Emu by example, part 3

Part 3: Verify and checkout

Now that we know how to create sinks and sources and push snapshots, we will demonstrate in this tutorial how to validate your backups and restore them.


Continuing from where we left off, we have a test source with some junk data and a sink with 10 snapshots. Now, we’re going to see how we can check these snapshots to make sure that they haven’t been modified or corrupted. To do this, we’re going to use verify command, and introduce some new syntax.

The verify command accepts individual snapshots as arguments. This means that you have exact control over which snapshots you would like to verify, and that means we need a syntax for specifying snapshots. The first and most simplest way is to just name the sink, as this will verify every snapshot that the sink has:

$ emu verify origin
origin:540b4e9b2f16b25fb1c7fa2e2f50dd6d7a9dc39e ok
origin:540b4e9a2f16b25fb1c7fa2e2f50dd6d7a9dc39e ok
origin:540b4e992f16b25fb1c7fa2e2f50dd6d7a9dc39e ok
origin:540b4e982f16b25fb1c7fa2e2f50dd6d7a9dc39e ok
origin:540b4e972f16b25fb1c7fa2e2f50dd6d7a9dc39e ok

What the verify program has done is to recompute the checksum of a particular snapshot, and check that this matches the checksum that was created when the snapshot was first made. The algorithm used to create the checksum is a topic for another time, so for now we just need to know that if a snapshot is modified or tampered with, this verification will fail. Let’s do that now by adding an unwanted file to one of our snapshots:

$ echo "woops" > "../sink/2014-09-06 18.12.43/bad-data"
$ emu verify
origin:540b4e9b2f16b25fb1c7fa2e2f50dd6d7a9dc39e bad
origin:540b4e9a2f16b25fb1c7fa2e2f50dd6d7a9dc39e ok
origin:540b4e992f16b25fb1c7fa2e2f50dd6d7a9dc39e ok

Now we see that the verification for that snapshot failed. Running verify periodically on a sink is enough to reassure yourself that your backups are safe and unmodified. Anyway, back to the syntax. You see in the output of verify that it pairs up snapshots in the form <sink>:<id>. We can use this to specify snapshots, e.g.:

$ emu verify origin:540b4e9a2f16b25fb1c7fa2e2f50dd6d7a9dc39e
origin:540b4e9a2f16b25fb1c7fa2e2f50dd6d7a9dc39e ok

We can do this for multiple snapshots. There are two further useful short-hands for specifying snapshots. The first is HEAD, which evaluates to the ID of the sink’s HEAD:

$ emu verify origin:HEAD
origin:540b4e9b2f16b25fb1c7fa2e2f50dd6d7a9dc39e bad

This is identical to the git HEAD alias, and accepts the same tilde notation for specifying previous snapshots. For example, to verify the current HEAD’s parent, you would use origin:HEAD~. To specify that snapshot’s parent, use origin:HEAD~2, etc.

There is also a TAIL alias which expands to the last snapshot in a sink, which works in exactly the same way as HEAD, except that the tilde notation counts backwards from oldest to newest. E.g. the second to last snapshot in sink origin is origin:TAIL~, and the one after that is origin:TAIL~2, etc.

The second short-hand technique for specifying snapshots is to use branch notation. To specify a branch of snapshots (e.g. a snapshot and every one of its parents), append the snapshot ID with two dots (..). E.g. to verify every snapshot except the most recent one, use origin:HEAD~... To select the last five snapshots in sink origin, use origin:TAIL~4...


Now we cover what is arguable the most important component of a backup system: how to restore a backup. Of course a user may choose to transfer individual files from a snapshot at any time (the beauty of having a transparent backup system), but to restore an entire source to the state of a snapshot, the checkout command can be used.

To checkout a snapshot, you simply need to use the command checkout <snapshot-id>. For example, to restore the state of a source to the second most recent snapshot on origin:

$ emu checkout origin:HEAD~
Checking out origin:54121daf9f2b744570e8240ca43a483956f27056
sending incremental file list

sent 70 bytes  received 12 bytes  164.00 bytes/sec
total size is 0  speedup is 0.00
origin: HEAD at 54121daf9f2b744570e8240ca43a483956f27056
Source restored from 2014-09-11 22.09.51

That’s all there is to it. The checkout program uses exactly the same file transfer process as push, only in reverse. Notice that checkout will set the HEAD to point out to whatever snapshot you just checked out.

You should be able to get by 90% of the time with just the commands we’ve already covered. In Part 4, we’ll cover the more exotic squash and prune commands, for performing more advanced backup administration.

Full time geek with a passion for developing great software, often late at night.