So, I have a tape drive, and use it to permanently archive some stuff (old projects). These are "copy once" things, no versioning/incremental backups/etc. Though of course, new projects might be added to a tape later on.

I use tar for this (GNU tar 1.29 on Ubuntu 18.04):

tar --create --verbose --verbose --blocking-factor=128 --checkpoint=10000  
 --checkpoint-action="echo=[%{%F %T}t] [%s] #%u: %T" --format=posix
 --label="`date -Iseconds`" --totals --multi-volume --file=/dev/nst0 <Folders to backup>

Since this leaves me with a bunch of tapes that I have to manually keep track of, I wonder if there are common tools to catalogue those tapes, and maybe even keep track of stuff like the blocking factor, etc.

I know I can manually run a tar --list into a file and keep notes, which is my current approach, but before I start off wrong, I figure I ask.

I am not looking at "big" programs like bacula/bareos and the like, mainly because I want to be able to restore with just the tape in hand and a brand new *NIX system. With tar, I know that I can just scan every tape to find what I need in an emergency. (But I'd like to avoid that, hence the question)

  • 1
    I cannot recommend your gtar usage since gtar is known to reject follow up tapes from multi volume archives with a probability of ~ 5%. Also note that your command happily archives long pathnames that gnu tar later rejects to restore. Did you think about whether you really like to use gtarfor backups?
    – schily
    Nov 15, 2019 at 10:07
  • @schily Thanks! Haven't heard of that, that's interesting. Does that apply to posix-format as well? tar --show-defaults says it's using gnu format by default, which is documented to have incompatible extensions. I was hoping that by using POSIX.1-2001, I get a broad compatibility with different systems (while also supporting large files). Do you recommend something else that runs on Linux (and optionally, BSD)?
    – Michael Stum
    Nov 15, 2019 at 18:22
  • The main problem with gtar is that it is not cleanly written and does not correctly control the use of features based on a current archive format. I recommend star that is recent in schilytools. If you like to verify that gtar does not support long pathnames, try to extract the file star/testscripts/longpath.tar.bz2 using star and gtar.
    – schily
    Nov 16, 2019 at 11:26
  • @schily star doesn't support multi-volume archives in pax format - is that a limitation of the pax standard? The output (along with -block-number) is pretty good for my cataloging needs, so that's neat. experimenting with this command line for now: star -c artype=xstar -block-number blocks=128 file=/dev/st0 -fifo -fifostats fs=1g -multivol -time -v -v VOLHDR="``date -Iseconds``" <Folders>
    – Michael Stum
    Nov 16, 2019 at 21:22
  • The pax format is strictly POSIX compliant and does not impmement extensions. For backups, I recommend the option -dump that switches to the exustar format plus additional meta data. A blocksize of 128 is not supported by all hardware, 126 is recommended for best portability. -fifo is the default since 30 years. Make sure to use at least release 1.6.1, since before there have been some hangs in the fifo on Linux.
    – schily
    Nov 17, 2019 at 11:06

1 Answer 1


Following the discussion in the comments, I went with star, which gave me a good output using -block-number -v -v VOLHDR="`date -Iseconds`". I can use this as a catalogue.

block         0: a   0   0 V---------  root/root Nov 18 02:26 2019 2019-11-18T02:26:47-05:00 --Volume Header--
block         3: a       0 drwxr-xr-x   2 root/root Nov 18 02:25 2019 ./
block         6: a 17656337143 -rwxr-xr-x   1 root/root Dec 22 13:20 2016 Project1.zip

I can also extract the tape with either star or GNU tar (without some of the extended attributes - but that's fine, this is my "in case of an apocalypse" fallback).

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