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Be Prepared: These Are the Vital Files You Should Backup

Joshua Lockhart 30-05-2013

files you should backupIf you aren’t already backing up your important files, you should be. Whether it be by manually copying files over to multiple hard drives or using a system like Apple’s Time Capsule The Ultimate Triple Backup Solution For Your Mac [Mac OSX] As the developer here at MakeUseOf and as someone who earns their entire income from working online, it's fair to say my computer and data are quite important. They’re set up perfectly for productivity with... Read More  or Windows Backup and Restore options The Windows Backup and Restore Guide Disasters happen. Unless you're willing to lose your data, you need a good Windows backup routine. We'll show you how to prepare backups and restore them. Read More , it’s very necessary to keep your files in more than one place. Why? Simply put, hard drives break 5 Signs Your Hard Drive Is Failing (And What to Do) Since a majority of people today own laptops and external hard drives, which get dragged around quite a bit, a realistic hard drive lifetime is probably around 3 - 5 years. This is an extremely... Read More . Sometimes they break for no reason, too. It’s always best to be prepared.


While you should always try to recover your hard drive How To Get Data Off A Dead Hard Drive Read More (at least from a mechanical approach), you must keep your information and media stored elsewhere in case recovering the drive isn’t possible. I recommend backing things up to at least two or three places, but you may be wondering what files you should backup. Fortunately, that’s what this entire article is about – read below for more information.

Your Personal Files

files you should backup

It goes without saying, but you have to back up your personal files. This simple little task can save you a whole mess of heartache in the long-run, my friend. More specifically, take a close look at anything inside your Documents, Pictures, and Videos folders. As a matter of fact, automatically backing up those folders as a whole, rather than being choosy with certain files is a very good idea. Other items to take into consideration are your will and financial records The Digital Afterlife – Managing Your Final Affairs As you look towards the final stage of your life, you may realize that there is a certain amount of paperwork must be handled. We've even covered a great deal of this information in one... Read More – something that we’ve already spoken about once before on MakeUseOf.

Your Desktop

files to backup

Your desktop is likely home to whatever your currently in-progress projects are, and you definitely don’t want to lose those, right? Automatically backing up your desktop is the best provision of a safety net whenever you’re in your workflow zone. Since this area of your computer usually holds whatever is fresh on your mind, it makes perfect sense to keep it constantly in check. Even more importantly, if you’re a video or photo intensive user, backing up your project folder directories will help you out in the event of something horrible happening. Furthermore, these files are likely only temporary, and they probably won’t find their way into the realm of your personal belongings.


Your App Settings

files to backup

If you’ve customized all of your apps and programs to your liking, it would definitely take a great deal of time to redo everything if your hard drive were to ever crash. Regardless of whether you are using a Mac or a PC, it’s possible to find your app settings in either the Application Support or App Data areas of your machine. Whenever you load things back up on your new hard drive (or new computer – eek), things should feel as though you are right at home. Granted, you might still have to do some manual adjustments, but this will make things much easier.

Your Browser Data

files to backup

I have a slew of bookmarks stowed away on my browser that link to cool locations for shooting videos, awesome tech tips, and handy web apps. Sometimes I even forget about all the resources that I’ve saved! Backup your browser’s bookmarks and favorites 5 Xmarks Alternatives to Sync Bookmarks Across Devices and Browsers Wish you could sync your bookmarks across all devices and browsers? Here are the best Xmarks alternatives to use. Read More to keep track of your most important wells of information. Furthermore, you probably have quite a few extensions and other browser settings you wouldn’t want to manually install once more.


Fortunately, apps like Hekasoft Backup and Restore for Windows can do most of this for you. If you’re a Mac user, you might have a bit more trouble. However, Chrome can automatically sync all of your information Google Chrome Can Now Sync Multiple Browsing Profiles [News] Do you often use Chrome’s ability to sync all your bookmarks, extensions, apps, etc. across computers? It’s a pretty handy option which lets you use your own configuration of Chrome anywhere you go. But what... Read More  across multiple devices. Likewise, Firefox can sync your bookmarks How To Keep Your Bookmarks Synced Across Computers With Firefox 4 After a year since the last major version was released, Mozilla has launched Firefox 4 with the promise of a lighter and speedier browsing experience. The latest version of the Fox offers many improvements and... Read More  and other information.

Your Emails

should you backup files

It seems as though I change my personal email address at least fifty times a year, so going back and reading old messages is always a hassle for me. Even if you aren’t worried about a hard drive failure (you really should be) it’s a good idea to keep a backup of all your emails for your personal records. If you’re an Outlook or Apple Mail user, it’s quite easy to make a simple archive using both app’s export mailbox functions.

