Backing Up Dotfiles

After hearing about it for months on Security Now, I finally decided to give Carbonite a try. I’d been trying to decide between CrashPlan and Carbonite for far too long and the fact that Carbonite supports a pod cast I enjoy finally put me over the edge.

Carbonite, like many other automated backup solutions, doesn’t provide support for dotfiles. Dropbox and Github were options; I took a good long look at Ben Alman’s dotfiles project and a few others, but found they focused more on dotfile management and new machine bootstrapping and didn’t offer much in the way of securing sensitive content.

Dot Vault is Born

All I wanted was a secure storage method that would allow me to turn all of my dotfiles into one single encrypted file that I could backup, sync, or share anyway I chose without needing to first clear it of sensitive content. My requirements were simple:

  • I tell the tool where the dotfiles are, rather than bring the dotfiles to the tool.
  • The tool outputs a single secure vault file
  • The tool can import a vault and restore the files it contains, without needing the config file that generated it.
  • The tool’s commands can be automated using cron to ensure my dotfile vault is always up to date.

You Get the Dotfiles

Most of my dotfiles are in my home directory, but sometimes they’re elsewhere, and I didn’t want that to matter. The straightforward new-line delimited path file ala .gitignore is a format I’m fond of, so that’s how the configuration .dotvault file is formated.

Encrypted Output

I don’t like having to keep one edited version of a file with sensitive information removed just for backup purposes. I want to be able to backup the file, exactly as it sits, exactly where it sits, without having to do a thing. A single encrypted file as output seemed the only way to accomplish this

Self Restoring Import

I liked the idea of an encrypted file that knew where all of its content was supposed to go and put it there. I opted for a string replacement routine to keep the tar file from containing several “placeholder” directories only responsible only for preserving the integrity of longer paths.


I wanted to be able to setup a cron job to ensure that my backup was always getting the latest data.

How It Works

Dot Vault has an extensive readme all about how to use it and how vaults are created.

Other Applications

Now that I’m on the other side of this project I guess there’s nothing to say that you couldn’t use dot vault to create all kinds of aggregate, secure, “self restoring” backup files. I suppose I’ll have to extend it to accept a dotvault configuration file via the command line in the next release.

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04 November 2013