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Dierential backup

A dierential backup is a type of data backup that preserves data, saving only the dierence in the data since
the last full backup. The rationale in this is that, since
changes to data are generally few compared to the entire
amount of data in the data repository, the amount of time
required to complete the backup will be smaller than if a
full backup was performed every time that the organization or data owner wishes to back up changes since the
last full backup. Another advantage, at least as compared
to the incremental backup method of data backup, is that
at data restoration time, at most two backup media are
ever needed to restore all the data. This simplies data
restores as well as increases the likelihood of shortening
data restoration time.

provides a backup of les that have changed since a full

backup was performed. A dierential backup typically
saves only the les that are dierent or new since the last
full backup, but this can vary in dierent backup programs. Together, a full backup and a dierential backup
include all the les on your computer, changed and unchanged. Microsoft products, such as Exchange Server
2010 use this denition in their literature and support

MySQL, makers of MySQL Enterprise Backup, states that

An incremental backup only backs up data that changed
since the previous backup [full or incremental].[5]

Acronis, makers of Acronis True Image, states that A

dierential backup backs up only the les that changed
since the last full back...Incremental backups also back
up only the changed data, but they only back up the data
that has changed since the last backup be it a full or
incremental backup.[4]


A dierential backup is a cumulative backup of all

changes made since the last full backup, i.e., the dierences since the last full backup. The advantage to this is
the quicker recovery time, requiring only a full backup
and the last dierential backup to restore the entire data
repository. The disadvantage is that for each day elapsed
since the last full backup, more data needs to be backed
up, especially if a signicant proportion of the data has
changed, thus increasing backup time as compared to the
incremental backup method.

CA Technologies, makers of ArcServe, states that Incremental Backupbacks up the les that have changed
since the last backup. Dierential Backup backs up
les that have changed since the last full backup.[6]
Symantec, makers of Backup Exec, states that An Incremental backup backs up only the selected les that have
their archive bit set to ON, setting them back to OFF.
This results in a backup of all les that are new or changed
since the last backup, whether it was a full or an incremental...A Dierential backup will back up all selected les
that are new and changed since the last full backup.[7]

Usage consistency

EMC Corporation, makers of EMC NetWorker (formerly

Legato), states that Incremental is a backup of latest
changes since the last backup (any level) so when a full
recovery is needed you would need to restore the last full
backup plus all the incremental [backup]s until the pointin-time you want to restore...Dierential backups are incremental backups since the last full backup the dierential backups will always save the dierences between
the last full.[1]

It is important to use the terms dierential backup

and incremental backup correctly. The two terms are
widely used in the industry, and their use is universally
standard.[1] A dierential backup refers to a backup made
to include the dierences since the last full backup, while
an incremental backup contains only the changes since
the last incremental backup. (Or, of course, since the
last full backup if the incremental backup in questions
is the rst incremental backup immediately after the last
full backup.) All the major data backup vendors have
standardized on these denitions, including Microsoft,
Acronis, and Symantec.

Quest Software, makers of NetVault Backup, states

that Incremental An Incremental backup transfers
the changes in a volume since the last Full, Dierential, or Incremental backup. Incremental backups consume minimum storage space and are quicker to perform...Dierential A Dierential backup transfers the
changes in a volume since the last Full backup. Dierential backups speed up recovery since the plug-in is only
required to restore two savesets, the Full and the latest
Dierential backup.[8]

Microsoft, makers of Backup and Restore, denes incremental backups and dierential backups as follows:[2]
Incremental: An incremental backup provides a backup
of les that have changed or are new since the last incremental backup....Dierential: A dierential backup



The dierence between incremental and dierential

backups can be illustrated as follows:[1]
Incremental backups:
The above assumes that backups are done daily. Otherwise, the Changes since entry must be modied to refer
to the last backup (whether such last backup was full or
incremental). It also assumes a weekly rotation.
Dierential backups:
It is important to remember the industry standard meaning of these two terms because, while the terms above
are in very wide use, some writers have been known to
reverse their meaning. One case, for example, is the one
found at The Elder Geek website.[9]
Oracle Software also leverages a backward description of
dierential backups in their DB product as of May 14,
Quote " Dierential Incremental Backups In a dierential level 1 backup, RMAN backs up all blocks that have
changed since the most recent cumulative or dierental
incremental backup, whether at level 1 or level 0. RMAN
determines which level 1 backup occurred most recently
and backs up all blocks modied after that backup. If
no level 1 is available, RMAN copies all blocks changed
since the level 0 backup. "

See also
Backup rotation scheme
Continuous data protection
Delta encoding
Disk Archive - portable robust program for archiving and backup
Dump (program) - UNIX utility for multilevel incremental le system backups.
rsync - File synchronization algorithm and protocol.


[1] SQL Server dierential backups. Carlos Rojas. EMC

Community Network. EMC Corporation. 2 March 2011.
Retrieved 21 August 2012.
[2] Description of Full, Incremental, and Dierential Backups.
Microsoft Support. Retrieved 21 August 2012.

[3] Incremental Backups: Exchange Server 2010 . Retrieved

21 August 2012.
[4] Whats the dierence between dierential and incremental backups (and why should I care)? Acronis Resource
Center. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
[5] 3.3.2. Making an Incremental Backup. (MySQL Enterprise Backup Users Guide (Version 3.7.1) :: II Using
MySQL Enterprise Backup :: 3 Backing Up a Database
Server :: 3.3 Backup Scenarios and Examples :: 3.3.2
Making an Incremental Backup). MySQL. Retrieved 21
August 2012.
[6] ARCserve
CA ARCserve Backup for Windows: Agent for Microsoft
Exchange Server Guide, r16 CA Technologies Technical
Support. Page 52. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
[7] What are the dierences between Dierential and Incremental backups?. Symantec Enterprise Technical Support. Article: TECH7665. Created: 2000-01-27; Updated: 2012-05-12. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
[8] NetApp SnapMirror Block Level Incremental Backup to
Tape with NetVault Backup. Charles Keiper, Senior Product Manager. Quest Software. 1 August 2012. Retrieved
21 August 2012.
[9] Protecting The Windows XP System and Data: Types of
Backups The Elder Geek. Retrieved 21 August 2012.

6 Further reading
Chervenak, Ann L.; Vellanki, Vivekanand; Kurmas, Zachary (1998). Protecting File Systems:
A Survey of Backup Techniques. Joint NASA
AND IEEE Mass Storage Conference. CiteSeerX:
LeMarque, Eric (28 October 2013). Dierential
and Incremental backups: Why should you care?".
NovaBACKUP Blog. NovaStor.

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