Tag Archives: boto

Automating Rsync Backups to Amazon EC2

A while back I wrote about how to perform incremental backups via rsync to an Amazon EC2 instance. The script worked great when run manually from a Python interpreter but I always ran into issues when trying to automate the script via cron. I finally took some time to hammer out all of the automation issues and fixed some other bugs along the way. With the new fixes in place, I now have my VPS automatically backed up nightly via cron, all for about $1/month!

For the backup script including the latest updates, take a look at my Backup to AWS EBS via Rsync and Boto how-to. I’ve documented the problems encountered and how I fixed them below.

Preserve File Ownership in the Backup

I learned that the remote rsync process must run as root in order to preserve file ownership. This is accomplished by adding –rsync-path=”sudo rsync” to the rsync command. However, EC2’s Amazon Linux AMI does not allow this by default because it requires a tty (terminal) to run a sudo command. The solution was to add a line to the script that ssh’s into the EC2 instance, forces allocation of a pseudo-tty, then appends “Defaults !requiretty” to /etc/sudoers.

Maintain Proper Directory Structure in the Backup

Another issue I discovered was that my backup was getting created with directories like /home/home/username/ instead of /home/username/. The solution to this was to simply ensure that all of my rsync destinations contained a final trailing slash.

Connection Denied for SSH

This was the error I saw that was preventing me from running the script via cron. Putting the script to sleep for 60 seconds after attaching the volume fixed this.

Terminate the EC2 Instance when Finished

The original script stopped the EC2 instance rather than terminating it. The EC2 instance is only needed for the rsync after which it should be terminated in order to avoid extra fees from AWS! The backed up data will remain on the detached EBS volume even after the instance is terminated.

Backup to AWS EBS via Rsync and Boto 3

Update 11/2015:

  • Updated the script to use boto3 and waiters
  • Switched to use the t2.micro instance type with VPC
  • More detailed setup instructions


Amazon Web Services Elastic Block Storage provides cheap, reliable storage—perfect for backups. The idea is to temporarily spin up an EC2 instance, attach your EBS volume to it and upload your files. Transferring the data via rsync allows for incremental backups which is very fast and reduces costs. Once the backup is complete, the EC2 instance is terminated. The whole process can be repeated as often as needed by attaching a new EC2 instance to the same EBS volume. I backup 12 GB from my own server weekly using this method. The backup takes about 5 minutes and my monthly bill from Amazon is around $1.

Setup Your VPC

You’ll need an AWS VPC with access to the internet. Exactly how to do this is beyond the scope of this article but you should basically follow AWS’ instructions for creating a “VPC with a Single Public Subnet”. Also make sure that
  1. The default security group for your subnet allows inbound port 22 (SSH) and inbound port 873 (rsync)
  2. Your subnet has “Auto-assign Public IP” enabled
  3. You create an EBS volume in your preferred zone (location). Make sure it is large enough to store your backups.

Create Your Access Key and Key Pair

Create an Amazon EC2 key pair. You need this to connect to your EC2 instance after launching it. Download the private key and store in on your system. In my example, I have the private key stored at /home/takaitra/.ec2/takaitra-aws-key.pem Also create an access key (access key ID and secret access key) for either your root AWS account or an IAM user that has access to create instances. Make sure to save your secret key somewhere safe as you’ll only be able to download it once after creating it. I had problems using a key that had special characters (=, +, -, /, etc) so you may want to regenerate your key if it has these in it.

Install and Configure Boto 3

Assuming you have Python’s pip, installing Boto 3 is easy.
$ pip install boto3
The easiest way to set up your access credentials is via awscli.
$ pip install awscli
$ aws configure
AWS Access Key ID: [enter your access key id]
AWS Secret Access Key: [enter your secret access key]
Default region name: [enter the region name]

The Script

The below script automates the entire backup process via Boto (A Python interface to AWS). Make sure to configure the VOLUME_ID, SUBNET and BACKUP_DIRS variables with your own values. Also update SSH_OPTS to point to the private key of your EC2 key pair.
#!/usr/bin/env python

import os
import boto3
import time

IMAGE           = 'ami-60b6c60a' # Amazon Linux AMI 2015.09.1
KEY_NAME        = 'takaitra-key'
INSTANCE_TYPE   = 't2.micro'
VOLUME_ID       = 'vol-########'
PLACEMENT       = {'AvailabilityZone': 'us-east-1a'}
SUBNET          = 'subnet-########'
SSH_OPTS        = '-o StrictHostKeyChecking=no -i /home/takaitra/.ec2/takaitra-aws-key.pem'
BACKUP_DIRS     = ['/etc/', '/opt/', '/root/', '/home/', '/usr/local/', '/var/www/']
DEVICE          = '/dev/sdh'

print 'Starting an EC2 instance of type {0} with image {1}'.format(INSTANCE_TYPE, IMAGE)
ec2 = boto3.resource('ec2')
ec2Client = boto3.client('ec2')
instances = ec2.instances.filter(
    Filters=[{'Name': 'instance-state-name', 'Values': ['pending']}])
instanceList = list(instances)
instance = instanceList[0]

print 'Waiting for instance {0} to switch to running state'.format(instance.id)
waiter = ec2Client.get_waiter('instance_running')
print 'Instance is running, public IP: {0}'.format(instance.public_ip_address)

    print 'Attaching volume {0} to device {1}'.format(VOLUME_ID, DEVICE)
    volume = ec2.Volume(VOLUME_ID)
    print 'Waiting for volume to switch to In Use state'
    waiter = ec2Client.get_waiter('volume_in_use')
    print 'Volume is attached'

    print 'Waiting for the instance to finish booting'
    print 'Mounting the volume'
    os.system("ssh -t {0} ec2-user@{1} \"sudo mkdir /mnt/data-store && sudo mount {2} /mnt/data-store && echo 'Defaults !requiretty' | sudo tee /etc/sudoers.d/rsync > /dev/null\"".format(SSH_OPTS, instance.public_ip_address, DEVICE))

    print 'Beginning rsync'
    for backup_dir in BACKUP_DIRS:
            os.system("sudo rsync -e \"ssh {0}\" -avz --delete --rsync-path=\"sudo rsync\" {2} ec2-user@{1}:/mnt/data-store{2}".format(SSH_OPTS, instance.public_ip_address, backup_dir))
    print 'Rsync complete'

    print 'Unmounting and detaching volume'
    os.system("ssh -t {0} ec2-user@{1} \"sudo umount /mnt/data-store\"".format(SSH_OPTS, instance.public_ip_address))
    print 'Waiting for volume to switch to Available state'
    waiter = ec2Client.get_waiter('volume_available')
    print 'Volume is detached'
    print 'Terminating instance'


Follow these steps in order to automate backups to Amazon EC2. The steps may vary slightly depending on which distro you are running.
  1. Save the script to a file without a file extension such as “ec2_rsync”. Cron (at least in Debian) ignores scripts with extensions.
  2. Configure the script as explained above.
  3. Make the script executable (chmod +x rsync_to_ec2)
  4. Check that the script is working by running it manually (./ec2_rsync). This may take a long time if this is your initial backup.
  5. Copy the script to /etc/cron.daily/ or /etc/cron.weekly depending on how often you want the backup to run.
  6. Profit!