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3 Types of Backup: Full, Incremental, Differential - MiniTool



Afraid of losing data on your computer? Decide to make a backup of the system or disk to protect your PC security? This post will walk you through much information about 3 commonly-used types of backup: full backup, incremental backup & differential backup, and how to create a backup with MiniTool ShadowMaker and Windows snap-in backup tool.

Overview of Backup

Have you heard of the terrible ransomware attacks in 2017 like WannaCry and Bad Rabbit? Are you afraid to be the next victim? Want to protect your computer? Actually, data loss always comes out of the blue due to virus attack, ransomware infection, system corruption, and mistaken operations. How can you prevent data loss?

Backing up data continuously is a crucial thing that everyone should do so as to have a fail-safe. When the inevitable things happen, the backup will be useful for the data recovery or system restore. Well then, after deciding what to back up and which backup storage device to choose, you still need to determine how your data will be processed. Here, the main thing you should think about is backup compression method. This post will show you three commonly-used types of data backup.

Three Common Types of Backup

Backup types are vital to choosing the right backup strategy. In a nutshell, the most common types are full backup, incremental backup, and differential backup.

Full Backup

It is the most basic and complete type of backup operation. As its name implies, this type can make a copy of all the data including files, folders, settings, applications and more on the storage devices like hard drive, SSD, HDD etc. If you choose a full backup as a default method, files and folders will be backed up again entirely in any subsequent backup operations. Then, many redundant data copies will be made. Thus it can be seen that this backup type can take much disk space. Moreover, you will take longer to create a full backup than other types. In most cases, a full backup will be made in combination with other types of backup, either incremental backup or differential backup.

Incremental Backup

It refers to backing up all the files that have changed since the last backup operation of any type of backup. For example, you create a full backup on Sunday. Then, the incremental backup performed on Monday only backs up the changed files since Sunday. And, the incremental backup on Tuesday will back up the changed files since Monday…

incremental backup

Differential Backup

Differential backup refers to backing up the only changed files since the last full backup. For instance, a full backup is created on Sunday and a differential backup on Monday will only back up the changed files since Sunday. The differential backup on Tuesday will back up all files that have been changed since Monday and Tuesday…

Differential backup

Incremental VS Differential Backup

After learning some information about these three common types of backup, perhaps some of you are wondering: what's the difference between incremental and differential backup?

1. Both of them only back up the added or modified data. However, incremental backup is created based on the last backup (full backup or incremental backup). A differential backup is made on the basis of the last full backup.
2. Incremental backup takes up less storage space and needs less time during the backup process.
3. Incremental backup takes a longer time to do a restoration than a differential backup.
4. For an incremental backup, a full backup and all incremental backups are essential for restoration. But, for the differential backup, only full backup and the last differential backup are needed for restoration.

Recommended Backup Software

Now, three common backup types have been introduced to you. Are you going to make a full backup, incremental backup or differential backup? Which tool can meet your requirement?

Here, MiniTool ShadowMaker Free Edition is recommendable. As a piece of dedicated backup & restore software, MiniTool ShadowMaker Free Edition allows you to back up the system, partition, and entire disk, meanwhile, data compression is performed to save storage space. And it brings you the above three types of backup, enabling you to get your data protected well. What's more, it allows enabling disk space management as long as you specify a backup scheme. Want to get this free PC backup software for a try? Download it now from the button below and install it to your computer running Windows 10, Windows 8/8.1 or Windows 7.

How to Perform Full Backup

Right now, it is time to back up your computer for data or system protection. How can you use this program to create a full backup? Let's see the details.

Step 1: Run MiniTool ShadowMaker Free Edition that has been installed on your computer. Then, this tool will pop out the following interface:

local backup

Here, you are required to choose one computer to manage. Which one do you prefer, Local Backup or Remote Backup? Actually, Free Edition 1.0 only supports the Local Backup. If you need to control another computer on the same LAN, the Beta 3.0 is helpful.

Step 2: Then, this backup software will go to the Home page where one notice is displayed:

  • If no backup exists, you are told to click SET UP BACKUP button to start data protection.
  • If one backup has been done, you can manage your backup in Manage page.

Here, take the first case as an example. Follow its instruction now to start a backup.


Step 3: MiniTool ShadowMaker Free Edition allows you to go to the Backup tab and configure this backup.

