mandatory Break Notes

  • You need to run borg info to make sure the latest creation thingy is the proper size, and a borg check might not be a bad idea either as you fell asleep and closed the mac during work on the repo.
  • Cleaned the time machine volume of the repeated backups of the new repository because it doesn’t make any sense to have 20 versions of it.
  • Moved the repo to the time machine drive as temporary storage using rsync.


  • Restarted the transfer process starting on the 8th of October

Notes 13: Not a huge shock but running some of these commands across USB 2.0 can add anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes. Doing them cross device gets even worse, with some transactions taking almost an hour.

Notes 14: I’ve been going back and forth on what filesystem I would like to deploy since I am redoing the collegi drive as a whole. Now the interesting thing to note here is that by the time I get this thing fully ready to deploy, the drive I have here may not be the drive it ends up on, but this is as good of a testbed as any. I’m really thinking I will go with apfs. Most of the gripes I have with it are easily resolved through borg and git annex.

Notes 15: In a highly amusing turn of events, it is bigger in lzma 9 than it was with gzip 9. weird.

Notes 16: While it would likely be prudent to go back to the previous compression method, the benefits that I have made to the directory structure while redoing the borg repository are worth the few extra gigabytes of overhead especially concerning with Backblaze B2 it barely costs a penny.


  • Use JHFSX for the new drive. I would have really liked to use APFS but I am still worried about the data loss considering there is almost a year till it will ship. JHFSX is reasonable enough for right now, while still being safe to unplug.
  • I went round and round on using encryption on the new drive. did it.
  • using rsync to bring the data to its final resting location.
  • OK started setting things up
  • Defined gitlab as the metadata backup again
  • created a bare repository on skaia
  • set up prefered content so skaia requires everything in the main repo
  • set the main repo to require a –force to drop content via preferred content
  • Set the backend to SHA512E
  • began the long process of adding the data to the git-annex
  • Set up bin directory to not be tracked by git-annex but instead by git
  • added backblaze remote, not encrypted, with a proper prefix
  • started to sync to backblaze
  • noticed an issue with how the sync was going to gitlab, will correct.
    • corrected the issue

Collegi Pixelmon - Backup System Part 2

What was originally intended to be a one off blog post may become my new source of material for the coming weeks. After utilizing BorgBackup and git-annex to backup what has now grown to almost 2.5 Terabytes of data, I began to wonder what other ways I could put git-annex to use for us here at Collegi. We already use various GitLab repositories to manage different facets of the project, and I began to wonder if there wouldn’t be some way to use git-annex to completely unify those repositories and distribute their information as needed.

This started as a brief foray into git submodules which, while allowing me to consolidate data locally, does nothing in helping me to properly redistribute that data to various locations. The only way that it would be possible to do such a thing would be to take all the various git repositories that Collegi utilizes, which currently is sitting at six total, including the git-annex metadata repository (which isn’t publicly visible), and merge them into one master repository through the use of git subtrees. This would allow me to still have multiple repositories for ease of project management, but all those repositories would be pulled down, daily, to a local “master” git-annex repository and merged into it.

Once this was done, the use of git annex’s preferred content system would allow me to decide what data needed to be sent to which remote. This would let me back up some information to one remote, and other information to another. As an added bonus, the use of git subtrees would even allow me to push changes back upstream, and all of it would be centralized.

In the future, this would allow us to push very specific data to specific team members, who would then modify the data, which would be pulled back down on the next git-annex sync, we would see changes needing to be pushed upstream had been made, unlock those files, then use git subtree to push them back to their remotes. That’s the theory at least. As far as I am aware, either no one has done this before, no one who has done this before has lived to tell the tale, or no one who has done this before has blogged about their experiences in doing so.

That’s where this blog comes in. I’m currently in the process of making a complete copy of the current root repository, which is still using git submodules, and from there I can begin experimenting. Whether or not this works remains to be seen, but it coincides neatly with a rewrite of the backup script to update it to Google Shell Style Guidelines, which means I can build the script around the new repository layout, and while doing so I should be able to head off any unforeseen issues.

It’s very likely that I am going to finish writing 2.0 of the script before doing any of this crazy shit, but this post helps me to organize my thoughts. Besides, it just means 3.0 will be that much more exciting when it drops.

Stay tuned for more of my antics and adventures with making this absurd system take shape, and turn into the omnipresent repository of every single facet of a Minecraft community.

The Collegi Pixelmon Server Backup System

Wow, time flies. It has been almost a year since I last updated this blog, including fixing some of the issues that Jekyll 3.0 introduced in my formatting. Luckily, that could be fixed by just adding a few spaces. In the past year, quite a bit has happened, but nothing quite so exciting as becoming a co-owner and the head developer of a new Minecraft community called Collegi. Collegi is a Pixelmon server, which means we have Pokemon right inside Minecraft. However, we strive to make the server Minecraft with Pokemon, instead of Pokemon in Minecraft. It’s a small difference, but one that we happen to find very important. We want the survival aspect of the game to be front and centre.

