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A course backup is a copy of your course that includes all of the settings and content (depending on the configuration of the backup) as it was at the time the backup was taken. Essentially it is a saved fallback version of your course in case you need to revert to a previous version. It is advisable to take regular course backups, especially before making any major changes to your course. 

General backup defaults

Default settings for course backups can be set by a Site Administrator in Administration > Site administration > Courses > Backups > General backup defaultsSelected settings may be locked, so that they cannot be changed when creating a course backup.

By selecting a time in the Keep logs for... dropdown it is possible to specify how long the backup logs information is kept before being deleted. As this information may be very large, it is recommended the length of time chosen be quite short.

Automated course backup

Totara has an automated course backup system that you can run on a nightly basis to export all course content for the entire site.

The course backup tool in Totara actually runs the same functions as an individual course backup. It simply runs automatically on all of the courses on the site at a designated time. It’s a good idea to schedule backups for when your server isn’t usually busy. Running the backup tool over all the courses can be processor-intensive, so you shouldn’t run it when there are a lot of learners trying to access the server.

Automated backup setup

To setup your own automated course backups you will need to have Site Administrator access to your Totara site.

  1. From the Administration block go to Site administration > Courses > Backups > Automated backup setup.
  2. You will then need to configure the setup options you require.
  3. Next you will need to configure your desired settings
  4. Click Save changes.  

Once you have set up your backup schedule, Totara automatically creates archives of all the courses on the server at the time you specified. Once the backup is complete, Totara sends you an email describing the status of the backup. Any courses which are unavailable to learners and have not been changed in the last month are automatically skipped in the backup process.

In addition to setting automated course backup, we strongly recommend that you perform regular site backups.

Setup options  

There are a number of setup options available, and these appear at the top of the Automated backup setup page. These should be configured to best suit your situation and it is recommend that backups are scheduled outside of core site usage hours.


You can choose how you want the backup to be run.

  • Enabled: Run automated backup from cron
  • Manual: Allow the automated backup to only be run through the Command Line Interface backup script
  • Disabled: Turn off the automated backs

Choose which days of the week you want to perform the backup.

Execute at

Choose the time of the day the backup starts.

Automated backup storage

Choose where to store the backup files.

Save toThis is the where the backup will be saved, make sure you include the full folder path name. If you can, choose a backup path on another machine or on a different drive than the one Totara is on. You don’t want to lose your backups at the same time you lose your Totara site if the drive fails. If you leave the field blank, then backup ZIP files will be saved in the backup folder of each course files folder.-
Maximum number of backups kept

The number of backups for each courses to keep. Where the number is exceeded the oldest backup will be deleted.

Delete backups older than

Include how old in days the backup can be before it is deleted. You can also select never so the old files are never deleted.

Maximum number of backups kept

If backups older than a specified number of days are deleted, it can happen that an inactive course ends up with no backup. To prevent this, a minimum number of backups kept should be specified.

Use course name in backup filename

Include the course short name as part of the backup filename.

Skip hidden courses

Choose whether to skip hidden courses (this includes audience based visibility). 

Skip course not modified since

Specify the number of days where the course hasn't been modified and won't be backed up.

Skip courses not modified since previous backup

Choose whether to skip courses that have not been modified since the last automatic backup. This requires logging to be enabled.


Recommended settings 

It is possible to included or exclude the following data in the backup. Users, role assignments, activities and resources, blocks, filters, comments, badges, users completion information, logs, history, question bank, and groups and groupings.

The backup page lets you set the types of content to be backed up. If you are running a nightly full-server backup (which is strongly recommended), we suggest you use the following settings:

  • Include modules and module user data: Click both of these check boxes to preserve all learner work for each course
  • Users: Set this to All - if you need to restore your Totara server from a backup, you don’t want to lose any accounts, even if they aren’t associated with a current course
  • User files: Enable (check the box) to ensure the restored server looks as much like the original as possible by  restoring all user files
  • Course files: Enable this (check the box) to prevent learners needing to restore all of their course files after you restore the server
  • Keep: This setting determines how many old backups will be saved - set this as high as you can without taking up too much space on your server

Manual course backup

A course can have all or some of its activities and user data saved by using the course backup. This is useful for creating new courses that are similar to exiting courses or moving a course from one site to another. Usually the Site Administrator is responsible for setting a schedule of automated course backups for the whole site, while a trainer with editing privileges creates one off manual course backup when required. 

Automated course backup requires the Totara cron to be running in order to function. Cron is used to run tasks such as backups and sending emails periodically so it must be enabled.

Alongside any automated backups that are run on your Totara site it is sometimes also necessary or advisable to perform a manual backup on your individual course (especially if you are going to make any big changes to the course). To perform a manual backup follow the steps below:

  1. From the course page in the Administration block go Course administration > Backup.
  2. On Initial settings page select the areas of the course you want to include in the backup, the you have two options:
    • Click the Next button to select which activities are resources are included.
    • Click Jump to final step if you wish to include everything (in this case the backup will be performed, after which you should click Continue).  
  3. If you clicked Next, you'll now see the Schema settings page. Here you can select/deselect specific items to include in backup, including selection of  specific types of activity to be backed . Once you are done, click the Next button.
  4. When you have finished a Confirmation and review page where you should check that everything right, using the Previous button to go back and change options if necessary. 
  5. When If you are happy with the selected option click the Perform backup button.
  6. Once the backup has been performed you will see a confirmation message and a Continue button which you should click to conclude the process. 

The backup may take a few moments depending on the size of the course. 

A backup file with a .mbz extension  is saved in the course backup area. Backup file names are of the form backup-totara-course-coursename-date-hour.mbz, ending in -nu.mbz when backed up with no users and -an.mbz with anonymised names. 

Anonymising user information

Anonymise user information is a backup feature which protects user identities by making each user anonymous. If this box is checked in the backup Initial settings Totara will substitute aliases for real names, substituting @doesntexist.com email addresses and so forth. For example 'Max Manager' might become 'anonfirstname4 anonlastname4'.  This can only be done by users with appropriate permissions, such as administrators and managers.

Additionally, users with these permissions can choose whether to include users, user role assignments, groups, groupings, user files, comments, user completion details, course logs, and grade history in the backup.

Restore a course from a backup 

Courses can be restored from a backup made by Totara. The backup and restore process is a common way of moving or copying specific courses from one Totara to another.

First go to the backed up course you wish to restore and then follow the steps below:

  1. In the Administration block go Course administration > Restore.
  2. In the Course backup area table find the desired backup file.
  3. Alongside the desired backup file click the Restore link.
  4. You will see a confirmation screen displaying what will be restored. If you are happy click the Continue button. 
  5. Choose where you want to restore the course and click the Continue button in that section. 
  6. The next screen lets you choose which settings features you wish to restore, once you have selected click Next.
  7. You can now select which specific items you wish to restore, and change the course name if desired before clicking Next.
  8. There is a final opportunity to review what will be includes in the restore, use the Previous button to amend your selections or click Perform restore to proceed.  
  9. Once the restore is complete you'll see a confirmation message and a Continue button, which you should click to conclude the restoration. 

On this page

The Totara Academy has a whole course dedicated to using Plugins and Advanced Features in Totara Learn. Here you can learn more on how to use courses and categories, see best practice, and give it a go yourself.

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