bakonf usermanual


About this document

This is the usermanual for the bakonf project, version 0.6.0; the homepage is at You can also get new versions of this document there.


Making backup is an important aspect of system administration. The techniques of backing up data are explained in any good document about system administration, and they won't be explained here again.

However, bakonf comes into play into a particular part of the backups: the backing up of the system's configuration.

The basic idea is that on a standard installation of a Unix-like system you have a lot of data which can be very easily restored from the original media, thus there is no point in archiving it. For example, after a fresh install of a RedHat Linux 8.0, you have ~4.5GB of space used. However, only a very small part of this amount is holding important information, the other part being binaries, libraries and other kind of data which will never modify in normal usage. Only the configuration files are changing (of course, also the user data is changing, but we are talking about an empty system).

If we classify the files existing on a Unix system, we have:

configuration data
These are the target of bakonf; they are usually small text files, partly coming from the system installation, maybe edited by the administrator, partly created by him. Size is (on the workstation I write this) ~15MB.
binaries, libraries, other system files
These are mostly read-only; in a package based distribution, they came from the packages and are replaced when the package is upgraded. In classical systems, they come from the install archives. Size is (in our hypothetical rh8.0 full install) ~4.5GB.
system and user data
These are emails, web pages, documents, etc. - this is important data, and needs to be backed up regularly. They also don't come from the installation media, and are not touched by the system. Size is undetermined, but is guaranteed to be exactly the amount of free space on the system :).
system maintenance data
These are the files created and managed by the system, usually from the configuration files and other external variables. Examples: /var/lib/logrotate.status, /var/lib/slocate/slocate.db. These are not all critical files, some are needed to be included in a backup only for analysis purposes, others should not be included in backups (e.g. if you reinstall your system or restore from backup, some files will have for sure other contents, generated from the new installation).

From all these, only the configuration data and the system/user data are absolutely required to recreate the system. The binaries can come from the installation source. The system maintenance data will be recreated by the system. And since the difference in size between the configuration and user data is so great in a typical system, I believe it deserves another backup method (besides the inclusion in standard backup procedures, which are, I repeat, CRITICAL!).

Quick start

Details about bakonf

bakonf home page is The project is hosted at

You can regard bakonf as a rescue archive creator. It creates an archive of configuration files and other information about the system. By other information, I mean data which is not found anywhere in the filesystem as simple files: partition table layout, hardware configuration, kernel version, etc., but that can be gathered from shell commands output.

Archive layout
Filename Description Created when
README A file which contains informations about the archive: when it was generated, with which options and on what host Always
unarchived_files.lst A file which contains details about which files couldn't be backed up; this can happen when bakonf is not run as root, or for example when it scans NFS directories When filesystem backup has been performed
commands_with_errors.lst A file which contains details about which commands have exited with non-zero status. Their output is still stored in the archive, though. When command execution has been performed
filesystem/ Files backed up are stored under this path. When filesystem backup has been performed
commands/ Outputs from the command exectution are stored under this path. When command execution has been performed

Filesystem backup

Bakonf can be operated in two modes: 0 and 1. In level 0, it archives all of the specified configuration files and registers the state of those configuration files in a database (called virtuals database), of type Berkley DB. In level 1, it archives only the files modified since the last level 0 backup; it does this by comparing the virtuals database with the filesystem.

File types and states

Here is how bakonf treats files:

they won't be archived if they don't contain files to be backed up. On the other hand, for each file to be backed up, bakonf will also backup (non-recursively) its parent directories (except root) so that you have the user, group, mtime and permissions of each directory. For example, if /usr/local/etc/myconfig has been selected for archiving, bakonf will actually archive this list of items: /usr, /usr/local, /usr/local/etc, /usr/local/etc/myconfig.
regular files

regular files will be archived by bakonf if they aren't excluded by the noscan configuration directive. In case this is a partial backup (as opposed to a full backup), bakonf will make the following tests:

  • size of file saved in database different from the file size? if true, the file will be backed up
  • saved md5 or sha1 hashes different from actual hashes? if true, file will be backed up
  • otherwise, file will not be backed up.
symbolic links

bakonf doesn't follow symbolic links; it treats a symbolic link like a configuration file (its configuration data resides in its name and its target). The tests made by bakonf are, in order:

  • link target must be equal, or the file is backed up
  • user and group ownership must be equal, or the file is backed up
  • permission bits must be equal, or the file is backed up
  • the file is not backed up
block devices, character devices, fifos, sockets
bakonf always selects these to backed up. Of course, some of them won't be backed up by tar, but regarding bakonf, it will select those for backup.
when the file type in archive is different than actual file type
in this case, bakonf always selects the file for archiving

Command execution/output

This section allows you to have more information about a system than is available in the filesystem. The current implementation allows you to store output of shell commands. Suggestions about other items are welcome.


Partition table

One of the most important items about a system (that is not stored in a file) is partition table about your disks, in the eventuality that you have a data error in partition table. The command to back this up varies, for example sfdisk, fdisk, etc.

Device list

Having the device list is and their hardware configuration is useful in order to have a quick overview if you want to clone the configuration from one system to another (to see correspondence between config files and hardware config). Examples of scanning the configuration are lspci -vv, lsusb -vv, pciconf -lv, etc.

What can I use bakonf for?

