Documents and Backups

In times of crisis you need to be able to get to your documents quickly. In addition you must also back them up. You’ll soon come to appreciate this after some bitter experiences!

The Documents Folder

The Documents folder contains most, if not all, the files you’ve created. Such documents usually contain information about the real world, such as accounts, letters or other records. Files that contain material to enable you to do things are frequently kept here as well, although such items are often best kept in a special folder called Resources, which can be inside Documents or elsewhere.

Document Care

Some applications automatically save files as you work. Unfortunately, such software can also save your mistakes as well, replacing valid information in the process. If you’re worried about this you should try to locate the file concerned, make a copy of it and then continue working as normal. If anything does go wrong you can then replace the faulty file by your copy.

If your software goes awry whilst saving a file the document is likely to be damaged, possibly beyond repair. Fortunately, some applications produce a Recoverable files or Rescued items folder, either in the Trash or in a designated folder. Having restored things to normal you should find a usable version of your file, although you shouldn’t rely on this feature.

Subdividing the Documents Folder

Here’s an example of how you can split up the Documents folder:-

As always, the folders are best named according to function. If you’re lucky, each folder should contain less data than the media that you employ for backups.

You should back up at least daily backup, either by dragging the folder onto the disk drive icon or by using a file synchronisation application or backup utility.

Folders and a Backup Strategy

As you do more work you’ll eventually need to introduce extra folders. In doing so, you should consider whether they contain files that need to be backed up. The folders listed below should either exist on your drive or can be added as required. Depending on the amount of information, you may want to put appropriate folders inside the Documents folder.


Although you’ll have the installer disks for applications you should create at least one backup of this folder. After all, it takes time to reinstate all your applications in exactly the way that you want them.


A backup of this is essential. You should have at least two backups, preferably via different methods so as to allow for failures in software or hardware. For example, you could copy each subfolder onto a separate removable disk and save the whole folder onto a hard disk drive using a backup utility.


This can be used for read-only information that you don’t need to modify, divided into subfolders such as General, History, Languages, Philosophy, Religion and Science. In most instances these documents originate from a CD-ROM that you still have, so they won’t need a backup. And if you’ve created the material yourself you can burn it onto a CD-R disc of your own.

Macintosh Info

This is for extra read-only information about your Mac and can be divided into subfolder for Manuals and Help. The latter can contain problem-fixing information or files giving keyboard shortcuts. Most of these files also originate from CD-ROM, so they won’t need a backup.


This is only necessary if you keep MP3 music files on your machine. Documents of this kind usually take up quite a lot of space, so you may prefer to regularly ‘decant’ the files off onto ‘safe’ media, such as CD-R discs. Alternatively, you can back up the files onto a suitably large hard disk drive.


This isn’t just a dumping ground for difficult files. It’s actually an area for files that are in transit to or from your removable disk drive. It can also be used as the preferred location for files that are expanded by means of Aladdin’s StuffIt Expander or compressed using DropStuff. Such files shouldn’t spend much time in this folder and therefore don’t need a backup.


This folder can be used for documents that enable you to do things. It can be divided into two groups of subfolders: creative items such as Stationery, Clip Art, Fonts and Icons; and technical items such as Scripting, Test Results and Extra System Files. Since these files can take a long time to create you should ensure there’s at least one backup.

You could also consider using the following folders, whose names are prefixed by (bullet) to make them appear below other folders in your list:-

• Archive

This contains copies of old records or other information that’s so important you feel safer with another copy. You should only back up this folder when new files have been added to it.

• Library

This contains copies of applications or extra software. Such files are best kept in the form of Disk Copy .dmg disk images or as compressed archives for the following reasons:-

You should only need to back up this folder if it you don’t have copies of the files elsewhere.

Backup Techniques

Making a backup of documents seems a chore until, having lost your data, you begin to see it in a different light. And it’s a good idea to back up your Applications folder as well. After all, there’s little point having the documents without any applications to open them!

Most people instinctively make a periodic backup at the end of each day, but this really isn’t good enough. In fact, you should use at least two sets of backup disks. The daily backup set should be updated every day whilst the weekly backup set should be updated at the end of each week. In some situations you may even want to use a monthly backup set that’s updated once a month.

You can make a backup by simply copying folders to the destination drive or by running a special application, such as a file synchronisation utility or backup utility. Most types of backup utility can be instructed to automatically update a specific backup set at the required time.

The benefits of removable media, especially CD or DVD, can’t be overstated. Alternatives formats, such as Zip and SuperDisk, are also viable. However, most machines don’t have inbuilt drives for these disks, so you’ll need to consider what happens when your machine or backup drive fails. And, generally speaking, the capacity of floppy disks is insufficient to be of any practical use.

The following backup methods can be used:-

Making Backups by Copying

The simplest way to backup a folder is to copy the whole thing onto another drive. Unfortunately this isn’t without risks, since all the files are replaced, even those that you haven’t modified since the last backup. So if the backup operation goes horribly wrong, or if the newer version of a file is corrupted, you may end up actually destroying some of your information.

Synchronisation and Backup Utilities

File synchronisation ensures that files contained within specific folders are automatically updated on a second disk drive. Depending on the application you can begin synchronisation:-

For such sophisticated facilities you should consider Synchronize! (Qdea) or a similar utility.

A backup utility works in a similar to file synchronisation but usually provides greater flexibility in choosing which files are to be copied to the backup drive. Most types of utility can automatically provide a backup at a specific time of day or day of the week, or even at startup or shutdown.

Using a Backup Utility

In most utilities you choose the files or folders you want to backup and then save this information, together with other preferences and the type of backup in a setup file. When you come to do an actual backup you simply open this file and begin the backup process.

In some instances the backed up data is kept in one large file whose contents is only understood by the backup utility. However, several utilities let you make backups as standard files, allowing you to recover the data without the backup utility. The following options are often kept in a setup file:-


Essential for storing any amount of material on a small drive or diskette. The amount of space you’ll save depends on the files themselves. In general, applications don’t compress as well as documents.

Finder Format

Puts the data onto the backup drive as standard files. This option isn’t provided by all utilities and by its nature usually prevents the use of compression.

Password Protection

Lets you lock unauthorised users out of your backups. The data is not modified, so this option doesn’t slow down the backup process.


Prevents unauthorised users from opening your backup file without the appropriate password.

Common types of backup include:-


All of the selected items are backed up onto the backup disk. This global backup method is the safest form of backup, although it could endanger existing files if an error occurred.


Replaces those selected items that have been modified since the last backup, whatever type of backup that was. There’s some risk of losing backups altogether if something should go wrong in the process. To add confusion, some applications call this an incremental backup.


Backs up those selected items that have been modified since the full backup. Only the original files created during the full backup and the last updated versions are retained. This means that the backup file doesn’t expand significantly after the first differential backup.


Backs up selected items that have been modified since the last backup, whatever type of backup that was. All of the original files created at the full backup as well as all of the files from all incremental backups are retained. Hence the required space expands at each incremental backup. This lets you recover all versions of a file, and is sometimes known as an archival backup. Most utilities use a history file that keeps track of the various files and their editions, which can be used to restore data should you need to do so. Some utilities also let you record the history file onto the backup disk (as well as the source drive) so that files can be recovered even if the history file gets deleted from the source drive.

©Ray White 2004.