It is so quick & easy, with just a couple of clicks, it can be done several times a day if needed!
This article is not about backing up entire hard drives or making disk images. It is about a simple, easy and quick way of making a safe spare copy of important files like photographs, documents, music, downloads etc. Best of all, to do it without having to buy backup software.
With the advent of digital cameras, more & more computers hold the only copies of the pictures of the family growing up, or often the data from hundreds of hours of research on the family tree. Do you keep your financial accounts on your computer too?
Before you read any further, stop and think “What if my computer hard drive failed at this moment in time? Would all my photographs, music or other important files be lost forever? Are my financial documents safe? What would I miss, if it the computer failed totally in the next few minutes?”
Many people have not made a spare copy (backup) because of various reasons:
- Don’t know that backup exists
- Not aware of the risk and vulnerability
- Don’t know how.
- Thinks it is complicated.
- Thinks it is time consuming.
- Believes hard drive failure or other data loss disaster won’t happen to them.
FACT: It is not a matter of if it will happen to you; it is a matter of when it will happen! Be advised and please take note. Last year alone, the author tended to 3 dead hard drives on friends’ machines!
Computers, hard drives and software can be replaced but data cannot be replaced if there is no safe copy anywhere.
What is ‘backing up’?
Put simply, and it is simple, it is making a spare copy of a file or folder and saving it elsewhere. In other words, a duplicate so that if the original gets corrupted or destroyed the backup can be copied to replace the original.
Saving the copy or duplicate files elsewhere is the key to a good backup policy. It is a absolutely essential that the backup files are on a separate hard drive or external media. Do not be tempted to save the backup on the same physical hard drive as the original or on a separate partition on the same hard drive. If that drive fails, both the original and the safe copies will be lost for ever.
The cost of hardware has come down to a level where a decent size external hard drive or spare internal drive can be implemented. It is a small cost to keep safe all those valuable data. Most computers hold data that are valued at many times the cost of a hard drive or even a computer. What are your data worth in the terms of replacement (if possible) and man hours involved!
Implementing a backup regime.
This is easy. Basically, it can be done in four ways:
1) Purchasing backup software. There are some great packages out there that will do an excellent job. [B][I]But[/I][/B] the prime downsides are the cost and complexity. Most, if not all, save the backup in an encrypted or compressed fashion where the backup files can only be read by the propriety software. You will not be able to read the files on another computer without a copy of proprietary software on it.
2) Use the good old ‘Copy & Paste’ or ‘Drag and Drop’ method. This is OK for just a few files but very time consuming if you have loads of files & Folders to do. It is full of risks and does not encourage the user to backup often, although it can be made easier if all important files are kept in the same directory!
3) Use a small ‘Batch File’ to automate the copy & paste process. This is a quick and easy way of backing up but does need a modicum of knowledge to set up. Once implemented correctly, it is easy to backup on a daily or even hourly basis.
This is an example of a batch file the author wrote:
cd c:\documents and settings\DonaldG\My Documents\
Echo Backing up My Documents to My Documents on EXTERNAL K Drive
Echo Please wait for the ‘done’ indication
xcopy *.* “K:\BACKUP – My Documents from C drive – 13 July 2005 onwards\” /d /s /e /y
Echo ALL DONE. THANKS
cd c:\documents and settings\DonaldG\My Documents\
Do not use the above code if you do not understand batch commands. It can destroy data if you get it wrong!
The author used this method for some years until he discovered the next absolute gem of a programme; SynchToy…
4) Use SyncToy 2.0 from Microsoft. A free utility, written expressly for a simple, sure and safe way of making a spare copy of the important files in your life! Once set up it is so easy and convenient to use. So convenient, it is no hassle to back up several times a day as it only takes a few seconds.
Another definite advantage of using a programme like SyncToy to make duplicates is that the resulting copies can be read by any other PC without special software to decrypt them. Ideal for porting data from, for example, a laptop to desktop etc.
Supports XP and Vista Operating systems.
Download, install, configure and run SyncToy v2.0
Scroll down the page to the Download buttons and select the version that you want.
Fig 2: The top one is for 32 bit Operating systems.
Save the downloaded file in a suitable directory.
If you have not used any version of SyncToy before, you can skip the next paragraph.
IMPORTANT NOTE: If you have used SyncToy before and you are upgrading to the full v2.0 version, please read this warning from the MS website:
- If upgrading from an earlier version of SyncToy (e.g. SyncToy 1.4 or SyncToy 2.0 Beta), it is **CRITICAL** to ensure that all folder pairs are fully synchronised using the previous version before running SyncToy 2.0 setup. Not following this guideline can lead to unintended behaviour and partial data loss when running SyncToy 2.0 for the first time after upgrade. All folder pairs must also be fully synchronised at least once right after the upgrade is done.
Open File Explorer and navigate to where you have just saved the downloaded file.
Double click on:
SyncToySetupPackage_x64.exe depending on the version you downloaded
Click the Run button when you see:
Accept the licence (After reading the terms and conditions of course!)
The screen will flash a few times then you will be presented with the Setup Wizard:
Fig 5: After reading the warning, tick the box to proceed.
Fig 6: Agree the SyncToy License to proceed.
