Which GitLab Backup Best Practices to Follow?

Creating something new and unique is a difficult task. If you multiply it with the development process, every GitLab user understands that protecting the source code is one of the most demanding but challenging tasks. So, what is the best way to protect the DevOps team’s work? Find the balance and assurance that the development workflow won’t be interrupted or lost under no circumstances.

One may ask: “What can happen to GitLab? It is one of the most reliable source code management (SCM) tool providers” Yeap, it is. Though unfortunately, there are a lot of threats like outages, ransomware, and downtime – imagine that even the entire GitLab server or GitLab database can go down. Thus, you and your team should always be ready for any disaster scenario. How? The best way to do it is to build a strong backup strategy for your GitLab data. Moreover, it is a good idea to integrate a default backup strategy into your DevSecOps process and CI/CD pipeline.

What Should GitLab Backup Contain?

Once you decide to back up your GitLab environment, you should make sure that your GitLab backup includes GitLab repositories and metadata. Under ‘metadata,’ we understand that it should include a backup of Wikis, issues, issue comments, deployment keys, merge requests, LFS, tags, webhooks, labels, milestones, releases, actions, etc. Only in this case, the team of developers and the entire company will have full assurance that their backup process goes right and all their git repository data is well-protected.

Crucial Features for a Perfect Backup Strategy

It’s great when the working process is well-organized. The same it’s possible to say about the backup process. To ensure an interrupted workflow, one should have the possibility to make multiple backups not only to restore the GitLab data but also to meet audit, compliance, and security needs. Thus, security issues that it’s worth keeping in mind should be the following:

  • AES encryption and your own encryption key, in-flight and at rest encryption;
  • flexible, long-term, unlimited retention;
  • the possibility to archive old, unused repositories;
  • monitoring opportunities to see how the GitLab backups are performed (reports, email notifications, and more);
  • ransomware protection;
  • Disaster Recovery technologies and many restore destinations.

Though, there have been mentioned only the basic backup features for your backup process perfection. If you want to master your backup plan for your GitLab environment, it’s worth considering and building alternative backup strategies which will include advanced backup features.

3-2-1 Backup Rule

It’s an unimaginable loss (also a financial one) when a team of DevOps has been working on a source code for a long time but suddenly loses their data due to a disaster because their backup fails. Thus, it is always worth following a ‘golden’ standard – the 3-2-1 backup rule. According to this rule, a company should have 3 backup copies kept in 2 different storage instances with at least 1 offsite. To keep up with this rule, you should have another important feature – backup replication. It helps you keep native backup copies in multiple locations and enables redundancy and business continuity. 

What is more, it is a huge saving if your DevOps backup software has multiple-storage compatibility. You can store your data in different destinations and bring your own storage – the one you currently use. AWS S3, Backblaze B2, Google Cloud Storage, Azure Blob Storage, GitProtect Cloud, or any other public cloud compatible with S3, local or hybrid – check if your backup provider enables you to utilize the infrastructure you already have.

Unlimited Retention Matters

Retention is another feature that weighs a lot when it comes to the backup process. Why? Because it permits you to keep necessary GitLab data for as long as you need. What if you need to get to your data from 5 or 10 years ago? With unlimited retention, it is easy. Moreover, such retention possibility helps to meet legal, compliance, and shared responsibility requirements.

Ransomware Protection

Regarding ransomware resistance, backup stands in the final line of your GitLab data protection. Thus, if your GitLab backup solution is ransomware-proof, it will compress and encrypt GitLab data, which will permit it to remain unexecutable on the storage. In this case, if your backed-up data is hit by some ransomware, it won’t be executed and spread on the storage. Furthermore, in the worst scenario – if some ransomware could encrypt your data, modify it, or erase it – having a backup in place will always permit you to restore a chosen GitLab copy from the exact point in time, and your team will be able to continue coding without delay. 

Monitoring Center for Audits and Compliance

“Those who have information rule the world” – and it is an absolute truth, especially when it comes to information about GitLab backups, backup failures, backup performance, etc. Having all this information instantly and on time can help the DevOps team to figure out some challenges before they become problems. Thus, it is a benefit for your team if they have Slack notifications, data-driven dashboards, email notifications, and advanced audit logs that track each action performed in the backup system. Reports with details about backup performance are also useful when it comes to audits and security certifications. 

What Should the Restore Process Include?

The possibility to make GitLab backups is just one part of the perfect backup strategy. Another part is the opportunity to restore GitLab backups as fast as possible when needed. Moreover, it is great when you can use just one application for both these activities as it drastically saves your team’s time.

Your disaster recovery plan should ensure your business with continuity in every possible scenario – service outage/downtime, (un)intentional human errors, or ransomware attacks and data loss. That’s why having the following recovery features in your backup strategy will be advantageous:

  • point-in-time restore,
  • granular recovery of repositories and selected metadata,
  • restore repository backups to the same or new GitLab account,
  • cross-over recovery to another Git hosting platform, e.g., from GitLab to GitHub or Bitbucket (this is basically very useful when it comes to migration between tools)
  • possibility to restore to your local device.

Moreover, it is always a good idea to think in advance about what you and your team will do when GitLab, your infrastructure, or your backup solution is down. So, let’s look at these scenarios.

Scenario 1. GitLab Is Down

Gitlab is a reliable hosting provider, though outages happen. In this situation, to provide your team with uninterrupted work, you can restore your local machine (GitLab instance) as a .git file to your computer, or you can restore the GitLab copy to another git hosting platform (if you have cross-over recovery). That’s it! Your backup task is done.

Scenario 2. Your Infrastructure Is Down

Your backup solution can easily solve this challenge if you apply the 3-2-1 backup rule to your GitLab repository and metadata. Then, you always have 3 copies in 2 destinations, one of which is offsite. That’s it! You can run your backup copy from any point in time.

Scenario 3. Your Backup Solution Is Down

Once you decide to use a third-party backup solution, it’s worth making sure that your backup provider is ready for a potential outage scenario and can provide you with a proper reliable Data Recovery technology in the event of its downtime. For example, it can share with you an installer for your on-premise application. In this situation, if its SaaS environment is down, you can easily access your data from that on-premise application. 


It is up to a company to decide how the backup process should look – they can write a GitLab backup script or use some commands to make snapshots if they want to manage the backup process themselves, or they can choose a third-party backup software that will do automatic backups for them. One thing they should remember is what backup restore procedures they will need to perform to get access to their entire GitLab environment in case of a disaster. The answer is a professional backup solution that can help you set up not only a backup plan easily but also ensures that your copy will be instantly recoverable for your team’s work continuity.

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