Backing up

Now we’re ready to backup some data. The contents of a directory at a specific point in time is called a “snapshot” in restic. Run the following command and enter the repository password you chose above again:

$ restic -r /srv/restic-repo --verbose backup ~/work
open repository
enter password for repository:
password is correct
lock repository
load index files
start scan
start backup
scan finished in 1.837s
processed 1.720 GiB in 0:12
Files:        5307 new,     0 changed,     0 unmodified
Dirs:         1867 new,     0 changed,     0 unmodified
Added:      1.200 GiB
snapshot 40dc1520 saved

As you can see, restic created a backup of the directory and was pretty fast! The specific snapshot just created is identified by a sequence of hexadecimal characters, 40dc1520 in this case.

You can see that restic tells us it processed 1.720 GiB of data, this is the size of the files and directories in ~/work on the local file system. It also tells us that only 1.200 GiB was added to the repository. This means that some of the data was duplicate and restic was able to efficiently reduce it.

If you don’t pass the --verbose option, restic will print less data. You’ll still get a nice live status display. Be aware that the live status shows the processed files and not the transferred data. Transferred volume might be lower (due to de-duplication) or higher.

On Windows, the --use-fs-snapshot option will use Windows’ Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS) when creating backups. Restic will transparently create a VSS snapshot for each volume that contains files to backup. Files are read from the VSS snapshot instead of the regular filesystem. This allows to backup files that are exclusively locked by another process during the backup.

By default VSS ignores Outlook OST files. This is not a restriction of restic but the default Windows VSS configuration. The files not to snapshot are configured in the Windows registry under the following key:


For more details refer the official Windows documentation e.g. the article Registry Keys and Values for Backup and Restore.

If you run the backup command again, restic will create another snapshot of your data, but this time it’s even faster and no new data was added to the repository (since all data is already there). This is de-duplication at work!

$ restic -r /srv/restic-repo backup --verbose ~/work
open repository
enter password for repository:
password is correct
lock repository
load index files
using parent snapshot d875ae93
start scan
start backup
scan finished in 1.881s
processed 1.720 GiB in 0:03
Files:           0 new,     0 changed,  5307 unmodified
Dirs:            0 new,     0 changed,  1867 unmodified
Added:      0 B
snapshot 79766175 saved

You can even backup individual files in the same repository (not passing --verbose means less output):

$ restic -r /srv/restic-repo backup ~/work.txt
enter password for repository:
password is correct
snapshot 249d0210 saved

If you’re interested in what restic does, pass --verbose twice (or --verbose=2) to display detailed information about each file and directory restic encounters:

$ echo 'more data foo bar' >> ~/work.txt

$ restic -r /srv/restic-repo backup --verbose --verbose ~/work.txt
open repository
enter password for repository:
password is correct
lock repository
load index files
using parent snapshot f3f8d56b
start scan
start backup
scan finished in 2.115s
modified  /home/user/work.txt, saved in 0.007s (22 B added)
modified  /home/user/, saved in 0.008s (0 B added, 378 B metadata)
modified  /home/, saved in 0.009s (0 B added, 375 B metadata)
processed 22 B in 0:02
Files:           0 new,     1 changed,     0 unmodified
Dirs:            0 new,     2 changed,     0 unmodified
Data Blobs:      1 new
Tree Blobs:      3 new
Added:      1.116 KiB
snapshot 8dc503fc saved

In fact several hosts may use the same repository to backup directories and files leading to a greater de-duplication.

Now is a good time to run restic check to verify that all data is properly stored in the repository. You should run this command regularly to make sure the internal structure of the repository is free of errors.

File change detection

When restic encounters a file that has already been backed up, whether in the current backup or a previous one, it makes sure the file’s contents are only stored once in the repository. To do so, it normally has to scan the entire contents of every file. Because this can be very expensive, restic also uses a change detection rule based on file metadata to determine whether a file is likely unchanged since a previous backup. If it is, the file is not scanned again.

Change detection is only performed for regular files (not special files, symlinks or directories) that have the exact same path as they did in a previous backup of the same location. If a file or one of its containing directories was renamed, it is considered a different file and its entire contents will be scanned again.

Metadata changes (permissions, ownership, etc.) are always included in the backup, even if file contents are considered unchanged.

On Unix (including Linux and Mac), given that a file lives at the same location as a file in a previous backup, the following file metadata attributes have to match for its contents to be presumed unchanged:

  • Modification timestamp (mtime).
  • Metadata change timestamp (ctime).
  • File size.
  • Inode number (internal number used to reference a file in a filesystem).

The reason for requiring both mtime and ctime to match is that Unix programs can freely change mtime (and some do). In such cases, a ctime change may be the only hint that a file did change.

