9–10 and 20–22 December 2012
“Save often, save early”, says the old adage. “Better safe than sorry” is another one.
Programs like MS Word have an option for automatically saving the edited document periodically. I don’t like that and don’t use it, because it always happens at the wrong moment. I prefer pressing ctrl-s myself, when it logically makes sense, that is, after finishing a full sentence or paragraph.
It’s the same with making backups in a wider sense, backups of new and changed files: I want to be in control.
Most of DOS is rather unsophisticated. Unix command line tools (sometimes called user land programs) are much better.
Xcopy however is an exception to this rule.
This is a very powerful and useful program. I use it for
keeping my backups up-to-date.
Xcopy is somewhat reminiscent of
which is available on some (or all?) Unix systems, although
rsync is much more powerful, in that it also
has capabilities for remote synchronisation of different
Xcopy can also do that, but only if the remote storage
has been made make accessible as a network drive.
Like so many powerful utilities,
xcopy has a large
number of rather complicated command line option (also called
command line switches). I can never remember them.
So for convenience, I created an MSDOS batch file – well, in fact it is a script for a 32 bits Windows command line. More on that in my previous article. There I also described how I achieved that I can use the command conveniently, without specifying, or even remembering, where I stored it.
I gave my batch file (script, command file) the name
xcopybat.bat . If you want to take my advice
and use something similar, you can of course call it anything
you like. Just don’t give it a name that already exists
as a command in the system, because then you won’t be able
to access that older command (unless you use the full path).
Before going into some more details and backgrounds, I’ll
give you an example of how I use my self-made
command to make backups.
In case you want to try my
this is what it contains:
xcopy /s/e/i/d/r/k/y/z *.* %*
Remember, in order to make it usable, you may need to take some measures first, as explained here.
For storing my files, I always use directories (also known as
folders) to keep things organised. And I create these directories
and subdirectories myself on drives like
d:, not from locations that Windows systems
propose, such as
– which in fact, my user name being
Of course you can use anything you like, included those predefined disk locations. You can (and should, in my opinion) create subfolders there too.
Anyway, my photograph files, for example, I keep under
d:\Fotos. Below that are
subfolders naming some persons who sometimes send me
photographs I didn’t take myself.
Pictures I did take myself (or my wife, usually) I
store in subfolders, the name of which start with the date
in the format
yyyymmdd, or just the month:
Then follows a hyphen (-), followed in turn by a textual
description of what it is about (without any spaces, because
these cause inconveniences when using them with command line
So pictures of a holiday in Portugal in 2001, for example
would be kept in
(‘Vakantie’, as you might have guessed, is the Dutch
word for holiday.)
Other files than those containing photos, for work or fun
(well, most of the fun is also a form of work, or might one day
turn into that), I organise in a similar fashion.
I make backups on portable USB disk drives, USB sticks and disk
drives on other computers, via the network. If you have more
than one disk, or several partitions in your computer, you
might also make backups from
Now suppose I want to backup my photos from
to a USB disk, which when plugging it in, is automatically
First I have to make the source directory (folder) the current
So in the command line, I issue the commands:
each followed by return (⏎, on some keyboards marked ‘Enter’). The command line prompt (i.e., what is displayed at the left, at the beginning of the line) reflects this, by becoming
Now I run my
xcopybat command to create the
backup, as follows:
This creates (if it wasn’t already there) a folder
Fotos in the root directory of the
F:. It also creates any subfolders,
and subfolders of those, as needed.
In other words, the complete directory
structure (folder structure), that I decided to create on
my computer disks in order to keep my files organised,
is automatically reflected on the backup disk.
In the appropriate folders, copies of the files are stored. What’s more, next time I do that, only new files, and old files that have meanwhile changed, are written to the backup disk. This speeds up the backup process considerably.
Hard disk storage is cheap nowadays. That includes portable USB disks. I own three of those, of 250, 500 and 350 gigabytes (GB) in size, bought over the years, in that order. An abundance of space. Of data I consider important, they allow me to keep as many as 23 copies on each of those three USB disks. Every time I make a backup, I use the disk I haven’t used the longest, and on that, I update the oldest backup.
It is important to have both recent and older backups. That’s because if you have ruined a document without noticing, recent backups tend to contain that broken file too. You need older backups of several dates, in order to find one that still, and already, contains the lost pieces of data.
To see which backups are recent and which
are not, I use an implementation of the well-known Unix
‘list sorted’ program (
For example, I keep a local working copy of my website under
d:\rudhar.com, and to check the ‘whatsnew’
file of the backup copies on drive
f:, I issue
ls -lt ru*/in*/w*w/whatsnew.htm.
-l means ‘long listing’
ls to sort the
files by date and time.
