Faking a Time Capsule with a GNU/Linux server

Apple MacOS’s Time Machine feature is a great backup solution for general desktop use, but has some annoying limitations such as only working with either locally attached storage devices or with Apple’s Time Capsule devices.

Whilst the Time Capsules aren’t bad devices, they offer a whole bunch of stuff I already have and don’t need – WiFi access point, ethernet router, and network attached storage and they’re not exactly cheap either. They also don’t help anyone wanting to backup to an off-site cloud server/VPS via a VPN.

So instead of a Time Capsule, I’m using a project called netatalk to allow a GNU/Linux server to provide an AFP file share to MacOS which acts as a Time Machine suitable target.

There’s an annoyance with Time Machine where it only officially works with AFP shares specially flagged as “Time Machine” shares. So whilst Apple has embraced SMB2 as the file sharing protocol of future use, you can’t use SMB2 for Time Machine backups (Well technically you can by enabling unsupported volumes in MacOS, but then you lack the ability to restore from backup via the MacOS recovery tools).

To make life easy, I’ve written a Puppet module that install netatalk and configures a Debian GNI/Linux server to act as a Time Capsule for all local users.

After installing the Puppet module (r10k or puppet module tools), you can simply define the directory and how much space to report to each client:

class { 'timemachine':
  location     => '/mnt/backup/timemachine',
  volsizelimit => '1000000', # 1TB per user backing up

To setup each MacOS machine, you will need to first connect to the share using Finder. You can do this with Finder -> Go -> Connect to Server and then entering afp://SERVERNAME and authenticating with your PAM credentials for the server.

After connecting, the share should now appear under Time Machine preferences. If you experience any issues connecting, check the /var/log/afpd.log file for debug information on the server – common issues include not having created the directories for the shares or having incorrect permissions on them.

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