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A Byte of Python

The Solution

As the design of our program is now stable, we can write the code which is an implementation of our solution.

First Version

Example 10.1. Backup Script - The First Version

				
#!/usr/bin/python
# Filename: backup_ver1.py

import os
import time

# 1. The files and directories to be backed up are specified in a list.
source = ['/home/swaroop/byte', '/home/swaroop/bin']
# If you are using Windows, use source = [r'C:\Documents', r'D:\Work'] or something like that

# 2. The backup must be stored in a main backup directory
target_dir = '/mnt/e/backup/' # Remember to change this to what you will be using

# 3. The files are backed up into a zip file.
# 4. The name of the zip archive is the current date and time
target = target_dir + time.strftime('%Y%m%d%H%M%S') + '.zip'

# 5. We use the zip command (in Unix/Linux) to put the files in a zip archive
zip_command = "zip -qr '%s' %s" % (target, ' '.join(source))

# Run the backup
if os.system(zip_command) == 0:
	print 'Successful backup to', target
else:
	print 'Backup FAILED'
				
				

Output

				
$ python backup_ver1.py
Successful backup to /mnt/e/backup/20041208073244.zip
				
				

Now, we are in the testing phase where we test that our program works properly. If it doesn't behave as expected, then we have to debug our program i.e. remove the bugs (errors) from the program.

How It Works

You will notice how we have converted our design into code in a step-by-step manner.

We make use of the os and time modules and so we import them. Then, we specify the files and directories to be backed up in the source list. The target directory is where store all the backup files and this is specified in the target_dir variable. The name of the zip archive that we are going to create is the current date and time which we fetch using the time.strftime() function. It will also have the .zip extension and will be stored in the target_dir directory.

The time.strftime() function takes a specification such as the one we have used in the above program. The %Y specification will be replaced by the year without the cetury. The %m specification will be replaced by the month as a decimal number between 01 and 12 and so on. The complete list of such specifications can be found in the [Python Reference Manual] that comes with your Python distribution. Notice that this is similar to (but not same as) the specification used in print statement (using the % followed by tuple).

We create the name of the target zip file using the addition operator which concatenates the strings i.e. it joins the two strings together and returns a new one. Then, we create a string zip_command which contains the command that we are going to execute. You can check if this command works by running it on the shell (Linux terminal or DOS prompt).

The zip command that we are using has some options and parameters passed. The -q option is used to indicate that the zip command should work quietly. The -r option specifies that the zip command should work recursively for directories i.e. it should include subdirectories and files within the subdirectories as well. The two options are combined and specified in a shorter way as -qr. The options are followed by the name of the zip archive to create followed by the list of files and directories to backup. We convert the source list into a string using the join method of strings which we have already seen how to use.

Then, we finally run the command using the os.system function which runs the command as if it was run from the system i.e. in the shell - it returns 0 if the command was successfully, else it returns an error number.

Depending on the outcome of the command, we print the appropriate message that the backup has failed or succeeded and that's it, we have created a script to take a backup of our important files!

Note to Windows Users

You can set the source list and target directory to any file and directory names but you have to be a little careful in Windows. The problem is that Windows uses the backslash (\) as the directory separator character but Python uses backslashes to represent escape sequences!

So, you have to represent a backslash itself using an escape sequence or you have to use raw strings. For example, use 'C:\\Documents' or r'C:\Documents' but do not use 'C:\Documents' - you are using an unknown escape sequence \D !

Now that we have a working backup script, we can use it whenever we want to take a backup of the files. Linux/Unix users are advised to use the executable method as discussed earlier so that they can run the backup script anytime anywhere. This is called the operation phase or the deployment phase of the software.

The above program works properly, but (usually) first programs do not work exactly as you expect. For example, there might be problems if you have not designed the program properly or if you have made a mistake in typing the code, etc. Appropriately, you will have to go back to the design phase or you will have to debug your program.

Second Version

The first version of our script works. However, we can make some refinements to it so that it can work better on a daily basis. This is called the maintenance phase of the software.

One of the refinements I felt was useful is a better file-naming mechanism - using the time as the name of the file within a directory with the current date as a directory within the main backup directory. One advantage is that your backups are stored in a hierarchical manner and therefore it is much easier to manage. Another advantage is that the length of the filenames are much shorter this way. Yet another advantage is that separate directories will help you to easily check if you have taken a backup for each day since the directory would be created only if you have taken a backup for that day.

