We continue our series of online backup features you cannot, or at least, shouldn’t live without. Last time, we talked about file versioning, which is crucial if you want to restore files from a former saved state.

Today, we’ll talk about another important feature called incremental backup, which will tremendously speed up the backup process if your provider supports this feature. If you’ve missed the first episode, you can get it here: Online Backup Features You Can’t Live Without: File Versioning. 

Before diving into the topic of incremental (or differential backups), we have to talk about how backups in general work. Don’t worry, we’re not getting too technical but we’ll just cover the basics to get you started. 

Full Backup (Level 0)

Every backup process, whether it is online or on-site, has to start with a full backup of your files. A full backup doesn’t necessarily mean that you backup your whole OS with program files included. First, you need to think about what to backup and then, make your selection. We always recommend to backup everything, as storage has become very cheap.

We’d rather err on having too many files backed up than too few. A full online backup will take a long time, depending on how much files you have. Sometimes, it can take several weeks until all your files are uploaded. That’s why it’s important to not only rely on online backup but first start with a local backup of your files.

Differential Backup (Cumulative Incremental)

This one is really beautiful and was considered the next step in backup strategies back then. When your full backup is done (congrats, that’s the first step!), your backup program can start with incremental backups, which will then only backup the files that changed after the last full backup.

If you are using online backup or back up via LAN, then this saves you a lot of bandwidth, which in turn, significantly speeds up your backups. 

Incremental backups (Differential Incremental Backups)

Now, this is why we’re here today; Incremental backups. Most online backup service use this technique because it is the most efficient when it comes to transferring files over the internet but also for local backup, it can speed up the process quite a bit.

Incremental backups will backup any file that has changed from the last backup (full or incremental).


The terminology can be quite confusing, especially if you’re new to backups and what makes it worse is that it is not used in the same way when you look at the data backup field.

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While it is important to know that there is a difference between these three backup modes, it is hardly relevant for personal backup purposes unless you’re hooked up to a service that supports neither incremental nor differential backup – then, it’s time to change.

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