Implement your own Backup System:
Backing up computer data has become an imperative job for Windows users. This occurs because 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.
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!
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.
Create your own Backup with a Batch File:
Step one is purchase an external USB hard drive kit. Once installed correctly, a new drive will be shown in “My Computer”. Make a note of the drive letter that is allocated to it -eg; E: or F: or G:, etc…
The key to your own automated backup is the use of a batch file. This is a text file (or script file) that contains commands that are executed whenever the file is run. Creating a batch file is quite easy. In Windows, you can create one using Notepad. The thing to remember is that it must be a pure ASCII text file. Using a Word Processor, even WordPad, will not produce a pure text. I recommend using Notepad.
It is often easier to copy your existing work directories to separate hard disk (or a network resource) rather than using other complicated backup software. Several directories can be backed up easily by simply creating a simple a batch file (termed .CMD file in Windows 2000, XP and Vista). This ‘backup’ file can be saved and either:
- Run it manually from your Windows Desktop – or
- Add a ‘short-cut’ to this file into the Windows [Startup] folder
- It can be added to the Windows [Scheduled Tasks] folder
Windows Batch files have many other uses – just like this working example. Copy the text box below, and paste it into Notepad. Save the file with a name like ‘MyBackup.cmd, and be sure to add the .cmd extension, and not the default .txt.
This can be used as a working template of your own automatic backup script! Modify it to suit your own needs:
Notes: substitute the ‘set drive=E:\Backup‘ for the drive letter of your 2nd hard drive (or other network path).
The above Batch Script performs the following:
- Backs up My Documents (all your documents, pictures, music, etc)
- Backs up Favorites (the website addresses you have saved)
- Backs up Outlook Express email and address book for the current user
- Backs up Outlook email and contacts for the current user (if found.)
- Backs up Incredimail email and address book for the current user (if found.)
- Backs up Mozilla email and address book for the current user (if found)
- Backs up the Windows Registry data for the current user
This script copies the files to the directory defined in the %drive% variable (E:\Backup in the above script). After the first run, the script will incrementally add (over-write) any files that are found to be new – or have been changed. This backup script will copy system and hidden files found.
Understanding the Backup script:
- Lines that begin with “::” are simply script comments
- The “set drive=” is used to indicate your backup Drive and any file path
- The “set BackUpCmd=” is used for the Xcopy command switches
- Lines beginning with “echo ” are used to output text progress messages
- You can cancel this running script by a CTRL+C or CTRL+Break
- The Registry backup in the above example saves the current ‘User Profile’ registry profile state. Saving the entire Windows System Hive Registry is not part of this simplistic and ‘essential files’ backup approach.
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
- 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, 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 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 timestamp’s 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.
Backup Tools: External links
- ROBOCOPY GUI Robocopy GUI from Microsoft Tech-Net
- XXCOPY A freeware (and paid ‘Pro’ version) 3rd-party Robocopy equivalent.
- TeraCopy A freeware Robocopy clone with graphical interface, can replace Explorer copy / move functions.
- HoboCopy Volume Shadow Copy capable semi-replacement, to consistently copy files that are locked and in use.
- Windows Server 2003: Resource Kit Tools
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.
Windows Vista Shadow Copy:
In Windows Vista, the re-written backup utility also uses Shadow Copy to manually backup files. In addition, the Shadow Copy for Shared Folders feature is now called “Previous Versions” and has been enabled for files on standalone computers. This feature stores backup copies of files on local volumes using incremental snapshots and can restore them later. The backup copies are either automatically created over time or also created manually when the backup utility is used. This ‘Previous versions feature’ is available in the Business, Enterprise, and Ultimate editions of Windows Vista. The Windows Vista version of System Restore is also now based on Shadow Copy. Prior to Windows Vista, System Restore was based on a file-based filter that watched changes for a certain set of file extensions, and then copied files before they were overwritten.