What is “Ghost” software?

Rajeev Dandu May 17, 2012

What is “Ghost” software? What is the use of it? Is it good to have it? Is it free to download? If yes, where do I download it and is that a trial version or full version? Please give me details.

Thank you very much for your wonderful service MakeUseOf!

  1. sean
    November 15, 2012 at 4:04 am

    Is ghost program good for replacing a hard drive? I have a hard drive with 25 GB and want to replace the drive with a new one. Can I use ghost program to mirror from the old hard drive to a new one, then disconnect and replace? Will it be that simple?


  2. Oron
    May 17, 2012 at 10:53 am

    To add to what Bruce already said, Ghost is an "imaging" program, and the copies of the disc it makes are called "disk images". There are many other disk imaging products, including free ones like CloneZilla or Drive XML, and products from Paragon Software (free and paid versions) and Acronis (paid products only).
    Generally speaking, imaging products are not considered data backup for two reasons:
    1. They back up the *entire disc* each time, which is slow and wasteful from a data-backup point of view.
    2. The image file is a single file, so it can be difficult to recover individual items from it (although some programs have an "image explorer" component to help with this. Also, only a single copy of each file will exist on the "backup set", whereas most backup system will keep a number of versions of the files, so you can recover the one you need.

    Regarding your question about USED blocks, this is a somewhat contentious issue. Some people claim that image files containing only the used blocks are not true image files, and they may have a point. On the other hand, as long as the file system is supported they they are useful, which is what is important. Ghost and the other products mentioned support FAT, FAT32 and NTFS, some also support various Linux file systems.
    Disk imaging software is particularly useful for backing up system software (which is tricky to back up with traditional file-backup systems and is slow to backup and restore).
    Some disk imaging products incorporate elements of both. For example, Acronis True Image Home does an image backup as the "full backup", but can also do incrementals and other forms of backup, and has recovery options to support both restoration of the entire disc and that of individual files or folders.

    • Laga Mahesa
      May 17, 2012 at 1:12 pm

      Just to clarify on point 1:

      Ghost can back up either the entire disk OR a selected partition. I use it at work to image a master machine's C: drive and copypasta to all the others whilst leaving the D: drive alone.

      • Rajeev
        May 17, 2012 at 1:25 pm

        Is free trail version of norton ghost is enough to have or should we buy the software? (Because I'm student. Please help!)
        Thank You

        • Oron
          May 17, 2012 at 2:02 pm

          A trial version is not much good (other than for testing, of course!), since you may want to recover the disc at some future point, and the program will not be fully functional.

          Personally, I like "Paragon Software Backup & Recovery 11 Home" best, and as it is a free product, there's little reason not to give it a try. The other products mentioned earlier are also very good, as are
          Macrium Reflect and various packages made by Easyus.

      • Oron
        May 17, 2012 at 1:54 pm

        You're absolutely right. The same apply to all the other products mentioned in this discussion.

  3. Bruce Epper
    May 17, 2012 at 6:03 am

    Norton Ghost is disk imaging software. It is used to make a copy of a partition or an entire hard drive that can be used to recover your system in case of catastrophic failure of a hard drive or to restore a system to a working condition after a severe malware infection. It helps you to avoid the situation of having to install your operating system and all of you programs again.

    Depending on how you use your system, it may be a good investment. If you are constantly trying new software, you can create a new image before installint the software you want to test so if it turns out that you don't like it or it hoses your system, you can restore the machine to the condition it was in before you installed the software. This really applies more to Beta software as it is likely to have bugs that can damage your operating system or other software on the computer.

    DO NOT THINK OF THIS AS BACKUP SOFTWARE! It isn't. It is not something you want to use to simply make sure you have all of your data files backed up and it is not well suited to that function. That being said, it is not a bad idea to use something like this in conjunction with true backup software in a full disaster recovery plan.

    This one is not a free download, though you can get a free trial of it from the Norton.com website.

    There is also free software that can do the same function such as CloneZilla (clonezilla.org).

    With either of these, you want to make sure that you are saving the resulting image files to a different physical hard disk. Otherwise, you are defeating the purpose of creating the image in the first place.

    • rajeev
      May 17, 2012 at 7:03 am

      Why it is not backup software? We are able to get all the programs and os, correct? Is it much better than backup softwares? Is clonezilla is good or norton ghost? Please tell me.
      Thank You

    • Rajeev
      May 17, 2012 at 7:15 am

      In Clonezilla, it is telling that 'only USED blocks in partition are stored and restored.For unsupported file system, sector-to-sector copy is done by dd in Clonezilla'. Does it mean that it won't backup and restore all files and folders? Does it mean that it only stores and restores only those programs and photos and other things which we used? Please tell me about this!
      Thank You

      • Bruce Epper
        May 17, 2012 at 7:48 pm

        The used blocks it is referring to are the portions of the disk or partition that are actually being used to store data and programs; it has nothing to do with the usage of programs or data in them. Even if a program is installed on the computer and never actually run, it will be preserved in the image since the program is occupying space on the drive.

