Implement your own Backup System - Windows

Backing up computer data has become an imperative job for Windows users

Implement your own Backup System - Windows

For Windows users, data safety is very critical and every user must be aware that unpredictable events can happen and that could destroy important data on their PC’s or Mac’s. Learning how to perform backups is a really 'an absolute must'. Any user, no matter how confident he or she is about their computer, need undertake actions to prevent losing data (images, music, documents, work, email, etc). Hard disks crash, blackouts occurs, accidental deleting of files DOES occur. Viruses or other unplanned events can destroy your work in a split second, but, don’t blame these events; blame yourself for not learning backing-up! Now read on - to learn how.

A basic Introduction: Performing a Basic Backup - for those just getting started!

What and How to Backup?

If you were a System Administrator responsible for maintaining critical Network Servers, the answer would be EVERYTHING! However, this would make for some extra hard work and a deep understanding of how computers work. What I outline here, is a simple basic backup method.

Attempting to backup everything is a very hard challenge for modern Windows. Why? Since Windows 2000 release, Windows (2000, XP, and Vista) has become a true multi-tasking operating system. This means there are some System Files that CANNOT be 'easily' backed-up – or restored. It is like trying to lift yourself out of bed - by your own feet!

Complete software backups are possible with multiple operating systems and more than one hard drive!

External Hard Drive on Laptop




To dual boot means that you have more than one operating system installed on the hard drive and that you can decide between the two when you start your computer.




Instead of backing up everything, I will advise you on my own simple back-up method. This involves only those things that are irreplaceable, and that means critical data and personal files. All other things (Operating System and Programs) can be replaced by a clean install. Let us look at each software component in order:

  • Operating System - If your hard drive fails, you may need to buy a new unit and start with a clean install. Step one is installing the Operating System. You will need two things to do this, the installation media (CD-ROM), and its associated Product Key.
  • Program Software (Office, etc) - This will come with its own CD-ROM, and it’s associated registration codes. Make sure you know where they are when it comes time to reinstall.
  • Downloadable software (Skype, Firefox, etc) – Go to the respective Website, and print out the details for the products download page. If you need to reinstall, this will tell you where to go for the download.
  • Shareware - Print out the registration code, along with the Web home page (if applicable) and store it.

Now, if you do some analysis of your own hard drive, you will find that at least 70%, and probably more, of what is on your hard drive falls in one of the above categories. With just a little preparation, you can reinstall all of this above software - if you really need to do so.

  • Documents: This folder is the main area for your personal data. Normally, all your saved work, pictures, and music are placed in a folder in this directory. This makes it a very easy to do a backup on this section.
  • Address book: Whatever e-mail client you use, you have an address book containing a list of those people you have contacted.
  • Bookmarks and Favorites: You will have saved the addresses of some great Web sites. Netscape saves them as a single file, Internet Explorer uses a single directory containing individual links to each site.
  • E-mail files: All those special messages you sent and received can be backed up.
  • Other: You may have MYOB or QuickBooks that has critical data that cannot be replaced easily.

Easily Backup And Search Your Email

A great program that allows you to easily backup many popular Windows email programs, is MailStore Home. This is a free software tool will allow you to backup and archive email from the following email based programs:

  • Microsoft Outlook
  • Microsoft Outlook Express
  • Microsoft Windows Mail
  • Microsoft Exchange Server Mailboxes
  • Mozilla Thunderbird
  • Mozilla SeaMonkey
  • Webmailer
  • POP3 and IMAP
  • File Import

MailStore Home allows you to backup your email's messages from many common applications into one accessible archive store. MailStore will import your existing email from Outlook, Windows Mail, Outlook Express, Thunderbird, Exchange. Once MailStore has archived your email, you can use this software to easily search through all your messages by keyword. Optionally, you can quickly create a backup CD or DVD within this program. CD and DVD burning is fully integrated within MailStore Home. Archived email messages are stored in a easy MIME-compatible format, and can be easily recovered at any time.

A better tool than using xcopy = RoboCopy:

RoboCopy, or "Robust File Copy", is a command-line folder replication tool. It has been freely available as part of the Windows Resource Kit (outside this site), and has now been introduced as a standard component of Windows Vista.

RoboCopy is noted for its capabilities above and beyond the built-in Windows COPY and XCOPY (outside this site) commands, including the following:

  • Ability to tolerate outages and resume copying where it previously left off
  • Ability to correctly copy attributes, owner information, alternate data streams, auditing information, and timestamps by default
  • Ability to correctly copy NTFS ACL's, (when /COPYALL provided)
  • Persistence by default, with a programmable number of automatic retries if a file cannot be opened
  • A "mirror" mode, which keeps folder contents in sync by optionally deleting files out of the destination that are no longer present in the source
  • Ability to copy a very large numbers of files that would otherwise exceed the resources of the built-in utility
  • A progress indicator on the command line that updates continuously

RoboCopy will not copy open files that are found to be 'in use' by other users or applications. The Windows Volume Shadow Copy service is the only Windows sub-system that can open files while they are in use. RoboCopy does not implement accessing the Volume Shadow Copy service.

Traditionally RoboCopy itself is a command-line tool, however Microsoft Technet has provided a GUI front-end.

Also, be sure to check out the new RichCopy tool - a free new utility which offers a number of improvements over Robocopy GUI.

RichCopy offers a number of granular controls that allow you to tailor file copying to your backup needs

Backup Tools: External links

Windows Volume Shadow Copy:

Shadow Copy (also called Volume Snapshot Service or VSS) is a feature introduced with Windows Server 2003, and available in all releases of Microsoft Windows thereafter, that allows taking manual or automatic backup copies or snapshots of a file or folder on a specific volume at a specific point in time. It is used by NTBackup and the Volume Shadow Copy service to backup files. In Windows Vista, it is used by Windows Vista's backup utility, System Restore and the Previous Versions feature.

Back up methods for Windows 10:

Windows 10, as in previous versions of Windows, has a number of features built in that allow you to perform both individual file backups and more comprehensive system backups.Windows 10 – like all previous versions of Windows – has a number of features built in that allow you to perform both individual file backups and some comprehensive system backups.

File History - a 'new' feature (label) for backups

Windows 10 is a new name for a included backup tool that enables you to make regular, scheduled copies of the personal data on your PC and store it on an external drive or some type of storage

To set up File History open the Start Menu and click on Settings. In the menu that appears select Update & Security and then click on the Backup section to view the relevant backup options.

Windows 10: Backup using File History

On the right side of the panel you will see a section entitled "Back Up Using File History", and beneath this is an option to Add A Drive (+).

By clicking on the plus (+) symbol you will see a list of any external hard drives that are connected to your Windows 10 computer. Any external (USB) drives can be selected for backup use.

Windows 10: Backup using File History - Select a Drive

Once you have selected an external drive you will see that the option has changed to "Automatically Back Up My Files", and now this option is switched on by default. You can optionally specify how often your File History backups take place (automatic) , and which files and folders are to be included in the backup schedule.

The "More Options" will open a new window that has several useful features.

Windows 10: Backup using File History - Options

By default, File History creates backups of your files once an hour, but you can manually start a backup immediately by clicking on the button marked "Back Up Now".

The time range for backups can set between every 10 minutes up to once a day, but the default hourly backups are quite safe most users.

As scheduled backups can take up a lot of space on your external hard drive, there is a second menu that informs File History how long it should keep such backups.

File History automatically will backup all the folders that are part of your main User Account on the computer, you can additionally add other other folders with "Add A Folder"

Notes:While the File History backup routine is more than enough for most users, it does backup only the files and folder that you specify.