What is an Incremental Backup and How Does It Work?

Incremental backups are a key aspect of data management, offering a balance between comprehensive data protection and efficient resource use. But what exactly are incremental backups, and how do they work? Let’s break it down.

1. Understanding Incremental Backups

An incremental backup saves only the data that has changed since the last backup. Unlike full backups, which copy all data every time, incremental backups are much smaller in size and faster to execute.

Key Characteristics:

  • Efficiency: Saves time and storage by backing up only new or modified files.
  • Speed: Much quicker than full backups due to reduced data volume.
  • Frequency: Often performed daily or more frequently to minimize data loss.

2. The Initial Full Backup

Before you can start making incremental backups, you need to perform a full backup. This initial full backup captures the entire dataset, serving as a baseline for subsequent incremental backups.

Why It’s Important:

  • Foundation: Provides a complete snapshot of all data.
  • Reference Point: Future incremental backups compare changes against this full backup.

3. The Incremental Backup Process

Once the initial full backup is complete, incremental backups can begin. Here’s a step-by-step look at the process:

  1. Identify Changes: The system scans for files that have been added, modified, or deleted since the last backup.
  2. Backup Changes: Only these changed files are copied and saved.
  3. Repeat: Each new incremental backup continues to save only the changes made since the previous backup.


  • Storage Savings: Uses significantly less storage space than full backups.
  • Quick Restores: Less time-consuming to restore recent changes compared to restoring from multiple full backups.

4. Restoration with Incremental Backups

Restoring data from incremental backups involves a bit more complexity compared to full backups. To fully restore your data, you need:

  • Initial Full Backup: The baseline data.
  • All Incremental Backups: Each subsequent backup that includes changes.


  1. Restore Full Backup: Begin with the initial full backup.
  2. Apply Incrementals: Sequentially restore each incremental backup in order.


  • Granular Recovery: Allows precise recovery of specific data changes over time.
  • Resource Efficiency: Restoration tends to be faster due to smaller backup sizes.

5. Managing Incremental Backups

To ensure your incremental backup strategy is effective:

  • Regular Schedule: Maintain a consistent backup schedule to minimize potential data loss.
  • Proper Labeling: Clearly label and organize backups to simplify the restoration process.
  • Verification: Periodically check backups to ensure they can be restored successfully.

Best Practices:

  • Automated Systems: Use backup software that automates the process, reducing human error.
  • Redundant Copies: Store backups in multiple locations to safeguard against data corruption.

6. Differences Between Incremental and Other Backups

Understanding how incremental backups compare to other types can help determine the best strategy for your needs.

Differential Backups:

  • Focus: Backs up data changed since the last full backup.
  • Size: Generally larger than incremental but smaller than full backups.
  • Restoration: Requires only the last full backup plus the latest differential backup.

Full Backups:

  • Scope: Backs up all data every time.
  • Size: Largest of all backup types.
  • Restoration: Simplest process, requiring only the most recent full backup.

7. Final Thoughts

Incremental backups offer an efficient way to protect your data without consuming extensive resources. By understanding the process and implementing best practices, you can ensure that your data is secure and recoverable.

Ready to enhance your backup strategy? Implement incremental backups today and enjoy the benefits of efficient, reliable data protection.