        For a supported filesystem, Clonezilla knows which blocks actually have program or file data stored in them and it will only backup those areas of the disk/partition in order to make a smaller image file. If it is an unsupported filesystem, Clonezilla does not know which blocks actually contain programs and data, so it must do a complete sector-by-sector copy which results in the image file containing both used and unused space which makes the image file larger.

        The issues with having to do a sector-by-sector copy are: the image file is larger than if it is done with a used block copy, the process takes longer since it is copying more bits, and you cannot do a selective restore at all.

        When the sector-by-sector copy was chosen because the program didn't understand the filesystem, you cannot do a selective restore. So if you only need to recover one .mp3 file that was accidentally deleted, you must restore everything in that image file. This is time consuming and any changes that were made to the running system since the image was created will be lost when doing the restore. This is one of the reasons that drive imaging alone should not be considered a complete backup solution.

        The biggest advantage of imaging the system drive is that all of your instaled programs are put back in place and their registration information is still intact so you don't need to re-register them. Everything is done in one simple restore instead of having to install the operating system then every program you want to run on your machine which is a time consuming process. The last time I did that on my computer it took over 30 hours to install and patch all of my software.

        The biggest disadvantage is the way most Windows machines are configured to use the hard disk. Most installations will have your primary hard drive set up with an optional boot partition if you are dual-booting your computer, possibly a restore partition if your computer came from HP, Dell, or a similar company, and the rest of it is everything else - operating sytem, programs, and data. So if you want to image your operating environment, you are getting the OS, all of your programs, and the piece that tweaks everything - your data files - all on a single partition. Big problem when it comes to imaging.

        Your data files change frequently and you should not want to re-image that partition every time a data file is added, deleted or modified. This is where a conventional backup program comes into play. You can configure it to do incremental or differential backup of only your data files. An incremental backup is all files that have been added or modified since the last backup of any kind was done. A differential backup would contain all of the files added or modified since the last FULL backup was done. The differences between the two methods are really seen when a restore needs to be done. In both cases, the last full backup needs to be restored first. With the incremental backup, all backups that were done since the last full backup must then be restored in the order the backups were done. With the differential backup, that last differential backup only needs to be restored.

        So, in order to recover your data if you use do a full backup of your data files on Sunday night and incremental backups the rest of the week and your hard drive had crashed on Thursday morning, you would need to restore Sunday's full backup, then Monday's incremental, followed by Tuesday's, then Wednesday's. With differential backups, you would need to restore Sunday's full backup then Wednesday's differential backup.

        Now with the standard Windows disk setup, all of these backups would be in addition to the latest image restore just to get the system running again.

        Also, with a separate backup of your data files you can do a selective recovery operation. You can easily recover just one folder or file.

        What I do for most of my clients is to completely rearrange the layout of their hard drive. First, image the entire drive. Next, shrink the partition with the operating system to make more room on the drive for another partition. Create a new partition on the newly freed space which is going to contain all of their data files. Move all of their data to the new partition. Verify that everything is still working properly. Image the system partition again (since it no longer contains all of their data). Set up automatic backups of their data partition.

        With this type of configuration, a new image should be created after system configuration changes are made that the user wants to keep or new programs are installed. If a new program is installed, it should be run at least once before the image is created, especially if it requires activation, in order to make sure it is activated and any first run registry keys are added. This is just to make sure that those processes don't need to be done again if the system needs to be restored from the image. I also generally keep at least the two most recent system images.

        The backup schedule will depend on how the user actually uses their computer. A heavy user will have a full backup done on Sunday night and differentials done on all other days of the week. A moderate user will have a full backup done once every two weeks and differentials on all other days. A light user will get a full backup done on the first of the month and differentials for the rest of the month. The reason I choose differentials is that a full data restore will take at most 2 restore operations. These backups are also configured to ignore temporary directories and file extensions that generally reflect a temporary nature. I do have it keep backup files (.bak, etc) for various known programs.

        These are also some of the practices I follow on my own machines. My issues tend to be more complex as I do alpha and beta testing for other companies and I require clean operating system environments to do so. Because of this I frequently native boot from VHD files. These are not included in my automated backups, but they are instead manually copied to or from a dedicated drive for storage as required due to their size. I have dozens of these VHDs and each one is at least 40GB. Every time I do some testing in those environments, the file is changed and I do not need them included in every differential or incremental backup that the system would be making. It would just be a waste of time and space with regard to automatic backups.

        I hope this helps you understand the issues regarding backups and imaging as well as a few of the options available to ease the process.

        Don't hesitate to let me know if you need more help with this.

