Unix & Linux Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for users of Linux, FreeBSD and other Un*x-like operating systems. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

What are the directories one should back up, in order to have a backup of all user-generated files?

From a vanilla debian install, I can do enough apt to get the packages that I want. So if I don't want to backup the entire system, where all in the filesystem do user-generated configuration and data files reside?

share|improve this question
up vote 8 down vote accepted

It depends on what you mean by "user-generated". Most of the configuration you will have are about services/daemons and applications running on your system. Most of them put their configuration in /etc. The user-based applications have their configuration in your home directory (usually in a application directory). But you can have some applications that also store their data in /var/lib or /var/spool.

So the answer, is: "it depends on what you're running on your machine".

share|improve this answer
you forgot /home – xenoterracide Aug 23 '10 at 13:52
hu, no, I wrote "The user-based applications have their configuration in your home directory". – Luc Stepniewski Aug 23 '10 at 14:59
I really think that this question should end in something like a list of "needed folders" plus "optional" ones, plus your own files. By example, a list of the opposite could be good, so, folders you don't need to keep, like /dev, /mnt, /sys, etc. – erm3nda May 17 at 2:32

You'll be backing up some 'garbage' doing this... but if you just backup all of /home, /etc, and /var/ you should have everything (unless you know you put something somewhere else). You'll want to leave out /var/tmp, /var/run/, /var/lock for sure. After that I'd read Luc's reply.

share|improve this answer
How about /root? – Tik0 Dec 26 '14 at 15:02
or /opt or /usr/local ? – tgharold Apr 3 at 17:25

In short, you want to backup /home (generally where user-generated files reside), /etc and /usr/local. The last two will backup your configuration files. I would recommend using some backup software like sbackup which does what you need and is easy to use.

share|improve this answer

This depends on applications and services you installed, and what version of Linux you are using. Most settings are in /etc, so this is an important folder to backup.

share|improve this answer

A few other directories to keep in mind - most people won't have anything in these, or they might not even exist, but in some cases, you might find something important!


On my system, /usr/local has some custom system scripts in it, /opt has some games that were installed by downloaded packages (i.e. not .deb packages) and /root has a few configuration files that get used by the admin user.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.