Cheap backup on Windows

One of the most important and still one of the most poorly applied tasks of computer calysthenics in the world is data backup. Usually, it’s only when you discover that you lost your important data that you remember that you should have been backing things up. A little too late…

Requirement

What are the qualities of a good backup?

  • It’s done regularly
  • It contains useful data (and only them)
  • You can easily perform a restore operation

If you look at these qualities, it is easy to see why so often we do not have the right backup sets. Problems abund:

  • I forgot to run the backup
  • I did not have enough time, so I backed up only part of what was needed
  • I can no longer read the backup set or I can’t find the restoration tool

The Roumazeilles solution

Advantages

We can’t over-stress the importance of being attentive to these problems. But it is sometimes difficult to find a good solution. I could explain how to backup with expensive and complex software tools (or even hardware solutions), but I decided to give you a tip about how to do fairly good PC backups, as I do it right now. My method has plenty of advantages:

  • Free
  • Works with all Windows versions
  • Uses no complicated software (you don’t need to click on the advertisment messages appearing around this page)
  • Works automatically, even if I forgot or I’m hard pressed by some kind of other emergency
  • Backups only the important data, but all of them
  • Restore uses NO special tool and needs even less competence (the most sensitive operation is the safest and simplest)

What are you waiting for?

Your answer: “Please, tell us what is this miracle solution?

Overall approach

The basic idea is to use the standard Windows tools only (file copying, a few MS-DOS commands et planned tasks) to create the backup sets that can be used/restored with a mere file copying.

Furthermore, I wanted to have several copies spread over a long period of time (one copy per day during the last week and one copy per week during the last month).

In details

I created (using Notepad or any other text editor) two BAT files containing the commands :

  • DAILY_BCK.BAT run once a day
  • WEEKLY_BCK.BAT run once a week

Let’s look into them:

  1. rem DAILY_BCK.BAT
  2. deltree D:\backups\d-6
  3. move D:\backups\d-5 D:\backups\d-6
  4. move D:\backups\d-4 D:\backups\d-5
  5. move D:\backups\d-3 D:\backups\d-4
  6. move D:\backups\d-2 D:\backups\d-3
  7. move D:\backups\d-1 D:\backups\d-2
  8. move D:\backups\d-0 D:\backups\d-1
  9. xcopy Mes Documents\*.* D:\backups\d-0\Mes documents

This MS-DOS command file starts by removing the oldest backup set (D:\backups\d-6), then moves all sets by one position to free the most recent one (D:\backups\d-0) into which it copies the files to be saved (this part can be easily modified to be tailored to your needs).

  1. rem WEEKLY_BCK.BAT
  2. deltree D:\backups\w-5
  3. move D:\backups\w-4 D:\backups\w-5
  4. move D:\backups\w-3 D:\backups\w-4
  5. move D:\backups\w-2 D:\backups\w-3
  6. move D:\backups\w-1 D:\backups\w-2
  7. move D:\backups\w-0 D:\backups\w-1
  8. xcopy D:\backups\d-0\*.* D:\backups\w-0

This one is even simpler, even if it uses the same approach: Remove the oldest weekly backup set (D:\backups\w-5), move all weekly sets by one position to free the most recent slot (D:\backups\w-0) into which we copy the most recent daily backup.

Then, to allow automatic execution of these commands (I don’t want to have to remember these daily or weekly operations), I just had to use the system of planned tasks of Windows. Go to the configuration panel and ask for the planned tasks. You just have to create two tasks, one daily for DAILY_BCK.BAT, the other weekly to run WEEKLY_BCK.BAT. I run them at times that are clearly off the most active hours to reduce inconvenience:

  • daily backup at 2:00am (after my most common work hours in the evening)
  • sweekly backup at 10:00am on Monday morning (to save the weekend production – my most productive time period)

For a more profesional use, you would probably use different time slots without problem.

Use in backup mode

What should I say? When planned, the backup starts without bothering you. Depending on the Windows version you use, you may or may not see a window opening (if you are in front of the PC then). But there is nothing to do (except ignoring it your best aristocratic manner).

Whenever you want, you can run a disk check to prove that it is still able to keep your important backup files (in D:\backups, for me). Whenever you want, you can also open adn check individual files. But I advise you to refrain from this. This is a backup, not live data. This is both your seat belt and your car’s airbag; You should refrain from poking them with your screwdriver!

the only real constraint is that since the backup operation is fully unattended, you should avoid to shut down the computer and the backup disk (specially if it is an external USB drive, keep it on).

Use in restore mode

In the unpleasant eventuality of a crash or file deletion, you have no tool to install, no difficult procedure: Just go and check into the D:\backups directory to find your file(s) in the most recent backup set and copy it back into the right place.

Conclusion

This does not replace the confort of RAID technology (eve in case of disk failure, you still have your data available), the long life of a quality archive (despite the frailty of optical media). But it protects against accidental destruction (RAID arrays never were designed to correct the accidental press of the DEL key) and it allows to have several copies of the same file representing successive states of the backed up files.

So, waht are you waiting for? Do your own backup. Implement this (or any other scheme) before the first files start disappearing.