Before jumping into the discussion about differences between differential and incremental backups, we should mention their so-called predecessor – the first backup type called “full backup”.
Full backup is probably the most well-known backup level, probably because it is the most straightforward of them all. Full backup creates a copy of all of your files at that exact moment, and that is all that it does. This backup type might be suitable for small companies as the only one used, but problems with it typically increase exponentially as a result of the amount of data that needs to be backed up on a regular basis.
Constant backups of large databases often result in a heavy bandwidth usage, i/o bottlenecks, drastic increase of the time it takes for each backup to be done, and more. There is also the fact that due to all of these problems it is physically difficult to do a full backup more than, say, once a week without running into various problems – and a week of data lost in case of a disaster could easily cause a company’s downfall.
Because a lot of data does not change at all for long periods of time, every full backup will likely include a lot of duplicate data that has already been backed up. However, by using more sophisticated software that offers incremental backup or differential backup (or a combination of both), this situation can be somewhat avoided.
The first attempt to solve this problem outlined above with Full level backup resulted in differential backup being developed. Differential backup’s prime purpose is to create a backup of all the data that has been changed since the last full backup happened. This approach can drastically change the amount of data that needs to be copied each time, but there are typically still a significant number of duplicate files generated.
Differential backup takes all of the data that changed since the last full backup. As a result, repeated differential backups are likely to have data duplicates. Despite that problem, using a differential backup along with the Full tends to decrease the overall load on a company’s servers and networks since the amount of backed up data drops to some extent. In addition, users of differential backup tend to have much higher RPOs since you can do differential backups much often than the full ones.
Nevertheless, Differential level, for all its advantages may still not be the optimal level to use, and it is therefore a good idea to consider another level called 'Incremental'.
Free incremental backup software
Incremental backup is another way to address the difficulties that come with using full (and differential) backups. In this case, an incremental backup creates a copy of all data that was changed since the last backup happened (regardless of whether it was full backup or another incremental).
Performing multiple incremental backups is a popular way of lessening the amount of data that can potentially be lost if there’s a need to restore an entire system from the backup.
At the same time, incremental backups are not perfect, either. The obvious advantage is the decrease in the storage space taken and the lack of duplicated data. It is countered by the need for every single one of the incremental backups since the last full one to be present to restore the data to its fullest. This also increases the overall restoration time since all of the smaller backups need to be connected together and then restored as a complete database.
Comparing each of the backup types with the other ones may have limited merit since there are many cases where these backup levels are used in parallel to provide optimal performance and results for any given company. Of course, since so many organizations treat their data as an extremely valuable - even critical - asset, commercial or open source incremental backup software is perhaps more popular than backup software that focuses more on differential backups.
Other existing backup types
We also have several different incremental backup software examples below to make it easier to find one free incremental backup solution for your specific use case. However, it would also be wise to go over some of the lesser-known backup types beforehand – backup types that are still useful in their own specific circumstances.
Mirror backup could be the most simple backup type on this list. It does exactly what it says it does – perform a complete copy of the system that is stored separately from the source. However, there is a difference between a mirror backup and a full backup – a mirror backup does not apply any advanced backup technologies to the copy of the data such as deduplication or compression.
The advantage of this approach is that it makes accessing said data a lot easier whenever there is a need for it. The obvious disadvantage here is that this copy would be a lot bigger than a full backup of your system – which is already considered large by the backup industry standards. Additionally, the very nature of a mirror backup implies that there is only one copy of your data that is made this way, and it is the most recent one – meaning that any company with significant data mobility would have a number of issues with this backup type.
Synthetic Full backup
A synthetic full backup can be best described as a combination of incremental and full backup types. But this also raises a question of how different a synthetic full backup is from a combined use of full and incremental backups – and the word “integration” is the answer.
Every specific amount of time the full backup and all of the incremental backups are integrated into a single backup that rewrites all of the older data with the most recent data. This creates some sort of a cycle of creating a full backup, creating incremental backups, and integrating all of them into a single synthetic full backup.
This particular approach is relatively lightweight when it comes to storage requirements for backups, purely because the data gets overwritten quite a lot. At the same time, overwriting data as a part of the process makes it impossible to perform any form of versioning whatsoever.
Even though synthetic full backup is already a backup combination, there can be further variations of this kind of backup. A progressive virtual full backup is one such example, offering a backup type that solves the need for a completely new full backup to be created and then for it to overwrite the previous one.
What progressive virtual full backup does is use advanced index management to determine what areas are actually new and only create a copy of them, significantly decreasing both the size of the new backup and the amount of data operations performed on a regular basis. It also reduces the total amount of time needed to perform every backup cycle, because there is a lot less data to be saved in the first place.