The following restic backup command line flags modify the change detection rules:

  • --force: turn off change detection and rescan all files.
  • --ignore-ctime: require mtime to match, but allow ctime to differ.
  • --ignore-inode: require mtime to match, but allow inode number and ctime to differ.

The option --ignore-inode exists to support FUSE-based filesystems and pCloud, which do not assign stable inodes to files.

Note that the device id of the containing mount point is never taken into account. Device numbers are not stable for removable devices and ZFS snapshots. If you want to force a re-scan in such a case, you can change the mountpoint.

On Windows, a file is considered unchanged when its path, size and modification time match, and only --force has any effect. The other options are recognized but ignored.

Excluding Files

You can exclude folders and files by specifying exclude patterns, currently the exclude options are:

  • --exclude Specified one or more times to exclude one or more items
  • --iexclude Same as --exclude but ignores the case of paths
  • --exclude-caches Specified once to exclude folders containing a special file
  • --exclude-file Specified one or more times to exclude items listed in a given file
  • --iexclude-file Same as exclude-file but ignores cases like in --iexclude
  • --exclude-if-present foo Specified one or more times to exclude a folder’s content if it contains a file called foo (optionally having a given header, no wildcards for the file name supported)
  • --exclude-larger-than size Specified once to excludes files larger than the given size

Please see restic help backup for more specific information about each exclude option.

Let’s say we have a file called excludes.txt with the following content:

# exclude go-files
# exclude foo/x/y/z/bar foo/x/bar foo/bar

It can be used like this:

$ restic -r /srv/restic-repo backup ~/work --exclude="*.c" --exclude-file=excludes.txt

This instructs restic to exclude files matching the following criteria:

  • All files matching *.c (parameter --exclude)
  • All files matching *.go (second line in excludes.txt)
  • All files and sub-directories named bar which reside somewhere below a directory called foo (fourth line in excludes.txt)

Patterns use filepath.Glob internally, see filepath.Match for syntax. Patterns are tested against the full path of a file/dir to be saved, even if restic is passed a relative path to save. Empty lines and lines starting with a # are ignored.

Environment variables in exclude files are expanded with os.ExpandEnv, so /home/$USER/foo will be expanded to /home/bob/foo for the user bob. To get a literal dollar sign, write $$ to the file - this has to be done even when there’s no matching environment variable for the word following a single $. Note that tilde (~) is not expanded, instead use the $HOME or equivalent environment variable (depending on your operating system).

Patterns need to match on complete path components. For example, the pattern foo:

  • matches /dir1/foo/dir2/file and /dir/foo
  • does not match /dir/foobar or barfoo

A trailing / is ignored, a leading / anchors the pattern at the root directory. This means, /bin matches /bin/bash but does not match /usr/bin/restic.

Regular wildcards cannot be used to match over the directory separator /, e.g. b*ash matches /bin/bash but does not match /bin/ash. For this, the special wildcard ** can be used to match arbitrary sub-directories: The pattern foo/**/bar matches:

  • /dir1/foo/dir2/bar/file
  • /foo/bar/file
  • /tmp/foo/bar

Spaces in patterns listed in an exclude file can be specified verbatim. That is, in order to exclude a file named foo bar star.txt, put that just as it reads on one line in the exclude file. Please note that beginning and trailing spaces are trimmed - in order to match these, use e.g. a * at the beginning or end of the filename.

Spaces in patterns listed in the other exclude options (e.g. --exclude on the command line) are specified in different ways depending on the operating system and/or shell. Restic itself does not need any escaping, but your shell may need some escaping in order to pass the name/pattern as a single argument to restic.

On most Unixy shells, you can either quote or use backslashes. For example:

  • --exclude='foo bar star/foo.txt'
  • --exclude="foo bar star/foo.txt"
  • --exclude=foo\ bar\ star/foo.txt

By specifying the option --one-file-system you can instruct restic to only backup files from the file systems the initially specified files or directories reside on. In other words, it will prevent restic from crossing filesystem boundaries when performing a backup.

For example, if you backup / with this option and you have external media mounted under /media/usb then restic will not back up /media/usb at all because this is a different filesystem than /. Virtual filesystems such as /proc are also considered different and thereby excluded when using --one-file-system:

$ restic -r /srv/restic-repo backup --one-file-system /

Please note that this does not prevent you from specifying multiple filesystems on the command line, e.g:

$ restic -r /srv/restic-repo backup --one-file-system / /media/usb

will back up both the / and /media/usb filesystems, but will not include other filesystems like /sys and /proc.


--one-file-system is currently unsupported on Windows, and will cause the backup to immediately fail with an error.

Files larger than a given size can be excluded using the –exclude-larger-than option:

$ restic -r /srv/restic-repo backup ~/work --exclude-larger-than 1M

This excludes files in ~/work which are larger than 1 MB from the backup.

