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One Way To: Backup a PSQL Database to AWS S3 Using Linux cron or Kubernetes CronJob


The argument for spending time setting up database backups is similar to that of paying for insurance. It seems like a waste at the outset, and it is easy to put off, however, when things go wrong, you will wish you had it.

This article describes a way to set up scheduled rotating encrypted backups of a PostgreSQL database to AWS S3, in two typical deployment environments:

  • a virtual machine scheduled using Linux cron
  • a Kubernetes cluster scheduled using CronJob

You can find a GitHub repository containing the script and template environment variables and Kubernetes config here: cpcwood/psql-backup-s3

Backup Strategy

A database backup and restore strategy should meet a few criteria:

  • Separate remote storage - One of the main reasons for database backups is the mitigation of media failure, natural disaster, and user error. It tends to be challenging and costly to recover data in these circumstances, so backups must be kept off-site in a backup destination with reliable storage. A common cloud backup destination is Amazon's AWS S3 service.
  • Automation - Backups should be made automatically and on regular intervals. Most systems have a built-in job scheduler such as Linux's cron and Kubernetes' CronJob.
  • Encryption - Database backups are usually dumps of SQL, used to rebuild the database structure and data. Since these dumps are typically plain text, to prevent sensitive data from being leaked, database backups should be encrypted while being stored in the backup destination. GnuPG (GPG) is a commonly used implementation of the PGP cryptographic software suite, which can encrypt database backups.
  • Rotation - Off-site storage costs. Therefore, optimise resource requirements by keeping the number of stored backups to a cost-effective level. One way of doing this is backup rotation. While there are plenty of different backup rotation schemes, 'first in first out' scheme, where old backups are removed as new ones are added, is effective and easy to script for s3 storage.

Setup AWS

Create an AWS S3 Bucket

Create a private Amazon AWS S3 bucket to store your database backups: AWS 'create bucket' guide.

Create IAM User

Create an IAM user in your AWS account with access to the S3 bucket created above: AWS 'create user' guide

The script requires, list, put, and delete access on the s3 bucket. So, the S3 policy JSON attached to the IAM user might look like:

    "Version": "2012-10-17",
    "Statement": [
            "Effect": "Allow",
            "Action": [
            "Resource": [

Make sure to download or keep hold of the new user security credentials so you can add them to the backup script environment later.

Create PGP Keys

On a separate (ideally air-gapped) machine, install GPG so encryption keys can be generated:

apt install gnupg

Then create a pair of public and private encryption keys. Using public-key cryptography to encrypt the backup on the server will help prevent the database backup from being compromised if the environment variables are leaked.

  • Generate a keypair using your email for ID: gpg --gen-key
  • Export the public key: gpg --armor --export <your-email>
  • Export the secret key and move to secure storage.

Create Backup Script

Script Requirements

The backup program will need to do the following:

  • Check required config is present
  • Create a temporary backup directory
  • Create database backup
  • Compress backup
  • Encrypt backup
  • Upload backup to off-site storage (AWS S3)
  • Remove expired backups from off-site storage
  • Cleanup

Write the Script

Since the program needs to interact with several other CLIs, such as psql and aws-cli, a shell script would be suitable. Make a shell script to meet the above requirements, for example:

vim ~/psql-backup-s3.sh
#! /bin/sh
# PSQL Database Backup to AWS S3

echo "Starting PSQL Database Backup..."

# Ensure all required environment variables are present
if [ -z "$GPG_KEY" ] || \
    [ -z "$GPG_KEY_ID" ] || \
    [ -z "$POSTGRES_PASSWORD" ] || \
    [ -z "$POSTGRES_USER" ] || \
    [ -z "$POSTGRES_HOST" ] || \
    [ -z "$POSTGRES_DB" ] || \
    [ -z "$AWS_ACCESS_KEY_ID" ] || \
    [ -z "$AWS_SECRET_ACCESS_KEY" ] || \
    [ -z "$AWS_DEFAULT_REGION" ] || \
    [ -z "$S3_BUCKET" ]; then
    >&2 echo 'Required variable unset, database backup failed'
    exit 1

