Quick Start

This chapter will get you started with Borg and covers various use cases.

A step by step example

  1. Before a backup can be made, a repository has to be initialized:

    $ borg -r /path/to/repo rcreate --encryption=repokey-aes-ocb
  2. Back up the ~/src and ~/Documents directories into an archive called Monday:

    $ borg -r /path/to/repo create Monday ~/src ~/Documents
  3. The next day create a new archive called Tuesday:

    $ borg -r /path/to/repo create --stats Tuesday ~/src ~/Documents

    This backup will be a lot quicker and a lot smaller since only new, never before seen data is stored. The --stats option causes Borg to output statistics about the newly created archive such as the deduplicated size (the amount of unique data not shared with other archives):

    Repository: /path/to/repo
    Archive name: Tuesday
    Archive fingerprint: bcd1b53f9b4991b7afc2b339f851b7ffe3c6d030688936fe4552eccc1877718d
    Time (start): Sat, 2022-06-25 20:21:43
    Time (end):   Sat, 2022-06-25 20:21:43
    Duration: 0.07 seconds
    Utilization of max. archive size: 0%
    Number of files: 699
    Original size: 31.14 MB
    Deduplicated size: 502 B
  4. List all archives in the repository:

    $ borg -r /path/to/repo rlist
    Monday                               Sat, 2022-06-25 20:21:14 [b80e24d2...b179f298]
    Tuesday                              Sat, 2022-06-25 20:21:43 [bcd1b53f...1877718d]
  5. List the contents of the Monday archive:

    $ borg -r /path/to/repo list Monday
    drwxr-xr-x user   group          0 Mon, 2016-02-15 18:22:30 home/user/Documents
    -rw-r--r-- user   group       7961 Mon, 2016-02-15 18:22:30 home/user/Documents/Important.doc
  6. Restore the Monday archive by extracting the files relative to the current directory:

    $ borg -r /path/to/repo extract Monday
  7. Delete the Monday archive (please note that this does not free repo disk space):

    $ borg -r /path/to/repo delete -a Monday

    Please note the -a option here (short for --match-archives) which enables you to give a pattern to delete multiple archives, like -a 'sh:oldcrap-*'. You can also combine this with --first, --last and --sort-by. Be careful, always first use with --dry-run and --list!

  8. Recover disk space by compacting the segment files in the repo:

    $ borg -r /path/to/repo compact


Borg is quiet by default (it defaults to WARNING log level). You can use options like --progress or --list to get specific reports during command execution. You can also add the -v (or --verbose or --info) option to adjust the log level to INFO to get other informational messages.

Archives and repositories

A Borg archive is the result of a single backup (borg create). An archive stores a snapshot of the data of the files “inside” it. One can later extract or mount an archive to restore from a backup.

Repositories are filesystem directories acting as self-contained stores of archives. Repositories can be accessed locally via path or remotely via ssh. Under the hood, repositories contain data blocks and a manifest that tracks which blocks are in each archive. If some data hasn’t changed between backups, Borg simply references an already uploaded data chunk (deduplication).

Important note about free space

Before you start creating backups, ensure that there is always plenty of free space on the destination filesystem that has your backup repository (and also on ~/.cache). A few GB should suffice for most hard-drive sized repositories. See also Indexes / Caches memory usage.

Borg doesn’t use space reserved for root on repository disks (even when run as root). On file systems which do not support this mechanism (e.g. XFS) we recommend to reserve some space in Borg itself just to be safe by adjusting the additional_free_space setting (a good starting point is 2G):

borg config additional_free_space 2G

If Borg runs out of disk space, it tries to free as much space as it can while aborting the current operation safely, which allows the user to free more space by deleting/pruning archives. This mechanism is not bullet-proof in some circumstances [1].

If you do run out of disk space, it can be hard or impossible to free space, because Borg needs free space to operate - even to delete backup archives.

You can use some monitoring process or just include the free space information in your backup log files (you check them regularly anyway, right?).

Also helpful:

  • create a big file as a “space reserve”, that you can delete to free space

  • if you use LVM: use a LV + a filesystem that you can resize later and have some unallocated PEs you can add to the LV.

  • consider using quotas

  • use prune and compact regularly

Important note about permissions

To avoid permission issues (in your borg repository or borg cache), always access the repository using the same user account.

If you want to back up files of other users or the operating system, running borg as root likely will be required (otherwise you get Permission denied errors). If you only back up your own files, run it as your normal user (i.e. not root).

For a local repository always use the same user to invoke borg.

For a remote repository: always use e.g. ssh://borg@remote_host. You can use this from different local users, the remote user running borg and accessing the repo will always be borg.