        • Rajeev
          May 19, 2012 at 6:51 am

          Thank you very much! You have taken so much pain to write this much to make me understand about this back up and restore. I am very grateful to you. One small doubt, how to do these incremental and differential backups? Is there any step by step procedure available anywhere? And according to you which one is better, incremental or differential? If you don't mind, please give me the step by step procedure, if it is available, so that I won't crash my system in process.
          Once again, I am very thankful to you for giving your precious time for this.
          Thank You very much!

        • Rajeev
          May 19, 2012 at 6:54 am

          One more thing, should I use Clonezilla? Is it a good(& free) software? Or there any good softwares better than Clonezilla?
          What are your recommendations, so that I will follow your advise.
          Thank You!

        • Bruce Epper
          May 20, 2012 at 12:21 am

          Clonezilla is one of the best imaging packages out there. I use it on several of my systems (generally non-Windows, but it works well on Windows systems too).

          On my Windows systems, I use Paragon's Backup & Recovery (http://www.paragon-software.com/home/). It allows a sector backup (imaging) of my disks or partitions. It also allows me to create a differential image (copies only the sectors that have changed). It will also allow me to do a synthetic backup; that is taking a base sector copy and applying a differential backup to it in order to create a new base copy that contains all of the changes from when the base image was created up to when the differential backup was created. This is much faster than creating a new sector backup. It also includes a lot of other backup methods that can be used such as a file-based backup with an option to do incrementals (but not differentials). All of the operations can be scheduled or scripted which increases the flexibility of the program. There are also recovery environments (a Linux/DOS type and a WinPE 3.0 version). If you have a problem booting your computer, you can use either of these bootable CDs (you create them from within the program initially) to try to fix whatever has gone wrong including the option to drop one of your image files back onto the disk. If your hardware (motherboard, etc) craps out, it will allow you to take your system image file and restore it on a computer with different hardware (requiring different drivers) and it can automatically inject the proper drivers into the restored system so it will work with the new hardware (OS Adjust). It can make an image of your currently running system and turn it into a virtual disk that will run under VMWare, Virtual PC, or VirtualBox (P2V). For their normal price of $40, it is really worth it. I think they are selling it for around $20 this weekend. They also have a free stripped-down version but it does not support file backups, the WinPE recovery environment, Synthetic Backups, copying of partitions and hard drives, and other features available in the paid version. They have a complete hard disk management suite that includes all of this and more for about $50 ($40 this weekend). My only affiliation with them is as a VERY satisfied user of their software.

          As far as how to create incremental or differential backups, the procedure will vary depending on what software you are using for the job. The only thing I can say about it is to read the help files or the manual for the backup software. I haven't used it in a long time, but if I remember it right, the backup software Microsoft includes with some versions of Windows does not support incremental or differential backups. It is an all or nothing proposition, but it does support making a system image which includes all of the files required to get Windows up and running again. Keep in mind that this will only image the system files, not all of your installed programs and data that may reside on the same partition.

          About a decade ago, I was using Seagate BackupExec (now owned by Symantec) for backing up corporate servers. That didn't do imaging but it did support file backup with options for incremental and differential backups and was effective for our uses there. I even had it set up in an engineering department to back up their dedicated server and the dozen or so workstations the engineers used on a daily basis. I don't know if they still make a home-use version. The enterprise editions I was using were several hundred dollars each.

          As far as what is better, incremental or differential backups, it is more a matter of personal preference for home users. The thing to remember is it really only affects the restore procedure and single-file recovery choices. A differential backup will allow you to restore all of your data with a maximum of 2 restore operations. An incremental backup will have you restore your initial full backup then every incremental backup since that time. When you need to recover a single file, you will have a copy of every version of the file that was saved from the full backup and on every incremental backup on the days that the file was changed. With differential backups, you do not need every differential backup to be saved in order to perform a full recover and your backup media manager (a normal part of the backup software) knows this. As a result, if the location where you are storing your backups becomes low on space while doing differential backups, older versions may automatically be deleted to ensure the latest backup will fit on the device. This means that you may not have access to a version of the file that is old or new enough for your purposes.

          So which one is better ends up being a trade-off based on several factors:

          The size of your destination for the files being backed up.
          The amount of space required for a full backup.
          The amount of space required for each of the differential or incremental backups (for home users this is generally quite small).
          The number of differential or incremental backups performed between full backups.
          The number of full cycles you intend to retain (full sets of a full backup + all of the incremental or differential backups taken until the next full backup).

          If you are modifying the same files over and over again, it won't make much of a difference which one you choose. If you are constantly adding new files every day to the drives/folders being backed up, the differential backups will become larger faster because they are storing every file that has been changed or added since the last full backup while the incremental backups are only storing every file that has been changed or added since the last full or incremental backup.

          There is no one-size-fits-all answer to which type of backup plan to create. It will be something that only you can answer based on your needs.

        • Susendeep Dutta
          May 20, 2012 at 3:56 am

          Redo Backup software is also very good and its plus point is its simple interface.It works even when your HDD dies and it boots from USB and runs backup.Moreover,it has Firefox browser so as to surf internet when your HDD dies.

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