Here, in Source section, you can find this tool has selected system required partitions by default. If you have a need to back up the entire hard drive, please enter this section, select a disk from the combo box and then check all the partitions. Finally, click Finish.

disk backup

Besides, you are required to go to Destination section to choose one location for the backup image storage. From the following interface, you see there are two options for you to choose:

1. This Computer: All disk partitions detected by Windows are listed here. Here we strongly recommend choosing the partition of an external hard drive. Note that you had better not save your backup file to the source disk.

backup destination

2. Shared Folder: Click Add New button, input a path, corresponding user name and password to back up to the network.

shared folder

Step 4: Then, after all settings are completed, you will go back to the Backup tab and click Back up Now to begin the backup. Like that, a full backup has been created.

backup now

How to Perform Incremental or Differential Backup?

How to create the other two types of backup – incremental and differential backup? There are two ways: one is to use Scheme feature and another is to choose Incremental or Differential in Manage tab.

① Scheme Feature

By default, this feature is disabled, so turn the switch to ON. Then, you see it brings you three common types of backup: Full, Incremental and Differential. Meanwhile, it allows performing disk space management by deleting certain backup file versions. Note that Free Edition 1.0 only supports Incremental Backup Scheme. But if you need to choose Differential Backup Scheme, try MiniTool ShadowMaker beta 3.0.


Note that MiniTool ShadowMaker also allows you to create an automatic backup by specifying a time point. Usually, it is used in combination with an incremental or differential backup.


After finishing additional settings, start to back up your system or disk like the step 4 shows.

note Tips:
1. If you simultaneously create an automatic backup and enable incremental backup scheme, MiniTool ShadowMaker Free Edition will help to perform incremental backups since the specific time point.
2. If Schedule is disabled, and only configure Scheme, an incremental or differential backup will be performed only one time.

② Via Manage Tab

If you don't choose a backup scheme and turn on Schedule, after the full backup is completed, you can configure other two types of backup like incremental backup and differential backup in Manage page.

backup types

Now, all information about how MiniTool ShadowMaker works is told to you. Just create the common types of backup by following the above steps.

Windows Backup and Restore

When it comes to backup, some of you may choose to use Windows built-in backup tool to create a backup of the system. Is it available for those three common types of backup? To be specific, full backup and incremental backup are supported. Let's see the details.

In Windows 10/8/7, right click Start button and enter Control Panel to run Backup and Restore. Then, begin the following operations.

Step 1: You will get the interface below. Here, click Create a system image feature on the left side.

windows backup

Step 2: You should determine where you want to save the backup. Windows backup utility allows backing up the system on a hard disk, one DVD or a network location. Here, we suggest choosing the partition of an external hard drive.

select desctination

Step 3: In the following interface, you see the drives that are required for Windows to run are checked by default. In addition, you can also manually choose data partitions on your system disk so as to create a system disk image.

decide backup drive

Step 4: Then, make a confirmation for your backup settings. After that, click Start backup button to perform the backup operation.


When reading here, a question appears: which types of backup does Window Backup and Restore tool employ? From the above steps, you find there is not any information implying the specific backup type. As a matter of fact, a full backup is created. What's more, if you use this tool to make a full backup, subsequently created backups are incremental backups and no option is offered to change the backup types. Besides, a differential backup is not supported.

MiniTool ShadowMaker VS Backup and Restore

After learning so much information about these two backup tools, it is likely that you want to know which one should be used for system backup or the disk backup. Let's see two obvious differences between them and then you know the answer.

1. As to backup types, MiniTool ShadowMaker can supports full backup, incremental backup and differential backup. However, Windows built-in backup tool provides full backup and incremental backup functionality but the differential backup feature is not included.
2. MiniTool ShadowMaker is capable of managing disk space by deleting the specified backup versions with its Scheme feature. But, Backup and Restore tool creates incremental backups since the last full backup by default without any option to make disk space management.

In addition, this third-party backup software enables you to manage your backup, for example, browse, mount, locate the image, delete the backup, etc. Furthermore, MiniTool ShadowMaker provides you with a powerful feature called Clone Disk to back up the entire disk by the disk-cloning method.

Hence, which one you should use? Of course, MiniTool ShadowMaker is more worthy of being recommended.


In this article, we have told you the common types of backup: full backup, incremental backup and differential backup and the difference between incremental and differential backup. Then, you know MiniTool ShadowMaker supports three backup types and how to use it to create a full backup, incremental backup or differential backup. Besides, some information about how to make a full/incremental backup with Windows built-in backup tool, as well as the differences between these two tools are introduced. Just choose one tool based on your need and start to protect your PC.

If you have any questions when using our program, please tell us at once by writing a comment in the following comment area or sending your ideas to us via [email protected]. Besides, any suggestions are also welcome.