How to automatically back up your personal files

Most of us have lots of pictures, music, and other stuff on our home computers that we can’t afford to lose.

We’ve all heard many times that we need to back our stuff up, and other people have posted about this before. Unfortunately I ignored all the warnings and was met with a “disk read error” when I booted up my laptop last week. Crap.

Luckily I had been backing up a lot of stuff to CDs, but I had slacked off over the last year. Most of the pictures that I really wanted I could get back from other people, so I didn’t lose too much.

(Side note: seeing “disk read error” has an upside — the wife turns to me and says, “I think we need to buy a new computer.” The Wife Acceptance Factor will never get any higher than that.)

My Backup Strategy

I need something that is automated so that it doesn’t rely on me having to manually go and burn CDs, upload files, etc. because I will forget to do it. I need something that happens frequently because with a newborn in the house I will be taking lots of pictures, and I can’t afford to lose them. I didn’t want to back up to another computer in my house either (because I don’t want to maintain it, and to protect against some unlikely event like a house fire or someone breaking in and stealing everything). Here’s how it all works:

I downloaded and installed WinSCP, which is an FTP client that has a very powerful scripting language and has built-in functions to help you synchronize data. I downloaded the 4.1.3 beta because I needed some of the scripting capabilities that they added in the later releases.

Now that I have WinSCP installed, I had to write my script. Luckily the WinSCP scripting language has some pretty good documentation. I have two files, a batch file that I will run and a WinSCP script file that is called from the batch file. I am going to synchronize files from my machine to my web hosting provider (which I have to host my blog), which is running on Linux.

Here are the two files (I have them in my C:\autobackup directory):

winscp backup batch file.bat:

@echo off
echo Waiting for wireless....
Ping -n 2 |find /i "Request timed out" > nul
if %errorlevel% ==0 goto waitloop

rem Stall for time so that I'm sure that the wireless is connected
Ping -n 20

@echo on

echo connected to wireless
"C:\program files\winscp\" /console /script="c:\autobackup\winscp backup script.txt" /log="C:\autobackup\backup detailed log.txt" > "C:\autobackup\backup log.txt"
echo done

winscp backup script.txt:

# Automatically answer all prompts negatively not to stall
# the script on errors
option batch on

# Disable overwrite confirmations that conflict with the previous
option confirm off

# Exclude files that I don't care about
option exclude "*.db; *.ini; *.tmp;"

# Connect to the server (replace with your username, password, domain)

# Do the work
synchronize remote -delete -mirror "C:\Documents and Settings\all users\Documents\My Pictures" "/pictures-backup"

# Close and exit

Note that in winscp backup batch file.bat, the stuff at the top of the file is checking to make sure that I’ve connected to my wireless network before I try and connect to the server.

You can read more about the options for the WinSCP “synchronize” script command here. Basically what I’m doing is synchronizing the remote FTP server to have the same files that I have on my local machine. I’m only doing the synchronization one way (meaning that changes on the remote FTP server will not be synched back to my local machine), but WinSCP will allow you do the two-way synchronization if you want to.

Now I set up a scheduled task in Windows to run my “winscp backup batch file.bat” file. I checked the box that says “Wake the computer to run this task”.

Just like that, all of my pictures are backed up every night to a remote server, without any interaction from me, and I can see the results in a log file. I can easily update my script file to back up other directories too.

There are probably lots of other backup solutions out there, including, which allows you to back up 2 GB worth of data for free, or unlimited data for $4.95 a month. Web sites like this are probably worth looking into… I created my own solution because I already had the web hosting space available and WinSCP made it pretty easy.

So now that I’ve done all the work for you, you have no excuse! Don’t wait to back up your stuff or you might end up with nothing left to back up!