Cobian Backup – The Best Backup a Windows Computer Can Get For Free [Windows]

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File and Document Backup   Cobian Backup   The Best Backup a Windows Computer Can Get For Free [Windows] Cobian Backup is a free backup software for Windows. It is crammed with featured, yet seems minimalistic at first glance. Users can create multiple backup tasks for different purposes, backups can be scheduled individually, back files up to multiple different locations, compress or encrypt backups, and more. If you are looking for a truly versatile and easy to use backup tool, look no further.

Cobian Backup has been developed by Luis Cobian. It is written in Delphi and used to be open source under the Mozilla Public License. Never versions have been closed source. The software itself is supported by an extensive Help file and a Tutorial available in its Program Files folder.

Installing Cobian Backup

The installation takes you through a basic setup routine, such as TOS agreement and shortcuts creation, but it also includes more advanced steps. Some of the options beg for explanations, which are offered both in a mouse-over tool tip and in the Help file. The location of the Help file on your computer may differ, depending on your operating system. During the setup, you can switch to one of over a dozen languages via a menu on the left-hand side at any time.

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Cobian Backup Installation   Cobian Backup   The Best Backup a Windows Computer Can Get For Free [Windows]

Once the program is installed, it will reside in your Windows system tray. Open it to continue the setup.

Setting up a Cobian Backup

Cobian Backup offers a lot of advanced features, but the developer managed to pack them into a simple and fairly intuitive interface. To create a new backup task, click the + icon.

Cobian Backup Interface   Cobian Backup   The Best Backup a Windows Computer Can Get For Free [Windows]

Backup tasks are organized like software preferences. There are eight different categories on the left-hand menu bar and options can be selected in the main window on the right. Under General you set a task name and choose the backup type. Explanations for each option are given in the mouse-over tool tip.

Cobian Backup New Task General   Cobian Backup   The Best Backup a Windows Computer Can Get For Free [Windows]

The backup source and destination are selected under Files. You can add files, directories, FTP, or add a source manually. The latter is useful, for example when an external device is not currently connected to your computer. If you add multiple destinations, all will be used in case all are available, however the backup won’t be abrogated in case one isn’t connected. You can drag and drop files and folders from Windows Explorer. This is the final mandatory step.

Cobian Backup New Task Files   Cobian Backup   The Best Backup a Windows Computer Can Get For Free [Windows]

To use the Schedule is optional, but obviously key to a good backup. You can choose from a range of options. My personal favorite is the on startup one, although it’s not always practical.

Cobian Backup New Task Schedule   Cobian Backup   The Best Backup a Windows Computer Can Get For Free [Windows]

All following settings are advanced and optional. Under Dynamics you can set a priority, how many full copies to keep of the backup, and when to take full copies in case you selected incremental or differential backups. To save space and increase security, you can make compressed and encrypted backups via Archive. The Filter allows you to include or exclude specific files. Under Events you can open or close programs before or after the backup. Finally, there are Advanced settings, such as using absolute paths, or running the task as another user.

Running Backups

You should always set a schedule for your backups, so they run automatically. However, you can also run all tasks manually at any time. Click the play button to run selected tasks, either a single one or multiple ones. Click the double play button on the far left to run all tasks. When you confirm you can set to shut down the computer when all tasks are done.

Cobian Backup Run Tasks   Cobian Backup   The Best Backup a Windows Computer Can Get For Free [Windows]

Backups can be paused or abrogated using the respective buttons, which become available when a task is running.

Cobian Backup Pause   Cobian Backup   The Best Backup a Windows Computer Can Get For Free [Windows]

As a side note I should mention that Cobian Backup has crashed on me in the past. However, this never happened when a backup was running and the current version appears to be stable. Just be sure the program is actually running in ‘stand-by’ when you are expecting it to automatically launch a backup task.

Additional Functions

Browsing the menu bar will reveal many more functions, for example cloning a task and several tools. Further advanced options are available via the Settings button. Here you can change the language, set a Hotkey, customize logs, set up the mail log function, set an FTP speed limit, customize the visual appearance of Cobian Backup and its functionality, and much more.

Moreover, Cobian Backup offers a Tutorial (file location on your computer may be different) that takes you through the entire installation and setup process. While the screenshots reveal that it is based on version 9, it doesn’t differ much from the current version. Finally, a lot of additional information, for example backup theory, is available in the Help file.

Conclusion

Cobian Backup’s clear interface allows quick access to key features, so that even inexperienced users can navigate it without being overwhelmed by a flood of options. Experienced users on the other hand will be impressed by advanced features that not even many paid tools are offering. Taken together, Cobian Backup is a reliable, comprehensive, and intuitive to use backup tool.

More details about backups in general and Cobian Backup in particular can be found in our Backup & Restore Guide. Cobian Backup is one of the best software programs listed on our The Best Windows Software page. If you prefer to use default Windows features, read How To Set Up & Use Windows 7 Backup & Restore Feature.

