How do I backup all my files?

Backing up your files is one of the most important things you can do to protect your data. With the right backup strategy, you can rest assured knowing that your files are safe even if your computer crashes or is lost, stolen, or damaged. In this guide, we’ll walk through everything you need to know to create a solid backup plan that fits your specific needs.

Why is backing up your files so important?

There are a few key reasons why backing up your data is crucial:

  • Avoid data loss – If your computer crashes, is infected by malware, or suffers physical damage, you could lose all your files permanently. Backing up ensures you always have a copy.
  • Recover from accidental deletion – If you accidentally delete an important file, having a backup lets you easily recover it.
  • Rollback to previous versions – File backups often include file versioning, letting you restore older versions of a file if needed.
  • Protect against cyber attacks – Ransomware and other cyber threats can encrypt or delete your files. Backups ensure you can restore your data.
  • Facilitate transfer to a new device – If you get a new computer, backups make transferring your files simple.

Losing files can lead to serious consequences like lost productivity, delayed projects, reputational damage, and more. Protecting your data is worth the small amount of time needed to set up a backup system.

What files should I back up?

Any files that you care about and would be inconvenient or detrimental to lose should be backed up. Here are some examples of important files to back up:

  • Personal files – Photos, videos, financial documents, medical records, etc.
  • Work/school files – Documents, spreadsheets, presentations, material from learning management systems, emails, etc.
  • System files – Program files, drivers, OS files, etc. Backing these up facilitates easy reinstallation of programs.
  • Configuration files – Files that store settings for programs and the operating system.
  • Application data files – Files that store application data, like database files, email files, content management system files, accounting files, CRM data, etc.

Generally, your personal files and any data critical to work or school should be backed up. When in doubt, err on the side of caution and back up a file. Storage space is relatively cheap compared to the cost of losing important data.

Backup strategies

There are three main backup strategies to consider:

Full vs incremental backups

  • Full – A full backup copies all specified files and folders completely. Takes more storage space but allows for easy restoration of a complete system.
  • Incremental – An incremental backup only copies new and changed files since the last backup. Saves storage space but requires more backups to fully restore data.

For most users, full backups are recommended for simplicity. However, incremental backups may make sense if storage space is limited.

Mirroring vs archiving

  • Mirroring – Mirroring continually copies files to a secondary drive in real-time. Provides instant redundancy.
  • Archiving – Archiving copies files to a secondary drive on a manual or scheduled basis. Provides point-in-time file versions.

Mirroring offers maximum protection against data loss, while archiving provides file history and versioning. Many backup systems combine both strategies.

3-2-1 backup rule

Experts recommend following the 3-2-1 rule for backup best practices:

  • 3 copies of your data
  • 2 local backup copies on different media (e.g. HDD and SSD)
  • 1 offsite backup copy

This covers you in case of theft, fire, flood, or other localized disaster. One copy is your live files, two backups are stored locally, and one backup is stored offsite.

Backup locations

You have several options of places to store backup copies:

External drives

External HDDs or SSDs plug into your computer via USB, Thunderbolt, eSATA, or other connections. Very handy for onsite backups. Look for drives with high reliability and capacity.

NAS devices

Network attached storage provides storage on your local network, accessible wirelessly. Simple to manage centralized storage and backups.

Cloud backup services

Services like Google Drive, iDrive, and Acronis Backup let you backup to the cloud. Provides offsite storage and accessibility from anywhere.

Online sync services

Solutions like Dropbox, Box, OneDrive, and others sync select files and folders via the cloud. Easy to use but less comprehensive than backups.

External media

Devices like USB flash drives, SD cards, CDs, DVDs, Blu-Ray discs, and tape can store backup copies externally. Cheap but less reliable.

Backup software

Dedicated backup software provides control and automation for robust file archiving capabilities. Key features to look for include:

  • Scheduling backup jobs
  • Compression to save space
  • Encryption for security
  • Incremental backups
  • Versioning/snapshots
  • Mirroring capability
  • Backup verification
  • Drive imaging
  • Backup reporting
  • Alerts on failure
  • Cloud integration

Popular and highly rated options include Acronis True Image, Macrium Reflect, Veeam Agent, and EaseUS Todo Backup.

