WordPress Automated Backup Script with rsync and systemd

April 16, 2015

Need to back up your WordPress site automatically? Of course you do! There are loads of ways to do this, but I settled on a solution that is simple, reliable and automated.

I modified a simple script I found here and used systemd to create a daily timer and service unit to execute the script daily, and then used systemd on my local machine to mirror the backups with an rsync one-liner script. Let’s get started! Note: This guide assumes you have ssh access to the server where your WordPress is hosted. If you don’t then this guide is not for you.

The Backup Script

First, let’s take a look at the script:


# taken from http://theme.fm/2011/06/a-shell-script-for-a-complete-wordpress-backup-4/
# a simple script to back up your wordpress installation and mysql database
# it then merges the two into a tar and compresses it

TIME=$(date +"%Y-%m-%d-%H%M")



tar -cvf $BACKUP_DIR/$FILE --transform $WWW_TRANSFORM $WWW_DIR


tar --append --file=$BACKUP_DIR/$FILE --transform $DB_TRANSFORM $BACKUP_DIR/$DB_FILE



exit 0

There’s a lot going on here and I won’t take the time to explain every bit of it, but basically, this script makes a tar of your /var/www/html directory (where WordPress usually lives), dumps your mysql database (where your posts are stored), appends that to the tar of your /var/www/html directory so it’s one file, adds today’s date to it, and then compresses it. If you want a more detailed explanation, read the original guide to this script here.

SSH to the server where your WordPress lives and open up your text editor of choice, I’ll use nano for this guide. First though, let’s make a place to keep your scripts:

$ mkdir ~/Scripts
$ mkdir ~/Backups
$ cd Scripts
$ nano wp.backup.sh

Paste in the the script and edit it to suit your site. Once you’re done, hit ctrl+x to save. Now we need to make the script executable. Test it, with the second command. The ./ means the current directory. Unless an executable file is in /usr/bin/ or a similar directory for your distro, then you need to specify the full path of the file to be executed. You could also type out the full path to the script, but since we’re already in the directory, we’ll use the shortcut.

$ chmod +x wp.backup.sh
$ ./wp.backup.sh

If it worked, your terminal will be flooded with all of the folder names that tar just archived. To verify, let’s move to the Backups directory and see what our script made for us:

$ cd ~/Backups
$ ls

To open up your archive, just use tar -xvf. The database directory will contain your mysql dump and the www directory contains the contents of your /var/www/html directory.

$ tar -xvf example.com.2015-04-16-1112.tar.gz
$ ls

To Cron or Not to Cron

Cron represents the easiest way to automate this script for daily backups. For example, you could just do:

$ crontab -e
@daily /home/user/Scripts/wp.backup.sh

And cron would run your script every day at midnight.

Cron is great, but since my WordPress lives on a CentOS 7 server and my local machine runs Arch (which doesn’t even come with cron by default), I wanted to use systemd to automate my script. Not only is it an opportunity to learn more about systemd, it will make things easier in the future if I want to exapnd on this simple script and backup solution.

First, let’s make a .timer file. .timer files work sort of like crontab entries. You can set them up for the familiar daily, hourly, or weekly timers or you can get super specific with it. Read the wiki for more info.

$ sudo nano /etc/systemd/system/daily.timer
Description=Daily Timer



The key part here is the OnCalendar=daily. Timers can be set to all sorts of values here, but we’ll be using daily. You could set yours to weekly or even monthly if you like. The other thing to take not of here is Unit=wp.backup.service. That’s the service file that will call our back-up script. When you’re done editing, hit ctrl+x to save. Let’s make that service file now:

$sudo nano /etc/systemd/system/wp.backup.service
Description=Wordpress Backup Script



Change the ExecStart=/home/user/Scripts/wp.backup.sh to wherever you saved your script and hit ctrl+x to save. To test that it works, type:

$ sudo systemctl start daily.timer
$ sudo systemctl start wp.backup.service

Now let’s check the status of our new timer and service:

$ sudo systemctl status daily.timer && sudo systemctl status wp.backup.service

Should return something like this:

daily.timer - Daily Timer
   Loaded: loaded (/etc/systemd/system/daily.timer; enabled)
   Active: active (waiting) since Thu 2015-04-16 15:06:44 EDT; 33min ago

