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How to Set Up Borg Backup on NixOS

Borg Backup is a encrypted, compressed, deduplicated backup program for multiple platforms including Linux. This combined with the NixOS options for configuring Borg Backup allows you to backup on a schedule and restore from those backups when you need to.

Borg Backup works with local files, remote servers and there are even cloud hosts that specialize in hosting your backups. In this post we will cover how to set up a backup job on a server using BorgBase's free tier to host the backup files.


You will need a few things:

First, we will need to create a SSH key for root to use when connecting to BorgBase. Open a shell as root on the server and make a borgbackup folder in root's home directory:

mkdir borgbackup
cd borgbackup

Then create a SSH key that will be used to connect to BorgBase:

ssh-keygen -f ssh_key -t ed25519 -C "Borg Backup"

Ignore the SSH key password because at this time the automated Borg Backup job doesn't allow the use of password-protected SSH keys.

Now we need to create an encryption passphrase for the backup repository. Run this command to generate one using xkcdpass:

nix-shell -p python39Packages.xkcdpass --run 'xkcdpass -n 12' > passphrase

Mara is hacker


You can do whatever you want to generate a suitable passphrase, however xkcdpass is proven to be more random than most other password generators.

BorgBase Setup

Now that we have the basic requirements out of the way, let's configure BorgBase to use that SSH key. In the BorgBase UI click on the Account tab in the upper right and open the SSH key management window. Click on Add Key and paste in the contents of ./ Name it after the hostname of the server you are working on. Click Add Key and then go back to the Repositories tab in the upper right.

Click New Repo and name it after the hostname of the server you are working on. Select the key you just created to have full access. Choose the region of the backup volume and then click Add Repository.

On the main page copy the repository path with the copy icon next to your repository in the list. You will need this below. Attempt to SSH into the backup repo in order to have ssh recognize the server's host key:

ssh -i ./ssh_key [email protected]

Then accept the host key and press control-c to terminate the SSH connection.

NixOS Configuration

In your configuration.nix file, add the following block:"borgbase" = {
  paths = [
  exclude = [
    # very large paths
    # temporary files created by cargo and `go build`
  repo = "[email protected]:repo";
  encryption = {
    mode = "repokey-blake2";
    passCommand = "cat /root/borgbackup/passphrase";
  environment.BORG_RSH = "ssh -i /root/borgbackup/ssh_key";
  compression = "auto,lzma";
  startAt = "daily";

Customize the paths and exclude lists to your needs. Once you are satisfied, rebuild your NixOS system using nixos-rebuild:

nixos-rebuild switch

And then you can fire off an initial backup job with this command:

systemctl start borgbackup-job-borgbase.service

Monitor the job with this command:

journalctl -fu borgbackup-job-borgbase.service

The first backup job will always take the longest to run. Every incremental backup after that will get smaller and smaller. By default, the system will create new backup snapshots every night at midnight local time.

Restoring Files

To restore files, first figure out when you want to restore the files from. NixOS includes a wrapper script for each Borg job you define. you can mount your backup archive using this command:

mkdir mount
borg-job-borgbase mount [email protected]:repo ./mount

Then you can explore the backup (and with it each incremental snapshot) to your heart's content and copy files out manually. You can look through each folder and copy out what you need.

When you are done you can unmount it with this command:

borg-job-borgbase umount /root/borgbase/mount

And that's it! You can get more fancy with nixops using a setup like this. In general though, you can get away with this setup. It may be a good idea to copy down the encryption passphrase onto paper and put it in a safe space like a safety deposit box.

For more information about Borg Backup on NixOS, see the relevant chapter of the NixOS manual or the list of borgbackup options that you can pick from.

I hope this is able to help.

This article was posted on M01 09 2021. Facts and circumstances may have changed since publication. Please contact me before jumping to conclusions if something seems wrong or unclear.

Series: howto

Tags: nixos borgbackup

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The art for Mara was drawn by Selicre.