What Are Backup Levels?

Backup Levels Definition

When you use backup software or the software that facilities an online backup, you typically have three options for how you want to select files for backup.

You can either select each and every file you want to add to the backup, select just the folders you want to include (which would also include the subfolders and files in those folders and subfolders), or select the entire drive you want to back up (which would include all the folders and files that drive contains).

Illustration of a small fish being eaten by a medium fish, being eaten by a big fish
Chad J. Shaffer / Imagezoo / Getty Images

More About the Different Backup Levels

As you just read, the three backup levels a backup program can support include file-level backup, folder-level backup, and drive-level backup, each explained in more detail below.

Some backup programs support all three of these types of backups, whereas others may only support one or two. Use our Online Backup Comparison Chart to see which of our favorite online backup services support each backup level.

File Backup

File Backup in AOMEI Backupper Standard
File Backup in AOMEI Backupper Standard.

File-level backup provides the most specific level of backup. If a program supports file-level backup, it means you can choose each and every individual file that you want to back up.

For example, if there are only a few image files that you want to back up, you can select just those specific files, and anything you don't select won't be backed up.

In this case, you're able to back up some files out of a folder without having to back up the entire directory.

Folder Backup

Folder Backup in AOMEI Backupper Standard
Folder Backup in AOMEI Backupper Standard.

Folder backup is a bit less refined than file backup in that you can only select the folders you want to back up. This means all the files in the selected folders will be backed up.

If you use this level of backup, the backup software will allow you to choose all the folders you'd like to keep backed up, but you can't pick out particular files in those folders that you wish to exclude from the backup.

This is helpful in a scenario where you have multiple folders of, say, images contained in a primary pictures directory. In this case, you could simply back up the primary root folder, which would include all the child folders, and thus all of the picture files.

Drive Backup

Drive Backup in AOMEI Backupper Standard
Drive Backup in AOMEI Backupper Standard.

Drive backup lets you choose an entire hard drive to back up. Using drive-level backup means you can easily and automatically select every folder, and all contained files, for backup that are contained on a drive.

Doing this, however, doesn't let you choose the specific files and folders that you wish to exclude from backups.

Additional Backup Level Options

Some backup software tools will let you add exclusions to a backup level. This means even if you've chosen a folder-level backup, and typically all the files contained in the folder are backed up, you can add one or more exclusions to avoid backing up specific files.

Backup exclusions may involve an entire path to a folder or file, specific file types, or other details like a file's age or size.

One example of an exclusion involving a backup level would be if you're using a drive-level backup to back up all the files on your external hard drive. Instead of backing up every single file on the drive, you can build an exclusion that prevents everything from being backed up unless they are video or music files.

In this example, it's easy to select all your videos and music files for backup without having to go in and find each and every file and mark them for backup, which is what would be required if you used the file-level backup method.

Another example would be to use the folder-level backup to back up an entire folder full of documents but have an exclusion set up so none of the folders with the name containing 2010 are backed up.

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