Example 10.2. Backup Script - The Second Version

				
#!/usr/bin/python
# Filename: backup_ver2.py

import os
import time

# 1. The files and directories to be backed up are specified in a list.
source = ['/home/swaroop/byte', '/home/swaroop/bin']
# If you are using Windows, use source = [r'C:\Documents', r'D:\Work'] or something like that

# 2. The backup must be stored in a main backup directory
target_dir = '/mnt/e/backup/' # Remember to change this to what you will be using

# 3. The files are backed up into a zip file.
# 4. The current day is the name of the subdirectory in the main directory
today = target_dir + time.strftime('%Y%m%d')
# The current time is the name of the zip archive
now = time.strftime('%H%M%S')

# Create the subdirectory if it isn't already there
if not os.path.exists(today):
	os.mkdir(today) # make directory
	print 'Successfully created directory', today

# The name of the zip file
target = today + os.sep + now + '.zip'

# 5. We use the zip command (in Unix/Linux) to put the files in a zip archive
zip_command = "zip -qr '%s' %s" % (target, ' '.join(source))

# Run the backup
if os.system(zip_command) == 0:
	print 'Successful backup to', target
else:
	print 'Backup FAILED'
				
				

Output

				
$ python backup_ver2.py
Successfully created directory /mnt/e/backup/20041208
Successful backup to /mnt/e/backup/20041208/080020.zip

$ python backup_ver2.py
Successful backup to /mnt/e/backup/20041208/080428.zip

				
				

How It Works

Most of the program remains the same. The changes is that we check if there is a directory with the current day as name inside the main backup directory using the os.exists function. If it doesn't exist, we create it using the os.mkdir function.

Notice the use of os.sep variable - this gives the directory separator according to your operating system i.e. it will be '/' in Linux, Unix, it will be '\\' in Windows and ':' in Mac OS. Using os.sep instead of these characters directly will make our program portable and work across these systems.

Third Version

The second version works fine when I do many backups, but when there are lots of backups, I am finding it hard to differentiate what the backups were for! For example, I might have made some major changes to a program or presentation, then I want to associate what those changes are with the name of the zip archive. This can be easily achieved by attaching a user-supplied comment to the name of the zip archive.

Example 10.3. Backup Script - The Third Version (does not work!)

				
#!/usr/bin/python
# Filename: backup_ver2.py

import os
import time

# 1. The files and directories to be backed up are specified in a list.
source = ['/home/swaroop/byte', '/home/swaroop/bin']
# If you are using Windows, use source = [r'C:\Documents', r'D:\Work'] or something like that

# 2. The backup must be stored in a main backup directory
target_dir = '/mnt/e/backup/' # Remember to change this to what you will be using

# 3. The files are backed up into a zip file.
# 4. The current day is the name of the subdirectory in the main directory
today = target_dir + time.strftime('%Y%m%d')
# The current time is the name of the zip archive
now = time.strftime('%H%M%S')

# Take a comment from the user to create the name of the zip file
comment = raw_input('Enter a comment --> ')
if len(comment) == 0: # check if a comment was entered
	target = today + os.sep + now + '.zip'
else:
	target = today + os.sep + now + '_' +
		comment.replace(' ', '_') + '.zip'

# Create the subdirectory if it isn't already there
if not os.path.exists(today):
	os.mkdir(today) # make directory
	print 'Successfully created directory', today

# 5. We use the zip command (in Unix/Linux) to put the files in a zip archive
zip_command = "zip -qr '%s' %s" % (target, ' '.join(source))

# Run the backup
if os.system(zip_command) == 0:
	print 'Successful backup to', target
else:
	print 'Backup FAILED'
				
				

Output

				
$ python backup_ver3.py
File "backup_ver3.py", line 25
target = today + os.sep + now + '_' +
					^
SyntaxError: invalid syntax
					
				

How This (does not) Work

This program does not work!. Python says there is a syntax error which means that the script does not satisfy the structure that Python expects to see. When we observe the error given by Python, it also tells us the place where it detected the error as well. So we start debugging our program from that line.

