How do I Backup?

Posted By BrokenClaw on June 16, 2008

Creating a backup is the process of saving a second copy of computer files. Although you might think that your computer files are safely stored on your hard drive, there are many different scenarios in which they can be lost, such as:

  • your laptop gets lost or stolen
  • your computer gets damaged
  • your computer gets old and stops working
  • you accidentally delete the files
  • someone else accidentally deletes the files

When something like that happens, your only hope is that you have a backup copy. All computer power-users will give you the same advice: Backup, backup, backup! There are many stories of people losing their research papers, work projects, and digital photo collections because they failed to have a backup.

Backup copies of files are sometimes called an archive. Technically, an archive is an original document (letter, book, photograph, etc.) which is moved to a different location because it is no longer needed for everyday use, such as the National Archives or a hospital’s medical records. Nevertheless, in the digital age, the term archive is also understood to mean any copy made for safe-keeping.

When deciding what to backup, just think of everything on your computer that is uniquely yours that you would hate to lose. For the home user, that usually means media and data files, such as your personal digital photos and photo scans, digital videos, email and word processor files. Think about other programs you have on your computer that save data, such as a financial program, a home inventory program, a genealogy program, or any other specialty program for your hobbies.

It is generally not necessary to make a backup copy of the programs themselves if you still have the original installation disc. If it is a program you purchased and downloaded online, you should backup the download file, or check if the company allows you to re-download the program if you need it. If so, you just have to backup the files that the program creates.

Keep in mind that many programs make an automatic backup of your data files. However, the purpose of those backups is to replace your data if you make a mistake or if you want to revert to a previous version. Since they are typically saved on the same computer and hard drive as your working files, they would not protect you if your computer stopped working.

If you have a desktop computer with more than one hard drive, you can copy your files from one to the other, but in order to protect yourself from a catastrophic loss, the backup must be located outside of your computer. One of the simplest ways to do that is to burn your files to a CD or DVD (or Blu-ray disc) or copy them to a USB drive. Then you can safely store them or copy them onto a different computer. Of course, your backup is only as good as the last one, so you have to remember to repeat it periodically to keep your backup up-to-date. Depending on how your home network is set up, you can also copy files directly to a different computer.

There are also online services, at a nominal cost, which will allow you to upload and store your files on their servers. In theory, an online backup is most robust, because it is completely separated from your computer but always accessible. Of course, you have to trust the website for privacy, security, and reliability.

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