From Obnam to Borgbackup

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It’s hard to start making backups: you need external storage, some sort of reminders or automation, and you have to configure the software. For years, this kept me from putting any sort of backup solution in place.

Then the stars aligned just right: I got into habit of using Taskwarrior every day, I just bought a huge USB HDD, and most important of all—I stumbled upon Obnam. Through some personal story, its user manual got me excited about backups, and within minutes I found myself making one. A week later, I made another, and kept doing it for two more years.

Then Obnam was retired, and I had to turn to other programs for replacement. I started running Zbackup, Restic and Borgbackup in parallel, for comparison’s sake.

Eight months later, here’s the things I learned:

As you already know from the post’s title, and as logically follows from the list above, I chose Borg. But the real motivation behind this post is different: using these programs highlighted one aspect of Obnam that I never noticed while using it. That aspect is user experience, and how streamlined in was in Obnam.

For example, Obnam relied more on the config file than command line arguments, which is logical—hopefully you configure it once and run thousands of times. Obnam took care of snapshot naming, tagging them by date-time and not asking for anything else. Obnam didn’t split repo initialization and backup itself, thus removing yet another little obstacle.

In short, Obnam provided a solution rather than a building block.

The truth is, I wouldn’t have started making backups with Borg, or even Restic (which has a bit nicer CLI). They bombard the novice with a lot of barely-relevant details. Obnam solved my problem before teaching me to solve it, and for that, I’m eternally grateful.

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