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Nicholas Hubbard
Nicholas Hubbard

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How I use Yabsm to Manage my Btrfs Snapshots

I am the author of Yabsm (yet another btrfs snapshot manager), which is written in Perl, and I will explain how I use Yabsm to manage my Btrfs snapshots.

This article is meant to supplement the official documentation linked above, and assumes a basic understanding of Linux's Btrfs filesystem.

Please note that Yabsm can be configured to suit many different use cases other than the one described here.

Snapshots vs Backups

Before we go on, let's clear up the difference between a snapshot and a backup.

A snapshot is a read-only nested subvolume created with a command such as btrfs subvolume snapshot -r $SUBVOLUME $DEST. SNAPSHOTS ARE NOT RELIABLE BACKUPS! If a subvolume is corrupted then all snapshots of that subvolume will also be corrupted.

A backup is an incremental backup sent to some location via Btrfs's send/receive commands. These backups will not be corrupted if the subvolume being backed up is corrupted.

My Btrfs Filesystem

I like to have just one top-level Btrfs subvolume mounted at /. This allows me to snapshot my entire system (excluding nested subvolumes) by running btrfs subvolume snapshot -r / $DEST.

My Yabsm Config

My configuration is based on the philosophy that because snapshots are both valuable and cheap, it makes sense to take a lot of snapshots.

Here is my /etc/yabsm.conf:


subvol root_subvol {

snap root {


ssh_backup slackmac {


local_backup easystore {

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Yabsm Dir

I use the traditional /.snapshots/yabsm directory as my yabsm_dir, which is the location that my snapshots will reside. Yabsm will also use this directory for storing data necessary for performing SSH and local backups.


As I mentioned earlier, I only have one top-level Btrfs subvolume, so I only need to define one subvol in my Yabsm config, which I name root_subvol.


I define one snap named root that tells Yabsm I want to take snapshots of root_subvol in the 5minute, hourly, and daily timeframe categories.

In the 5minute timeframe category I keep 36 snapshots. This lets me go to any state of my machine in the last 3 hours in 5 minute increments. I use the 5minute category because it gives me a valuable safety net. How many times have you broken your code that was working 20 minutes ago? If you take 5minute snapshots then you can easily go back to the state of that code 20 minutes ago.

In the hourly timeframe I keep 72 snapshots, which allows me to go back 3 days in hourly increments. How many times have you broken code that was working 2 days ago? If you take hourly snapshots (and keep enough of them), you can go back through the state of your machine from 2 days ago, in 1 hour increments.

In the daily timeframe category I keep 62 snapshots taken at midnight (23:59) and midafternoon (15:00). This gives me two snapshots per day in the last month.

Please note that there is also a weekly and monthly timeframe category.

SSH Backup

I define one ssh_backup named slackmac that backs up my system to my old MacBook running Slackware.

The ssh_dest value is set to slackmac, which is a host defined in the yabsm user's $HOME/.ssh/config file. (Yabsm runs as a daemon process, using the special username yabsm.)

The dir value is set to the directory on slackmac where the backups will be located.

I perform this ssh_backup only in the daily timeframe category, backing up every night at midnight. I keep 365 of these backups so I can go back an entire year.

Local Backup

I define one local_backup named easystore that backs up my system to my EasyStore external hard drive.

The hard drive is mounted at /mnt/easystore, and I keep my backups in the /backups/yabsm-slacktop directory on the hard drive.

Just like my slackmac ssh_backup, I perform my local_backup only in the daily timeframe category, every night at midnight.

Finding Snapshots

Yabsm provides the find command that I use to jump around to different snapshots and backups. The find command takes two arguments, the first is the name of any of your snaps, ssh_backups, or local_backups. The second argument is a query. The different kinds of queries are all documented in the link above.

Instead of repeating the documentation, let's break down a practical example of the find command's usage.

How many times have you broken code that worked 30 minutes ago? Because I take 5minute snapshots I can easily get back the state of the code 30 minutes ago.

An example:

$ diff "$(yabsm find root back-30-mins)/$HOME/projects/foo/" $HOME/projects/foo/
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This command will show the diff output of the $HOME/projects/foo/ file with this same file that was snapshotted 30 minutes ago. We can use this output to help figure out what we messed up.

The command yabsm find root back-30-mins will output the path to a snapshot for the snap named root that was taken 30 minutes ago. In the example we use our shell's parameter expansion feature to create a string that appends the path to to the output of the yabsm find command. This is a powerful pattern!

The find command can do more than find a snapshot taken N units ago, it can also:

  • Find the newest or oldest snapshot/backup.
  • Find a snapshot/backup taken on a specific day and time.
  • Find all the snapshots/backups taken before or after a certain time.
  • Find all the snapshots/backups taken between two times.
  • Find all snapshots/backups.

The output of yabsm find --help shows some examples:

usage: yabsm <find|f> [--help] [<SNAP|SSH_BACKUP|LOCAL_BACKUP> <QUERY>]

see the section "Finding Snapshots" in 'man yabsm' for a detailed explanation on
how to find snapshots and backups.

    yabsm find home_snap back-10-hours
    yabsm f root_ssh_backup newest
    yabsm f home_local_backup oldest
    yabsm f home_snap 'between b-10-mins 15:45'
    yabsm f root_snap 'after back-2-days'
    yabsm f root_local_backup 'before b-14-d'
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Yabsm is a powerful tool for managing your Btrfs snapshots. If you are interested in using Yabsm, then I recommend you consult the official documentation.

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