Setting up restic with Amazon S3


This tutorial will show you how to use restic with Amazon S3. It will show you how to navigate the AWS web interface, create an S3 bucket, create a user with access to only this bucket, and finally how to connect restic to this bucket.


You should already have a restic binary available on your system that you can run. Furthermore, you should also have an account with AWS. You will likely need to provide credit card details for billing purposes, even if you use their free-tier.

Logging into AWS

Point your browser to https://console.aws.amazon.com and log in using your AWS account. You will be presented with the AWS homepage:

AWS Homepage

By using the “Services” button in the upper left corder, a menu of all services provided by AWS can be opened:

AWS Services Menu

For this tutorial, the Simple Storage Service (S3), as well as Identity and Access Management (IAM) are relevant.

Creating the bucket

First, a bucket to store your backups in must be created. Using the “Services” menu, navigate to S3. In case you already have some S3 buckets, you will see a list of them here:

List of S3 Buckets

Click the “Create bucket” button and choose a name and region for your new bucket. For the purpose of this tutorial, the bucket will be named restic-demo and reside in Frankfurt. Because the bucket name space is shared among all AWS users, the name restic-demo may not be available to you. Be creative and choose a unique bucket name.

Create a Bucket

It is not necessary to configure any special properties or permissions of the bucket just yet. Therefore, just finish the wizard without making any further changes:

Review Bucket Creation

The newly created restic-demo bucket will now appear on the list of S3 buckets:

List With New Bucket

Creating a user

Use the “Services” menu of the AWS web interface to navigate to IAM. This will bring you to the IAM homepage. To create a new user, click on the “Users” menu entry on the left:

IAM Home Page

In case you already have set-up users with IAM before, you will see a list of them here. Use the “Add user” button at the top to create a new user:

IAM User List

For this tutorial, the new user will be named restic-demo-user. Feel free to choose your own name that best fits your needs. This user will only ever access AWS through the restic program and not through the web interface. Therefore, “Programmatic access” is selected for “Access type”:

Choose User Name and Access Type

During the next step, permissions can be assigned to the new user. To use this user with restic, it only needs access to the restic-demo bucket. Select “Attach existing policies directly”, which will bring up a list of pre-defined policies below. Afterwards, click the “Create policy” button to create a custom policy:

Assign a Policy

A new browser window or tab will open with the policy wizard. In Amazon IAM, policies are defined as JSON documents. For this tutorial, the “Visual editor” will be used to generate a policy:

Create a New Policy

For restic to work, two permission statements must be created using the visual policy editor. The first statement is set up as follows:

Service: S3
Allow Actions: DeleteObject, GetObject, PutObject
Resources: arn:aws:s3:::restic-demo/*

This statement allows restic to create, read and delete objects inside the S3 bucket named restic-demo. Adjust the bucket’s name to the name of the bucket you created earlier. Next, add a second statement using the “Add additional permissions” button:

Service: S3
Allow Actions: ListBucket, GetBucketLocation
Resource: arn:aws:s3:::restic-demo

Again, substitute restic-demo with the actual name of your bucket. Note that, unlike before, there is no /* after the bucket name. This statement allows restic to list the objects stored in the restic-demo bucket and to query the bucket’s region.

Continue to the next step by clicking the “Review policy” button and enter a name and description for this policy. For this tutorial, the policy will be named restic-demo-policy. Click “Create policy” to finish the process:

Policy Review

Go back to the browser window or tab where you were previously creating the new user. Click the button labeled “Refresh” above the list of policies to make sure the newly created policy is available to you. Afterwards, use the search function to search for the restic-demo-policy. Select this policy using the checkbox on the left. Then, continue to the next step.

Attach Policy to User

The next page will present an overview of the user account that is about to be created. If everything looks good, click “Create user” to complete the process:

User Creation Review

After the user has been created, its access credentials will be displayed. They consist of the “Access key ID” (think user name), and the “Secret access key” (think password). Copy these down to a safe place.

User Credentials

You have now completed the configuration in AWS. Feel free to close your web browser now.

Initializing the restic repository

Open a terminal and make sure you have the restic binary ready. First, choose a password to encrypt your backups with. In this tutorial, apg is used for this purpose:

$ apg -a 1 -m 32 -n 1 -M NCL

Note this password somewhere safe along with your AWS credentials. Next, the configuration of restic will be placed into environment variables. This will include sensitive information, such as your AWS secret and repository password. Therefore, make sure the next commands do not end up in your shell’s history file. Adjust the contents of the environment variables to fit your bucket’s name, region, and your user’s API credentials.