Apr 16 15:06:44 example systemd[1]: Starting Daily Timer
Apr 16 15:06:44 example systemd[1]: Started Daily Timer.
wp.backup.service - WordPress Backup Script
   Loaded: loaded (/etc/systemd/system/wp.backup.service; enabled)
   Active: inactive (dead) since Thu 2015-04-16 15:06:54 EDT; 33min ago
  Process: 332 ExecStart=/home/user/Scripts/wp.backup.sh (code=exited, status=0/SUCCESS)
 Main PID: 332 (code=exited, status=0/SUCCESS)
   CGroup: /system.slice/wp.backup.service

Apr 16 15:06:46 example wp.backup.sh[332]: /var/www/html/wp-content/plugins/jetpack/_inc/lib/
Apr 16 15:06:46 example wp.backup.sh[332]: /var/www/html/wp-content/plugins/jetpack/_inc/lib/markdown/
Hint: Some lines were ellipsized, use -l to show in full.

So why have two separate systemd files for what seems like one job? Well with this set up, it’s easier to add more complexity later if we need to. You could add other options for when backups should occur. You could add other scipts to be executed daily. Plus, you can call your backup script with sudo systemctl start wp.backup.service and check its status with sudo systemctl status wp.backup.service.

So now that we have our server making automatic daily backups, let’s backup the backups to an offsite location. If the server goes down, or your hosting company goes out of business, then you’ll be out of luck if your only backups live on the server that you can no longer access.


Rsync is one of my favorite linux tools. It can sync files and directories over ssh and just sync the differences in the files, making it perfect for our needs. I have an Arch linux home server that will function as the offsite backup location, but you could use another distribution. You can even use rsync on OSX, but that’s another guide.

If you haven’t done so already, you’ll need to set up ssh keys for your server and local machine. The Arch wiki page on ssh keys should have all of the info you need. There are also a plethora of guides on the interwebs that can help.

Once your ssh keys are set up, let’s set up an rsync command to pull the backup archives from the server and mirror them to our local machine:

rsync -avzP -e "ssh -p8888" user@example.com:/home/user/Backups/* /home/user/Backups/

Let’s break this down. -avzP tells rysnc to archive, use verbose mode, compress, and print the progress to the terminal, respectively. The -e "ssh -p8888" tells it that the remote server uses port 8888 for ssh. The user@example.com:/home/user/Backups/* uses the wildcard “*” to grab any files in the Backups directory on the remote server. And the last bit tells rysnc where to put the files.

Since we’re going to be using this command in a script that gets executed by systemd, we need to take into account that it will be executed as root. This can cause problems as ssh will look in the /root/.ssh directory to find the private key file and won’t find it, causing the command to fail. To fix this, let’s add an entry to our /etc/ssh_config file to define our server and tell ssh where to find the private key for it.

$ sudo nano /etc/ssh/ssh_config
Host example
    HostName example.com
    Port 8888
    User user
    IdentityFile /home/user/.ssh/id_rsa

Add the above lines to your ssh_config and substitute your information. Ctrl+x to save. Now you can ssh to your server with just ssh example. You could also do rsync -avzP example:/source/files /destination/directory.

Now that we’ve got that sorted, let’s make it a script:

$ nano ~/Scripts/wp.offsite.backup.sh
# one-liner to backup wordpress files from jay-baker.com

rsync -avzP example:/home/user/Backups/* /home/user/Backups/

Ctrl+x to save. Don’t forget to make it executable with chmod +x wp.offsite.backup.sh, and then test it with ./wp.offsite.backup.sh. Now that we’ve got the script working, let’s set up our systemd timer and service files. These will be the same as the ones on the server, so just cut and paste those, being careful to change the name of the script. You could also change your timer to weekly if you like.

Once you’ve got them set up the way you want, then test and enable them with:

$ sudo systemctl start daily.timer
$ sudo systemctl start wp.offsite.backup.service
$ sudo systemctl enable daily.timer
$ sudo systemctl enable wp.offsite.backup.service

And that’s it! We now have automatic, daily backups of our WordPress installation and mysql database which are then mirrored to another machine with rsync: automatically and daily. From here, we could write further scripts to make monthly archives and move them to external storage or just remove any backups older than a month.