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Incremental vs Differential Backup: Brief Comparison

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The threat of data loss due to hardware failure, accidental deletion, or malicious attacks necessitates implementing robust backup strategies. Incremental and differential backups are widely used to protect valuable data but vary significantly in their approach and benefits.

In this article, we have discussed incremental and Differential backups and their key differences.

What is Differential backup?

Differential backups focus on capturing the data that has changed since the last full backup. Unlike incremental backups, which only store the changes made since the previous backup, differential backups store all changes made since the last full backup, regardless of any other differential backups that may have been performed in between.

Each differential backup will be larger than the corresponding incremental backup. However, the restoration process is more straightforward and requires only the last full backup and the latest differential backup to restore all data to the desired point. This simplicity makes differential backups more user-friendly and less prone to errors during restoration.

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What is Incremental Backup?

Incremental backups focus on capturing only the data that has changed since the last backup, regardless of the previous backup type. This means that each incremental backup only saves the newly created or modified files since the last backup operation, whether a full or incremental backup.

The process of incremental backups is fast and efficient, as it requires less storage space and reduces the overall backup time. However, the restoration process can be complex, as it involves restoring the latest full backup followed by each subsequent incremental backup in chronological order until reaching the most recent data. This dependency chain can become time-consuming and error-prone, especially when dealing with multiple incremental backups.

Differential vs Incremental backup

AspectIncremental BackupDifferential Backup
Data CapturedCopies only the changed data since last backup.Copies changed data since the last full backup.
Backup SizeSmaller, as it contains only incremental changesLarger, as it contains all changes since the last full backup
Backup TimeFasterSlower
Restoration SpeedSlower than differential as it requires a full backup plus all incremental backups.Faster than incremental as it requires just the full and last differential backup.
Risk of Data LossHigher risk if any incremental backup is missing or corruptedLower risk due to fewer dependencies
Backup FrequencyMore frequent due to smaller data sizeLess frequent due to larger data size

Choosing between incremental and differential backups depends on various factors such as data volume, frequency of backups, and the importance of speedy recovery. Incremental backups are efficient and save storage space, but restoring data can be complicated. On the other hand, differential backups are easier to restore but require more storage and time for backups.

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Akash Singh

Akash Singh

Akash is a law graduate who likes to go for bike rides on the weekends soul-searching for answers to his many existential questions. You can contact him here: