Google Photos is wonderful. It backs up my photos and videos, tags them, and makes them available to share with my family.

But I also don’t trust that Google will never accidentally “loose” my photos. Here is the process I use to back up my Google Photos data to a self-hosted instance of Photoprism.

This guide covers the process I use to back up my Google Photos content, in its original quality and with sidecar metadata, to Photoprism.

Prerequisites and Setup

My Photoprism instance runs on a TrueNAS Scale server as a kubernetes app. While yours doesn’t have to run in the exact setup, it’s worth describing. Photoprism has three primary storage folders, “Originals”, “Imports”, and a data path for sidecar files, multimedia caches, and the database file (if you’re using the built-in Sqlite storage, though I’d strongly caution you to set up an external MariaDB instance if you have a large photo library). Photoprism treats “Originals” as essentially a read-only store of media - anything you put in here will be imported by Photoprism as-is. Meanwhile any media put in “Imports” will be ingested by Photoprism and moved to the Originals folder; however you will have no control over the organization of these imported media. For our purposes, I strongly recommend putting your Google Photos media in “Originals” to preserve the folder structure Takeout outputs.

In my TrueNAS setup the Originals and Import folders are mounted onto ZFS datasets on the host, which allows me to access and administer the media files while Photoprism isn’t running. Specifically, “Originals” is mounted to /mnt/Bulk Storage/Photoprism/Originals, which we’ll just call $ORIGINALS from here on. First and most importantly, we will be using ZFS extended attribute immutable to ensure that any files already in our “Originals” folder won’t be overwritten when we extract the Takeout GZip archives. To do this, we can run the following command:

# Find all regular files in our Originals folder and mark them as +i (immutable).
find "$ORIGINALS" -type f -print0 \
| sudo xargs -0 -n 1 chattr +i

We’ll also be using a few tools not distributed with TrueNAS Scale (or more Linux distros, for that matter). Most can be installed via package managers, the rest can be built from source:

  • pigz - Parallel GZip implementation (homepage).
  • progress - Coreutils’ progress viewer (not necessary - just nice; homepage).
  • jdupes - Jody Bruchon’s enhanced fdupes clone (homepage).

Step 1 - Create Takeout Archives

  1. Go to Google Takeout.
  2. Click .
  3. Scroll down to “Google Photos” and select its checkbox.
  4. Scroll to the bottom and click .
  5. For “File type” select .tgz, and for “File size” select 50GB.
  6. Click .

Step 2 - Downloading Takeout Archives

Once your Google Takeout files are ready you will get an email (you can also check the Takeout site for completed archives). Depending on the size of our Google Photos library you may have multiple ~50GB files. I usually have around 10-15. I prefer to download one file at a time (depending on free disk space). Clicking the file will start a browser download, but I like to pause this download, right-click it and “copy download URL”, and then enter that into a download tool like Aria2.

Step 3 - Extracting Takeout Archives

Once I have some Takeout archive files downloaded (you don’t have to download them all at once, or even in order!) we’ll start extracting them into our “Originals” folder. Your Photoprism instance shouldn’t index Originals unless you tell it to, but I usually shut Photoprism down while performing these steps just to be safe.

Here's the script I use.

This will use pigz to extract the specified archive in parallel (for speed) and then extract the Google Photos files into our “Originals” folder:

#!/usr/bin/env sh

# Usage:
# sudo ./ takeout-archive.tgz

if [ "$(id --user)" -ne 0 ]; then
    echo "Please run with sudo!" 1>&2;
    exit 1;

pigz --decompress <"$1" \
| tar --extract --strip-components=2 --skip-old-files --directory="$ORIGINALS" \
& progress --wait -monitor --command pigz;

chown -R photoprism:photoprism "$ORIGINALS";

Let’s break down what’s happening here:

  1. if [ "$(id -u)" -ne 0]; - checks if the script was run as root (or with sudo).
  2. pigz --decompress <"$1" - decompress the GZip file specified in the first passed to the script.
  3. tar --extract… - extract files from the Tar archive that pigz decompressed. There’s a few extra options:
    • --strip-components=2…: remove some unnecessary path components that Takeout adds.
    • --skip-old-files…: skip files that already exist on disk.
    • --directory: extract files into our $ORIGINALS folder.
  4. progress --wait --monitor --command pigz - monitor the progress of the pigz command in decompressing the input file.
  5. chown -R photoprism:photoprism "$ORIGINALS" - Because tar attempts to preserve the ownership of the files it extracts, we need to correct this after extraction. Obviously update the user:group to suit your own needs.

Because the files already in our “Originals” folder are marked immutable tar can’t overwrite them - and in fact we also provide tar with the --skip-old-files option to avoid a lot of error output about not being able to extract existing files. We do this so that the next time you want to back up your Google Photos, any files that existed between the last backup and the new one aren’t re-written and we can safely skip extracting them from the archive. This will save a ton of time.