# Make sure required binaries are in path (YMMV)
export PATH=/usr/local/bin:$PATH

# Import gpg public key from env
echo "$GPG_KEY" | gpg --batch --import

# Create backup params
backup_dir=$(mktemp -d)
backup_name=$POSTGRES_DB'--'$(date +%d'-'%m'-'%Y'--'%H'-'%M'-'%S).sql.bz2.gpg

# Create, compress, and encrypt the backup
PGPASSWORD=$POSTGRES_PASSWORD pg_dump -d "$POSTGRES_DB" -U "$POSTGRES_USER" -h "$POSTGRES_HOST" | bzip2 | gpg --batch --recipient "$GPG_KEY_ID" --trust-model always --encrypt --output "$backup_path"

# Check backup created
if [ ! -e "$backup_path" ]; then
    echo 'Backup file not found'
    exit 1

# Push backup to S3
aws s3 cp "$backup_path" "s3://$S3_BUCKET"

# Remove tmp backup path
rm -rf "$backup_dir"

# Indicate if backup was successful
if [ $status -eq 0 ]; then
    echo "PSQL database backup: '$backup_name' completed to '$S3_BUCKET'"

    # Remove expired backups from S3
    if [ "$ROTATION_PERIOD" != "" ]; then
        aws s3 ls "$S3_BUCKET" --recursive | while read -r line;  do
            stringdate=$(echo "$line" | awk '{print $1" "$2}')
            filedate=$(date -d"$stringdate" +%s)
            olderthan=$(date -d"-$ROTATION_PERIOD days" +%s)
            if [ "$filedate" -lt "$olderthan" ]; then
                filetoremove=$(echo "$line" | awk '{$1=$2=$3=""; print $0}' | sed 's/^[ \t]*//')
                if [ "$filetoremove" != "" ]; then
                    aws s3 rm "s3://$S3_BUCKET/$filetoremove"
    echo "PSQL database backup: '$backup_name' failed"
    exit 1


Depending on your deployment setup, there will be different ways to deploy the script to run the backup job regularly.

Here are the setup methods for two typical deployment types:

  • Traditional VM - Linux cron
  • Kubernetes - CronJob

Traditional VM

Copy Script to Machine

Copy the script to the virtual machine (VM) into a suitable directory and make sure it is executable for the user who will be running it:

chmod 744 ./psql-backup-s3/psql-backup-s3.sh

Install Dependencies

Install the script dependencies on the VM:

  • GPG - Install GPG to encrypt backup files: apt install gnupg
  • AWS-CLI - Install AWS CLI tool to transfer backup to AWS S3: see AWS guide
  • date - Ensure date is GNU core utilities date, not included in alpine linux (busybox) by default: apt install coreutils

Linux cron

cron is a time-based job scheduler built into Linux which runs processes on the system at scheduled times.


The backup script gets its configuration from environment variables. The variables required are:

export ROTATION_PERIOD=                 # days to keep backups (exclude to stop backups from deleting)
export POSTGRES_USER=                   # PSQL USERNAME
export POSTGRES_HOST=                   # postgres hostname
export POSTGRES_DB=                         # name of database to backup
export AWS_ACCESS_KEY_ID=               # AWS IAM USER ID
export AWS_DEFAULT_REGION=        # aws s3 bucket region
export S3_BUCKET=                       # aws s3 bucket name
export GPG_KEY_ID=                  # email id used in gpg key generation
export GPG_KEY=                         # exported public gpg key

cron jobs do not inherit the same environment as a job run from the command line. Instead, their default environment is from /etc/environment, read more about why in this IBM article. Therefore, load the environment variables required for the backup script in the job definition.

One way to do this source a shell script using the "dot" command in the crontab.

First, create a script exporting the above environment variables on the VM.

vim ~/psql-backup-s3/psql-backup-s3.env

Since it contains credentials, ensure the only the crontab user can only access it:

chmod 700 ~/psql-backup-s3/psql-backup-s3.env

It can then be sourced before the backup job in the crontab, as shown below.