The default unit for the size value is bytes, so e.g. --exclude-larger-than 2048 would exclude files larger than 2048 bytes (2 kilobytes). To specify other units, suffix the size value with one of k/K for kilobytes, m/M for megabytes, g/G for gigabytes and t/T for terabytes (e.g. 1k, 10K, 20m, 20M, 30g, 30G, 2t or 2T).

Including Files

The options --files-from, --files-from-verbatim and --files-from-raw allow you to give restic a file containing lists of file patterns or paths to be backed up. This is useful e.g. when you want to back up files from many different locations, or when you use some other software to generate the list of files to back up.

The argument passed to --files-from must be the name of a text file that contains one pattern per line. The file must be encoded as UTF-8, or UTF-16 with a byte-order mark. Leading and trailing whitespace is removed from the patterns. Empty lines and lines starting with a # are ignored and each pattern is expanded when read, such that special characters in it are expanded using the Go function filepath.Glob - please see its documentation for the syntax you can use in the patterns.

The argument passed to --files-from-verbatim must be the name of a text file that contains one path per line, e.g. as generated by GNU find with the -print flag. Unlike --files-from, --files-from-verbatim does not expand any special characters in the list of paths, does not strip off any whitespace and does not ignore lines starting with a #. This option simply reads and uses each line as-is, although empty lines are still ignored. Use this option when you want to backup a list of filenames containing the special characters that would otherwise be expanded when using --files-from.

The --files-from-raw option is a variant of --files-from-verbatim that requires each line in the file to be terminated by an ASCII NUL character (the \0 zero byte) instead of a newline, so that it can even handle file paths containing newlines in their name or are not encoded as UTF-8 (except on Windows, where the listed filenames must still be encoded in UTF-8. This option is the safest choice when generating the list of filenames from a script (e.g. GNU find with the -print0 flag).

All three options interpret the argument - as standard input and will read the list of files/patterns from there instead of a text file.

In all cases, paths may be absolute or relative to restic backup’s working directory.

For example, maybe you want to backup files which have a name that matches a certain regular expression pattern (uses GNU find):

$ find /tmp/some_folder -regex PATTERN -print0 > /tmp/files_to_backup

You can then use restic to backup the filtered files:

$ restic -r /srv/restic-repo backup --files-from-raw /tmp/files_to_backup

You can combine all three options with each other and with the normal file arguments:

$ restic backup --files-from /tmp/files_to_backup /tmp/some_additional_file
$ restic backup --files-from /tmp/glob-pattern --files-from-raw /tmp/generated-list /tmp/some_additional_file

Comparing Snapshots

Restic has a diff command which shows the difference between two snapshots and displays a small statistic, just pass the command two snapshot IDs:

$ restic -r /srv/restic-repo diff 5845b002 2ab627a6
password is correct
comparing snapshot ea657ce5 to 2ab627a6:

 C   /restic/cmd_diff.go
+    /restic/foo
 C   /restic/restic

Files:           0 new,     0 removed,     2 changed
Dirs:            1 new,     0 removed
Others:          0 new,     0 removed
Data Blobs:     14 new,    15 removed
Tree Blobs:      2 new,     1 removed
  Added:   16.403 MiB
  Removed: 16.402 MiB

Backing up special items and metadata

Symlinks are archived as symlinks, restic does not follow them. When you restore, you get the same symlink again, with the same link target and the same timestamps.

If there is a bind-mount below a directory that is to be saved, restic descends into it.

Device files are saved and restored as device files. This means that e.g. /dev/sda is archived as a block device file and restored as such. This also means that the content of the corresponding disk is not read, at least not from the device file.

By default, restic does not save the access time (atime) for any files or other items, since it is not possible to reliably disable updating the access time by restic itself. This means that for each new backup a lot of metadata is written, and the next backup needs to write new metadata again. If you really want to save the access time for files and directories, you can pass the --with-atime option to the backup command.

Reading data from stdin

Sometimes it can be nice to directly save the output of a program, e.g. mysqldump so that the SQL can later be restored. Restic supports this mode of operation, just supply the option --stdin to the backup command like this:

$ set -o pipefail
$ mysqldump [...] | restic -r /srv/restic-repo backup --stdin

This creates a new snapshot of the output of mysqldump. You can then use e.g. the fuse mounting option (see below) to mount the repository and read the file.

By default, the file name stdin is used, a different name can be specified with --stdin-filename, e.g. like this:

$ mysqldump [...] | restic -r /srv/restic-repo backup --stdin --stdin-filename production.sql

The option pipefail is highly recommended so that a non-zero exit code from one of the programs in the pipe (e.g. mysqldump here) makes the whole chain return a non-zero exit code. Refer to the Use the Unofficial Bash Strict Mode for more details on this.

