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I'm preparing a backup strategy and I wonder what files should be backed up in a Windows XP machine.

I'm not asking about how should I do the backup, but about what is important to include (i.e. what will I miss if I reinstall my os from scratch).

Let me begin with:

  • Personal files (My documents & Desktop).
  • "Application Data" folder in "Documents and Settings" sometimes contains personal info (e.g. Firefox profiles are stored here).

And that's about all I can come up with. Any other idea?

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3 Answers 3

Back up the entire Documents and Settings folder, the entire Current User/Software registry key (and do this for each user), and the entire Current Machine/Software registry key.

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If you have to reinstall from scratch, backuping folders like "Application Data" doesn't help, because you have to anyway install the applications. And in any case, Windows and application info is scattered all over the disk and the registry, so it's hard to point at particular places to backup. In most cases, it will be impossible to restore these backups and get a working system.

The only real solution is to have two partitions: One for the system drive and the other for your data. This lets you take a global backup of the operating system, using disk-imaging methods.

If this approach interests you, I can recommend some free disk-imaging products.

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It seems like a good idea. In fact, in some machines I have 2 partitions so I'll probably do as you suggest. I remember it was possible to move your personal folders to a different place, wasn't it? –  David A. Sep 25 '10 at 11:14
    
It is possible, but not recommended. I wouldn't put my personal data in "Documents and Settings". If using Office, one can change the default directory. –  harrymc Sep 25 '10 at 11:32

In many respects, this depends on what you are using. If you use typical Windows programs, then you should only have to worry about your profile directory - c:\documents and settings\.

If you use one or more programs that doesn't appropriately utilize the profile and/or you save things outside of the profile folder, then you have to back those up.

Other things you might want to look out for include Fonts (if you have any special ones - %windir%\fonts)

EDIT IF you're looking to backup the system so that you can restore it later, the KEY files are in the System State which requires a product that supports system state backups.

Alternatively, you can use imaging software.

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I'm only worried about personal stuff (including application preferences). Thank your for your answer! –  David A. Sep 25 '10 at 11:13

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