My personal data is generally covered. Most of the time, it is either hosted somewhere else (github, Docs), or it is backed up using a straightforward process (Dropbox, NAS). Data rides through a crash or system upgrade just fine.

System configuration is another matter. Recovery after recovery, I’ve looked into mechanisms for a system configuration backup strategy that meets my needs. Each time, I’ve come to the conclusion that manual recovery is the best option I could find.

The traditional tools are just too heavyweight for me. Puppet, Chef, SaltStack, CFEngine … I’ve tried them all. Each requires a learning curve to get started, and each usually introduces topics I am just not interested in (masters, slaves, keys, dependencies, … Ruby). I need the capability rarely enough that there is relearning required with each session. For each, generating configuration recipes felt too much like software development. It should be easier. Or at least it needs to be easier for me.

At Ohio LinuxFest last weekend, Roberto Sánchez did a presentation that ended up being about etckeeper. This is definitely a step in the right direction for me. The one thing I’d say is that it may focus more on managing changes for potential rollback. I just want to define and restore quickly. It also would mix my services configurations together. I’d like to keep them separate.

Serendipitously, Reddit r/programming last week had a reference to the use of GNU stow for use in managing/backing up home directory configuration files. I could see this plus etckeeper solving my problem fine. Stow serves as a service-specific repository of system configuration, and etckeeper places it and /etc into a git repository.

But, for the moment I’ve settled on an even easier path - shell scripts. They live in an environment that I won’t forget before the next system crash. Generating scripts is only about as hard as writing a setup howto. Configuration is stored as edits rather than complete (version specific) files.

P.S. - Another option, cloud-init, is a strong contender. The format is simple enough, and many services let you use it to define configuration at VPS creation time. But, it still is yet another format, it addresses a cross-distribution compatibility problem that I just don’t care about, and it is not available everywhere (and would therefore need to be bootstrapped). I’ll stick to scripts for now.