How do you manage your backups?

Image credits: File and Document Backup via Shutterstock

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16 Comments -

Gui

I still prefer SyncBack over any other backup software. It’s fast and full of many advanced options, or just plain simple if the user prefers.
I would love to be able to backup everything to a different computer in a different location, but setting up a secure ftp home server seems a hassle. Although i would love to learn, if anybody has any good suggestions. SyncBack unfortunately also doesn’t do that automatically. Good Sync, a different software does, but it is incredibly slow, and I don’t recommend it.

Tina Sieber

Thanks for the feedback, Gui.

If you would like to learn more about Secure FTP Home Server setup and backups, you should ask a question on MakeUseOf Answers and let the people there point you in the right direction. You can ask for help with a specific question or simply for recommendation of general resources.

Cobian Backup does support backups to FTP.

pete

I was using Synctoy from Microsoft until it stopped working. Then I switched to FreeFileSync which seems to work fine. I prefer backup software that does not write in a prosperity file format.

Tina Sieber

You can exclude proprietary file formats in Cobian Backup using filter masks.

Lionel Hutz

How is the speed on this? I’ve been using Vice Versa for some time now. It’s not free, but it’s fast. I’ve found most backup utilities offer similar features, so it’s really about performance for me. +1 on avoiding proprietary file formats.

Tina Sieber

Lionel,

To be honest, I have never worried about whether or not backup tools are fast. Doesn’t it much more depend on the type of backup (full vs. incremental) and your connection speed (USB 2 vs. USB 3 vs. network etc.)?

If anything to do with the software makes a backup slow, then it’s scanning files beforehand and checking the integrity of the backup. I would consider that a benefit, not a drag.

But maybe I’m missing something.

By the way, you can exclude proprietary file formats in Cobian Backup using filter masks.

EdmarJohn SanDiego

Just what i needed, I’m going to change my OS to windows 8 pro and need all my apps to be saved. i hope this does’t change the registry of my beta applications

Mary Bricker-Jenkins

Would like to hear about your experience with this change. I’m facing the same task.

Bill Minton

I think where Cobian leaves a lot to be desired is with regards to restores. A backup program is useless if you can’t restore your data, and while backups are handled relatively well by Cobain, restores are not. How for example, am I supposed to restore the most recent version of FileA prior to it being changed last Wednesday? That should be simple to do, and accomplished within the backup program.

By contrast, if you take a look at something like CrashPlan (or Backblaze, which is limited to online backups only if I remember correctly), both backups and restores are handled within the application – where they should be handled.

Crashplan can be used for free to backup locally and/or offsite (to a friend running Crashplan). With built-in compression, encryption, and de-duplication (in addition to restore functionality, backup sets, and many other features), I can’t fathom how you’d consider Cobian the best.

dx99

While I can understand your issue with a backup program being used for both backups and restores, I think having restores as simple as Cobian’s is actual beneficial.

As a consultant I’m not always at a site. When the non-technical office manager needs to do a restore, he doesn’t need to understand the backup software and restore process. With Cobian, he just gets the external USB hooked up with the backup, look for the folder name with the date he is interested in restoring and then traverse the backup in Windows Explorer to find the files. There’s not cataloging/indexing involved. Using something they are already familiar with to restore (using a file manager) really makes it easy.

To each their own.

Bill

Unfortunately, Cobian Backup is really not usable for even modestly large backups. The “restores” don’t work, folks. Haven’t you noticed that??

I picked Cobian Backup ver.11 after reading favorable reviews (such as the one on this page), but after trying it, I am wondering if anyone out there has ever tried to restore from incremental backups, and then actually LOOKED at what you get!

Yes, it is a lovely app, with many features, and very well-written as far as it goes, and I complement the designer for what he did, but I am very sorry to say that it’s clear that this program is useless for any but the most trivial tasks. It would be OK for backing up a very small hierarchy of folders and files, but for anything sizeable, it simply requires far too much manual repair work on your restored tree-of-files. It is NOT just a question of having to use the Windows filemanager to do the copy-and-paste to restore from your backup (instead of putting a “restore” feature into the app.) No, it goes far beyond that. I am sure that this is the reason why there is no restore feature, because then you will blame him for the problems. If you do it yourself, manually copying and pasting, then it won’t seem like the problem is with the program! Here are the basic problems that you will find after restoring from a sequence of incremental backups and then inspecting the results:
1. If you changed a filename somewhere along the way (not the content, just the name), and it appears with the old filename in an earlier incremental, and then with the changed filename in a subsequent incremental, then you will end up with BOTH files in your restored filesystem (i.e., the file will appear under both names.) Consider what this will look like if you have many, many folders, and many changes in each.
2. By the same reasoning, if you deleted a file, then did an incremental, then after you restore from the chain of incrementals, the deleted file will re-appear in your restored file tree! Quite annoying if you do lots of work and have various versions of files, but get rid of most of them at the end of a development project. (Note this is NOT the same issue as deleting a file from the destination backup, which you should never do anyway.)
3. If you rename a folder, then do an incremental backup, you won’t get any of the contents of that folder backed up, since the contents have already had their “archive” bit reset from a previous incremental. Thus, after you restore from the chain of incrementals, you will see an empty folder with the new folder name, and another folder with the old name, in which your files will be located.
CONCLUSION: There are apparently no files or folders lost or corrupted as a result of a series of incremental backups, which is very good indeed. But the file-and-folder tree is NOT going to look like what you had before. The “restore” will produce a very different result from what you expected, and if you have tens of thousands of files and folders, it’s just impossible to go through it all and clean it up by hand.
Does someone have a solution for this?
Thank you,
Bill

