Backing Up Central#

Having a data backup strategy is a critical part of running a web service like ODK Central. Backups should go to a system in a different physical location from where Central is installed in order to prevent data loss across a broad range of scenarios. Many cloud providers offer backup strategies that run automatically.

If you are an experienced system administrator, you may want to set up your own backups of the PostgreSQL database that contains all of Central's data. One strategy for doing this is to configure a separate database server and back up that database server.

You will additionally need to have a backup of Enketo data to be able to restore existing Web Form links. The strict minimum required to do this are Enketo's Redis store and the keys generated in the Enketo configuration. In general, we recommend making a full system backup.

If you don't already have a full system backup in place and don't want to set up your own database backup, Central provides a managed backup system to Google Drive.

Managed backups / Direct backups via API#


Managed backups and Direct backups via API include all of your collected data but do NOT include sufficient information to re-establish the same Web Form links. If you use Public Links for broad surveying or share links to Web Forms through another system, we strongly recommend also making a full system backup.

If you only use web forms for previews or for making submissions directly from Central, managed backups are sufficient. You can regenerate previews by uploading the same form with a new form version.

ODK Central features an optional off-site backup system that backs up all Central data (but as detailed above, not Web Form configurations).

For each backup, we extract all your data (including user accounts, forms, and submissions), we encrypt it so that only you can access it, and we send the encrypted result to your Google Drive account for safekeeping. We send data to Google Drive because it is a service that many people already use, it is easy to set up, and it is relatively inexpensive. Because backups are encrypted, Google can't see their contents. However, you should verify that policies and laws that govern your project allow this usage.

To see your current managed backups status, navigate to ‣ System at the top of the Central management website. You should see a status page for backups that looks something like this:


Setting up backups#

  1. To set up a new automated backup, click on the Set up now button on the right.


    If you see a Terminate button instead of a Set up now button, you already have an automated backup configured. Right now, you can only have one automated backup scheduled at a time. If you wish to change where the backup is saved, you will need to terminate the old one before creating a new one.

  2. You'll be asked to enter an optional passphrase. This passphrase is what the server will use to encrypt your backups. You will be unable to restore the backup without the passphrase, exactly as you type it in here. If you leave this field blank, we will still encrypt your backup data but anybody will be able to decrypt it by doing nothing more than leaving the passphrase blank.

  3. The next step talks about connecting to your Google Drive account to store your backups. When you press Next again, a Google permissions page will appear in a popup. You will need to press Allow to proceed. If you are feeling unsure about granting access, please see the "About Google Drive account access" note at the top of this page.

  4. Once you press Allow, you will see a screen in the popup which contains a lengthy code, and instructions to copy and paste it back into "your application." Copy the code, switch back to the ODK Central website, and paste it into the Confirmation text box. Press Next to confirm it.

    ../_images/code-google.png ../_images/code-central.png
  5. The setup box should close and you should see a message telling you Success! Automated backups are now configured.

  6. Backups are scheduled to run once a day, at 02:00 server local time. If more than 24 hours pass without a backup completing successfully, you'll want to double check that everything has been correctly set up.


You can verify your Google Drive usage on the Drive storage page. You may want to periodically remove older backups to free up space.

Performing an immediate backup#

It is possible to immediately download a backup of your database to your own computer. As of Central v1.1, you will still need to have managed backups configured in order to access this functionality in the web management interface. Once you do, you will see a button Download Backup Now next to the Terminate button near the top.

Clicking this button will perform an immediate backup and download the result to your computer. This process can take some time, and it is normal for data to download quite slowly for many minutes before it gets faster. Take care in using this feature particularly if you have a lot of data and traffic, as performing a backup while a lot of data is being saved to the database can cause a lot of slowdown.

You can also use the API to download a backup without configuring managed backups.

Restoring a backup#

Restoring a backup to a Central instance will entirely replace all of its data with the backup. Please be very sure you are restoring to the right place with the right backup snapshot before proceeding.


You cannot restore a backup to an older version of Central. For example, if you create a backup from Central v1.0, you cannot restore it to Central v0.9.

  1. The first thing you'll have to do is download your backup from Google Drive, which you can do from the Google Drive website. You will find the backups in a folder called ODK Backups. Each file is a single backup snapshot, and each snapshot should be titled backup-{date}T{time}

  2. Once you have the file on your local computer, you will have to transfer that backup snapshot file to your ODK Central server. If you don't know how to do this, and you used our DigitalOcean installation guide, please see their instructions on how to transfer a file to a Droplet.

  3. Once the file is on the server itself, you'll need to log back into it, like you did when you first set up the server.


    If you used our DigitalOcean installation steps but can't quite remember how to do this, we suggest reviewing the login steps.

  4. Now you'll want to put it in a special place where it can be used by the restore tool: /data/transfer. If, for example, you uploaded the file to /root/, you'll want to run this command in order to move it:

    mv /root/ /data/transfer/
  5. Now you need to run the restore script. Please note again that all data on this server is about to be replaced by the backup snapshot data! Anybody currently using the server will be kicked off and all changes made since the last backup will be lost. When you are sure you wish to proceed, run the following commands:

    cd central
    docker-compose exec service node /usr/odk/lib/bin/restore.js /data/transfer/ 'SECRET_PASSPHRASE'

    You'll have to replace the filename following /data/transfer with your own snapshot filename, and the text SECRET_PASSPHRASE with the passphrase you typed when backups were first set up. If you did not set up a passphrase, immediately press Enter after you have finished putting the :file`.zip` filename in:

    docker-compose exec service node /usr/odk/lib/bin/restore.js /data/transfer/
  6. The server will think for a while, and then print some more instructions. You will have to refresh any browser windows you have open to ODK Central to proceed. If you run into error messages at this step, please read them carefully and then seek help on the ODK Forum if you are not sure what to do.