$ unset HISTFILE
$ export AWS_DEFAULT_REGION="eu-west-1"
$ export RESTIC_REPOSITORY="s3:https://s3.amazonaws.com/restic-demo"

After the environment is set up, restic may be called to initialize the repository:

$ restic init
created restic backend b5c661a86a at s3:https://s3.amazonaws.com/restic-demo

Please note that knowledge of your password is required to access
the repository. Losing your password means that your data is
irrecoverably lost.

restic is now ready to be used with Amazon S3. Try to create a backup:

$ dd if=/dev/urandom bs=1M count=10 of=test.bin
10+0 records in
10+0 records out
10485760 bytes (10 MB, 10 MiB) copied, 0,0891322 s, 118 MB/s

$ restic backup test.bin
scan [/home/philip/restic-demo/test.bin]
scanned 0 directories, 1 files in 0:00
[0:04] 100.00%  2.500 MiB/s  10.000 MiB / 10.000 MiB  1 / 1 items ... ETA 0:00
duration: 0:04, 2.47MiB/s
snapshot 10fdbace saved

$ restic snapshots
ID        Date                 Host        Tags        Directory
10fdbace  2017-03-26 16:41:50  blackbox                /home/philip/restic-demo/test.bin

A snapshot was created and stored in the S3 bucket. By default backups to Amazon S3 will use the STANDARD storage class. Available storage classes include STANDARD, STANDARD_IA, ONEZONE_IA, INTELLIGENT_TIERING, and REDUCED_REDUNDANCY. A different storage class could have been specified in the above command by using -o or --option:

$ restic backup -o s3.storage-class=REDUCED_REDUNDANCY test.bin

This snapshot may now be restored:

$ mkdir restore

$ restic restore 10fdbace --target restore
restoring <Snapshot 10fdbace of [/home/philip/restic-demo/test.bin] at 2017-03-26 16:41:50.201418102 +0200 CEST by philip@blackbox> to restore

$ ls restore/

The snapshot was successfully restored. This concludes the tutorial.

Backing up your system without running restic as root


Creating a complete backup of a machine requires a privileged process that is able to read all files. On UNIX-like systems this is traditionally the root user. Processes running as root have superpower. They cannot only read all files but do also have the power to modify the system in any possible way.

With great power comes great responsibility. If a process running as root malfunctions, is exploited, or simply configured in a wrong way it can cause any possible damage to the system. This means you only want to run programs as root that you trust completely. And even if you trust a program, it is good and common practice to run it with the least possible privileges.

Capabilities on Linux

Fortunately, Linux has functionality to divide root’s power into single separate capabilities. You can remove these from a process running as root to restrict it. And you can add capabilities to a process running as a normal user, which is what we are going to do.

Full backup without root

To be able to completely backup a system, restic has to read all the files. Luckily Linux knows a capability that allows precisely this. We can assign this single capability to restic and then run it as an unprivileged user.

First we create a new user called restic that is going to create the backups:

root@a3e580b6369d:/# useradd --system --create-home --shell /sbin/nologin restic

Then we download and install the restic binary into the user’s home directory (please adjust the URL to refer to the latest restic version).

root@a3e580b6369d:/# mkdir ~restic/bin
root@a3e580b6369d:/# curl -L https://github.com/restic/restic/releases/download/v0.12.1/restic_0.12.1_linux_amd64.bz2 | bunzip2 > ~restic/bin/restic

Before we assign any special capability to the restic binary we restrict its permissions so that only root and the newly created restic user can execute it. Otherwise another - possibly untrusted - user could misuse the privileged restic binary to circumvent file access controls.

root@a3e580b6369d:/# chown root:restic ~restic/bin/restic
root@a3e580b6369d:/# chmod 750 ~restic/bin/restic

Finally we can use setcap to add an extended attribute to the restic binary. On every execution the system will read the extended attribute, interpret it and assign capabilities accordingly.

root@a3e580b6369d:/# setcap cap_dac_read_search=+ep ~restic/bin/restic


The capabilities of the setcap command only applies to this specific copy of the restic binary. If you run restic self-update or in any other way replace or update the binary, the capabilities you added above will not be in effect for the new binary. To mitigate this, simply run the setcap command again, to make sure that the new binary has the same and intended capabilities.

From now on the user restic can run restic to backup the whole system.

root@a3e580b6369d:/# sudo -u restic /home/restic/bin/restic --exclude={/dev,/media,/mnt,/proc,/run,/sys,/tmp,/var/tmp} -r /tmp backup /