5 Directories Linux Users Should Back Up

It’s always good to know what you need to back up before wiping a hard drive, whether you’re upgrading to a newer version of a distro (generally safer) or distro hopping (which I have 5 good reasons for doing a lot of).

Here’s a cheat sheet to help ensure you don’t forget anything.

0. Entire Home Folder(s) and List of Apps

/home/[user]/ or
List of Installed Apps

For those that don’t care about extra unnecessary config files and folders taking up precious space, back up the entire home folder, skip to Number 5 for ways to get a list of your installed apps, and be done with it.

1. Home Folders

/home/[user]/  or

Start with the most important (and obvious):

  1. Documents
  3. Music
  4. Pictures
  5. Videos
  6. Templates and Public (if you use them)

Include any other /home/ folders (excluding hidden folders for now).

screenshot of /home/user folder in Space FM file manager
Home folder with Space FM file manager

2. Fonts

/usr/share/fonts  and

Many Linux distros have custom fonts – e.g. Ubuntu, Ubuntu Studio, and Uberstudent. You’ll know you’re missing a font when you open a document in LibreOffice Writer and see an italicized name in the font box.

screenshot of Libre Office toolbar with missing font
The font DejaVuSans-Bold is missing and defaulted to the basic font.

LibreOffice uses a default “basic font” when a specified font within a document isn’t installed.

View and change your basic fonts by going to “Tools” > “Options” > “LibreOffice Writer” > “Basic Fonts” (Western).

screenshot of Libre Office options menu
The “Basic Fonts” section lists fonts for default, heading, list, caption, and index formatting styles.

3. Email Data

~/.[EmailClient] or

You don’t want to spend 15 minutes plugging in all your e-mail accounts and recreating your to-do list and calendars in your email client after a fresh install. Back up the config files using the directory or the app’s export function if possible.

4. Config Folders

~/  and

Depending on the programs you use, you’ll want to back up config files so you spend less time customizing your favorite apps after a fresh install.

5. List of Installed Apps

There are many ways to do this –

  1. Rely on the list of saved config files and folders within your home folder, if you jumped from #0 (may be incomplete).
  2. From your Applications Menu, write the names of your installed applications in a text file (recommended).
  3. In the terminal:
ls /usr/share/applications > ~/Documents/[file1].txt
# Lists all shared installed applications in a file titled [file1].txt
# in your Documents folder
cat ~/Documents/[file1].txt
# Displays the contents of your new text file.
sed 's/.desktop//' ~/Documents/[file1].txt >> ~/Documents/[file1].txt
# Removes ".desktop" from the end of each line.
  1. Also from the terminal:
cat ~/.bash_history | grep ppa- > ~/Documents/[file2].txt
# This saves ppa commands from the terminal in a saved text file


Know a better way of doing any of these? Did I miss something?

Tweet me at @golivelively, email me at Jtspratley [at] go live lively [dot] com, or comment below.

Leave a Reply