Use Microsoft SyncToy for Incremental Backups

Microsoft
Microsoft SyncToy is a free utility that lets you easily create backups of your files. Create ‘folder pairs’ and schedule it to run and you’re ready to recover from your next deleted file or even from a nasty disk crash.


The following instructions will help you set up Microsoft SyncToy for an ‘incremental backup’. An incremental backup adds/replaces files from your source location to the backup location thereby keeping all of your old files even if you delete them from the source location. These instructions assume Microsoft Windows 7.

Install SyncToy

Get Microsoft syncToy directly from microsoft.com and install like this:

  • download Microsoft SyncToy from http://www.microsoft.com/download/en/details.aspx?id=15155
  • download either the 64 bit or 32 bit version depending on the type of operating system you have.
  • to determine the operating system type, click the Start ‘orb’, right-click the ‘Computer’ option and then choose Properties. Look for the System type: value to determine if you have a 32 bit or 64 bit operating system.
  • after downloading, run the installer SyncToySetupPackage*.exe. Find where you downloaded it to and double-click it.
  • install SyncToy. The install is relatively simple – accept all defaults.

Set up SyncToy to create an Incremental Backup

SyncToy can be used as an ‘incremental backup’ where new files in your source location are added to files in your target. If you delete something in the source location, a backup remains in the target location — hence, a backup. SyncToy can also ‘synchronize’ keeping both locations in sync, but that is for another day.
To set up an incremental backup, follow these steps:

  • start SyncToy.
  • Create New Folder Pair. From the SyncToy Window, click Create New Folder Pair. SyncToy copies from source to target – from left to right. You must create ‘pairs’ to define what you’d like to backup.
  • Define Source. For the left folder, browse to the location of the files you’d like to have backed up. Browse to c:\Users\<yourname>
  • Define Target. For the right folder, browse to the location where you’d like the copy to be placed. For example, browse to x:\Backups\~t500 and make a new folder called ‘c-users-don’.
  • click Next.
  • Choose ‘Contribute’. This option backs up files instead of synchronizing.
  • click Next.
  • Name this backup mapping.
  • Choose Finish.
  • SyncToy adds a new Folder Pair.
  • Click Run to start the backup immediately.

Advanced Option

The Windows 7 AppData folder contains work files for all applications that the user accesses. It is of limited value for a recovery. Let’s disconnect that folder from the Backup.

  • Choose your User folder backup pair. From the example above, choose the Folder Pair ‘c-users-don’.
  • Choose the Select subfolder link.
  • uncheck the AppData folder. Click OK.
  • Click OK.

Best Practices

Follow these suggestions to ensure you’re back up is bullet proof:

  • back up your personal files. Backing up installed applications is sometimes a nice idea, but when you have to recover after a crash, you need to reinstall applications and copying them will often not work.
  • your target location should be on a disk drive that is not the same as your source location. If they are on the same drive and you have a disk crash – you lose both.
  • If you don’t have the choice of a separate disk drive, at least you will always have a backup in case you accidently lose a file. So you get partial credit for trying. But, the first time you have a disk crash, you’ll forget about that partial credit.
  • An external USB drive is a great option to have backup files.
  • For your target backup folder structure, create a folder called ‘Backups’ and subfolders for each computer you have like ‘Don IBM Laptop’. Over time, you’ll be surprised what you end up with and how many computers you once had.
  • Schedule SyncToy so it runs without you telling it to do so. From SyncToy window, choose Help > Learn How to Schedule SyncToy and follow those instructions.
  • Check your results. After you run a backup, confirm that the backup target folders are a mirror image of your source folders. Nothing is worse than being ready for the disaster and when it comes, you find out you missed by a little.
  • find all the places where you squirrel away files. If you just use the Windows standard locations – Desktop, My Documents, My Music, My Pictures, … they are all subfolders of c:\users\<yourname> so the 1 Folder Pair mentioned above is enough.

About the author

I've been in software development for 30 years ranging across all platforms - from mainframes to Unix and Windows. I'm currently a CTO at a small company that focuses on integration to IBM middleware products for document management and work process automation, plus advanced search of images, photos, audio and video.