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I have a system which runs an arcade machine. It has the regular swap and root partitions, but then I have an extra partition which I call data. Data holds many gigabytes of game content.

The idea is that if anything goes wrong with the Linux system, I should be able to restore it from a backup and leave /data intact.

My question is, what utility is best to backup and restore just the Linux system partitions? Can I just use dd to make an image of /dev/sda1 and /dev/sda2, for example? What about the MBR - Master Boot Record?

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For simple copying, using rsync to copy to your backup medium, as mentioned in the comments, is sufficient. If you want versioned backups and easier control, rsnapshot is a good choice.

However, for a system partition, there's often an easier option. Since most of the data comes unmodified from your distro's repositories, you can usually manage by simply backing up /etc, /var, and the list of installed packages (which is probably in /var).

Note that none of this will back up the MBR, but on a Linux system, MBR corruption usually results from a failed hard drive.

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