Types of Backup: Full, Incremental and Differential Backup

Data backup is vital for both businesses and individuals, serving as a defense against data loss from hardware failures, software issues, or cyber threats like ransomware. As the volume of data increases, an effective backup strategy becomes critical to maintain data integrity and ensure continuity.

The three main types of backups—Full, Incremental, and Differential—each offer different approaches to data preservation, with Full backups providing a complete data snapshot and Incremental and Differential backups focusing on changes since the last backup. This blog delves into these three types, highlighting their unique roles in data recovery and efficiency in storage utilization.


  • Gain an understanding of the three main backup types.
  • Learn how each backup method impacts data recovery and storage space.
  • Discover the optimal backup strategy for your data protection needs.

What Is Backup, and Why Is It Crucial?

What Is Backup, and Why Is It Crucial?

Data backup is essential for duplicating and preserving digital information, ensuring the availability of a secure copy in case of data loss or corruption. It is a critical element in disaster recovery plans, protecting against data loss from system failures, cyber-attacks, or natural disasters, thereby maintaining operational continuity.

Regular data backups are vital for data preservation and upholding the integrity and reliability of information, a key asset in today’s digital era.

Full Backup

A full backup involves creating a complete copy of all the files in a system or a specified data set, including backup files. This process entails duplicating every file and folder in the chosen scope, ensuring a comprehensive snapshot of the data is captured at a particular point in time.

During a full backup, the system copies each piece of data to a backup storage device, which can be an external hard drive, cloud storage, or any other designated backup medium. This type of backup is typically the starting point of any backup strategy, serving as a baseline for other kinds of backups, such as incremental or differential backups.


  • High Protection and Fast Recovery: Full backups offer the highest level of data protection. Since every piece of data is duplicated, it ensures that everything is included. In the event of data loss, recovery is straightforward and fast because all the data can be restored from a single backup source without compiling data from multiple backups.
  • Simplicity: The process is straightforward and doesn’t require complex algorithms or tracking of changes, making it easy to manage and understand.


  • Time-Consuming: A full backup can be very time-intensive, especially for large data sets. It requires copying every file and folder, which can take significant time, leading to extended periods when system resources are dedicated to the backup process.
  • Requires More Storage Space: Since full backups involve copying all data, they consume substantial storage space. This can quickly become a problem for organizations with large amounts of data as the cost and management of storage become more challenging.

Ideal Usage Scenarios

  1. Initial Backup Strategy: Full backups are ideal as the first step in a backup regimen. They provide a complete snapshot of the current state of data, which can be crucial for future recovery.
  2. Periodic Comprehensive Backup: In environments where data doesn’t change frequently or the utmost data protection is required, periodic full backups (e.g., weekly or monthly) ensure that a recent copy of all data is always available.
  3. Small to Medium-sized Data Sets: Full backups can be an effective and straightforward solution for smaller data sets or environments where backup windows and storage space are not significant constraints.
  4. Regulatory Compliance: Certain industries and regulations may require comprehensive data backups regularly. Full backups fulfill these requirements by providing a complete copy of all data as of a specific date and time.

Incremental Backup

Incremental backup is a data protection strategy where only the changes made to the data since the last backup are saved. This method significantly reduces the data backed up after the initial full backup.

When an incremental backup is performed, it captures only the modifications made since the most recent backup, which could be either a full or a previous incremental backup. This process involves tracking and copying only the altered or new files, making each backup operation quicker and more efficient regarding data volume.


  • Less Storage Space: Since incremental backups only save changes since the last backup, they require significantly less storage space than full backups. This efficiency makes it a cost-effective solution, particularly for large data sets.
  • Faster Backup Process: The backups are quicker because they transfer a smaller volume of data. This efficiency minimizes the impact on system resources and network bandwidth, allowing for more frequent backups without significant disruption.


  • Time-Consuming Recovery: Restoring data from incremental backups can be slower. To fully restore data, the process requires the last full backup plus all subsequent incremental backups, which must be applied in the correct sequence.
  • Risk of Failed Recovery: If any incremental backup in the sequence is damaged or lost, it can render the entire recovery process incomplete, as each incremental backup depends on the previous ones.

Real-World Example

Consider a company that performs a full backup on Sunday and incremental backups on other weekdays. If a data restoration is needed on Friday, the full backup from Sunday and all incremental backups from Monday to Thursday will be required.