This results in (somewhat simplified):
2786 Dec 21 12:12 rudha1.com/index/whatsnew/whatsnew.htm 2786 Dec 21 12:12 rudha9.com/index/whatsnew/whatsnew.htm 2786 Dec 21 12:12 rudha8.com/index/whatsnew/whatsnew.htm 2786 Dec 21 12:12 rudhar.com/index/whatsnew/whatsnew.htm 55473 Dec 20 14:20 rudha11.com/index/whatsnew/whatsnew.htm 55473 Dec 20 14:20 rudha10.com/index/whatsnew/whatsnew.htm 54119 Dec 12 11:44 rudha4.com/index/whatsnew/whatsnew.htm 54119 Dec 12 11:44 rudha5.com/index/whatsnew/whatsnew.htm 53944 Dec 11 23:26 rudha6.com/index/whatsnew/whatsnew.htm 53944 Dec 11 23:26 rudha7.com/index/whatsnew/whatsnew.htm 53698 Dec 9 15:36 rudha3.com/index/whatsnew/whatsnew.htm 53698 Dec 9 15:36 rudha2.com/index/whatsnew/whatsnew.htm
This tells me that backups number 2 and 3, being the oldest one, are eligible for the next round.
The MSDOS command
dir also has an option
/od) to show results sorted by modification
time, and it supports wild cards (*), but not as well
as Unix tools (actually: shells): in those, the wild cards
can also be used for directory names on all levels,
not just for file names.
A similar Unix command tells me which is my oldest e-mail backup on the current USB disk or memory stick:
ls -lt f:/in*/eu*/in.mbx
In.mbx is Eudora’s inbox and
d:\internet\eudora is where I keep
both the program and its data, that is, the
mailboxes and their index files (
in several folders.
This way, I can keep some 15 copies (by varying the path
interne2 etc.), of some 18 years of e-mails,
currently in 98 folders which contain a total of 3031
thematically organised mailboxes.
Yet, backing them up takes only a few minutes.
I you might be trying something similar: do not forget to unmount the USB drive the proper way first, using the green icon in Windows’ lower right bar, before pulling the USB plug. With large amounts of data being transferred, it may take a while before everything is settled on the disk. If you pull the plug too soon, the data will get corrupted.
This is background info only. You can use the command
xcopybat as is, without knowing why it
works the way it does.
But if you are curious, here is some
info. As said, the command I put in my batch file is:
xcopy /s/e/i/d/r/k/y/z *.* %*
You can obtain descriptions of the command line
switches (the letters after the slashes) by running
xcopy /? | more.
/E specifies that
“copies directories and
subdirectories, including empty ones”.
/S does the same,
but without the empty ones. So I could have omitted
/S, but it doesn’t hurt to mention
that one as well.
/I is used so the target directory is
created if it wasn’t already there.
The purpose of command line switch
that only those files are copied that are newer the
corresponding file in the backup path.
read-only files: if such a file has been changed in
my working copy (under the
current directory), despite being write-protected
(that is, read-only), I do want it to be backed up.
/K makes the backup files
read-only if the original file was, and
xcopy should overwrite existing
files (i.e., older backup files, backed up earlier)
without asking me all the time. I often back up a
lot of files at a time, so I don’t want all those
The last parameter is
/Z, which makes sure
that partially copied files will not be left behind and
not rewritten in a following attempt, in case the backup
is done over a network that fails in the middle of the
command. Or some other smart algorithm I may not fully
understand and that is none of my business as long as it
After the command line switches (parameters), I specified
*.* to mean ‘all files’.
(On a Unix system,
would be used for this, and
*.* would be
interpreted literally, i.e. only files with at least
one dot in the name would match.)
Finally, there is a
%* to achieve that any
command line parameters that are given to
xcopybat, will be passed on to
xcopy. In practice,
there is only one: the target directory. But this could
probably be used to pass extra command line switches
xcopy by specifying them as such to
xcopybat. I never do that and I didn’t
ICT people, or perhaps only dinosaurs like me, have the strange habit of depicting the tree structure, in which directories and files are stored on a disk, with the root on top. As you know, biological trees grow into the air so they have their roots below, in the soil.
To make it worse, in diagrams and path name strings, the root is usually supposed to be to the left, so “lower” directories (also called subdirectories or subfolders) appear more to the right.Example: if a photo file is stored as
200208-Vakantie-Portugalis a subdirectory (lower level folder) of
PonteDoLimais said to be “below”
200208-Vakantie-Portugal, which is under
Fotos, which in turn is under the root directory ‘\’ of drive
This may be confusing if you’re not used to it, so I thought I’d explain.
Copyright © 2012 by R. Harmsen, all rights reserved.
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