Setting up backup (mirror) repositories on GitHub

For the impatient

Once the preliminary set-up is out the way, adding new backups is as easy as:

# given local user $GIT_USER, $GITHUB_USER, and $GITHUB_REPO
cd /path/to/repo
sudo -u $GIT_USER git remote add --mirror github$GITHUB_USER/$GITHUB_REPO.git

# either wait for the cron job to propagate the changes, or...
sudo -u $GIT_USER -s -H
git push github


I typically work with a few of local repositories (one on my old iMac desktop machine, another on my old PowerBook laptop, and another on a USB stick) and one central, authoritative repo. This article talks about adding another remote repo, hosted at GitHub, to serve as a backup/mirror:

   "authoritative"                            backup/mirror
      bare repo   ------------------------->    bare repo
  (       push --mirror          (GitHub)
          | push
          |                   pull
     desktop repo    -------------------->      laptop repo
  active development <-------------------- occasional development
        |   ^                 pull
        |   |
   pull |   | pull
        |   |
        v   |
    USB stick repo
occasional development

In "Setting up backup (mirror) repositories on Gitorious" I describe adding an additional backup/mirror repo.

It should be noted that these "backups" are intended to provide some data redundancy but there are not intended to protect against data loss in the "authoritative" repo caused by user stupidity (for example, destructive re-writing of history, or deleting branches).

In the event of user stupidity, the mirrors will be duly updated and the data will be truly gone: branches deleted from the "authoritative" repo will be deleted on the mirrors automatically from within a cron job.

The user (me) should only ever be pushing out fast-forward merges to the "authoritative" repo, and never rolling back or rewriting history. Basically if you try to do a git push to such a repo and Git warns you that you can't push without forcing, then you shouldn't be pushing. Instead, pull, resolve conflicts if necessary, and push again; or perhaps rethink what you're trying to do.

Setting up a private/public key pair

This step needs to only be performed once because the we'll be using the same key pair for all repositories.

We will need to run with elevated privileges because we want to execute commands as another user (the user Git runs as):

$ sudo -i

Switch to the user's home directory:

# cd /path/to/git/home

Create the .ssh directory (only if it does not already exist; it most likely does if you've been pushing into the repo via SSH):

# sudo -u user mkdir .ssh
# chmod 700 .ssh
# cd .ssh

If there isn't a key pair already, make one thusly:

# sudo -u user ssh-keygen -t dsa
Generating public/private dsa key pair.
Enter file in which to save the key (/path/to/git/home/.ssh/id_dsa): 
Enter passphrase (empty for no passphrase): 
Enter same passphrase again: 
Your identification has been saved in /path/to/git/home/.ssh/id_dsa.
Your public key has been saved in /path/to/git/home/.ssh/
The key fingerprint is:

A note about passphraseless key files: Seeing as this key is only for pushing to the backup/mirror repository, and you want such backups to run automatically (unattended), and you're not going to be around every time the server reboots to feed a passphrase into ssh-agent, and the backup is not supposed to be "authoritative" (it's just there for some data redundancy) so you literally don't care about security, you might want to hit "enter" for no passphrase above.

  1. Visit:
  2. Click on the "add another public key" link
  3. Copy and paste the contents of /path/to/git/home/.ssh/
  4. Assign it a descriptive name like ""

See also

Optional setup

I also added a block like this to my ~/.ssh/config; it's not strictly necessary but I think it's nice to be explicit:

  IdentityFile /path/to/git/home/.ssh/id_dsa
  User git

With this set-up in place you have the option of specifying the repository using:

Instead of the longer:

Creating the repository on GitHub

  1. Log in to GitHub
  2. Under "Your Repositories", click "New Repository"
  3. Fill out the "Project Name", "Description" and "Homepage URL" fields:
    1. "Project Name", for example, might be something like "Wikitext"
    2. "Description" could be something like "Mirror of the official Wikitext repository at"
    3. "Homepage URL", for example, could be something like
  4. Turn off the "Wiki", "Issues" and "Downloads" features (that functionality is already provided on the site)

Setting up a README file

If your tree includes an optional README at the top-level it will be displayed by GitHub. Various formats like README.rdoc, README.txt will also work (see here for details).

Pushing to GitHub for the first time

In the source repository, some initial setup is required.

For example, for GitHub username "wincent" and repo "Wikitext.git":

# sudo -u user git remote add --mirror github

That's the incantation that we'll eventually use, but for now we'll do it without the --mirror switch just to demonstrate what happens:

# sudo -u user git remote add github

(We run as the Git user to that any files, if they need to be created, have the correct ownership. Later on we'll see how adding the --mirror switch gives us the ideal behaviour for a purely backup repository.)