At least for:

  • Configuration rollback. Since the archives are small, you can keep many versions, but unlike in differential backup, here one archive contains all the needed data.
  • Configuration cloning. You can take a bakonf-generated archive from one system to another and 'clone' as much of the settings as you want.
  • Quick restore of a server in case of catastrophic harddisk failure. Just reinstall the OS and put the config files back.


To use bakonf, you must have the following:

  • a Unix-like operating system
  • Python version 2.4 or higher
  • the ElementTree library for Python, for parsing the configuration file(s)
  • the pybsddb library, if not bundled with your Python distribution



Older bakonf versions (before 0.5) had an entirely different config file, and version 0.5 had a different schema for the configuration files. If you upgraded, be sure to forward you changes to the new config files.

bakonf uses a main configuration file (by default /etc/bakonf/bakonf.xml), which does some standard settings and tells bakonf what other files to include. These additional files are usually located in /etc/bakonf/sources and tell bakonf how to handle some special cases.

Configuration language

The configuration file is written in XML, must be encoded in utf-8 and must have the document tag bakonf.

The file can contain the following tags:

tells bakonf to also parse any files which match the shell pattern given as the contents of the tag. These are files which modify bakonf's own behaviour, and are usually located in /etc/bakonf/sources. These are not directories to be backed up! (Although, if modified and included by the filesystem element, they will be). Note that the sub-files can contain only filesystem and commands sections.

Contains declarations about files to be backed up:


Tells bakonf to add any file or directory which matches shell pattern given by the contents of the tag to its include list. These can be files or directories. Bakonf will descend directories, but will not follow symbolic links! The symlinks are considered configuration items also, so they will be backed up themselves.

This tag must exist within the filesystem tag.

tells bakonf to ignore any file or directory which matches the contents of the as (interpreted as a regular expression) from the archive; it won't even open or analyse those files.

Starts declarations about command output to be included in the archive, and can contain:


Tells bakonf to execute the command line (as a shell command) given as the tag contents and include its output in a file under the commands subtree in the created archive. If no destination attribute is given, then the destination is takes as the command line with slashes replaced by underscores, otherwise the given path will be used. For example, the element:

     destination="proc/version">cat /proc/version</storeoutput>

will create a file in the archive with the name commands/proc/version which will contain the /proc/version file.


Configuration section that modifies the behaviour of bakonf. It can contain:

This elements contains the filename of the state database.
This element denotes the maximum size of files to be backed up.

The order of precedence for scan/noscan is:

  • bakonf will start scanning all items defined with scan
  • if at any point in the filesystem scan, the current file/directory matches any one of noscan regexps, the scan will ignore it. For directories, that means ignoring all the files they contain, so please be careful about it.

Using these, you can select where you want bakonf to look for files for archiving. The default config file includes /etc, /usr/etc, /usr/local/etc and some others (look in /etc/bakonf after installing).

Example main configuration file (the file included in the distribution):

   Bakonf main configuration file. Tune to your system.
  See also the files in the sources subdirectory (included by default)
    <!-- Standard directories -->

<!-- Include by default the other configuration files -->

Example GNU/Linux proc configuration file (included in the distribution):

   File which contains hardware related informations, mostly
   extracted from the /proc filesystem (under GNU/Linux)
    <!-- Proc values -->
    <storeoutput command="cat /proc/version" destination="proc/version"/>
    <storeoutput command="cat /proc/dma" destination="proc/dma"/>
    <storeoutput command="cat /proc/interrupts"
    <storeoutput command="cat /proc/ioports" destination="proc/ioports"/>
    <storeoutput command="cat /proc/iomem" destination="proc/iomem"/>
    <storeoutput command="cat /proc/cpuinfo" destination="proc/cpuinfo"/>
    <storeoutput command="cat /proc/partitions"
    <!-- Also hardware information -->
    <storeoutput command="/sbin/lspci -vv" destination="lspci.txt"/>
    <storeoutput command="/sbin/lsusb -vv" destination="lsusb.txt"/>

File list

bakonf is composed of:

Main configuration file.
Configuration files for special cases (config files outside of etc dirs).
Main program
Cron file, by default it does not run bakonf, you must uncomment a line to run it.
Default directory for configuration file archives.


You must decide yourself what to do with the configuration archives after bakonf creates them!

Using bakonf

Backup phase

For details about the actual parameters to bakonf, see its manpage.

To use bakonf, choose to either:

  • run it manually, when you want, either always with -L0 or with a combination of multiple backup levels
  • use the provided cron script to run it automatically

In any case, you have to do something with the generated archives. Write the to tape, CD, other machine, but don't just ignore them, you defeat the purpose of bakonf.

Restore phase

Configuration rollback

In this case, just make sure you have the bakonf-generated archive near the date in the past you are interested in. If so:

1. if your system uses packages/ports, compare the actual package list with the one recorded by bakonf when it created the archive

  1. install/remove software as needed

1. copy the configuration files for the services you want to rollback over the current files

Complete system restoration

If you had a catastrophic system failure, you should follow these steps:

  1. Reinstall the operating system on a clean machine. Use the given information in the /commands directory in the archive to achieve an as close as possible configuration as the old system (e.g. partition layout, packages installed, etc.)
  1. Copy all the files in the archive in the filesystem, overwriting the defaults from the packages.


The database that is used for saving file states for the multi-level backup method