Fig 7: Select the folder in which you want to keep the programme.
The author always accepts the default directory offered. At this stage you must also select the scope of use of SyncToy: Everyone or just you. If the computer is set up for only one user then set the radio button to ‘Just me’
If you click on the button ‘Disc Cost…’
A pop-up box will show you a list of hard drives and space that you have on the computer. On the authors computer, there are 2 internal 500Gb drives and 3 external hard drives (2 x 500Gb & 1 x 350Gb)
You will be asked to confirm the installation. Click Next to proceed.
The installation only takes a few seconds. When you get the ‘Installation Complete’ box, you are advised to use Windows Update (Vista) to check for any critical updates to the .NET Framework.
That ends the installation process.
Setting up SyncToy 2.0
Before you setup & use SyncToy, you must decide on the following points:
1) Which files or folders do I want to make a safe copy of?
2) Where do I want to keep the safe copy? It is absolutely pointless to keep the copy on the same drive as the originals. It is very wise to select either a separate internal or external hard drive. An external drive is recommended if budget allows.
In SyncToy, you will see two folder options. One on the left and one on the right. The left one is where you select the folder you want to make a copy of(Source Folder). The right hand one is where you choose to keep the safe copy (Destination or target folder). This is called a “Folder Pair” you can make several folder pairs as you need. This will be explained in detail later.
In general usage, it is wise to consider how you store the original files. In XP, the operating system creates a folder “My Documents”, In Vista, they drop the ‘My’ and create a folder “Documents”
Also consider other important files that are not saved in My Documents. For example, Outlook or Outlook Express, by default store their data like emails, contacts in the Program Files. Consider creating a sub-folder in My Documents to store the outlook files. Likewise any other programme that you use, it may be prudent to create several other sub-folders for the same reason.
Careful thought to file management will pay dividends in the long run and is good practise anyway.
Again, in XP, a folder “My Photos” and “My Music” is created inside the main folder “My Documents”. This is fine because with SyncToy, you only have to do one click to make safe copies of the entire contents of “My Documents”.
In Vista, however there are separate folders for “Documents”, “Downloads” & “Music” etc.
The other thing to consider before starting: The method of synchronising. You can set the software to Synchronise, Echo or Contribute. This is very easy to understand;
New and updated files are copied both ways (left to right and right to left). Renames and deletes on either side are repeated on the other. In other words, the pair of folders will be identical to each other. Perfectly synchronised.
New and updated files are copied left to right. Renames and deletes on the left are repeated on the right.
New and updated files are copied left to right. Renames on the left are repeated on the right. There are no deletions.
The author sets his to ‘Contribute’. That means that he can ‘slim’ down working folders and on running Sync Toy, he adds new files into the destination folder. The destination folder keeps a copy of everything even if files are deleted from the source folder.
The only time it takes a long time to run is when you run a folder pair for the very first time. It is because all the files in the left folder have to be copied into the right folder. Once that has been done, Sync Toy will only update new or modified files. It does not have to go through the big copy procedure again. It stores a special little file in each folder so that it knows what is what. You must not delete of modify that special file….
In the example below SyncToy will be set up to copy “Documents” from drive C to a folder “Documents” on Drive D. The full folder paths will be:
C:\Users\Donald\Documents and copied to D:\Documents
Further more, it will be set to ‘Contribute’ so that old files are kept as archive copies.
Running SyncToy for the first time.
Got to ‘Start ->All Programs’ double click on Sync Toy 2.0
Fig 10: Click the Create New Folder Pair button
Click the left browse button to find and select the SOURCE folder then click the right button to select the DESTINATION (TARGET) folder. If the target folder does not exist, you can add a folder during this process.
Fig 13: Select the mode. In this example; ‘Contribute’
Give a meaningful name to the Folder Pair that describes what you have set up. In this example: C Docs to D docs.
At this stage it is best to just check the left & right folders and ensure they reflect the paths. Also the SyncToy Action is set to Contribute. You will notice that on the top left corner, the name of the pair you set up. If and when you set up more pairs, the names will appear here so that you can select the particular backup you want to perform
You can either run this action now and check the results or you can set up additional pairs of folders to perform other backup up procedures you may want. Because the author has multiple drives, he sets up several different backup regimes he specifically needs.
In this example, the action was run without creating additional folder pairs.
Because that author has already been using SincToy for some time, the two folders were well synchronised with each other and only files involved with writing this article were ‘new’ or ‘modified’. You will notice that SyncToy checked that 33,960 other files in the source folder already existed in the destination folder.
This is the author’s set up. Once each of the backup (copy) regimes have been run for the first time, it only takes a few seconds to do a back up of any one regime set up..
By clicking on ‘All Folder Pairs’ then ‘Run All’, SincToy 2.0 will do the lot in one fell swoop.
With SyncToy 2.0, there is no longer any excuse to NOT to make and keep safe copies of those treasured files.
Just one final note about the need for backing up: The reason for the author backing up twice is that he has experienced both drives C & D fail when there was a sudden set of power outages in just a few seconds. He lost several thousand photographs! To have 2 drives fail at the same time is VERY rare, but it can and did happen.
© 2009, 2011 Donald Gray