What's the Difference between Differential and Incremental Backups

Jean updated on Aug 11, 2019 to Backup Utility | How-to Articles

Both differential and incremental backups are "smart" backups that save time and disk space by only backing up changed files. But they differ significantly in how they do it, and how useful the result is.

Most of the information on a computer changes very slowly or not at all. This includes the applications themselves, the Operating System and even most of the user data. Typically, only a small percentage of the information in a partition or disk changes on a daily, or even a weekly basis. For that reason, it makes sense only to back up the data that has changed on a daily basis. This is the basis of sophisticated backup strategies.

What is a differential backup

A differential backup is one practical method for backing up single files or folders that change every day in backup strategies. A differential backup backs up only the files that changed since the last full backup.

For example, suppose you do a full backup on Sunday. On Monday you back up only the files that changed since Sunday, on Tuesday you back up only the files that changed since Sunday, and so on until the next full backup.

Differential backup.

Differential Backup .vs Full Backup

  • Differential backups are quicker than full backups because so much less data is being backed up. But the amount of data being backed up grows with each differential backup task until the next full back up.
  • Differential backups are more flexible than full backups, but still unwieldy to do more than about once a day, especially as the next full backup approaches.

What is an incremental backup

Incremental backups also back up only the changed data, but it only backs up the data that has changed since the last backup -- be it a full or incremental backup. They are sometimes called "differential incremental backups," while differential backups are sometimes called "cumulative incremental backups." Confused yet? Don't be.

Let's suppose that you do an incremental backup on Tuesday, you'll only back up the data that changed since the incremental backup on Monday. The result is a much smaller and faster backup. The advantage of incremental backups is the shorter the time intervals between backups, with fewer data to be backed up.

Incremental backup.

Differential Backup .vs Incremental Backup

If you are still not quite clear about the differences, check the VS comparison form to see it now:

Backup Strategy Backup Basis Backup Speed Space Taken Similarity Media Required for Recovery
Full Backup Full Backup Slow Big / Most recent backup only
Differential Backup Full Backup Medium Big Backup only files that have changed Most recent full + most recent differential
Incremental Backup Last Backup of Any Type Fast Small Most recent full + all incremental since full

Compare with full backup, the incremental backup takes less backup time and produces a smaller image file.

And compare with differential backup, an incremental backup will save your space better. That's the main reason why most people choose to make an incremental backup.

Now that you've noted all these differences between Incremental and Differential backups, you should know which method to choose for backing up your files. And what is the best tool for executing these backup tasks?

RECOMMENDED: Best Incremental/Differential Backup Software

How to make use of incremental/differential backup to protect PC? We strongly recommend incremental/differential backup software - EaseUS Todo Backup to help you gain the best backup and restore solution.

To create an incremental backup of your files on Windows PC:

Step 1. Open EaseUS Todo Backup and select "File Backup".

You may have a large amount of vital data to be protected as time goes on, such as documents, pictures, music, and videos, etc. It is always a good habit to have a backup on a regular basis. 

make a full file backup first

Step 2. Select the files that you want to back up.

If you just want to back up one or some specific file types from one folder, the option at the top right corner can help you exclude the others files.

select the file that you want to back up

Step 3. Select a destination to save your backup file.

select a destination to save the Windows backups

Step 4. Click "Schedule" to create an automatic incremental backup.

For example, if you want to back up these files every Sunday, select "Weekly", and select "Sun". Then, set the backup method as Incremental.

Our software will start with a full backup for the first time. After that, it will execute a backup task for only changed files every Sunday. 

set a schedule and you will be able to start an incremental backup with the help of EaseUS Todo Backup
Notice:
Here's a warm tip for you. Since it's the first-time backup for creating a full backup image, the process normally takes longer as it needs to image all selected files. Have a little rest and wait patiently.

If you have enough space, you can also select the "Appoint weekly first backup as Full" option. This option enables you to take a full backup and an incremental backup at the same time. But it takes a lot of disk space.

 
 

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Frequently Asked Questions

Why choose EaseUS Todo Backup?

"The easiest way to protect your data and system files."techradar

"EaseUS Todo Backup Free is one of the most popular free data backup applications available. This software offers a myriad of features and is extremely user-friendly. It provides a full system backup, meaning you can back up your entire operating system."TopTenReviews

"EaseUS ToDo Backup Home is a great backup program, well suited to the home and SMB space."PCWorld

What is the difference between Clone and Backup? In what cases should I use Clone?

Clone will copy one disk to another or one partition to another (unallocated space is also supported). Usually, this option is used to upgrade the current disk by creating an identical copy. Backup will generate a .PBD image file containing the selected files or system that can be restored from the .PBD image if needed.

What is the difference between System Backup and Disk Backup?

System Backup will auto-select the system boot related partition(s) as the backup source to make sure the system image can be restored properly. Disk/Partition Backup will allow you to manually select a whole disk or speficy a certain partition as the backup source. You will get the same backup result as System Backup if you manually select the system and boot partitions with the Disk/Partition Backup option.

As a computer newbie, what features should I use to protect my computer?

You can use System Backup to back up the system and boot partitions, use Disk/Partition backup to back up the data partition and add plans to run an automatic backup. If you use the computer frequently or have software that may cause boot failure of the computer, we would suggest you back up the computer every 1 to 2 days. For other situations, you can backup the computer once a week. In addition, you can schedule File Backup to back up the files which are changed frequently.

What kind of storage service should I use to save my backup images?

EaseUS Todo Backup can save backup images to internal disks, external disks, network drives, or free cloud(Google Drive, Dropbox, and OneDrive) and CD/DVD. It is suggested to save the images to the internal/external/network drives to save time as those kinds of disks have a better read-write speed. It is suggested NOT to save the image on the source disk, because once the disk is damaged, all the files on the disk will become unavailable and you will be unable to restore the image.

As a company network administrator, what features should I use to protect our internal computers?

It is recommended that you use the SQL Backup feature to back up your company's SQL server and Exchange Backup feature to back up the Exchange server. In addition, you can execute System Backup to back up the system and boot partitions on every computer and set a plan to execute the backup once a day or twice a week to ensure that the computer can be restored timely when it has boot issues. File Backup feature can be used to back up important user data. If there are a large quantity of computers, you can purchase EaseUS Backup Center to manage the backups on the client computers centrally.

About EaseUS Todo Backup

Be it a file, system, partition, or disk, EaseUS Todo Backup will help you back up or clone the item and provide you with multiple backup plans.