The server has become absolutely massive, with each downloaded snapshot running about 100GB in size. (Note, that throughout this article I will be using the SI standard GB, which is 109, versus the Gibibyte which is 230, how hard drive manufacturers were allowed to change the value of a gigabyte is something I will never understand.)

Now, with a 500GB flash drive on my MBP, I don’t really have the room to save all of those snapshots, especially considering we have snapshots going back six months, across three different major versions of Minecraft. In fact, completely expanded, the current backup amount at the time of writing is 1.11TB.

So, I began to search for a method of performing backups. I had some rather strict requirements for these backups, that lead to the formulation of the system I am going to discuss in this article.


  • Incremental FTP
  • Deduplication
  • Compression, and the ability to modify compression levels on the fly.
  • Checksumming to silently detect corruption.
  • Encryption
  • Tools need to be actively maintained and ubiquitous.
  • Able to sync repository with a remote source.
  • Cheap
  • Open source wherever possible.
  • Easy to access archived versions.
  • Must be able to be automated.
    • If not in setup, then in how it runs later.

Step One - Getting the Data off the Server

We use a lovely company called BisectHosting to run our server. They provide an extremely barebones budget package that gives us a large amount of our most important specification: RAM. We can live without fancy support tickets or SSD access if they offer us cheap RAM, which they do. Beyond that, however, they also offer unlimited disk space, as long as that disk space goes towards the server itself, so no keeping huge numbers of backups on the server.

Now, they did offer a built in backup solution, but it only keeps the past seven days available in a rolling fashion, and I really really like to keep backups.

The only real gripe I have about BisectHosting is that they only allow the use of FTP for accessing data on the Budget Server tier. Worse, they don’t even use FTP over TLS, so the authentication is in plain text. However, I just change my password weekly and it seems to work alright.

The most important part of getting the data off the server is only getting the new data, or the data that has changed. This requires using an FTP Client that is able to sanely detect new data. Checksums aren’t available, but modification date and file size work just as well.

There were a large number of clients that I tried out over time. Filezilla was the first of those. It seemed to work alright for a time, except that when you have a large amount of identical files (We have 15,824 files at the time of this writing) it hangs. Now, it does come back eventually, but it’s still not the best of features to have a client that hangs.

The next one I tried was a Mac favourite known as Cyberduck. I really liked the interface for Cyberduck, but the first nail in its coffin was the inability to perform a modification time comparison and a file size comparison during the same remote to host sync. That meant it took two syncs to grab everything up to date, and even then it didn’t always seem to take. During the time that I was using Cyberduck, we had to restore from backup for some reason that is currently eluding me, but when we did so we noticed that some recent changes on the map hadn’t synced properly. Combine all of the above with the fact that from time to time it would hang on downloads (I’m assuming from the absurd number of files) and that wasn’t going to work.

The final GUI client that I tried was called Transmit. I really, really enjoyed using Transmit. It is a very polished interface, but first off it isn’t free, or open source, so that invalidated two of the requirements. However, if it worked well enough, I was willing to overlook the issues. Problem was, it didn’t work well. I forget what happened at the moment, but I know that it experienced similar hanging to Filezilla.

Regardless, Transmit was the last GUI based client that I tried. It took me a bit to realize, but if I used a GUI client there was a very minimal chance that I would be able to automate the download.

That left command line tools, which after I found LFTP I kicked myself for not looking into first. In addition to being an open source tool, LFTP has the ability to perform multithreaded downloads, which isn’t common in command line clients. Furthermore, it was able to compare both modification time and file size simultaneously, reducing the sync operations needed back to one. It is actively maintained, available in Homebrew (though, at the time of writing it has been moved into the boneyard), written in C, and very easily scriptable. You can call commands that would normally have to be ran from inside the FTP client directly from the command line invokation of LFTP. It handled our data quantity flawlessly, and easily worked through the large amount of files, though it can take quite a while to parse our biggest directories. At the time of writing, that directory is the map data repository for our main world, which has 12,567 items clocking in at 88.15GB. It takes between two and five minutes for LFTP to parse the directory, which considering all the other benefits is fine by me.

Our remote to local command utilizes the LFTP mirror function, and from within the client, looks like this:

mirror -nvpe -P 5 / ~/Development/Collegi/

Step Two - Convert the Data to an Archive Repository

When you are talking about a server that a full backup runs 100GB, and you want to perform daily backups at minimum, it becomes absurd to think that you could run a full backup every day. However, the notion of completely incremental backups is far too fragile. If a single incremental backup is corrupted, every backup after it is invalid. More than that, to access the data that was on the server at the time the incremental was taken would require replaying every incremental up to that point.

