How To Use Duplicity with GPG to Back Up Data to DigitalOcean Spaces

How To Use Duplicity with GPG to Back Up Data to DigitalOcean Spaces


Duplicity is a command-line utility written in Python that produces encrypted tar volumes for storage on a local or remote repository. It uses the GNU Privacy Guard (GPG) to encrypt and sign its archives and the rsync algorithm to create incremental, space-efficient backups. Backups can be transmitted to a variety of repositories, including local file storage, SFTP or FTP servers, and S3-compatible object stores.

In this tutorial, we will install Duplicity and go over how to back up project data to DigitalOcean Spaces, an S3-compatible object storage service. We will create a Spaces repository for this purpose, and cover how to manually back up data to it. Finally, we will automate this process by creating a script that will set up incremental and weekly full backup schedules.


For this tutorial, you will need:

Once you have your Space set up and this information in hand, you can move on to installing Duplicity.

Installing Duplicity

To get an up-to-date version of Duplicity, we can install it from the Duplicity releases Personal Package Archive (PPA):

  1. sudo apt-add-repository ppa:duplicity-team/ppa

We will also install the python-boto package to have access to Boto, a Python package that provides interfaces to Amazon Web Services. This will help us take advantage of Spaces’ interoperability with the AWS S3 API. We will install python-boto from the official Ubuntu repositories, since this version is compatible with the version of Python that ships with our Ubuntu server image. If you would prefer to use Boto3, you can install it from source, although feature compatibility with Python 3.3+ is still under development.

In addition to python-boto, we will also install Haveged, a tool that will help us generate the entropy necessary to create our GPG keys. In order to create these keys, GPG draws on the level of entropy or unpredictability in our system. Installing haveged will help us speed up the key creation process.

Before installing these packages, update the local repository index:

  1. sudo apt-get update

Then install duplicity, python-boto, and haveged by typing:

  1. sudo apt-get install duplicity haveged python-boto

Press y when prompted to confirm installation. We now have Duplicity installed on our system and are ready to create our project folders and configuration files.

Creating a Backup Directory

To demonstrate how the backup process works, we will create a directory for our backups in our non-root user’s home directory, along with some sample data. We will call our directory sammy_backups:

  1. mkdir ~/sammy_backups

Next, create a sample project file called historical_sharks.txt:

  1. echo "The ancient Megalodon shark reached lengths of up to 59 feet, and is widely regarded as one of history's most fearsome predators." >> ~/sammy_backups/historical_sharks.txt

With our backup directory and test data in place, we are ready to generate a GPG key for our non-root user.

Generating GPG Keys

Next, we will generate a GPG key pair for our user. To ensure the secure transmission of information, GPG uses public key encryption. What this means in our context is that data will be encrypted to our public key and sent to our repository. For more about GPG keys and encryption see our tutorial on How To Use GPG to Sign and Encrypt Messages.

Our keyrings will be stored on our user account in a directory called ~/.gnupg, which will be created when we generate the keys. When we use the duplicity command, we will specify a public key identifier that points to our key pair. Using this identifier enables data encryption and the signature that verifies our ownership of the private key. The encrypted data will be transmitted to our repository, where it will be difficult to infer much more than file size and upload time from the files themselves. This protects our data, which our user can restore in full at any time with the private key.

GPG should be installed on our server by default. To test this, type:

  1. gpg --version

Once you have verified that GPG is installed, you can generate a key pair as follows:

  1. gpg --gen-key

You will be asked a series of questions to configure your keys:

  • Type of key. Select (1) RSA and RSA (default).
  • Size of key. Pressing ENTER will confirm the default size of 2048 bits.
  • Key expiration date. By entering 1y, we will create a key that expires after one year.
  • Confirm your choices. You can do this by entering y.
  • User ID/Real name. Enter your name.
  • Email address. Enter your email address.
  • Comment. Here, you can enter an optional comment that will be visible with your signature.
  • Change (N)ame, ©omment, (E)mail or (O)kay/(Q)uit? Type O if you are ready to proceed.
  • Enter passphrase. You will be asked to enter a passphrase here. Be sure to take note of this passphrase. We will refer back to it throughout the rest of this tutorial as your-GPG-key-passphrase.

After you have created these settings, gpg will generate the keys based on the level of entropy in the system. Since we installed haveged, our keys should be generated either very quickly or right away. You will see output that includes the following:

... gpg: /home/sammy/.gnupg/trustdb.gpg: trustdb created gpg: key your-GPG-public-key-id marked as ultimately trusted public and secret key created and signed. ...

Take note of your-GPG-public-key-id, as we will be using it in the next section to configure our local environment variables.