We can then do:

# sudo -u user git push github master

Or even:

# sudo -u user git push --all github
# sudo -u user git push --tags github

If this is the first time you've pushed you'll see something like.

The authenticity of host ' (' can't be established.
RSA key fingerprint is 16:27:ac:a5:76:28:2d:36:63:1b:56:4d:eb:df:a6:48.
Are you sure you want to continue connecting (yes/no)? yes
Warning: Permanently added ',' (RSA) to the list of known hosts.

If you see an error like the following, it's likely that you have some kind of problem with your PATH:

fatal: exec pack-objects failed.
error: pack-objects died with strange error
error: failed to push some refs to ''

This is not the first time I've had problems with Git as a result of my decision to install it under /usr/local/ rather than /usr/ (see "Upgrading to Git 1.5.4"). The problem here is that sudo can find and run the git command because /usr/local/bin is in the PATH of the user running sudo, but git running as the Git user itself cannot find git-pack-objects because it is running with an emaciated PATH (/bin:/usr/bin).

Adding /usr/local/bin to the PATH solves the problem. With the following in /path/to/git/home/.bashrc:

export PATH

The push now works:

# sudo -s -H -u user
$ echo $PATH
$ git push github master
Counting objects: 2840, done.
Compressing objects: 100% (849/849), done.
Writing objects: 100% (2840/2840), 4.05 MiB | 1736 KiB/s, done.
Total 2840 (delta 2015), reused 2680 (delta 1904)
 * [new branch]      master -> master

Note how we need a shell (-s) which sources the .bashrc in order for this PATH setting to come into effect.

Updating all branches and tags at once

The git-push man page describes the handy --mirror option that perfectly fits our usage model:

Instead of naming each ref to push, specifies that all refs under $GIT_DIR/refs/ (which includes but is not limited to refs/heads/, refs/remotes/, and refs/tags/) be mirrored to the remote repository. Newly created local refs will be pushed to the remote end, locally updated refs will be force updated on the remote end, and deleted refs will be removed from the remote end. This is the default if the configuration option remote.<remote>.mirror is set.

The --mirror option has the advantage that the GitWeb won't show tags for the github/master (etc) refs.

So let's undo our former git remote invocation:

sudo -u user git remote rm github

And then redo it:

sudo -u user git remote add --mirror github

Alternatively, we could just:

sudo -u user git config remote.github.mirror true

Check our work:

cat config


    repositoryformatversion = 0
    filemode = true
    bare = true
[remote "github"]
    url =
    fetch = +refs/*:refs/*
    mirror = true

We can also check using:

sudo -u user git remote show github

Shows this output:

* remote github
  Stale tracking branches (use 'git remote prune')
    antlr maint ragel refs/tags/0.1 refs/tags/0.2 refs/tags/0.3 refs/tags/0.4 refs/tags/0.5 refs/tags/0.6 refs/tags/1.0 refs/tags/1.0.1 refs/tags/1.0.2 refs/tags/1.0.3 refs/tags/1.1 refs/tags/1.1.1 refs/tags/1.2 refs/tags/1.2.1 refs/tags/1.3.0 refs/tags/1.3.1 refs/tags/1.3.2 refs/tags/1.4.0 refs/tags/1.4.1 refs/tags/1.5.0 refs/tags/1.5.1 refs/tags/1.5.2 refs/tags/1.5.3 refs/tags/1.6 refs/tags/1.7
  Tracked remote branch

Note: We don't actually want to follow the advice here to prune the stale tracking branches; that would remove all tags and all branches but the master branch (easily restored iwth a git push --all and git push --tags from the local development machine, but best to avoid the unnecessary chore). Instead we just push:

# sudo -H -s -u user
$ git push github

Setting up cron-based automation

Start editing the crontab:

$ crontab -e

And give it content something like this:

@hourly ${HOME}/tools/

Where ${HOME}/tools/ is a simple shell script that looks something like this:

# Copyright 2009 Wincent Colaiuta.
# crontab notes:
# ==============
# This script is intended to be run using cron once per hour using a
# crontab entry like this one:
#   MAILTO=""
#   @hourly    ${HOME}/bin/
# The script should run as the owner of the repositories:
#   sudo crontab -u git -e

# Configuration


# Functions

  for REPO in $1/*.git; do
    (cd $REPO && git push github)

# Main

set -e

do_push "${PUBLIC_REPOS}"

Inspecting the mirror

See also