Martin Ansdell-Smith

Coloured blocks spelling out BACKUP

Image © 2010 duplass at DepositPhotos

Digital Archives and Backups

A two-minute, 310-word read about issues to consider when wanting to keep digital data safe.


We need to backup digital data, but there are considerations about …


Backups must be frictionless and frequent: this means automated.

Most word processors and similar programs can auto-save work. Use this but, as with all backups, do not let an inferior version overwrite all the better ones. Consider full version control like git, or version history options available with other products and services.

If a backup is in the same place as the original, one disaster may destroy both.

Regularly test restoring data from backups.

Physical media

Most modern computers lack floppy disk, tape, and optical drives. Many older drives and media are not available to buy. Some drive types are available with current connectors; most are not. Ensure a reliable way of accessing data on physical media.

Even in ideal conditions, disks, tapes, and memory degrade.

Online backup services

We need to

Remember, service providers may change or abandon services, or go out of business;


An unsorted collection of thousands of documents and photos makes accessing particular ones difficult. Consider how you will index, tag, search or identify them.

File types

Digital data is useless without suitable software to read it. Software companies go out of business, discontinue products, and make upgrades that do not work with older file type versions. An old program may not run on newer computers or operating systems. Saving in recognised archival formats may mitigate this.

Further reading

Computer backups article at Wikipedia

PDF/A archival format article at Wikipedia

Version control article at Wikipedia