Creating Manual Backups

We will now set environment variables so we do not need to enter any confidential information on the command line while running the duplicity command. These variables will be available to our user during our current session, and we will store them in a hidden directory so that they are available for later use. The variables that duplicity will need, which we will define as environment variables, include our Spaces Access Key and Secret, and our GPG public key ID and passphrase.

To begin, let’s create a hidden directory in our user’s home directory that will store the configuration file:

  1. mkdir ~/.duplicity

Next, let’s create a file called .env_variables.conf to define our variables, which we will do using export statements. These statements will make the variables available to programs for later use. Open the file by typing:

  1. nano ~/.duplicity/.env_variables.conf

Within the file, set your Spaces Access Key and Secret, as well as your GPG public key ID and passphrase:

export AWS_ACCESS_KEY_ID="your-access-key"
export AWS_SECRET_ACCESS_KEY="your-secret-key"
export GPG_KEY="your-GPG-public-key-id"
export PASSPHRASE="your-GPG-key-passphrase"

Save and close the file when you are finished.

We can now set permissions on the file to ensure that only our current non-root user has read and write access:

  1. chmod 0600 ~/.duplicity/.env_variables.conf

Make these variables available for use in the current Bash session by typing:

  1. source ~/.duplicity/.env_variables.conf

Next, we will run duplicity to create a manual, full backup of our ~/sammy_backups directory. Running duplicity without the full action will create an initial full backup, followed by incremental backups. We will create a full backup in our first use of the command, but should you wish to create another full manual backup of this directory, you would need to specify the full action.

Other options that we will define in our command include:

  • --verbosity: This will specify the level of information we would like in our output. We will specify info, which will provide more detail than the default notice setting.
  • --encrypt-sign-key: This will tell duplicity to encrypt to the public key in the pair we identified with your-GPG-public-key-id in the GPG_KEY variable. It will also tell duplicity to use the same identifier to enable the signing function.
  • --log-file: This option will specify a location for the log files that will also be available to other programs. This will give us a straightforward place to look in case we need to troubleshoot. We will specify the log file location as /home/sammy/.duplicity/info.log.

Finally, we will specify the directory we are backing up and our repository endpoint. We will back up the ~/sammy_backups directory in our user’s home directory. Our repository will be our Space, which we will define using the following information: s3://spaces_endpoint/bucket_name/. You can determine your endpoint and bucket name as follows: if the URL of your Space is https://sammys-bucket.nyc3.digitaloceanspaces.com, then sammys-bucket is your bucket name, and nyc3.digitaloceanspaces.com is your endpoint.

Our duplicity command will ultimately look like this:

  1. duplicity --verbosity info --encrypt-sign-key=$GPG_KEY --log-file /home/sammy/.duplicity/info.log /home/sammy/sammy_backups \
  2. s3://nyc3.digitaloceanspaces.com/sammys-bucket/

After running this command, we will see output like the following:

... --------------[ Backup Statistics ]-------------- StartTime 1522417021.39 (Fri Mar 30 13:37:01 2018) EndTime 1522417021.40 (Fri Mar 30 13:37:01 2018) ElapsedTime 0.01 (0.01 seconds) SourceFiles 2 SourceFileSize 4226 (4.13 KB) NewFiles 2 NewFileSize 4226 (4.13 KB) DeletedFiles 0 ChangedFiles 0 ChangedFileSize 0 (0 bytes) ChangedDeltaSize 0 (0 bytes) DeltaEntries 2 RawDeltaSize 130 (130 bytes) TotalDestinationSizeChange 955 (955 bytes) Errors 0 -------------------------------------------------

To check that the files uploaded to your Space as intended, you can navigate to your Spaces page in the DigitalOcean control panel to check that they are there.

Restoring Files

To test that we can restore our data, we will now remove our sample file and restore it from our repository. To restore files with Duplicity, we can use the --file-to-restore option. It is also necessary to reverse the order of items in our duplicity command: our repository URL will now act as the origin, and our backup directory will be the destination for our restored file.