The first solution I tried for this problem was to use ZFS. ZFS solves almost every problem that we have by turning on deduplication and compression, running it on top of Apple’s FileVault, and utilizing snapshots. The snapshots are complete moments in time and can be mounted, and they only take up as much space as the unique data for that snapshot. Using ZFS Snapshots, the 1.10TB of data we had at that time was reduced to 127GB on disk. Perfect. The problem becomes, however, offsite replication.

Now, it is true that by having a copy of the data on the server, one on my MacBook, and one on an external drive here at the house, the [3-2-1 Backup][12] rule is satisfied. However, three backups of the data is not sufficient for a server that contains over six months of work. It’s reasonable that something cataclysmic could happen and we’d be shit out of luck. We needed another offsite location. The only such location that offers ZFS snapshot support is Rsync.net which 100% violates the “Cheap” requirement mentioned above. That’s not a knock on their service, Rsync.net provides an incredible service, but for our particular use case it just wasn’t appropriate.

So the hunt began for a deduplicating, compression based, encrypted backup solution that stored the repository in standard files on a standard filesystem. The final contenders were:

I was leaning very, very heavily toward BUP until I discovered BorgBackup. My primary concerns with BUP was that it did not seem to be under active development, and after over five years it still had not reached a stable 1.0. Git would have been useful, but just like ZFS it would inevitably require a “Smart Server” versus the presentation of just a dumb file-system.

BorgBackup sold me almost immediately. It allowed you to mount snapshots and view the filesystem as it was at that time, it offers multiple levels of compression ranging from fast and decent to slow and incredible, and it has checksumming on top of HMAC encryption. It’s worth noting at this time that nothing on the server is really so urgent as to require encryption, as most of the authentication is handled by Mojang, but I still prefer to encrypt things wherever possible.

It was under active development, it’s developers were active in the community (I ended up speaking with the lead developer on twitter), and it was progressing in a sane and stable fashion. As an added bonus, the release of 1.1 was to provide the ability to repack already stored data, allowing us to potentially add a heavier compression algorithm in the future and convert already stored data over to it.

The only downside to Borg was that at first glance it seemed to require a Smart server, just like git would.

Regardless, the system would work for now. If worst came to worst, I could utilize something like rclone to handle uploading to an offsite location.

When everything was said and done, we had reduced the size of our 1.11TB backup into a sane, usable 127GB.

The current command that is used looks like this:

borg create --chunker-params=10,23,16,4095 --compression zlib,9 --stats \
    --progress /Volumes/Collegi/collegi.repo::1.10.2-09292016 .

Step Three - Offsite Replication

I could easily spend a very long time here discussing how I chose the cloud provider I would inevitably use for this setup, but it really comes down to the fact that I quite like the company, and their cloud offering has a very complete API specification, and is dirt cheap. We went with BackBlaze B2. I could, and probably will, easily write a whole separate post on how enthralled I am with BackBlaze as a company, but more than that their $0.005/GB/Month price is literally unbeatable. Even Amazon Glacier runs for $0.007/GB/Month and they don’t offer live restoration. It’s cold storage as opposed to BackBlaze’s live storage.

The problem became this: How do I get the Borg repository to fully sync to B2, but do so in such a way that if the local repository ever became damaged I could pull back only the data that had been lost. This is what the documentation for Borg means when it mentions you should really think about if mirroring best meets your needs, and for us it didn’t.

Again though, B2 is just a storage provider, not a smart server. So how do I set things up in this way? The answer became to use another tool that was almost used for backup in the first place, Git-Annex. The only reason git-annex wasn’t used for backup to begin with is that it doesn’t allow us to retain versioning information. It just manages large files through git, which wouldn’t work. What it would do, however, and do quite well, is to act as a layer between our BorgBackup repository and the cloud.

So, I stored the entire borg repository into git annex. Once this was done, I used a plugin for git-annex to add support for a B2 content backend. Then, the metadata information for the git repository gets synced to GitLab, and the content is uploaded to B2.

Conclusion ## {: #collegi-backup-system-conclusion }

The end result of this is that our 100GB server, as it stands at any day, is mirrored in four separate locations. One on the host itself, one on the MBP hard drive, one in the Borg Repository, and one on the BackBlaze B2 Cloud. More than that though, we have a system that is easily automated via a simple shell script, which after completing the initial setup (sending 20,000+ files to Backblaze B2 can take a while), I will demonstrate here.

Thank you so much for reading, I look forward to sharing more about the inner workings of the Collegi Infrastructure as time permits.


I just recently completed an asciinema of the process. See below. Also note that you can copy and paste commands from inside the video itself. Go ahead, try it!