Using Restic with systemd on Linux

You can read the Russian version of this post here.

Restic, the simple backup program, is a fairly well-known piece of software. Designed to be simple to both use and script on any system, it doesn’t include any OS-specific setup examples, which is precisely what this post describes.

So what we’re trying to achieve here:

  1. Automated backup runs daily at 12:00 AM (or any configurable time).
  2. The backup includes only important configuration files and data stores.
  3. The backup also includes all PostgreSQL databases, restorable with psql -f.
  4. The backup expands to an unlimited number of repos on need.

This guide assumes we’re backing up to a rest-server instance running at The configuration should still be trivial to adapt to pretty much any storage provider. This guide also assumes you have already initialized a rest-server repo with restic init -r rest:

For this we will need two systemd services, two correspondent timers, and a single helper script.

Backing up files/directories

We’d rather not want to run restic as root for obvious reasons, so let’s create a dedicated user:

# sudo useradd -m -N -s /usr/sbin/nologin restic

To backup files, we’ll need this service1 along with its timer:


# this unit can be activated with a parameter, e.g. in
#   systemctl start restic@your-repo.service
# %I is "your-repo"
Description=Restic backup on %I

# runs restic backup on the files listed in /etc/restic/your-repo.files
ExecStart=/usr/local/bin/restic backup --files-from /etc/restic/%I.files
# source repo and password from /etc/restic/your-repo.env



# the timer, enabled as restic@your-repo.timer, will trigger
# restic@your-repo.service
Description=Run Restic at 12:00 AM

OnCalendar=*-*-* 0:00:00


The repo name is passed through an environment file in /etc/restic, read by systemd (systemd does this as root, and /etc/restic should really be only readable as root, so set permissions accordingly):



We also have to supply restic with a file/directory list to back up:



Backing up databases

This one is just a little less trivial.

Restic supports backing up data provided through stdin, so we can feed it with the output of pg_dumpall. The only limitation is that systemd runs whatever you specify in ExecStart with execve(3), and, to use output redirection, we’ll need a separate bash script:


#!/usr/bin/env bash

set -euo pipefail

/usr/bin/sudo -u postgres /usr/bin/pg_dumpall --clean \
    | gzip --rsyncable \
    | /usr/local/bin/restic backup --host $1 --stdin \
        --stdin-filename postgres-$1.sql.gz

To run pg_dumpall as postgres, we’ll need the following sudo rule in /etc/sudoers:

restic ALL=(postgres) NOPASSWD:/usr/bin/pg_dumpall --clean

The unit file is as trivial as this:


Description=Restic PostgreSQL backup on %I

ExecStart=/usr/local/bin/ %I


The timer isn’t really any different from the one we’ve already seen above:


Description=Run Restic on PostgreSQL at 12:00 AM

OnCalendar=*-*-* 0:00:00


Finishing up

Start the timers and enable their autostart at boot. Remember that your-repo is used to expand file paths in /etc/restic:

# systemctl enable --now restic@your-repo.timer
# systemctl enable --now restic-pg@your-repo.timer

Test whether the whole backup system is working:

# systemctl start restic@your-repo.service
# systemctl start restic-pg@your-repo.service

These unit files allow backing up to an unlimited number of repos as long as the relevant configuration is provided through /etc/restic/repo-name.{env,files}.

Recipe to backing up PostgreSQL in a Docker container used for the backup script was originally found on restic forum. The excellent systemd docs (systemd.service, systemd.timer) also helped a lot.

  1. A good catch by Geoffrey Brown: if you use instance names with dashes or other special symbols as documented in systemd.unit(5), you should be aware of escaping it performs on instance names; see “String Escaping for Inclusion in Unit Names” section for more details. You can also use the %i specifier which doesn’t escape instance names. ↩︎