cron is great for servers and desktops that are always on, but if you want to schedule a backup (or indeed any other job) on a laptop or other machine that may not always be on, try anacron instead.
With cron, you schedule a job at a specific date and time. If at that particular time the machine is down, the job just won't run (until the next time it's scheduled). With anacron, you schedule a job to run at specific intervals, for example, daily, weekly or monthly. anacron will try to keep as closely to this schedule as system uptime permits. If a job is supposed to run daily, but when the computer is switched on the anacron daemon finds that it hasn't run in the last 24 hours, it will be run there and then.
The main downside of anacron is that you can run it only at intervals of one or more days. cron, on the other hand, can be run at intervals as small as one minute. For most backup schedules, this won't be a problem.
A further issue is that anacron can be configured only by the root user, whereas cron can be used by anyone. Again, this is unlikely to be a problem for laptop backup.
To set up an rsync backup for your laptop, edit the file/etc/anacrontab, as root, and add the following single line:
1 5 backup rsync -auz -e "ssh -i /home/user/.ssh/rsync" /test firstname.lastname@example.org:/home/user/backup
This line will run the given rsync command every day (the first parameter) with a delay of five minutes (the second parameter) and identify the job in logs as 'backup' (the third parameter). As with cron, anything after the time and log parameters is assumed to be part of the command to be run.
This tip is taken from my current book, Linux System Administration Recipes. Check it out for more sysadmin hints and tips.
Juliet Kemp has been messing around with Linux systems, for financial reward and otherwise, for about a decade. She is also the author of "Linux System Administration Recipes: A Problem-Solution Approach" (Apress, 2009).