Tags for backup

Snapshots can have one or more tags, short strings which add identifying information. Just specify the tags for a snapshot one by one with --tag:

$ restic -r /srv/restic-repo backup --tag projectX --tag foo --tag bar ~/work

The tags can later be used to keep (or forget) snapshots with the forget command. The command tag can be used to modify tags on an existing snapshot.

Space requirements

Restic currently assumes that your backup repository has sufficient space for the backup operation you are about to perform. This is a realistic assumption for many cloud providers, but may not be true when backing up to local disks.

Should you run out of space during the middle of a backup, there will be some additional data in the repository, but the snapshot will never be created as it would only be written at the very (successful) end of the backup operation. Previous snapshots will still be there and will still work.

Environment Variables

In addition to command-line options, restic supports passing various options in environment variables. The following lists these environment variables:

RESTIC_REPOSITORY_FILE              Name of file containing the repository location (replaces --repository-file)
RESTIC_REPOSITORY                   Location of repository (replaces -r)
RESTIC_PASSWORD_FILE                Location of password file (replaces --password-file)
RESTIC_PASSWORD                     The actual password for the repository
RESTIC_PASSWORD_COMMAND             Command printing the password for the repository to stdout
RESTIC_KEY_HINT                     ID of key to try decrypting first, before other keys
RESTIC_CACHE_DIR                    Location of the cache directory
RESTIC_PROGRESS_FPS                 Frames per second by which the progress bar is updated

TMPDIR                              Location for temporary files

AWS_ACCESS_KEY_ID                   Amazon S3 access key ID
AWS_SECRET_ACCESS_KEY               Amazon S3 secret access key
AWS_DEFAULT_REGION                  Amazon S3 default region

ST_AUTH                             Auth URL for keystone v1 authentication
ST_USER                             Username for keystone v1 authentication
ST_KEY                              Password for keystone v1 authentication

OS_AUTH_URL                         Auth URL for keystone authentication
OS_REGION_NAME                      Region name for keystone authentication
OS_USERNAME                         Username for keystone authentication
OS_USER_ID                          User ID for keystone v3 authentication
OS_PASSWORD                         Password for keystone authentication
OS_TENANT_ID                        Tenant ID for keystone v2 authentication
OS_TENANT_NAME                      Tenant name for keystone v2 authentication

OS_USER_DOMAIN_NAME                 User domain name for keystone authentication
OS_USER_DOMAIN_ID                   User domain ID for keystone v3 authentication
OS_PROJECT_NAME                     Project name for keystone authentication
OS_PROJECT_DOMAIN_NAME              Project domain name for keystone authentication
OS_PROJECT_DOMAIN_ID                Project domain ID for keystone v3 authentication
OS_TRUST_ID                         Trust ID for keystone v3 authentication

OS_APPLICATION_CREDENTIAL_ID        Application Credential ID (keystone v3)
OS_APPLICATION_CREDENTIAL_NAME      Application Credential Name (keystone v3)
OS_APPLICATION_CREDENTIAL_SECRET    Application Credential Secret (keystone v3)

OS_STORAGE_URL                      Storage URL for token authentication
OS_AUTH_TOKEN                       Auth token for token authentication

B2_ACCOUNT_ID                       Account ID or applicationKeyId for Backblaze B2
B2_ACCOUNT_KEY                      Account Key or applicationKey for Backblaze B2

AZURE_ACCOUNT_NAME                  Account name for Azure
AZURE_ACCOUNT_KEY                   Account key for Azure

GOOGLE_PROJECT_ID                   Project ID for Google Cloud Storage
GOOGLE_APPLICATION_CREDENTIALS      Application Credentials for Google Cloud Storage (e.g. $HOME/.config/gs-secret-restic-key.json)

RCLONE_BWLIMIT                      rclone bandwidth limit

See Caching for the rules concerning cache locations when RESTIC_CACHE_DIR is not set.

The external programs that restic may execute include rclone (for rclone backends) and ssh (for the SFTP backend). These may respond to further environment variables and configuration files; see their respective manuals.

Exit status codes

Restic returns one of the following exit status codes after the backup command is run:

  • 0 when the backup was successful (snapshot with all source files created)
  • 1 when there was a fatal error (no snapshot created)
  • 3 when some source files could not be read (incomplete snapshot with remaining files created)

Fatal errors occur for example when restic is unable to write to the backup destination, when there are network connectivity issues preventing successful communication, or when an invalid password or command line argument is provided. When restic returns this exit status code, one should not expect a snapshot to have been created.

Source file read errors occur when restic fails to read one or more files or directories that it was asked to back up, e.g. due to permission problems. Restic displays the number of source file read errors that occurred while running the backup. If there are errors of this type, restic will still try to complete the backup run with all the other files, and create a snapshot that then contains all but the unreadable files.

One can use these exit status codes in scripts and other automation tools, to make them aware of the outcome of the backup run. To manually inspect the exit code in e.g. Linux, run echo $?.