What’s an Incremental Backup?

I have a mental ‘block’ on backing up which unnerves my approach to it. I have managed one full backup (32gb) on an external hard drive. I have just read your article on maintenance but do not understand what is meant by “incremental backup”. Does it simply ‘update’ or overwrite the existing backup or does it create something else that only contains whatever is new since the previous backup? I think the latter is what I would prefer.

What you prefer is, indeed, what it is.

There are actually typically three different types of backups: full, incremental, and differential. Understanding which is which, and how they should be used is pretty important to making sure you’re appropriately backed up, while not simultaneously eating up disk space at an exorbitant rate.

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Can I just keep making incremental backups after I’ve made a full image backup?

Leo, I’m using a shareware backup utility called AISL backup, which seems similar to Macrium Reflect that you recommend. Here’s the question. I made a disk image backup and every day I add an incremental backup. I’ve been doing this for about a year and so now have 300 plus files in the backup. Can I keep doing this? Or is it bad practice? I notice that somewhere you can recommended a full image backup once a week and an incremental in-between.

Nope, it’s not practical and to be blunt, it’s downright dangerous.

Let me explain why that is and what I recommend you do instead.

Read moreCan I just keep making incremental backups after I’ve made a full image backup?

Is cloning to a second internal drive a viable backup strategy?

Leo, I’ve reformatted my PC several times in the past which is a real pain. Since then, I’ve done things a little different. Now, I just use another internal hard drive hooked up via USB adapter to clone my present hard drive. It takes less than an hour to do so and I do this every six months using flash drives in-between to save anything new. It seems to work well for me. Can you think of problems that may occur from doing this sort of backup?

Backing up puts you ahead of the game. You’re doing more than probably half of the people out there today.

Cloning your hard drive is a reasonable solution, but personally, I’m not comfortable with it because you can run into a few “gotchas” every now and then.

Read moreIs cloning to a second internal drive a viable backup strategy?

Is it better to use incremental or differential backups?

Hi Leo. In January, I made a full image backup of my computer using Macrium Standard and scheduled a nightly differential backup. I chose differential over incremental as it’s easier to restore using the full image plus the most recent differential rather than restoring the full image and every subsequent incremental. To make sure I retain enough disk space for backups on my external drive,  I delete all the differentials every 10 days except for the last two. Based on this scenario: 1) Would there be any advantage to making monthly full image backups as you suggest rather than just sticking with my January image? 2) Would there be any advantage in using incrementals instead of differentials? 3) It’s now June and I am a happy camper! Is there any reason I shouldn’t be?

Well, first let me start with the last question first. Nope, you’re in great shape!

I’m thrilled that you’re backing up. You’ve clearly put some thought into this, and I don’t have any serious issues with the approach that you’re taking. If you’re comfortable with what you’re doing, I probably wouldn’t have you change anything.

But if there were something that I’d recommend that you change, it’d be taking a new full backup probably once a month or so. Why? That gets a little harder for me to explain.

Read moreIs it better to use incremental or differential backups?

How do I automatically clean out my accumulation of backups?

Is there a way to automate the process of taking full backups and then incremental backups using Macrium Reflect and automatically thinning the backups out over time? I’m seeking something that works like Time Machine does on OSX (but with incrementals less frequently than hours.) If there’s a way to set this up with Reflect, it certainly isn’t evident looking at the software.

I agree, disk management settings are not evident when  looking at the software. But it absolutely is possible to manage the number of backups kept to disk – and to manage it automatically. That’s the way I have it set up on my machine.

Macrium Reflect can be scheduled to do full backups, followed by incremental backups every night. Combine that with what I would call “auto clean,” and you have your setting.

To sort it all out we need to first think about how incremental backups work, and then find the settings.

Read moreHow do I automatically clean out my accumulation of backups?

What’s the Difference Between an Image Backup and a Files and Folder Backup?


Recently, I bought a one terabyte external hard drive and Macrium Reflect backup software as you recommended. But now I’m very much confused about two features of it… and that is “Create Backup Image Wizard” and “Backup Files and Folder Wizard”. What is the difference between the two? What are the respective purposes? I’ve Googled about this and even searched on your site, but I couldn’t figure it out, so I finally decided to write you my first

In this excerpt from Answercast #48, I look at the difference between a full image backup of a hard drive and selectively backing up files and folders.

Read moreWhat’s the Difference Between an Image Backup and a Files and Folder Backup?