Prahlad Yeri

Freelance Programmer and Writer

How to use robocopy for taking regular backups on Windows


Having switched from linux to windows recently, I was looking for an rsync alternative. rsync is a popular tool in the linux world used for taking routine backups and also general file transfer. But since I use it mostly for backups and I'm mostly a command line dude, I was trying to find a windows equivalent which can do the same. That's when I came across the robocopy command.

robot

Despite its trivially sounding name, robocopy.exe is a versatile tool found in almost all windows installations at C:\windows\system32 and does a great job of taking incremental file backups. The best way to configure a robocopy backup is to create a simple batch file called backup.bat such as the one below:

@echo off
if not exist "e:\source\" (
    echo "backup drive not found. make sure e:\ corresponds to backup usb drive"
    goto :halt
)
echo Welcome!
echo ***

robocopy c:\source e:\source /E /PURGE /ndl /Z
:halt

This example assumes that you have a directory located at c:\source and you want to backup that entire directory to another drive (for example, a USB pen-drive) at e:\source. If you have more directories to backup, you can add them before the :halt statement like this:

robocopy c:\docs e:\docs /E /PURGE /ndl /Z
robocopy c:\music e:\music /E /PURGE /ndl /Z

Now, let's look at what those parameters to robocopy command do. The source and destination folders are obvious, here is what follows:

/E      Copy subdirectories (similar to --recursive option in rsync)
/PURGE  Delete destination files that no longer exist in source (--delete rsync option)
/ndl    Don't log directory names while copying
/Z      Copy files in restartable mode

You can run robocopy /? to see a full list of options available in this tool. If you want to schedule backups (like once a week or month), simply go to Task Scheduler from Control Panel -> Administrative Tools and schedule the above script to run accordingly.

Enjoy, your DIY backup solution for Windows is ready!