Difference Between Backup & Restore

By Marie-Pier Rochon

It's never pleasant to work on a project for hours, weeks or months, and then find out that all the hard work and data have been lost due to a technical problem. At times like this, a system backup or a system restore could save you a lot of time and heartache. When you know how to use each one of them, you can fairly easily recover your lost document, or at least a portion of it, saving you from having to start again from scratch.


A backup is a copy of a file or a set of multiple files that is stored in a separate location from the original, such as a DVD, an external drive or someplace else on the Internet. A backup helps protect your files from being permanently lost or damaged during an accidental deletion, a virus attack or a failure of your system. Typically, people make backups of files including pictures, videos, music, projects and financial records. However, programs and software do not normally need to be copied into a backup as they typically take up a lot of space and you can re-use the original product to reinstall them if necessary.


A system restore is a process that generally happens automatically on your computer's operating system. At various points in time, your computer will create restoring points where it "remembers" some of the information you are working on. You will use a restore when your computer has a problem. For example, if a program is freezing but you have not had time to save the document you were working on, a restore will allow you to go back to a previous point, which can be as far back as a couple of days ago, or just a few minutes before the problem occurred. This doesn't mean you will get the original document in its entirety, but it will allow you to get back some past data without damaging you system's integrity.


Both a backup and a restore can allow you to access lost data, and both can be automated by using different software included in your computer's program, but that is where the similarities end. It does not mean that one should be used instead of another, but simply that they are complementary in their differences, and together, they will help you recover lost documents and files. Ideally, if you can use both the backup and restore functions, you can increase the file protection on your computer.


A backup is not automatic, while restore point are created automatically by your computer. However, this doesn't mean that a backup cannot be set up in a way that automates the process, increasing your chances for up-to-date backup files. Note that your computer needs to be turned on for an automatic backup to run. Also, in a backup, the copies of the files are located in an external location away from your computer, while a restore is done internally to your computer. This means that you will need an external space to store your backup files, while a restore does not require any additional space. Finally, a backup of your whole computer system offers the protection against complete loss of a file or set of files that a system restore cannot itself guarantee.