On careful observation, we see that the single logical line has been split into two physical lines but we have not specified that these two physical lines belong together. Basically, Python has found the addition operator (+) without any operand in that logical line and hence it doesn't know how to continue. Remember that we can specify that the logical line continues in the next physical line by the use of a backslash at the end of the physical line. So, we make this correction to our program. This is called bug fixing.

Fourth Version

Example 10.4. Backup Script - The Fourth Version

				
#!/usr/bin/python
# Filename: backup_ver2.py

import os, time

# 1. The files and directories to be backed up are specified in a list.
source = ['/home/swaroop/byte', '/home/swaroop/bin']
# If you are using Windows, use source = [r'C:\Documents', r'D:\Work'] or something like that

# 2. The backup must be stored in a main backup directory
target_dir = '/mnt/e/backup/' # Remember to change this to what you will be using

# 3. The files are backed up into a zip file.
# 4. The current day is the name of the subdirectory in the main directory
today = target_dir + time.strftime('%Y%m%d')
# The current time is the name of the zip archive
now = time.strftime('%H%M%S')

# Take a comment from the user to create the name of the zip file
comment = raw_input('Enter a comment --> ')
if len(comment) == 0: # check if a comment was entered
	target = today + os.sep + now + '.zip'
else:
	target = today + os.sep + now + '_' + \
		comment.replace(' ', '_') + '.zip'
 	# Notice the backslash!

# Create the subdirectory if it isn't already there
if not os.path.exists(today):
	os.mkdir(today) # make directory
	print 'Successfully created directory', today

# 5. We use the zip command (in Unix/Linux) to put the files in a zip archive
zip_command = "zip -qr '%s' %s" % (target, ' '.join(source))

# Run the backup
if os.system(zip_command) == 0:
	print 'Successful backup to', target
else:
	print 'Backup FAILED'
				
				

Output

				
$ python backup_ver4.py
Enter a comment --> added new examples
Successful backup to /mnt/e/backup/20041208/082156_added_new_examples.zip

$ python backup_ver4.py
Enter a comment -->
Successful backup to /mnt/e/backup/20041208/082316.zip
				
				

How It Works

This program now works! Let us go through the actual enhancements that we had made in version 3. We take in the user's comments using the raw_input function and then check if the user actually entered something by finding out the length of the input using the len function. If the user has just pressed enter for some reason (maybe it was just a routine backup or no special changes were made), then we proceed as we have done before.

However, if a comment was supplied, then this is attached to the name of the zip archive just before the .zip extension. Notice that we are replacing spaces in the comment with underscores - this is because managing such filenames are much easier.

More Refinements

The fourth version is a satisfactorily working script for most users, but there is always room for improvement. For example, you can include a verbosity level for the program where you can specify a -v option to make your program become more talkative.

Another possible enhancement would be to allow extra files and directories to be passed to the script at the command line. We will get these from the sys.argv list and we can add them to our source list using the extend method provided by the list class.

One refinement I prefer is the use of the tar command instead of the zip command. One advantage is that when you use the tar command along with gzip, the backup is much faster and the backup created is also much smaller. If I need to use this archive in Windows, then WinZip handles such .tar.gz files easily as well. The tar command is available by default on most Linux/Unix systems. Windows users can download and install it as well.

The command string will now be:

			
tar = 'tar -cvzf %s %s -X /home/swaroop/excludes.txt' % (target, ' '.join(srcdir))
			
			

The options are explained below.

  • -c indicates creation of an archive.

  • -v indicates verbose i.e. the command should be more talkative.

  • -z indicates the gzip filter should be used.

  • -f indicates force in creation of archive i.e. it should replace if there is a file by the same name already.

  • -X indicates a file which contains a list of filenames which must be excluded from the backup. For example, you can specify *~ in this file to not include any filenames ending with ~ in the backup.

Important

The most preferred way of creating such kind of archives would be using the zipfile or tarfile module respectively. They are part of the Python Standard Library and available for you to use already. Using these libraries also avoids the use of the os.system which is generally not advisable to use because it is very easy to make costly mistakes using it.

However, I have been using the os.system way of creating a backup purely for pedagogical purposes, so that the example is simple enough to be understood by everybody but real enough to be useful.