One of the great benefits of Fossil and other distributed version control systems is that cloning a repository makes a backup. If you are running a project with multiple developers who share their work using a central server and the server hardware catches fire or otherwise becomes unavailable, the clones of the repository on each developer workstation may serve as a suitable backup.
We say “may” because it turns out not everything in a Fossil repository is copied when cloning. You don’t even always get copies of all historical file artifacts. More than that, a Fossil repository typically contains other useful information that is not always shared as part of a clone, which might need to be backed up separately. To wit:
Fossil purposefully does not clone certain sensitive information unless
you’re logged in as a user with setup capability. As an example, a local clone
may have a different
user table than the remote, because only a
Setup user is allowed to see the full version for privacy and security
Fossil allows the local configuration in certain areas to differ from
that of the remote. With the exception of the prior item, you get a copy
of these configuration areas on initial clone, but after that, some
remote configuration changes don’t sync down automatically, such as the
remote’s skin. You can ask for updates by running the
fossil config pull skin command, but that
does not happen automatically during the course of normal development.
The very nature of Fossil’s private branch feature ensures that remote clones don’t get a copy of those branches. Normally this is exactly what you want, but in the case of making backups, you probably want to back up these branches as well. One of the two backup methods below provides this.
Fossil purposefully doesn’t sync shunned artifacts. If you want your local clone to be a precise match to the remote, it needs to track changes to the shun table as well.
Data in Fossil’s unversioned artifacts table doesn’t sync down by
default unless you specifically ask for it. Like local configuration
data, it doesn’t get pulled as part of a normal
fossil sync, but
unlike the config data, you don’t get unversioned files as part of the
initial clone unless you ask for it by passing the
Autosync Is Intransitive
If you’re using Fossil in a truly distributed mode, rather than the simple central-and-clones model that is more common, there may be no single source of truth in the network because Fossil’s autosync feature isn’t transitive.
That is, if you cloned from server A, and then you stand that up on a server B, then if I clone from your server as my repository C, your changes to B autosync up to A, but not down to me on C until I do something locally that triggers autosync. The inverse is also true: if I commit something on C, it will autosync up to B, but A won’t get a copy until someone on B does something to trigger a sync there.
An easy way to run into this problem is to set up failover servers
svr3.example.com, then set
svr3 up to sync
with the first. If all of the users normally clone from
commits don’t get to
svr3 until something on one of the
servers pushes or pulls the changes down to the next server in the sync
svr1 falls over and all of the users re-point their local
svr1 later reappears,
svr1 is likely to
remain a stale copy of the old version of the repository until someone
causes it to sync with
svr3 to catch up again. And then if
you originally designed the sync scheme to treat
svr1 as the primary
source of truth, those users still syncing with
svr2 won’t have their
commits pushed up to
svr1 unless you’ve set up bidirectional sync,
rather than have the two backup servers do
The following script solves most of the above problems for the use case where you want a nearly-complete clone of the remote repository using nothing but the normal Fossil sync protocol. It only does so if you are logged into the remote as a user with Setup capability, however.
#!/bin/sh fossil sync --unversioned fossil configuration pull all fossil rebuild
The last step is needed to ensure that shunned artifacts on the remote
are removed from the local clone. The second step includes
fossil conf pull shun, but until those artifacts are actually rebuilt
out of existence, your backup will be “more than complete” in the sense
that it will continue to have information that the remote says should
not exist any more. That would be not so much a “backup” as an
“archive,” which might not be what you want.
This method doesn’t get you a copy of the remote’s
private branches, on purpose. It may also miss other info on the
remote, such as SQL-level customizations that the sync protocol can’t
see. (Some ticket system customization schemes rely on this ability, for example.) You can
solve such problems if you have access to the remote server, which
allows you to get a SQL-level backup. This requires Fossil 2.12 or
newer, which added the
backup command to take care of
locking and transaction isolation, allowing the user to safely back up an in-use
If you have SSH access to the remote server, something like this will work:
#!/bin/bash bf=repo-$(date +%Y-%m-%d).fossil ssh example.com "cd museum ; fossil backup -R repo.fossil backups/$bf" && scp example.com:museum/backups/$bf ~/museum/backups
Encrypted Off-Site Backups
A useful refinement that you can apply to both methods above is encrypted off-site backups. You may wish to store backups of your repositories off-site on a service such as Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud, or Microsoft OneDrive, where you don’t fully trust the service not to leak your information. This addition to the prior scripts will encrypt the resulting backup in such a way that the cloud copy is a useless blob of noise to anyone without the key:
pass="h8TixP6Mt6edJ3d6COaexiiFlvAM54auF2AjT7ZYYn" gd="$HOME/Google Drive/Fossil Backups/$bf.xz.enc" fossil sql -R ~/museum/backups/"$bf" .dump | xz -9 | openssl enc -e -aes-256-cbc -pbkdf2 -iter 52830 -pass pass:"$pass" -out "$gd"
If you’re adding this to the first script above, remove the
-R repo-name” bit so you get a dump of the repository backing the
current working directory.
This requires OpenSSL 1.1 or higher. If you’re on 1.0 or older, you
won’t have the
-iter options, and you may have to choose
a different cipher algorithm; both changes are likely to weaken the
encryption significantly, so you should install a newer version rather
than work around the lack of these features.
If you’re on macOS, which still ships 1.0 as of the time of this writing, Homebrew offers the current version of OpenSSL, but to avoid a conflict with the platform version it’s unlinked by default, so you have to give an explicit path to its “cellar” directory:
Compressing the data before encrypting it removes redundancies that can
make decryption easier, and it results in a smaller backup than you get
with the previous script alone, at the expense of a lot of CPU time
during the backup. You may wish to switch to a less space-efficient
compression algorithm that takes less CPU power, such as
Changing up the compression algorithm also provides some
security-thru-obscurity, which is useless on its own, but it is a
useful adjunct to strong encryption.
Restoring From An Encrypted Backup
The “restore” script for the above fragment is basically an inverse of it, but it’s worth showing it because there are some subtleties to take care of. If all variables defined in earlier scripts are available, then restoration is:
openssl enc -d -aes-256-cbc -pbkdf2 -iter 52830 -pass pass:"$pass" -in "$gd" | xz -d | sqlite3 ~/museum/restored-repo.fossil
We changed the
-d on the
openssl command to get decryption,
and we changed the
-in so it reads from the encrypted backup
file and writes the result to stdout.
The decompression step is trivial.
The last change is tricky: we used
fossil sql above to ensure that
we’re using the same version of SQLite to write the encrypted backup DB
as was used to maintain the repository, but unfortunately, we can’t get
the built-in SQLite shell to write a backup into an empty database.
(As soon as it starts up, it goes looking for tables created by
fossil init and fails with an error.)
Therefore, we have to either run the restoration against a
possibly-different version of SQLite and hope there are no
incompatibilities, or we have to go out of our way to build a matching
sqlite3 before we can safely do the restoration.
Keep in mind that Fossil often acts as a dogfooding project for SQLite,
making use of the latest features, so it is quite likely that a given
sqlite3 binary in your
PATH will be unable to understand the
file created by “
fossil sql .dump”!