Sunday, March 06, 2005

I think, therefore I type, therefore I backup

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Assuming you possess a brain and can type, you are likely to have a number of important personal documents stored on your computer - documents you would be lost without should anything disastrous happen to your hard drive. If you own a CD or DVD writer these could be backed up to a writable disk, however, this is slow and inconvenient if you regularly make changes to these documents (think of your CV or personal web site).

What I've done to address this problem is buy a Smart Media/Compact Flash card reader and a few CF cards to store my data on. The card reader is attached to my computer via a USB cable, and accessing the cards entails nothing more complicated than inserting them into the reader. Whenever I do this, a shortcut to the CF card appears on my desktop allowing me to access it just like a hard drive, whether I'm using Windows or OS X.

Now here comes the clever bit. To backup all my irreplaceable documents, I use a simple, free command utility called F-Sync to synchronize the contents of the folders they reside in. Once you know exactly which folders you need to backup, and where you would like the copies to be placed, you can save this information in a batch file alongside the F-Sync executable and run it whenever the need arises with an effortless double click of the mouse.

To create such a batch file, open a command prompt window and type 'edit backup.bat'. Now type out the commands necessary to create the backups, save the file and select exit from the file menu. For example, my batch file looks like this...

fsync d:\Documents e:\Documents /F fsync d:\Pictures\ e:\Pictures /F fsync d:\Email e:\Email /F /P

The first drive/folder reference should point to the source folder containing the files you wish to backup, whereas the second drive/folder reference should point to the intended destination folder and drive where you would like the duplicates to be placed. The /F switch isn't mandatory, though I use it to skip any confirmation requests so the synchronization will be carried out in the background while I get on with other tasks. The single /P switch indicates that I'd like F-Sync to pause once it has finished synchronizing the third and final folder before closing the DOS window so I can see at a glance how many files have been updated.

Public safety warning - pay close attention

It is absolutely essential that you allocate a separate folder for each stage because by default F-Sync deletes any files or folders which aren't present in the source folder - if you were to synchronize your files to the root of your chosen drive, F-Sync would wipe out everything except the source folder - something I'm sure you'll want to avoid. Incidentally, if you only want to add new files to your backup drive, rather than add new files and delete redundant ones you can use the /C switch to prevent deletion.

Perhaps you'd like to have this backup routine performed automatically each time you boot your computer. If so, why not add backup.bat to your startup menu? To make the process even less intrusive you could use the /S switch to prevent the DOS box from appearing.

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