This approach is efficient in storage but requires careful management and integrity of all backup sets for successful recovery.

Suitability for Different Business Sizes

  1. Small to Medium-Sized Businesses (SMBs): Incremental backups are ideal for SMBs that generate a moderate amount of data changes daily. It balances protection and resource utilization, fitting their often limited storage and IT capabilities.
  2. Large Enterprises: For larger organizations with extensive data and IT infrastructure, incremental backups can be part of a more complex data protection strategy. They can be used with full and differential backups to optimize backup windows and storage usage while ensuring data safety.
  3. Businesses with Limited Backup Windows: Companies that cannot afford long backup windows due to operational demands will find incremental backups advantageous. They allow for regular data protection activities without significant interruption to ongoing work.

Differential Backup

Differential backup is a method of data protection where each backup contains all changes made since the last full backup. Unlike incremental backups, which only capture changes since the last backup of any type, subsequent backups always reference the previous full backup.

This means that each subsequent backup grows in size as more changes are made, but it simplifies the restoration process. After a full backup, subsequent backups will accumulate all changes made each day until the next full backup, creating a comprehensive snapshot of the data changes over time.


  • Faster Restore Than Incremental: Restoration from differential backups is typically quicker than incremental backups. To restore data, you only need the last full backup and the most recent differential backup, regardless of how many days have passed since the full backup.
  • Less Space Than Full Backup: Differential backups use less storage space compared to performing full backups every time, as they only store changes since the last full backup.


  • More Space Than Incremental: Differential backups require more storage space than incremental backups because they accumulate all changes since the last full backup, not just the most recent changes.
  • Slower Backup Than Incremental: The process of creating a differential backup can be slower than incremental backups, especially as time progresses from the last full backup, due to the increasing volume of data being backed up each time

Application in Business Continuity

Differential backups play a vital role in business continuity strategies. They balance the comprehensive nature of full backups and the efficiency of incremental backups.

This backup strategy is beneficial for organizations that:

  1. Need Quick Data Restoration: Businesses requiring rapid data recovery for operational continuity benefit from differential backups, offering quicker restore times than incremental backups.
  2. Have Moderate Storage Capacity: Differential backups are suitable for organizations with a moderate amount of storage capacity, where storing daily full backups is not feasible, but there’s enough space to accommodate the more extensive size of differential backups compared to incremental backups.
  3. Want Simplified Restoration Processes: Organizations looking to simplify their data recovery processes often opt for differential backups. The need to only track and manage two sets of data (the last full backup and the latest differential backup) simplifies the recovery process, reducing potential errors during critical restoration operations.

Comparing Backup Types

Table Comparing Full, Incremental, and Differential Backups

Comparing Backup Types

Factors Influencing the Choice of Backup Type

Data Volume

  • Full Backup: Best for smaller data sets due to high storage requirements.
  • Incremental Backup: Ideal for extensive data sets with frequent changes, as it minimizes storage use.
  • Differential Backup: Suitable for moderate to large data sets where storage capacity is a concern but not as restrictive.

Recovery Time

  • Full Backup: Offers the quickest recovery time, useful in environments where quick data restoration is critical.
  • Incremental Backup: This has the slowest recovery time since it requires restoring the last full backup and all subsequent incremental backups.
  • Differential Backup: Provides a balance with faster recovery than incremental backups, requiring only the last full backup and the latest differential backup.

Storage Capacity

  • Full Backup: Requires significant storage space, demanding higher storage capacity.
  • Incremental Backup: Most efficient in terms of storage, ideal when storage resources are limited.
  • Differential Backup: Needs more storage than incremental but less than full backups, a middle-ground option.

Backup Frequency and Window

  • Full Backup: Less frequent backups due to longer backup time, suitable for longer backup windows.
  • Incremental Backup: Allows for more frequent backups, beneficial for minimizing data loss in dynamic environments.
  • Differential Backup: Moderately frequent backups, offering a compromise between full and incremental backups.

Data Criticality and Risk Tolerance

  • Full Backup: Preferred for highly critical data where the risk of data loss must be minimized.
  • Incremental Backup: Suitable for less critical data or when a longer recovery process is acceptable.
  • Differential Backup: Used for moderately critical data, offering better protection than incremental backups with quicker recovery times.

Budget and Resources

  • Full Backup: This may require more investment in storage infrastructure.
  • Incremental Backup: More cost-effective regarding storage, but may need more sophisticated backup management tools.
  • Differential Backup: A balanced approach in terms of cost and resource requirements.

