Here are answers to some common questions about backing up and restoring files.

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What is a file backup?

A file backup is a copy of a file that is stored in a separate location from the original. You can have multiple backups of a file if you want to track changes to the file.

Why should I back up files?

Backing up your files helps to protect them from being permanently lost or changed in the event of accidental deletion, a worm or virus attack, or a software or hardware failure. If any of those things occur and your files are backed up, you can easily restore those files. To back up files, see Back up your files.

Which files should I back up?

You should back up anything that would be difficult or impossible to replace, and regularly back up files that you change frequently. Pictures, videos, music, projects, and financial records are examples of files that you should back up.

You don't need to back up programs because you can use the original product disks to reinstall them, and programs typically take up a lot of disk space.

How often should I back up files?

It depends on the number of files you create and how often you create them. If you create new files every day, you might want to back up weekly or even daily. If you occasionally create many files—for example, if you save a lot of digital photos from a birthday party or graduation, back them up right away. It's best to schedule regular, automatic backups so you don't even have to think about it. You can choose to have your files backed up daily, weekly, or monthly. You can also back up manually between automatic backups.

Note

  • The ability to set up automatic backups is not included in Windows Vista Home Basic; however, Windows will periodically remind you to back up your files.

What file types are not included in my backups?

The Back Up Files wizard backs up the most common file types. The following files are not included:

  • Files that have been encrypted using Encrypting File System (EFS)

    Note

    • If you are running Windows Vista Service Pack 1, EFS encrypted files are included in backups. EFS is not included in Windows Vista Starter, Windows Vista Home Basic, and Windows Vista Home Premium. For more information about installing Windows Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1), see Learn how to install Windows Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1).

  • System files (the files that Windows needs to run)

  • Program files

  • Files stored on hard disks that are formatted using the FAT file system

  • Web-based e-mail that is not stored on your hard disk

  • Files that are in the Recycle Bin

  • Temporary files

  • User profile settings

How much storage space do I need to back up files?

That depends on the size of the files you back up. Windows keeps track of the files that have been added or modified since your last backup so you only have to update the existing backup, which saves disk space.

Why don't I see the location I want to back up to in the Back Up Files wizard?

When you choose a location to save your backup to, the wizard searches your computer and displays a list of all locations that you can use. If the location that you want to use doesn't appear in the list, it could be due to one of the following problems:

  • The location is a tape drive. You can't save backups to tapes.

  • The location is the disk that you are trying to back up. You can't back up a disk to itself. For example, you can't back up the contents of drive E to drive E.

  • The location is a CD-ROM drive. You can't use a CD-ROM drive to make a backup; you must use a CD burner, also known as a CD-R or CD-RW drive.

  • The location is a USB flash drive. You can't save backups to a flash drive.

  • The location is not formatted as NTFS, FAT, or Universal Disk Format (UDF) (also called Live File System). Backups can only be saved to disks that are formatted using the NTFS, FAT, or UDF file systems. For more information, see Comparing NTFS and FAT file systems.

  • The location is either the system disk (the disk that Windows is installed on—also called the C drive) or the boot disk (the disk that Windows uses to start your computer—also called the startup disk).

  • The location is a network share on a computer running Windows XP Home Edition. You can't save backups to these shares because setting permissions on network shares and authenticating over a network are not supported by Windows XP Home Edition.

Can I back up to a CD or DVD if I'm not there to insert the discs?

Not unless your backup fits on one disc and the disc is in the computer when the backup starts. Otherwise, schedule the backup for a time when you will be available to insert the discs. Windows will notify you later that the backup wasn’t completed; you can then insert a disc to continue the backup.

What can I do if I run out of discs during a backup?

If you run out of discs during a backup, you can finish later.

Can I continue to work on my computer while I'm backing up files?

Yes. The last saved version of each file is backed up, so any files you change during the backup will need to be backed up the next time. You can schedule automatic backups to occur during the night or at a time when you are not working on files. You can still do things like read e‑mail or use the Internet while a backup is in progress.

Can I restore files if I've lost any backup discs?

You cannot get copies of files that are on a missing disc. However, you can restore files on the backup discs previous to and after the missing one. If you don't know exactly what's on the missing disc, you can see a list of the files that you have backed up. If you are running Windows Vista Business, Windows Vista Enterprise, or Windows Vista Ultimate, you can use shadow copies to recover previous versions of files directly from your hard disk, rather than from a backup.

To view a list of files you've backed up

  1. Open Backup and Restore Center by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, clicking Control Panel, clicking System and Maintenance, and then clicking Backup and Restore Center.

  2. Click Restore files.

    You can browse or search the contents of the backup.

What's the difference between backing up files by using the Back Up Files wizard and doing it myself?

When you burn a copy of your files to a CD or DVD or save a copy to an external hard disk, each time you want to do a backup, you have to manually select each file and folder that you want to back up. You also have to remember to regularly back up new or modified files and folders. This can be time-consuming and tedious. When you use the Back Up Files wizard, Windows keeps track of which files and folders are new or modified. Then, when you make a new backup, you can back up all of the data on your computer or just the files that have changed since the last time you made a backup. If you set up automatic backups, Windows regularly backs up your files and folders so that you don't have to remember to do it.

Will automatic backups run if my computer is turned off?

No. If your computer is turned off during the scheduled backup time, automatic backups will not run. However, the next time you turn on your computer, you will be able to back up your files and resume the normal backup schedule.

How do I delete a backup that I created using the Back Up Files wizard?

If your backups are saved to CDs or DVDs, you can discard discs containing earlier backups, but make sure that you keep the most recent backup of your files. If your backups are saved to an internal or external hard disk, you can delete a backup by following these steps:

  1. Open the location where the backup is saved.

    For example, if you backed up your files to an external hard disk labeled "E," connect the external hard disk to your computer, and then open drive E.

  2. Right-click the folder containing the backup you want to delete, and then click Delete.

    Notes

    • Backups are saved in this format: <backup location>\<computer name>\Backup Set <year-month-day> <time>. For example, if your computer name is Computer, your backup location is E, and you backed up on April 2, 2006 at 16:32:00, that backup would be located in E:\Computer\Backup Set 2006-02-04 163200. You would right-click the folder named Backup Set 2006-02-04 163200 to delete that backup.

    • When you make a full backup, a backup folder is created and labeled with the date for that day. As you add updates, that date stays the same, but your backup is not out of date. The next time you make a full backup, a new backup folder is created and labeled with the date for that day, and any updates are then added to that new folder. You should not delete the current backup folder.