[xplorer˛] — File safety part II: Backing up
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"Guard your clothes and have half of it" — Unknown Greek wiseguy

Arguably today's aphorism above doesn't translate well from Greek to English, but since half the english-speaking readers will be unavailable today (nailed in front of the telly for super bowl, whatever this is :) it doesn't really matter. The point it tries to get across is: guard your files, and then secure them some more and then perhaps you'll rescue half when the inevitable occurs.

Increasingly digital information becomes the most valuable asset in our lives. Take the source for xplorer˛, some assorted 10MB of programming and manuals which can one day buy beer for all the family, how do you protect that against mishaps? And what if you lose even part of it? Unthinkable! I talked about versioning and repositories the other day but it isn't enough safety on its own.

If you've been using computers long enough you will have suffered such losses, especially in the past when hardware were less reliable. As the "law of the sod" prescribes, your hard disk will pack up just when you need it the most, e.g. the day before you are meant to submit your college yearly assignment. Once you have a few of those you realize that using foul language at the computer isn't helping and another strategy is required.

I confess that I am quite paranoid about file safety. I must have the source code of xplorer˛ in at least 10 different places, some in the UK, some in Greece, like a good squirrel. So even if my computer short-cirquits and burns the whole house down with all the backup devices, I'll still have some copy of the source code to work with. It is all about redundancy. Save in a lot of places and keep them physically apart, not everything under one roof.

Modern equipment have some built in redundancy, e.g. RAID hard disk arrays, which effectively save 2 copies of each document. That's good but what if your laptop is stolen? All the dual copies are gone. The same goes for some other recent MS technologies like shadow copies, in essense on the fly versioning of important document files — what if coffee 21 of 30 ends up on the keyboard?

Personally I have as my main system backup an external USB hard disk, which holds all the "Documents and Settings" folder with all the projects, from the day job and xplorer˛ — and the emails too. I try to keep it separate from the laptop as far as possible. I bring them close only once a week for the weekly backup ritual. It goes without saying that backup should be done as frequently as possible.

There are tons of software for helping you with regular backups, but did you know that xplorer˛ can also hack it? The secret is in the robust transfer options dialog. When you have a few gigs of data you don't want to copy them out every week, only what has changed. Using the overwrite if newer else skip policy you achieve just that: xplorer˛ will only copy files that have changed or were newly created, leaving all the other files untouched. If you are a stickler there's even an option to clear Archive attribute for files copied to simulate true backup semantics. Here's a little demonstration video of how the thing works.

Using this procedure you can backup all your content with just one robust copy. This assumes that all your important files are under a single folder, e.g. c:\documents\nikos. In a future article we'll see how you can use folder junctions to simplify situations where your files are scattered to more than one place. Until then, I remain.

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