Tina Sieber

Bill,

Thank you for your meticulous testing!

I never ran into these issues because I don’t have such complicated folder trees and typically don’t rename files or folders all that much.

It sounds like in your case t would really be worth investing in a professional (paid) backup software.

I would also consider upgrading my operating system. Windows XP SP3 is 5 years old and extended support will end in April 2014. Seriously, it’s becoming a liability!

Mary Bricker-Jenkins

Learning a lot from this discussion. Wondering if you’ve compared Cobian and EaseUS’ program.

Chris

You just need to set it to delete files that are deleted. I think the setting is called ‘mirror’ or something.

My Cobian backup folder looks exactly the same in every way as the file/folder structure on my laptop. So if anything goes wrong, I can just copy/paste the backup straight into my User folder and I’m exactly where I was.

The only downside of this is if you rely on your backup for old version of files and deleted files, in which case I recommend Goodsync, which saves deleted and updated files in two separate folders that make it very obvious they don’t belong in your current folder structure.

Bill

ONE ADDITIONAL NOTE on the artifacts encountered in the restoration of incremental backups from Cobian ver.11:
The fundamental cause of these issues, I believe, is the design of NTFS as found in Win XP with S.P.3 (which is what I am running.) There simply is not enough information kept in the directory structure to allow easy archiving which will avoid these problems. The current active filesystem would have to know something about the state of any incremental archives already in existence in order to implement an efficient solution to the “backing up a renamed directory” problem. (INEFFICIENT solutions would involve just backing up the entire directory after a name change, even though all the files within it may be unchanged since the last incremental backup.) I know that Microsoft has a free backup utility for XP, but I can’t get it because my machine did not come with the OS on a CD-ROM, and so the backup utility is not provided. Thus, I don’t know how Microsoft handles these issues. But any solution would require more overhead, either at backup time (to scan the source for that particular task and compare to the latest incremental backup already in existence at the destination), or full-time (to maintain an internal table with this information.) I suspect that L. Cobian wrestled with these issues and decided either that it wasn’t worth it, or encountered a fundamental roadblock somewhere. THAT is why there is no “recovery” feature built into Cobian Backup, IMHO. It really is not a shortcoming of the program, it’s more a problem with Win XP. And many people might not notice these issues at all. It’s likely that the duplicate restored files, and empty renamed folders, will be far down in the directory structure, and might easily not be noticed (until you go hunting for something much later!), or might not happen at all, depending on the file-editing habits of the user.
I did hope this might be solved easily by un-checking the “Use file attribute logic” box in the General Settings, when creating a backup task in Cobian. This is supposed to force it to compare the timestamp of the source file with that of the corresponding file in an already-existing backup (at the cost of much longer backup time, no doubt, but at least if it would solve the problem, it would be nice.) That would get around the problem of a folder not having an “archive” bit in NTFS, at least not in the XP implementation of it (only files seem to have it, not folders, so there is the “renamed folder backup” problem.) It certainly would not have solved the “deleted files which reappear after you restore from backup” problem. It is moot, in any event, because you can NOT un-check that box and still do any kind of partial backup. As soon as you un-check it, all flavors of backup become grayed-out except for Full and Dummy. Thus, it won’t allow doing an incremental backup using timestamp comparison instead of archive-bit comparison, despite an explicit statement to the contrary in the Help file.
So there you have it. I am still looking for a nice (and hopefully free) backup utility. And I’m afraid that even if I go BUY one, it will turn out either to suffer from these same problems, or will be encumbered with a high-overhead solution to these problems (like a service that must run in the background all the time and maintain a current table of the state of all the source files in all the backup tasks currently defined.)
It amazes me that there is essentially NO discussion of these issues on the web, in any forums or help columns. It all seems to be limited to “how to set up a backup”, without regard to how you might go about “restoring from backup”, and more importantly, any discussion of the integrity of the restored file-and-folder tree, as compared to what it looked like before you did the “restore.”

Mark

gonna try this software. It’s about time i backup