Backups and Archives

Computer errors and software failures happen occasionally so it is important to backup your files and documents.

One simple way to backup your files is to copy them to a backup disk. If there are only a few small files a usb drive will work but if you are backing up lots of large files a cd/dvd burner, a flash drive, or a second drive may be needed. You can use a software program to do automate backups or do it manually. A manual backup usually involves dragging the files or folders to the backup disk to create the duplicate backup. There are various methods of automated backup systems including disk imaging which duplicates the entire contents of your disk and incremental backups which duplicates all changes. Most large scale backup systems include redundant array of independent disks (RAID), continuous data protection (CDP) and/or replication.

There are also online backup systems that provide space to store your backup files using the internet or cloud service.

Store your backup files in a safe place out of the sun and away from electromagnetic devices such as speakers and wires with strong electrical currents.

Every file that you create and plan to keep should be backed up. This includes word processing documents, financial information, databases, address books, photos, etc...

Some less obvious files that also need to be backed up are email and Internet Favorites or Bookmarks. Check the help files in your email program on how to back up email. Generally each folder name in your email program is a file containing the individual email messages and copying these files to the backup disk should be sufficient. Software preferences such as customized menus and settings can also be backed up. Check your software's help files to find out where these files are located.

Software companies change the way that files are used as they come up with newer versions. As new versions of your software programs are installed make sure that the new program version can handle the older file format on your backup. It may be necessary to save your content using the newest format and back the files up again. Keep details about your backups so that you can retrieve the most current version.

When to backup is an individual choice. A company should have a backup policy which explains how and when data should be backed up. It all depends on how important the information is and how difficult it would be to duplicate it in the event of a system failure. If the information is critical, an automatic backup system that duplicates the documents immediately may be needed. If the files are not critical a weekly backup may be all that is needed. It is impossible to determine when a system failure will occur so it is better be cautious.

It is also a good idea to store a copy of your critical files in another location in the event of a catastrophe.

The backed up data can then be used as an archive, to recover from a system failure or to transfer data to a new computer system. Simply copy the files to the correct folder to restore them. Backup software will have an automatic recovery feature that will restore the backed up files.

Archives and Compression

Much of the  software you buy or download off the Internet is Compressed and/or Archived. Computers store information in bytes which are made up of on or off signals. The software applications that use these files need to have all the on and off signals (bytes) in place but when the file or files are compress the files can be modified to take up less space on the storage disk or device.

Archives can be used to keep multiple files together in a single file.

There are commercial and shareware programs that will compress, decompress and archive files. Some popular form of data compression are zip, tar, gz and stuffit though there are many others available.

Programs are also available to compress and decompress your files as you, or the application you are using, require them. This can be a way of making more space available on a hard drive.

Storing multiple files in a single file can then be store, backed up or copied to another device. Archives can be used to compress and send multiple files through email. Archives can also be used to transfer files that can't normally be sent through email.

Last updated: February 18, 2021