Blackstar CMS Backup

Written by Liam McLennan

One of the most requested features for Blackstar CMS has been backup. Blackstar is an operational system so backup is important to maximise uptime and minimize data loss.


Blackstar stores all its data in a Sqlite database specifically to facilitate a simple backup process. We can get a complete backup simply by backing up the database.

Of course you can manually backup the database yourself, but Blackstar CMS will do it for you automatically.

Blackstar’s backup process is:

  • on a schedule (every 10 minutes by default) the database is exclusively locked for the backup process
  • if the databse has changed since the last backup then
    • copy the file to a backup location
  • release the lock so the application can continue running

It is necessary to lock the database so that the copy doesn’t cause corruption. On a test database (1MB) the backup requires the database to be locked for 6ms, so the performance degredation is manageable.

Implementation in Node.js

The single threaded nature of node.js helps to make these sort of concurrent processes easy. When Blackstar starts it registers a callback on the backup frequency:

setInterval(function () {
    // do backup
}, 10 * 60 * 1000 /* 10 minutes */);

To ensure a consistent backup the database needs to be locked for writes (reads are still OK). We can lock a sqlite database for writes using the BEGIN IMMEDIATE command. If an error occurs while the database is locked we still want to ensure the lock is released, so the process is wrapped in try {} finally {}.

    // do things with an exclusive write lock
} finally {"COMMIT");

The whole thing is done synchronously, since we are blocking the server anyway. The file hash is calculated using node’s crypto module, which delegates to OpenSSL.

export function calculateHash(data:Buffer) : string {
    const hash = Crypto.createHash('sha256');
    return hash.digest('hex');

If the hash of the current database is different since the last time the backup function ran then the database is copied to the backup destination.


The backup solution described above will be sufficient for most scenarios. For anything else it is easy enough to build your own backup process using a variation on the same technique (lock the database, take a copy, unlock the database). The sqlite online backup API provides some options.