If you need to access a local repository from different users, you can use the same method by using ssh to borg@localhost.

Important note about files changing during the backup process

Borg does not do anything about the internal consistency of the data it backs up. It just reads and backs up each file in whatever state that file is when Borg gets to it. On an active system, this can lead to two kinds of inconsistency:

  • By the time Borg backs up a file, it might have changed since the backup process was initiated

  • A file could change while Borg is backing it up, making the file internally inconsistent

If you have a set of files and want to ensure that they are backed up in a specific or consistent state, you must take steps to prevent changes to those files during the backup process. There are a few common techniques to achieve this.

  • Avoid running any programs that might change the files.

  • Snapshot files, filesystems, container storage volumes, or logical volumes. LVM or ZFS might be useful here.

  • Dump databases or stop the database servers.

  • Shut down virtual machines before backing up their disk image files.

  • Shut down containers before backing up their storage volumes.

For some systems, Borg might work well enough without these precautions. If you are simply backing up the files on a system that isn’t very active (e.g. in a typical home directory), Borg usually works well enough without further care for consistency. Log files and caches might not be in a perfect state, but this is rarely a problem.

For databases, virtual machines, and containers, there are specific techniques for backing them up that do not simply use Borg to back up the underlying filesystem. For databases, check your database documentation for techniques that will save the database state between transactions. For virtual machines, consider running the backup on the VM itself or mounting the filesystem while the VM is shut down. For Docker containers, perhaps docker’s “save” command can help.

Automating backups

The following example script is meant to be run daily by the root user on different local machines. It backs up a machine’s important files (but not the complete operating system) to a repository ~/backup/main on a remote server. Some files which aren’t necessarily needed in this backup are excluded. See borg help patterns on how to add more exclude options.

After the backup, this script also uses the borg prune subcommand to keep a certain number of old archives and deletes the others.

Finally, it uses the borg compact subcommand to remove deleted objects from the segment files in the repository to free disk space.

Before running, make sure that the repository is initialized as documented in Remote repositories and that the script has the correct permissions to be executable by the root user, but not executable or readable by anyone else, i.e. root:root 0700.

You can use this script as a starting point and modify it where it’s necessary to fit your setup.

Do not forget to test your created backups to make sure everything you need is backed up and that the prune command keeps and deletes the correct backups.


# Setting this, so the repo does not need to be given on the commandline:
export BORG_REPO=ssh://username@example.com:2022/~/backup/main

# See the section "Passphrase notes" for more infos.
export BORG_PASSPHRASE='XYZl0ngandsecurepa_55_phrasea&&123'

# some helpers and error handling:
info() { printf "\n%s %s\n\n" "$( date )" "$*" >&2; }
trap 'echo $( date ) Backup interrupted >&2; exit 2' INT TERM

info "Starting backup"

# Back up the most important directories into an archive named after
# the machine this script is currently running on:

borg create                         \
    --verbose                       \
    --filter AME                    \
    --list                          \
    --stats                         \
    --show-rc                       \
    --compression lz4               \
    --exclude-caches                \
    --exclude 'home/*/.cache/*'     \
    --exclude 'var/tmp/*'           \
    '{hostname}-{now}'              \
    /etc                            \
    /home                           \
    /root                           \


info "Pruning repository"

# Use the `prune` subcommand to maintain 7 daily, 4 weekly and 6 monthly
# archives of THIS machine. The '{hostname}-*' globbing is very important to
# limit prune's operation to this machine's archives and not apply to
# other machines' archives also:

borg prune                              \
    --list                              \
    --match-archives 'sh:{hostname}-*'  \
    --show-rc                           \
    --keep-daily    7                   \
    --keep-weekly   4                   \
    --keep-monthly  6


# actually free repo disk space by compacting segments

info "Compacting repository"

borg compact


# use highest exit code as global exit code
global_exit=$(( backup_exit > prune_exit ? backup_exit : prune_exit ))
global_exit=$(( compact_exit > global_exit ? compact_exit : global_exit ))

if [ ${global_exit} -eq 0 ]; then
    info "Backup, Prune, and Compact finished successfully"
elif [ ${global_exit} -eq 1 ]; then
    info "Backup, Prune, and/or Compact finished with warnings"
    info "Backup, Prune, and/or Compact finished with errors"

exit ${global_exit}

Pitfalls with shell variables and environment variables

This applies to all environment variables you want Borg to see, not just BORG_PASSPHRASE. TL;DR: always export your variable, and use single quotes if you’re unsure of the details of your shell’s expansion behavior. E.g.:

export BORG_PASSPHRASE='complicated & long'

This is because export exposes variables to subprocesses, which Borg may be one of. More on export can be found in the “ENVIRONMENT” section of the bash(1) man page.