Advanced Backup Strategies

Advanced backup strategies, like backup software and backup speed optimization techniques, cater to the evolving needs of comprehensive data protection in complex IT environments. Synthetic Full Backup merges the initial full backup with subsequent incremental backups to create an updated full backup image, offering the advantage of reduced backup time and network bandwidth usage while still providing the simplicity of a full backup for recovery.

In contrast, Incremental-Forever Backup, ideal for disk-to-disk-to-tape systems, begins with a full backup followed by ongoing incremental backups, significantly reducing storage needs and optimizing backup processes. These strategies ensure that only the files are backed up, considerably improving efficiency and reducing storage requirements.

However, both strategies demand sophisticated backup management. They may present challenges in data recovery due to their reliance on the integrity of the initial full backup and all subsequent incremental backups, making them suitable for organizations with robust IT infrastructure and a need for efficient, continuous data protection.

Backup Strategies in Different Environments

Backup Strategies in Different Environments

Backup strategies can be broadly categorized into on-premises and cloud backups, each with distinct advantages and considerations. On-premises backups involve storing data on physical devices within the organization, offering enhanced security and immediate access to data but require significant investment in hardware and maintenance.

This method is particularly suitable for organizations with stringent security and compliance requirements. On the other hand, cloud backups store data on remote servers managed by third-party providers, offering scalability, flexibility, and reduced on-site hardware needs.

This cost-effective solution is ideal for businesses with distributed workforces or operations across multiple locations. The choice between these two strategies depends on the organization’s specific needs, resources, and data management priorities.

Considerations for Cloud Environments


In cloud environments, bandwidth is critical; sufficient bandwidth is required to ensure efficient data transfer during backup and recovery. Additionally, bandwidth limitations can impact recovery times, particularly in scenarios involving large volumes of data.

Storage Costs

Cloud storage costs are influenced by the amount of data, access frequency, and required redundancy levels. Strategies such as data de-duplication and compression are vital for cost management, and periodic reviews of stored data to archive or delete unnecessary data can further reduce expenses.

Data Security and Compliance

Data encryption in transit and at rest is essential in cloud backups to safeguard sensitive information. Compliance with regulatory standards like GDPR and HIPAA is also crucial, particularly for businesses handling personal or sensitive data.

Recovery Time Objective (RTO) and Recovery Point Objective (RPO)

Cloud backups often face longer RTOs due to bandwidth constraints, especially during the recovery of large data sets. Setting appropriate RPOs is crucial to ensure backup frequency matches the organization’s tolerance for data loss, balancing operational needs with data protection goals.

Reliability and Uptime

The reliability of cloud services is paramount, necessitating an evaluation of the provider’s uptime guarantees and historical performance. To mitigate risks associated with service outages, organizations should consider implementing redundant backups, including using multiple cloud services or a combination of cloud and on-premises backups.

Integration with Existing IT Infrastructure

Ensuring that cloud backup solutions are compatible with existing IT systems is crucial for smooth integration and operation. Adopting automated backup solutions that are tailored to fit seamlessly with an organization’s specific workflow and data lifecycle can significantly enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the backup process.

Final Thoughts

Effective backup strategies are essential for safeguarding data in any organization, with the choice between on-premises and cloud backups depending on specific needs like business size, data volume, and recovery requirements. Cloud backups offer a cost-effective, scalable solution for smaller businesses or those with limited data.

In contrast, larger organizations or those with extensive data sets may benefit more from the control and rapid recovery provided by on-premises backups. Balancing bandwidth, storage costs, data security, compliance, and integration capabilities with existing IT infrastructure is crucial to ensure a robust and efficient backup strategy.

To secure your business’s future with a tailored and robust backup solution that fits your unique needs, consider exploring the options offered by Adivi.


What are the three types of backups?

The three primary types of backups are Full Backup, which copies all data; Incremental Backup, which only saves changes made since the last backup; and Differential Backup, which stores all changes made since the previous full backup.

What is the best type of data backup?

The best type of data backup depends on individual needs:

  • Full Backup is ideal for complete data protection.
  • Incremental Backup is efficient for frequent backups with less data.
  • Differential Backup balances the two.

What is an example of a full backup?

An example of a full backup is when a company performs a weekly backup every Sunday, copying all its data to an external storage device or cloud service, ensuring a complete snapshot of all its digital information is stored.

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