Book Review: Tarsnap Mastery Online Backup For the Truly Paranoid

It is always a good idea to keep backups of all of your data in multiple places. Every Linux or Unix sysadmin needs to master the art of backups if they want to keep their data forever.

Most seasoned sysadmins recommend and follow the 3-2-1 rule:

  1. At least three copies of data
  2. In two different formats
  3. With one of those copies off-site

What is a Tarsnap service?

A Tarsnap service is a secure online backup system for Linux, OSX, *BSD or UNIX-like system. They encrypt and store data in Amazon S3. The services also use rsync-like algorithms, and only backup data that has been changed since the last dump. The backups are protected by a security key only known to a backup operator or sysadmin.

Tarsnap Mastery book

To use Tarsnap perfectly and feel secure about your backups, I recommend the “Tarsnap Mastery” book by Michael W. Lucas. It is no secret that I’m a big fan of his book series and this book didn’t disappoint.

The book talks about Tarsnap services and includes real life examples of service. It starts with describing backup problems in a large scale IT environment such as tapes, virtual environments, most common backup strategies, deduplication, tarsanp basics, online backup security, and more.

The book teaches you how to install tarsnap on Linux, *BSD, Apple OS X, and few other platforms. Once installed you will learn how to make backups and restore them as needed. The book also explains how it’s important that you regularly rotate your backups and keep dumping data automatically to the cloud using cron service.

I enjoyed the information on creating backup check points and resuming interrupted archives, as my Macbook air dies sometimes due to internet connection failure or battery life. The last chapter explains how to build and test a production ready FAMP stack (FreeBSD, Apache, MySQL and PHP). You need to build a shell script to backup MySQL, hook it into tarsnap, and automate it via cron. Further, this chapter explains how to restore the system in case of disk failure or data loss, and how to verify data integrity.

Sure you will find most of the information mentioned in this book throughout tarsnap’s website, manpages, or mailing lists, but not in one handy guide. I think this book is a great way to feel confident about backing up your data securely in cloud or through off-site backups, without compromising security or burning your pocket with enterprise grade products from IT vendors. If you use a Unix-like system I highly recommend Tarsnap service and “Tarsnap Mastery”.

Book Info:

* Title: Tarsnap Mastery: Online Backups for the Truly Paranoid.
* Author: Michael W. Lucas
* Publisher: Tilted Windmill Press.
* Length: 154 pages.
* Target: System administrators, programmers, or geeks interested in online backup using Tarsnap cloud service.
* Rating: 5/5
* Disclaimer: Tilted Windmill Press sent us a review copy.
* Purchase online at Amazon (Kindle Edition).


  1. Like his other books, very easy to read and understand.
  2. Very in depth.
  3. Dedicated the whole book to one service.


  1. I felt like you most definitely need some basic Unix command-line knowledge.

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🐧 5 comments so far... add one

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5 comments… add one
  • Rui F Ribeiro Jan 3, 2016 @ 8:19

    The “engrish” is atrocious and it distracts the reader from the essence of the article. Some of the errors: It is lacking an “a” where it should be “a good idea”. Starting using the 3rd person in the beginning of a phrase, and switching for the 2nd abruptly… “I like”??? It should be in-depth in that context. Please, if you do not have a good command of English, at least have someone more proficient revising it.

    • 🐧 nixcraft Jan 3, 2016 @ 18:37

      I will update it soon. Thanks for the heads up!

    • Leaman Crews Jan 4, 2016 @ 1:41

      This is one of the most helpful *nix sites around, packed full of hints that are useful for beginners and pros alike. Yes, it’s obvious that English is not Vivek’s first language, and I’m usually a stickler for good grammar myself, but come on. This site is so good, and you know what he means. Was this comment really necessary?

      • Wendy Michele Jan 4, 2016 @ 18:10

        Actually, I wrote this article. I thought it was amusing you were quick to criticise and be racist Rui, yet couldn’t read that Vivek didn’t write this review.
        Yes, I should have written and proofed it better.
        However, the switch from 2nd to 3rd person is appropriate in this type of writing. I am giving my personal opinion and then going back to talk about what the book offers objectively. Cheer up Rui. :)

  • jesusguevarautomotriz Feb 21, 2016 @ 17:47

    For my home user needs, ideally: a backup of the original source files uncompressed, plus uncompressed tarball long-term storage, more zip for long-term storage.

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