Beware of how sudo interacts with environment variables. For example, you may be surprised that the following export has no effect on your command:

export BORG_PASSPHRASE='complicated & long'
sudo ./yourborgwrapper.sh  # still prompts for password

For more information, refer to the sudo(8) man page and env_keep in the sudoers(5) man page.


To debug what your borg process sees, find its PID (ps aux|grep borg) and then look into /proc/<PID>/environ.

Passphrase notes

If you use encryption (or authentication), Borg will ask you interactively for a passphrase to encrypt/decrypt the keyfile / repokey.

A passphrase should be a single line of text. Any trailing linefeed will be stripped.

Do not use empty passphrases, as these can be trivially guessed, which does not leave any encrypted data secure.

Avoid passphrases containing non-ASCII characters. Borg can process any unicode text, but problems may arise at input due to text encoding or differing keyboard layouts, so best just avoid non-ASCII stuff.

See: https://xkcd.com/936/

If you want to automate, you can supply the passphrase directly or indirectly with the use of environment variables.

Supply a passphrase directly:

# use this passphrase (use safe permissions on the script!):
export BORG_PASSPHRASE='my super secret passphrase'

Or delegate to an external program to supply the passphrase:

# use the "pass" password manager to get the passphrase:
export BORG_PASSCOMMAND='pass show backup'

# use GPG to get the passphrase contained in a gpg-encrypted file:
export BORG_PASSCOMMAND='gpg --decrypt borg-passphrase.gpg'

Or read the passphrase from an open file descriptor:


Using hardware crypto devices (like Nitrokey, Yubikey and others) is not directly supported by borg, but you can use these indirectly. E.g. if your crypto device supports GPG and borg calls gpg via BORG_PASSCOMMAND, it should just work.

Backup compression

The default is lz4 (very fast, but low compression ratio), but other methods are supported for different situations.

You can use zstd for a wide range from high speed (and relatively low compression) using N=1 to high compression (and lower speed) using N=22.

zstd is a modern compression algorithm and might be preferable over zlib and lzma.:

$ borg create --compression zstd,N arch ~

Other options are:

If you have a fast repo storage and you want minimum CPU usage, no compression:

$ borg create --compression none arch ~

If you have a less fast repo storage and you want a bit more compression (N=0..9, 0 means no compression, 9 means high compression):

$ borg create --compression zlib,N arch ~

If you have a very slow repo storage and you want high compression (N=0..9, 0 means low compression, 9 means high compression):

$ borg create --compression lzma,N arch ~

You’ll need to experiment a bit to find the best compression for your use case. Keep an eye on CPU load and throughput.

Repository encryption

You can choose the repository encryption mode at repository creation time:

$ borg rcreate --encryption=MODE

For a list of available encryption MODEs and their descriptions, please refer to borg rcreate.

If you use encryption, all data is encrypted on the client before being written to the repository. This means that an attacker who manages to compromise the host containing an encrypted repository will not be able to access any of the data, even while the backup is being made.

Key material is stored in encrypted form and can be only decrypted by providing the correct passphrase.

For automated backups the passphrase can be specified using the BORG_PASSPHRASE environment variable.


Be careful about how you set that environment, see this note about password environments for more information.


The repository data is totally inaccessible without the key and the key passphrase.

Make a backup copy of the key file (keyfile mode) or repo config file (repokey mode) and keep it at a safe place, so you still have the key in case it gets corrupted or lost. Also keep your passphrase at a safe place. You can make backups using borg key export subcommand.

If you want to print a backup of your key to paper use the --paper option of this command and print the result, or print this template if you need a version with QR-Code.

A backup inside of the backup that is encrypted with that key/passphrase won’t help you with that, of course.

Remote repositories

Borg can initialize and access repositories on remote hosts if the host is accessible using SSH. This is fastest and easiest when Borg is installed on the remote host, in which case the following syntax is used:

$ borg -r ssh://user@hostname:port/path/to/repo rcreate ...

Note: please see the usage chapter for a full documentation of repo URLs.

Remote operations over SSH can be automated with SSH keys. You can restrict the use of the SSH keypair by prepending a forced command to the SSH public key in the remote server’s authorized_keys file. This example will start Borg in server mode and limit it to a specific filesystem path:

command="borg serve --restrict-to-path /path/to/repo",restrict ssh-rsa AAAAB3[...]

