Full, Differential and Incremental Backup

In order to avoid any kind of data loss, it is compulsory for you to create backups of your data. There are many types of data backups available that can help you in preserving your precious data and restoring it back if your hard drive fails. The most common types of data backup are full backup, differential backup and incremental backup. Each backup type has its own advantages and disadvantages. The question that remains is which among them is most suitable for your data preservation needs. In this article, we will take a comprehensive look at these three types of data backup and find out which type is best for you.

Part 1: What is a Full Backup?

Full backup is the name given to the backup in which each and every file on the system is copied at gathered together in a single file. This file is then stored at the location of your choice. Since it contains backup copies of the entire system, it is a very large file and can occupy a considerable amount of space. Moreover, this type of backup requires quite a lot of time to complete too. Copying all the files of the system does take a good amount of time. However, full backup can be of great use when you are restoring your files after a hard drive failure. You can get back your entire system just the way it was when you backed it up. Moreover, with a full backup, you can restore the files on the system all at once from a single file which significantly reduces restoration time.

Part 2: What is Differential Backup?

Differential backup is another type of backup in which files that have undergone a change after a full backup are backed up instead of backing up all the files all over again. It is considered as a cumulative data backup which does not take that much time to complete and also occupies a much smaller space than a full backup. Each time a differential backup is created, all of the changes made since the last backup are recorded in a single file. Thus, at the time of restoration of data, you only have to restore the last full data backup file and the file containing the last differential backup. The greatest advantage of this type of backup is that you get the most recent version of all the files on your system and won’t have to lose out on any changes that you made to the data since the last full data backup.

Part 3: What is Incremental Backup?

In Incremental backup, you get the opportunity to backup all the files that have been changed after the last backup you made. Although differential and incremental data backup seem almost the same, they have a significant difference. Differential backup copies all of the changes that have been made since the last full data backup while incremental backup only copies the changes made since the last incremental data backup. Thus, the size of each individual incremental data backup file is even smaller than that of a differential data backup file. Moreover, it takes even less time to make an incremental data backup than it is to create a differential data backup. Just like differential data backup, incremental backup can restore the latest versions of all of your files. However, at the time of restoration of data, you need to restore all of the incremental data backup files in addition to the last full data backup file which increases the restoration time.

Part 4: Incremental vs Differential vs Full Backup

The following is a comparison of all the three types of data backup, full incremental and differential.

Backup Data Type Incremental Backup Differential Backup Full Backup
Definition Backup of each new and changed file since the last backup of any type. Backup of all the files that have undergone a change since the last full data backup. Backup of all the files stored on the system.
Speed of Backup Fastest Faster Slowest
Speed of Data Restore Slowest Faster Fastest
Storage Required Least More Most
Advantages
  • Increased speed of backup
  • Low requirements of storage space
  • No cloned files
  • Increased speed of restore than incremental backup
  • Two files required at the time of data restoration
  • Speediest restore time
  • Requires only a single file for complete data restoration
Disadvantages
  • Slowest speed of data restoration
  • Requires each incremental data backup file and the last full backup file for data restoration
  • Slow speed of backup than incremental data backup
  • Stores a good deal of cloned files
  • Consumes a great deal of storage space
  • Stores a lot of cloned files which makes data storage inefficient

Part 5: What Backup type is best for you?

Taking a look at all the types of backup, it is fair to say that each one of them has certain benefits to offer and has some downsides associated with it. There isn’t a type of backup that can be considered as the best for every user. The requirements of data backup for each user are different than the other. For instance, some corporations need the latest versions of all of their data so for them incremental data backup on a daily basis combined with full backup on a weekly basis can be an ideal combination. However, for an average computer user, the need for regular backups and having the most recent files available isn’t that great since the changes made are of a smaller nature. Thus, for such users, differential data backup on a daily basis combined with full backup on a weekly basis would be enough.

Thus, the choice of data backup depends on your need of the most recent files as well as the backup storage capacity you have. If you can afford to store a great deal of backup data then full data backup is the ideal choice but if storage space is a constraint then incremental or differential backup can prove to be a more sensible choice.

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