Best sync and backup routines guidelines

I had posted more than once about sync and backup software I use (or maybe not). It kinda grew on me that setting up good sync routine is more than software. It is a process that is even more important to get right, than choice of specific software title.

So I decided to pile up everything I know on topic.

Consolidate and downsize data

There are two components of stuff to sync – folders and files.

Folders define convenience of setup and changes down the road. The lower is amount of root folders the less tasks it will take. The shorter path to root folders the easier it will be to use and change.

For best results – use folders in drive root with definitive names and clear sub-folder structure.

Files define speed of process. In sync process every single file must be checked by some criteria on both sides. Large amount of small files is much slower to process than single large file.

For best results – package rarely needed files in archives.

Tools of use:

Choose and explore software

All sync and backup software does more or less same thing by definition. You need to pick tools that are flexible, reliable and easy to use. At the very least they must have:

  • flexible routine settings, fixed routines that developers designed may not fit your needs;
  • scheduling or scripting options, you don’t want to bother with manual sync all the time;
  • options to skip folders and files by mask, you don’t need to waste time on temporary files;
  • reputation of being robust and reliable, some tools manage to screw up simplest tasks.

Explore the specifics to set up fitting routine. It is easiest to distribute for one point to many and hardest to make multiply points exchange data.

For best result – choose your tools according to what you need done.


Separate backup and sync

While they often get mixed backup and sync are two very different things.

  • Purpose of sync is to create functional mirror of data.
  • Purpose of backup is to create clean copy of data for emergencies.

Never use sync as your only backup option. Clearly separate what files are throwaways and what are important to maintain backups of.

For best results – first backup, then sync backups with rest of files to multiply locations.

Get rid of manual work

The greatest enemy of good sync routine is manual work. Computers are great at precise and boring stuff you will hate to do every day. Make them do it.

  • automate file download with Ketarin;
  • schedule backup with CobianBackup;
  • script SyncExp with AutoIt to run every time you plug in flash drive or turn on notebook;
  • integrate Dropbox in folder structure so most important things are uploaded and revisioned in the cloud.

You will still need to check periodically if everything works fine (especially backups) but it will all click with each other every day to keep your data prepared wherever and for whatever.


At the dawn of computing single storage device was a luxury. Now we use daily multiply pieces of hardware that all deals with our data in one form or another. Maintaining sync and backup routines is best way to ensure that your data is always up to date, accessible and safe.

Have favorite sync/backup trick, advice or app? Share it in the comments!

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  • JeeMan #

    Excellent article, pretty much the same conclusions I arrived. If I may suggest yet another sync utiliy: Unison. It is windows and linux compatible, and based on rsync. Pretty easy to use. I use this one daily.
  • Sandrina #

    I almost know nothing about these back up routines.... I'll have to check these tips. Thanks
  • Rarst #

    @JeeMan Great minds think alike. :) I looked at Unison but it seems pain to set up and no longer developed. I deemed it not worth trouble, at least for now. @Sandrina Sync matters mostly for techies with multiply computers and external devices. But backup is essential for absolutely each computer user. I suggest you set it up if you don't have any at moment. Feel free to ask if you need more tips or guidelines! :)
  • Geek Squeaks’ of the Week (#51) « What's On My PC #

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  • szekelya #

    My backup (using rsync on windows) set to backup the whole user folder. So not just the documents folder or specific files, but the whole stuff under my userid containing appdata with all of the application settings. It comes handy after a hard disk crash (the thing that usually happens to others, but hey, others say I'm part of others from their point of view) if I'm not just not loosing documents, photos and music, but I also won't have to set everything in pidgin, keep its chat logs, keep the all the connection info for my ssh client, my whole firefox profile is there, boomarks, installed extensions, saved passwords and such. Last year when I had the HD crash (does not happen frequently I admit, that was maybe the first or second in my life) it was quite a feeling of superiority, when telling about that to my colleagues, and seeing their honest compassion of me loosing ten years of work, I just said "Hey, I had a backup, everything went back to its place in less than an hour, I have a fresh install, god knows, nothing changed, it might be a tad faster now, saved some defrags as well, I needed that really". You should have seen their faces. So I really think if someone looses years of his or her work due to a hd crash lacking a proper backup, is not an excuse not to be able to work, not in my group at least.
  • Rarst #

    @szekelya Myself I don't backup all of profile folder - makes no sense because most of software is portable and elsewhere. So I only archive parts of profile to Dropbox daily with Cobian Backup. Glad you had your backup perfected and reliable when you needed it. Exactly the way it should work.
  • Bob Bowen #

    I still don't understand the difference between using, for example, SyncToy, or Cobian Backup. Please someone, explain to me what the difference is. Can I use data Synced to an internal HDD to restore my main HDD, or is a Backup essential? Thank you. Bob1010
  • Rarst #

    @Bob Bowen Sync tools basically copy data, creating a closely linked mirror. It is handy when you want copy of your stuff on flash drive. It is terrible when your source files get infected with virus and sync tool promptly copies it everywhere. Synced data is exactly as source or how source been very recently. Backup tools create and keep separate copy of data. Backed up data is what source data was while back. Most solid backup routines can restore data on how it had been in multiple (as often as daily or more) points in the past for considerable time span. Basically sync is convenience, backup is reliability. Sync is very weak form of backup. For reliability of valuable data proper backup with multiple points in time is essential. If you are interested in building reliable backup routine also check this post about site that focuses on backup workflow.
  • Bob Bowen #

    Thank you. I am highly sensitized by spam, and have just changed my email address to get rid of the curse, so I do apologize for mistaking your reply as spam. I appreciate your explanation, which explains things nicely for an old man like me! My apologies to you Sir, so sorry!
  • Rarst #

    @Bob Bowen No worries. :) I am glad we sorted out that small confusion and I assure you that your email won't be shared with anyone or used for any purpose that you don't opt-in to.
  • Bob Bowen #

    Rarst.net I really appreciate your responses and guidelines. I understands now the weaknesses of syncing and I guess I have enough information on which to base my decisions. For which I do thank you. It's been to me at least an interesting exchange as I have emerged a little wiser, if such be possible. Thanks so much. We can close this now as I am clear on the matter. Best wishes. Bob.