If it is not possible to install Borg on the remote host, it is still possible to use the remote host to store a repository by mounting the remote filesystem, for example, using sshfs:

$ sshfs user@hostname:/path/to /path/to
$ borg -r /path/to/repo rcreate ...
$ fusermount -u /path/to

You can also use other remote filesystems in a similar way. Just be careful, not all filesystems out there are really stable and working good enough to be acceptable for backup usage.

Restoring a backup

Please note that we describe only the most basic commands and options here. Refer to the command reference to see more.

To restore, work on the same machine as the same user that was used to create the backups of the wanted files. Doing so avoids issues such as:

  • confusion relating to paths

  • mapping of user/group names to user/group IDs

  • permissions

You likely already have a working borg setup there, including perhaps:

  • an environment variable for the key passphrase (for encrypted repos),

  • a keyfile for the repo (not needed for repokey mode),

  • a ssh key for the repo server (not needed for locally mounted repos),

  • a valid borg cache for that repo (quicker than cache rebuild).

The user might be:

  • root (if full backups, backups including system stuff or multiple users’ files were made)

  • some specific user using sudo to execute borg as root

  • some specific user (if backups of that user’s files were made)

A borg backup repository can be either:

  • in a local directory (like e.g. a locally mounted USB disk)

  • on a remote backup server machine that is reachable via ssh (client/server)

If the repository is encrypted, you will also need the key and the passphrase (which is protecting the key).

The key can be located:

  • in the repository (repokey mode).

    Easy, this will usually “just work”.

  • in the home directory of the user who made the backup (keyfile mode).

    This may cause a bit more effort:

    • if you have just lost that home directory and you first need to restore the borg key (e.g. from the separate backup you made of it or from another user or machine accessing the same repository).

    • if you first must find out the correct machine / user / home directory (where the borg client was run to make the backups).

The passphrase for the key has been either:

  • entered interactively at backup time (not practical if backup is automated / unattended).

  • acquired via some environment variable driven mechanism in the backup script (look there for BORG_PASSPHRASE, BORG_PASSCOMMAND, etc. and just do it like that).

There are 2 ways to restore files from a borg backup repository:

  • borg mount - use this if:

    • you don’t know exactly which files you want to restore

    • you don’t know which archive contains the files (in the state) you want

    • you need to look into files / directories before deciding what you want

    • you need a relatively low volume of data restored

    • you don’t care for restoring stuff that FUSE mount does not implement yet (like special fs flags, ACLs)

    • you have a client with good resources (RAM, CPU, temporary disk space)

    • you would rather use some filemanager to restore (copy) files than borg extract shell commands

  • borg extract - use this if:

    • you know precisely what you want (repo, archive, path)

    • you need a high volume of files restored (best speed)

    • you want a as-complete-as-it-gets reproduction of file metadata (like special fs flags, ACLs)

    • you have a client with low resources (RAM, CPU, temp. disk space)

Example with borg mount:

# open a new, separate terminal (this terminal will be blocked until umount)

# now we find out the archive names we have in the repo:
borg rlist

# mount one archive from a borg repo:
borg mount -a myserver-system-2019-08-11 /mnt/borg

# alternatively, mount all archives from a borg repo (slower):
borg mount /mnt/borg

# it may take a while until you will see stuff in /mnt/borg.

# now use another terminal or file browser and look into /mnt/borg.
# when finished, umount to unlock the repo and unblock the terminal:
borg umount /mnt/borg

Example with borg extract:

# borg extract always extracts into current directory and that directory
# should be empty (borg does not support transforming a non-empty dir to
# the state as present in your backup archive).
mkdir borg_restore
cd borg_restore

# now we find out the archive names we have in the repo:
borg rlist

# we could find out the archive contents, esp. the path layout:
borg list myserver-system-2019-08-11

# we extract only some specific path (note: no leading / !):
borg extract myserver-system-2019-08-11 path/to/extract

# alternatively, we could fully extract the archive:
borg extract myserver-system-2019-08-11

# now move the files to the correct place...

Difference when using a remote borg backup server:

It is basically all the same as with the local repository, but you need to refer to the repo using a ssh:// URL.

In the given example, borg is the user name used to log into the machine backup.example.org which runs ssh on port 2222 and has the borg repo in /path/to/repo.

Instead of giving a FQDN or a hostname, you can also give an IP address.

As usual, you either need a password to log in or the backup server might have authentication set up via ssh authorized_keys (which is likely the case if unattended, automated backups were done).

borg -r ssh://borg@backup.example.org:2222/path/to/repo mount /mnt/borg
# or
borg -r ssh://borg@backup.example.org:2222/path/to/repo extract archive