Netatalk does everything Apple Time Capsule does, for a lot less money

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From Time to Time

If you're a Mac user and would like the convenience of the Apple NAS Time Capsule hardware without the expense, you can build a low-cost alternative with a Raspberry Pi and an external hard drive.

Linux and the Raspberry Pi have worked fairly well with the Apple filesystem for a while now, so it's possible to add a Rasp Pi to your Apple network for use as a hardware backup solution. The latest version of the Netatalk library allows for Time Machine Backups on a Linux server without encroaching on the Mac system.

That Sinking Feeling

Eventually you will experience – or perhaps you have already experienced – a moment when you desperately wish you had a backup of critical data, such as when the spreadsheet with quarterly results for your employer crashes, or when an essay you have written is due, but you discover it is completely garbled. Many users proceed on the assumption that their computer will never malfunction, then they have to face the sad reality that they don't have a backup.

People in the Windows world have many backup programs from which to choose, ranging from those available free of charge to those used at the highest professional levels. Linux fans often bet on console tools like rsync or FSDump. The Apple world doesn't have as many applications as in Windows, but the internal backup for Apple applications is extremely well integrated into the operating system. The Time Machine backup software (see the "Time Machine/Capsule" box) arrived on the scene as part of Mac OS  X  10.5 ("Leopard") in 2007.

Time Machine/Capsule

If you have a Mac with an operating system newer than v10.5 and haven't taken a look at Time Machine, you should click on the icon that looks like a clock with a circular arrow around it in the right-hand menubar.

Time Machine makes it possible to get regularly scheduled snapshots of the entire filesystem or the parts of the system you choose. External hard drives or the Apple Time Capsule hardware [1] can be used as the backup medium.

The name "Time Capsule" obscures what is actually a straightforward NAS with an integrated WiFi adapter. NAS, or network-attached storage, is a self-powered network storage system, often with two to five disks, for private use that distinguishes itself with its quiet and energy-efficient operation.

Aside from lifestyle branding, a designer housing, and a kind of built-in sensuality, the Raspberry Pi can do everything that Time Capsule does.

In this article, I describe two ways to use the low-cost Raspberry Pi as an alternative to the much more expensive product built in Cupertino: One method is suitable for use by a highly experienced user who is not afraid to compile code, and another method uses pre-compiled binary packages accessible online.

Gathering the Goods

As a prerequisite to this project, you will need a Raspberry Pi. The early model  A with only 256MB of RAM is good enough, and a USB hard disk is an acceptable storage medium. An advanced user might want to consider a configuration that includes two USB hard disks to increase reliability through mirroring or for increased capacity.

You can connect the Rasp Pi to the network directly with an Ethernet cable or by using a WiFi dongle in the USB port. You will find a list of adapters that work well with the Raspberry Pi on the web  [2]. One possible source of information about setting up your Rasp Pi is an article published in Linux Pro Magazine and available online  [3].

Next, you will need a powered USB hub, because the voltage of the Raspberry Pi pushes the built-in USB port for external hard drives to their limits. During installation, you will also need a USB keyboard and a monitor with HDMI or composite video input.

Additionally, you boot your Rasp Pi from an operating system on an SD card. A card with 2GB capacity is sufficient for basic operation of the system. If you want to compile the software, you need an SD card with at least 4GB capacity.

A current version of Raspbian in the form of an image file  [4] will become your Raspberry Pi operating system. Finally, a FAT32-formatted USB stick helps during bootup, but it is not absolutely necessary.

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