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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?

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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".

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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

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.

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4  
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.

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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.

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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!

/usr/local
/opt
/root

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.

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