For alternative methods, you can take a look at 5 Easy Ways To Back Up Your Microsoft Outlook Data 5 Easy Ways To Back Up Your Microsoft Outlook Data Read More  or 5 Ways to Backup your Email 5 Ways to Backup your Email Read More . Some people are even of the opinion that you should stay away from desktop mail clients and use web-based ones exclusively 7 Reasons Why You Should Stop Using Desktop Email Clients Is a web-based email client preferable to a desktop option? We looked at the different pros and cons and found an answer for you. Read More .


Your Saved Games

files you should backup

Although not nearly as important as the above files, no one knows the suffering of a lost file like a gamer. With that in mind, keep your saved files backed up! Don’t rely on one hard drive for everything. Consider a game like Fallout 3. That game contains a huge world with a variety of weapons, enemies, and characters packed inside. The worst part is that it requires quite a bit of in-game walking. If you lost a save file that gave you access to the best weapons and fast travel… Oh dear, I can’t even imagine the pain.


Out of all the vital files displayed here, I have to say that your personal ones are the most important. They are also the easiest to backup if you make use of the proper folders. With that said, backing files up will take a bit of organization on your part. Rather than haphazardly tossing files wherever you seem to have space, be intentional about where you place them. Doing this can contribute to a fluid, automated system that could be beneficial later on.

What are your most vital files you should backup? Do you have any to add to this list?


Image Credit: Mac Users GuidenickjaisJiri Brosovsky,, dav, Pacdog, Blakkos

Related topics: Computer Maintenance, Data Backup.

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  1. macwitty
    May 30, 2013 at 6:11 pm

    For Mac I would suggest the whole account Library. There are more files than at least I thought

  2. dragonmouth
    May 30, 2013 at 1:29 pm

    I backup everything. Once a month I clone my HD. Every weeks I copy my /home partition to an external drive.

    I find it interesting that Windows users have not mentioned backing up their O/S drive.

  3. Randy Menard
    May 30, 2013 at 11:22 am

    Great article!! Some very interesting info to consider on the other stuff BESIDES the computer!!! All the ideas and other posts are very helpful.

    Having worked for the old Digital Equipment Corporation (aka "DEC") I used to service pharmacy accounts. Had an account that had not backed up data for a while and lost about 6 months of data from a disk crash. This was back when 32 MB disk drives were 5-1/4" high and weighed a couple of pounds!!! Always told all my accounts to BACKUP, BACKUP, BACKUP!!!!

  4. Rob H
    May 30, 2013 at 10:51 am

    Some things that have caused me problems in the past:

    Software license keys - probably now "safe" in Gmail's online storage, if they were sent by email but stickers on boxes, CD labels and booklets from something you bought years ago may be safely filed - with a mountain of other clutter! I keep a note of them all in a separate "Keys and licenses" document.

    Copies of downloaded release sets - I've downloaded a set of useful apps paid or free. If I want to reinstall, some paid apps providers are "unhelpful" about providing a download for the older version you bought preferring instead to sell you the new version. The status of "free" apps changes, sometimes subsumed into a commercial version, sometimes they just disappear from the web. One of the hidden costs is the time it takes to learn a new version of a program or worse how to use an alternative product.

  5. Scott M
    May 30, 2013 at 10:41 am

    I really don't have to back up much other than music and films.

  6. Josh Mustillo
    May 30, 2013 at 10:14 am

    Its cool I don't need to Backup any of that:

    * Gmail stores all of my emails
    * Skydrive stores my personal files
    * Steam Cloud stores mt Game Data
    * Chrome keeps my History, Bookmarks etc synced

  7. Lynne McCurdy
    May 30, 2013 at 9:22 am

    Please remember, redundancy is a good thing. If you choose not to back up to the cloud, it's vital to have SOME kind of backup physically separate from your home or office. That external drive right by your pc won't do you a damn bit of good when your house burns down! Ask me how I know... In addition, i keep the stuff I really can't live without, and copies of things like drivers licenses, birth certificates, insurance, etc., on an ENCRYPTED flash drive on my keychain; because, even in panic mode, an adult will grab their keys on the way out! Again... Ask me how I know... Oh, and keep your keys in your bedroom with you; 'cause what if you can't get to your front door? I know, I know, it always happens to someone else ... right?

  8. David Moreira
    May 30, 2013 at 8:49 am

    The real thing that interests me is my digital, browser-related life.

    Just the bookmarks, history and extensions. And because that's all backed up with Google, nothing to worry about.

    The rest is pretty much expendable.