Following this blog post by Matt Gemmell, I’d like to share my own strategy for backing up my data. I use an even simpler approach than the already low-labor plan Gemmell favors, involving essentially no active maintenance work at all after the initial setup.

It comes down to this:

  1. Pay BackBlaze $50 per year to keep my hard drive continually backed up to the cloud, through no particular effort of my own.
  2. Regularly push committed work on my various version-controlled projects to remote services — which is to say, either GitHub or BitBucket.
  3. If I feel temporarily extra-paranoid about the safety a particular file, stick it into Dropbox. (This doesn’t happen very often, but it’s there when I need it.)

That’s it! No need for other, locally connected clones of my machine’s hard drive at all. Using BackBlaze to recover files can take a long time, but in practice I need do this only once a year or so at most. Almost every file I might mess up in my daily work lives in Git-based version control, and I can just revert it instantly that way.

Don’t get me wrong: whole-drive local backups are great, if you can make them work for you. Before I found my own backup groove, I spent a long time trying to perfect a system involving local drives, since the prevailing wisdom on this topic often stresses the importance. But — in large part because my main machine is a laptop, not a sessile device that can always stay hooked to a backup drive — I would invariably end up having to expend effort every day to make the backups work, even if that meant just plugging another cable into it every time I returned to my desk.

However, a successful backup strategy must involve no maintenance effort, at least for me. At first all that plugging-in feels great, and I would congratulate myself on my excellent data hygiene every time. After the novelty wears off, though, backup-activity I have to expend regular attention on starts to feel like it’s just not doing anything, and from there dropping out of the habit becomes just too easy. With my current solution, BackBlaze takes no effort at all (modulo confirming my credit card with them once a year), version control is something I do anyway, and Dropbox simply provides an extra one-off safety net whenever I feel like deploying it for a given file.

I must also acknowledge I can boast about my use of version control because the nature of my projects means I mainly work with text, whether executable code or resource files like HTML or Markdown documents. This strategy might not fit the needs of, say, an artist or designer as well as it does me. But if you are like me, a text-based hacker who feels naked when going outside without your laptop-bearing bag on your back, I encourage you to try this simple backup system. It’s saved decades of my work once already, and it’s preserved my peace of mind ever since.

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