Create the cron Job

Add a new cron job using crontab. The job should periodically load the environment variables and then run the backup script. For example, to run the backup daily at 3.30 am:

crontab -e
30 3 * * * . $HOME/psql-backup-s3/psql-backup-s3.env && $HOME/psql-backup-s3/psql-backup-s3.sh 2>&1 | logger -t psql-backup-s3

For more info on setting up a job using crontab, checkout ubuntu's guide here. crontab guru can be helpful for defining schedules.

Note: When setting up it can be useful to set the job schedule to a short interval such as */2 * * * * so you can check for any misconfiguration or errors.

Kubernetes CronJob

Kubernetes CronJob is a built-in feature which allows jobs to be run in containers periodically.


Create a Kubernetes Secret object to store the sensitive credentials for the backup script. For example:

apiVersion: v1
kind: Secret
  name: psql-backup-s3
  POSTGRES_USER:                    # PSQL USERNAME
  AWS_ACCESS_KEY_ID:                # AWS IAM USER ID

Create a Kubernetes ConfigMap object to store the non-sensitive configuration details for the script. For example:

apiVersion: v1
kind: ConfigMap
  name: psql-backup-s3
  ROTATION_PERIOD:          # days to keep backups (exclude to stop backups from deleting)
  POSTGRES_HOST:            # postgres k8s service hostname
  POSTGRES_DB:                  # name of database to backup
  AWS_DEFAULT_REGION:       # aws s3 bucket region
  S3_BUCKET:                    # aws s3 bucket name
  GPG_KEY_ID:               # email id used in gpg key generation
  GPG_KEY:                      # exported public gpg key

Make sure to apply the newly created secret and config objects to your cluster in the correct namespace.

Create the CronJob

Create a Kubernetes CronJob object to run the backup job on a schedule. The container image used in the job must have the required dependencies and backup script included. An example Dockerfile can be found in the GitHub repository cpcwood/psql-backup-s3 and respective image can be pulled from dockerhub under the repository cpcwood/psql-backup-s3. For example, to run the backup daily at 3.30 am:

apiVersion: batch/v1beta1
kind: CronJob
  name: psql-backup-s3
  schedule: "30 3 * * *"
            - name: psql-backup-s3-container
              image: cpcwood/psql-backup-s3:latest
                - configMapRef:
                    name: psql-backup-s3
                - name: POSTGRES_USER
                      name: psql-backup-s3
                      key: POSTGRES_USER
                - name: POSTGRES_PASSWORD
                      name: psql-backup-s3
                      key: POSTGRES_PASSWORD
                - name: AWS_ACCESS_KEY_ID
                      name: psql-backup-s3
                      key: AWS_ACCESS_KEY_ID
                - name: AWS_SECRET_ACCESS_KEY
                      name: psql-backup-s3
                      key: AWS_SECRET_ACCESS_KEY
          restartPolicy: Never          

Note: When setting up it can be useful to set the job schedule to a short interval such as */3 * * * * so you can check for any misconfiguration or errors.

Apply the CronJob object to your cluster.

The job should now run the backup script periodically as scheduled in the object definition.


To restore a backup:

  • Download the encrypted database dump from aws S3
  • Copy to the machine containing the private gpg key
  • Decrypt downloaded file using gpg: gpg --output <decrypted file name>.sql.bz2 --decrypt <downloaded file name>.sql.bz2.gpg
  • Move to server hosting PostgreSQL database
  • Unzip decrypted file using bzip: bzip2 -d <decrypted file name>.sql.bz2
  • Restore the database dump using the psql command, for details see the documentation on backup dumps for your version of PostgreSQL.


The backup script will now be scheduled to run on regular intervals as defined by your crontab or CronJob.

There are plenty of additional features which could be added to the script in the future such as success notifications using AWS SNS, or more complex backup rotation scheme such as Grandfather-father-son.


Drop me a message through the contact section of this site or via LinkedIn if you have any comments, suggested changes, or see any bugs.