Step 4 - Deduplicating Media Files

Repeat step 3 for all of the Takeout archives - you can delete each one as you go once it’s been extracted. Once you’re done, we can inspect how many files we have that are new by counting the files that are not immutable.

Here's a little script to do just that.
#!/usr/bin/env sh

if [ "$(id -u)" -ne 0 ]; then
    echo "Please run with sudo!" 1>&2;
    exit 1;

find "$ORIGINALS" -type f -print0 \
| xargs --null lsattr \
| grep -- "----------------------" \
| wc --lines;

Breaking it down:

  1. if [ "$(id -u)" -ne 0 ] - again, checks that we’re running as root or with sudo.
  2. find "$ORIGINALS" -type f -print0 - finds files in our originals folder. We use -print0 to safely handle filenames with weird characters in them.
  3. xargs --null lsattr - for each file that find outputs we want to run lsattr - this will list any extended attributes on each file.
  4. grep -- "----------------------" - for each line (file) of output from lsattr, we’re only interested in lines (files) that have no extended attributes set (files that have immutable set would show as ----i-----------------).
  5. wc --lines - count the number of lines (files).

Neat! Now let’s deduplicate all of these files. As mentioned in the aside above, Takeout will include multiple copies of each piece of media, as each one can appear in multiple albums. To deduplicate this and save you a bunch of hard drive space we’ll use jdupes. This tool will search for files that are identical and (in our case) turn them into filesystem hardlinks - which means that the same data on disk can be pointed to by multiple file names.

First we need to change all files back from immutable. This can be done quickly with sudo chattr -R -i "$ORIGINALS". Then we run jdupes, which has a lot of options, but the ones we want are:

sudo jdupes --link-hard --recurse "$ORIGINALS"


  • --link-hard - we want to hard-link all identical files together.
  • --recurse - consider all files within subdirectories of $ORIGINALS recursively.

When this is done we’ll have potentially saved a lot of disk space!

Want to find out how much?

Here’s a short command that will tell you exactly how much space has been saved!

find "$ORIGINALS" -type f -links +1 -printf '%i %s\n' \
| awk 'a[$1]++{sum+=$2}END{print sum}' \
| numfmt --to=iec-i --suffix=B

Here’s the gist of what’s happening:

  1. find "$ORIGINALS" -type f… - find all files in $ORIGINALS;
    • -links +1… - that have more than one hardlink;
    • -printf '%i %s\n' - and output the file’s inode number and file size (in bytes).
  2. awk 'a[$1]++{sum+=$2}END{print sum}' - this line is a bit heavy, but here’s what the awk script is doing:
    • a[$1]++

      Increment the value stored in a[$1] (where $1 is going to be the inode number from each line). The inode is the unique data on disk - multiple file paths hardlinked to the same data will have the same inode number.

    • {sum+=$2}

      The {sum+=$2} part is a conditional clause - that means that if the value before it is “truthy” it will execute. The first time a unique inode is encountered a[$1]++ will post-increment to 1, returning 0. This is falsy, so the conditional clause won’t run. Each time an inode is encountered after that, however, the value with be 1 or more, which is a truthy value and the conditional clause will run. All the clause actually does (when run) is increment the value sum (which starts at 0) by $2 (the file size in bytes).

    • END{print sum} - when the script ends, print the value in sum.

  3. numfmt --to=iec-i --suffix=B - this converts the value of sum output by awk to an IEC size (e.g., 1024 would be converted to 1.0KiB).

So as an example, say our “Originals” folder only contains three files:

  • 🖼️ a.jpg
  • 🖼️ b.jpeg
  • 📄 sidecar.json

And a.jpg and b.jpeg are both hardlinks to the same 1MiB of data, and sidecar.json is a 1KiB standalone file. When we run our script, the find portion will output three lines:

12345 1048576
12345 1048576
67890 1024

When awk gets these lines, it will perform the following:

  • Line 1: Post-increment a[12345] (from 0 to 1), returning 0. 0 is falsy, so {sum+=1048576} doesn’t run.
  • Line 2: Post-increment a[12345] (from 1 to 2), returning 1. 1 is truthy, so {sum+=1048576} runs - sum is now 1048576.
  • Line 3: Post-increment a[67890] (from 0 to 1), returning 0. 0 is falsy, so {sum+=1024} doesn’t run.
  • End of input: END{print sum} runs, outputting 1048576.

Finally, numfmt converts 1048576 to 1.0MiB, and we see our space savings is 1 megabyte! This is correct, as if b.jpeg wasn’t hardlinked to a.jpg it would take an additional 1 megabyte.


Finally, we can re-mark our files as immutable:

find "$ORIGINALS" -type f -print0 \
| sudo xargs -0 -n 1 chattr +i

Now we turn Photoprism back on, and tell it to re-index new files in the Originals folder. It will even intelligently use the sidecar JSON files that Takeout exports to enrich each media item with additional metadata.