Using SpiderOak

SpiderOak provides online backup, synchronization, sharing, and storage. The first two GB of online storage is free; paying customers get more. It’s my choice for backup.

INSTALLATION
Sign up (free) and download the SpiderOak client for Windows, Mac, or Linux. Install in the usual manner for your platform. Not all Linux distributions are officially supported, but SpiderOak works fine on every unsupported distro I’ve tried.

Disclosure: The signup link above contains a referral code. By using it, you will receive an additional gigabyte of storage at no cost, and so will my girlfriend, who is then reminded of what an awesome boyfriend she’s got. So we all win.

Some supported Linux distributions (e.g. openSUSE) are not offered on the main download page. If you can’t find what you need, consult the complete download list.

INITIAL SETUP
First launch of the application takes you through a self-explanatory set-up wizard. The default settings are fine for getting started, but I like to go to Preferences and tweak things. Non-default settings I like are:

  • Interface – Launch minimized: Yes.
  • Interface – Show splash screen at startup: No.
  • Interface – Launch at OS startup: Yes.
  • Interface – Ask for password at startup: As appropriate. I select yes unless the computer is not portable and is kept in a secure area.
  • Backup – Don’t backup files larger than 50 MB.
  • Backup – Exclude files and folders: As appropriate; refer to the exclusion reference. I find it helpful to document for future reference appropriate exclusions for the applications and platforms I use.
  • Backup – Enable preview generation.
  • General – Location for downloaded folders/files: As desired.

Go to Back Up and select the directories and files you want to back up. I enable the “show hidden files” toggle first. Click on “Save”.

SYNCHRONIZING DIRECTORIES
You can synchronize directories between devices, or even between locations on the same device (for example, an external memory device and your hard disk). For illustration purposes I’ll consider the simple case of synchronizing a directory between two computers, which I will uncreatively call Source and Target.

On Source, open the SpiderOak client and back up the directory to be synchronized. On Target, create an empty directory to contain the synchronized data on the target computer, and in the SpiderOak client mark that directory for backup. Finally, in the SpiderOak client on either Source or Target, go to Sync, press New, and follow the instructions.

Synchronization is very simple to set up, but there are a few cases that merit special consideration: excluding files or subdirectories from synchronization, cross-platform synchronization, and synchronizing an individual file.

ONGOING USE
One of SpiderOak’s strengths is that it retains historical versions of files. The flip side to this is that your used space will increase over time as historical versions accumulate, and you will want to keep an eye on this. The SpiderOak client can generate useful statistics for this purpose. Be aware that in the stats output, directories are reported non-recursively. For example, the reported size of directory /foo/ does not include the size of subdirectory /foo/bar/.

RESTORING FILES FROM BACKUP
Using the desktop client
TODO: Finish this section. It’s pretty intuitive, however.

Using the web interface
Log in to the web interface (JavaScript must be enabled for spideroak.com). Once logged in, you can browse and download your data. Use the desktop client when possible, as the web interface is less secure.

TIPS AND TRICKS
Linux
SpiderOak’s per-user files are at ~/.SpiderOak/. For clarity’s sake I shall refer to this as the appdata directory.

Linux users can run SpiderOak on startup at low priority. Find where SpiderOak is being called at login and change the command from SpiderOak to nice SpiderOak. When run this way, SpiderOak never slows down my box.

On Linux, SpiderOak runs with the permissions of the user that spawned it (see ps u | grep Spider). This implies that if that user doesn’t have read permission for a given file, SpiderOak can’t back it up. To work around this, set that file’s read permission to include the user running SpiderOak. For example, I wanted to back up /boot/grub/menu.lst, which is owned by root and has default permissions of 600. I created the group “backup” and added myself as a member of the group. I then assigned menu.lst to the backup group and changed its permissions to 640.

Windows
SpiderOak’s per-user files are at %sysdrive%\Users\USER\AppData\Roaming\SpiderOak\ on Windows Vista and later. I shall refer to this as the appdata directory. Recall that %sysdrive%\Users\USER\AppData\ is a hidden directory.

System administrators who fear that end users will be tempted to monkey with the settings and break things if SpiderOak calls too much attention to itself can conceal it.

General
It is preferable to sign in to the SpiderOak user forums via the desktop client (right-click on taskbar icon, then Help – User Forums). This fails for me if the network is being heavily used; temporarily throttling all other network traffic usually solves the issue.

When SpiderOak appears to delete files during a sync, they are in fact moved to the sync subdirectory of the appdata directory. You can sometimes recover them here.

KEEPING UP TO DATE
On supported platforms, SpiderOak should keep itself up to date using your operating system’s usual methods. For Debian (and perhaps other Linux distributions) SpiderOak maintains their own repository which is set up in your package manager when the client is installed.

On unsupported platforms, keeping up to date becomes your responsibility. Follow the release notes feed and manually upgrade as stable versions are released. Note that the release notes feed will mention new beta versions, but the download page by default will offer the latest stable version. For something as critical as backup, most people should stick to stable versions. But if you want to slide down the razor’s cutting edge, get your betas here.

TODO: Release notes feed URL above is broken. Fix it.

BACKUP CONSIDERATIONS
If you’re just testing SpiderOak, then you probably have an existing backup solution in place. You will want to exclude SpiderOak’s system directory from it, and exclude your existing solution’s system directory from SpiderOak.

To perform a clean reinstall of SpiderOak, uninstall the client, delete the SpiderOak system directory, and reinstall the client. On Windows, rebooting the computer before reinstalling would be wise.

TODO: Write a separate article describing sync-based backup solutions generally and discuss there what to back up and what to exclude.

There’s a lot more you can do with SpiderOak, but this covers my needs and experiences.

These notes refer to SpiderOak 5.0 and were last updated 21 December 2013.

REFERENCES
Review and walkthrough of SpiderOak
SpiderOak manual and video tutorials
If SpiderOak does not meet your needs, there are alternatives

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About Warren Post

So far: Customer support guy, jungle guide, IT consultant, beach bum, entrepreneur, teacher, diplomat, over-enthusiastic cyclist. Tomorrow: who knows?
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