Incremental Backup

What Does Incremental Backup Mean?

In data backup and recovery, an incremental backup is one that backs up only files and data that have changed since a previous backup was performed. Part of the definition of an incremental backup in IT is that the previous backup can be either a full backup or an additional incremental backup; for the purposes of the incremental backup, the type of previous backup is of lesser importance because the entire goal of the incremental backup is to document changes since the previous benchmark was established.


Techopedia Explains Incremental Backup

An incremental backup is one of several fundamental options for backing up files and data. Experts compare the incremental backup to a full backup, which is usually the primary method for backing up data. A full backup backs up all files and folders in a system. Typically, an incremental backup relies on a previous full backup.

The philosophy of the incremental backup method is that managers can achieve data solvency by using successive incremental backups after a full backup. This allows them to document the changes in shorter time periods. One of the primary benefits of this strategy is that the incremental backups that are made against the original full backup take less time and effort to perform than doing a full backup each time. A third alternative is to use differential backups, which back up any data against a previous full backup. By contrast, incremental backups only back up data against any prior backup.

Incremental backups must be packaged together in order to provide a comprehensive full backup. For example, a user may perform a full backup on a Monday, and an incremental backup on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Each incremental backup, then, will only include changes made during the prior business day. If one incremental backup is missing, it will be impossible to provide a full data record.


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Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert

Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.