OS built-in backup tools

Your operating system also includes some basic backup capabilities:


  • File History – saves copies of files to external drives
  • System Image – creates system image backups
  • Backup and Restore – backs up files to external or network drives


  • Time Machine – automatic backup to external drives
  • Backup App – manual backup creation

These are easy to use but have fewer features than third-party software. Often used alongside more robust backup tools.

Creating a backup schedule

Consistently running backups is critical for effective data protection. Consider automating backups on a set schedule:

  • Daily incremental – Back up new/changed files daily
  • Weekly full – Full backup weekly for an archive
  • Monthly full – Monthly backups provide additional archiving
  • Periodic imaging – Create system image backups every few months

Store multiple generations of backups (e.g. weekly for a month, monthly for a year). Test restorations regularly to verify backups.

Backing up to the cloud

For offsite protection, backing up your files to the cloud provides geographic redundancy if something happens to your local backups. Options include:

  • Cloud backup services (IDrive, Acronis, etc.) – comprehensive backup features
  • Cloud drive sync (Dropbox, OneDrive) – selected file syncing
  • Cloud provider object storage (AWS S3, Azure Blob) – inexpensive storage

Cloud backups help protect against local disasters like fires, floods, and theft. Encrypt locally before backing up for security.

Best practices

Follow these backup best practices to maximize your data protection:

  • Use the 3-2-1 backup rule for redundancy.
  • Automate backups instead of relying on manual efforts.
  • Always encrypt backup data for security.
  • Store backups in multiple physical locations.
  • Use cloud backups for geographic redundancy.
  • Test restores regularly to verify backups.
  • Manage backup archives by retiring old backups.
  • Monitor and audit logs from backup software.

Avoiding backup pitfalls

Some common backup mistakes to steer clear of:

  • Having only a single backup copy.
  • Using unreliable backup media like thumb drives.
  • Not testing restoration process.
  • Backing up to same physical disk as the source.
  • Having no offsite or cloud backups.
  • Backup failures going unnoticed.
  • Assuming cloud sync is sufficient backup.

Following backup best practices and avoiding these pitfalls will help ensure your files stay protected.

Restoring from backups

When disaster strikes and you lose important files, your backups are there to save the day. Follow these tips for smooth data recovery:

  • Stay calm! Your data is not lost forever.
  • Identify which backup contains the files you need.
  • Use backup software to browse and restore files/folders.
  • Alternatively, copy relevant files back onto your computer.
  • Check restore integrity – are any files missing?
  • Consider restoring the entire system from an image backup for widespread loss.
  • Update backups after restoring to re-protect data.

With an effective backup solution in place, restoring lost or destroyed files should be quick and painless. Just remember to breathe if disaster strikes!


Failing to backup your important files is one of the quickest ways to set yourself up for severe data loss. But implementing a smart backup strategy can effectively eliminate that risk and provide total peace of mind.

Follow the 3-2-1 rule, use reliable storage media, leverage both local and cloud backups, automate backup tasks, routinely test restoration, and avoid common mistakes. With the right approach, protecting your precious files from any mishaps becomes a breeze!

Key Takeaways

  • Backing up provides crucial protection against data loss from cyber attacks, crashes, accidental deletion, device failures, and disasters.
  • Use full and incremental backups, mirroring and archiving, and the 3-2-1 rule for optimal backup strategies.
  • Backup locally to external drives and NAS devices, and use cloud backups for geographic redundancy.
  • Backup and recovery software give you powerful tools to automatically safeguard your files.
  • Create a schedule with daily, weekly, and monthly backup jobs for comprehensive protection.
  • Follow best practices like encryption, testing restores, and offsite copies.
  • Avoid pitfalls like single copies, unreliable media, and lack of testing.

Dedicate some time up front to implement robust backup routines, and you can rest easy knowing your data is safe and sound.