Remove the file by typing:

  1. rm ~/sammy_backups/historical_sharks.txt

Check to make sure that the file was removed:

  1. cat ~/sammy_backups/historical_sharks.txt

You should see the following output:

cat: /home/sammy/sammy_backups/historical_sharks.txt: No such file or directory

Next, let’s restore this file from our Space. The --file-to-restore option allows us to specify the path of the file we would like to restore. This path should be relative to the directory that we have backed up; in our case, our relative path will be historical_sharks.txt. We will also reverse the order of our Space URL and backup directory to indicate that we are restoring the file from our repository:

  1. duplicity --verbosity info --encrypt-sign-key=$GPG_KEY --log-file /home/sammy/.duplicity/info.log --file-to-restore historical_sharks.txt \
  2. s3://nyc3.digitaloceanspaces.com/sammys-bucket /home/sammy/sammy_backups/historical_sharks.txt

You will see output like the following:

... Processing local manifest /home/sammy/.cache/duplicity/d9911d387bb9ee345a171141106ab714/duplicity-full.20180402T170008Z.manifest (195) Found 1 volumes in manifest Deleting /tmp/duplicity-e66MEL-tempdir/mktemp-_A24DP-6 Processed volume 1 of 1

Running cat again will output the contents of the restored historical_sharks.txt file:

  1. cat ~/sammy_backups/historical_sharks.txt
The ancient Megalodon shark reached lengths of up to 59 feet, and is widely regarded as one of history's most fearsome predators.

Now that we have created a manual backup of the ~/sammy_backups directory and restored data from our repository, we are ready to move on to automating the backup process.

Automating Backups

Automating the backup process can help ensure that the data in our ~/sammy_backups directory remains recoverable and up-to-date. We can use the cron job scheduler to create a backup schedule that will include a full backup each week and incremental backups otherwise. To learn more about using cron to schedule tasks, check out our tutorial on How To Schedule Routine Tasks With Cron and Anacron on a VPS.

First, let’s create a backup script in our ~/.duplicity directory:

  1. nano ~/.duplicity/.backup.sh

Within this file, we will first specify that this script will be run by the Bash shell:


Next, we will create a HOME variable to use with our source and duplicity commands. Be sure to replace the highlighted username, backup directory, and bucket name with your information:


source "$HOME/.duplicity/.env_variables.conf"

duplicity \
    --verbosity info \
    --encrypt-sign-key="$GPG_KEY" \
    --full-if-older-than 7D \
    --log-file "$HOME/.duplicity/info.log" \
    /home/sammy/sammy_backups \

The source and duplicity commands do the same work here that they did when we created our manual backup: source loads our environment variables into the current context, while duplicity creates encrypted tar volumes to send to our repository. Our options all remain the same, except for the addition of the --full-if-older-than option. Set at 7D, this option specifies that a full backup will happen each week, once the last full backup is older than seven days.

The final elements in our script will be unset commands that will remove our environment variables as a security measure:

unset GPG_KEY

The complete script will look like this:



source "$HOME/.duplicity/.env_variables.conf"

duplicity \
    --verbosity info \
    --encrypt-sign-key="$GPG_KEY" \
    --full-if-older-than 7D \
    --log-file "$HOME/.duplicity/info.log" \
    /home/sammy/sammy_backups \

unset GPG_KEY

When you are satisfied with the script, you can save and close the file. We’ll also set permissions to ensure that only our current non-sudo user will have the ability to read, write, and execute the file:

  1. chmod 0700 ~/.duplicity/.backup.sh

Finally, we can automate our backup schedule by editing our user’s crontab file. Open this file for editing by typing:

  1. crontab -e

Because this is our first time editing this file, we will be asked to choose an editor:

no crontab for root - using an empty one
Select an editor.  To change later, run 'select-editor'.
  1. /bin/ed
  2. /bin/nano        <---- easiest
  3. /usr/bin/vim.basic
  4. /usr/bin/vim.tiny
Choose 1-4 [2]: 

You can select 2 for nano, or enter the number corresponding to the editor of your choice.

At the bottom of the file, we will add a line to specify how often our script should run. To test its functionality, we can set our time interval to two minutes as follows:


*/2 * * * * /home/sammy/.duplicity/.backup.sh

Save and close the file. After two minutes, you can navigate to your Spaces page in the DigitalOcean control panel, where you should see incremental backup files. You can now modify the crontab file to specify the time interval you would like to use for your incremental backups.


In this tutorial, we have covered how to back up the contents of a specific directory to a Spaces repository. Using a configuration file to store our repository information, we created a manual backup of our data, which we tested by restoring a sample file, and an automated backup schedule.

For more information on Duplicity, you can check out the project website as well as the duplicity man page. This documentation covers Duplicity’s many features, and offers guidance on creating full system backups.

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Thanks for this tutorial, it’s still useful as of 12/2021. One thing has changed though - the apt default repo for duplicity has been updated to and the ppa approach seems to no longer work. These installation steps seem to be working for me… $ sudo apt update $ sudo apt install duplicity haveged python3-boto I tried to use the duplicity snap. It installed and worked well when called manually from the terminal. But I ran into lots of permission issues when attempting to use duplicity in shell scripts and crontab.

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