Forever Incremental backup
Forever incremental backup is a modification of a usual “full + incremental” backup type combination that automates the process of removing older incremental backups in order to save storage space. Of course, it is not as simple as that, and the process itself is somewhat more complicated.
The way forever incremental backup works is by creating a number of “blocks” every time an incremental backup is launched. That way, older “blocks” can be removed whenever a newer “block” with the same data is created. This allows for forever incremental backup to be relatively economical when it comes to backup storage space, and it also removes the potential issue of a regular incremental backup taking too much space with too many backups that are not deleted in time.
Reverse Incremental backup
Reverse incremental backup is largely similar to another backup type we have mentioned before called “synthetic full”. The biggest difference here is that every single incremental backup that is made after the full one is immediately combined with said full backup to create a complete backup of your system with the most recent information.
This backup type also supports versioning, to a certain degree – it leaves a number of incremental backups “behind” after they were fused with the full one to leave the possibility of rolling back some of the changes whenever there is a need to do so. Additionally, reverse incremental backup can also be convenient when it comes to the restoration process – there is no need for all of the incremental backups to be present for the correct backup to be used because the existing full backup is already the most recent copy of your data.
Different examples of free incremental backup software
The incremental backup type is typically a good way to keep your data up-to-date without large drawbacks, which is why there are plenty of different backup solutions that can perform incremental backups.
There are several categories of free incremental backup software depending on their pricing model. As such, we are going to split our list of examples into three parts. The first part is going to cover solutions that are completely free with no additional payments involved whatsoever.
Both Cobian Backup and Cobian Reflector are the creations of Luis Cobian – a software developer from Sweden. Cobian Backup is a user-friendly incremental backup solution that offers a variety of different features to its users, including multiple backup types, several backup storage locations (disk, network location, FTP), data encryption, data compression, and more. Cobian Reflector is a completely new backup solution based on .NET to build upon the capabilities of Cobian Backup and add more features to it – such as DPI independency, SFTP transfer support, and so on.
- A relatively user-friendly, if a bit outdated, user interface
- A completely free solution that can be used in both individual and commercial environments with no limitations
- Plenty of capabilities for remote backup control
- A variety of features in general in both backup and restore operation groups
- Both Cobian Backup and its .NET-based successor Cobian Reflector can be used free of charge by anyone, including both individuals and commercial environments, since these solutions are distributed as freeware
My personal opinion on Cobian Backup:
Cobian Backup is an interesting solution for several reasons. First of all, it is completely free and can be used in many environments, possibly including commercial ones. Second of all, the solution itself is rather useful, offering several backup types, a choice between multiple backup storage locations, as well as features such as data compression and data encryption. It also has a successor by the name of Cobian Reflector, which is another backup solution with a more diverse feature set – SFTP transfer support and DPI dependency are two examples of new features that Cobian Reflector has.
Comodo Backup is another example of an incremental backup software that is completely free and packs a wealth of different features – for example, Comodo has its own online storage as a potential backup storage location (paid feature), as well as support for backup versioning and backup scheduling. Other features of Comodo Backup include the ability to configure and run scripts using command line prompts, the ability to set up backup strategies that can be executed with just one click, and many others.
- A surprisingly large number of features for a free backup solution, including support for different storage types, as well as scheduling, VSS, data compression, and so on
- Backup tasks can also be customized to a certain degree, including target location, additional features, etc.
- A free offering of 10 GB of cloud storage is available to all new users
- Malware scanner for backup data is built-in
- The first-time setup for Comodo Backup can be somewhat complicated even for users that are familiar with similar software
- The overall complexity of the solution is rather high, and there are quite a lot of features that require proper explaining before they can be used to their full extent
- The free offering of 10 GB to each user is only viable for no more than 90 days since the creation of the account
- Comodo Backup is completely free and can be used for regular backup and recovery jobs with no additional payments attached to it
My personal opinion on Comodo Backup:
Comodo Backup is a solution that relatively few users know about since it is barely showcased on the official website in favor of paid software. Unlike the rest of Comodo’s solutions, Comodo Backup is free software with basic incremental backup capabilities, be it scheduling, versioning, customizable backup strategies, and even the ability to run scripts via command line prompts. It is a rather complicated solution in itself, though, and the free cloud storage that Comodo provides to every new user is very limited and only lasts up to 90 days.
Our second group of free incremental backup software is going to showcase several examples of solutions that are free, but have some sort of limitation in their capabilities, be it the amount of data that could be backed up, the number of devices that can be protected, and so on.
CBackup is a cloud backup software with a dedicated free version that supports incremental backup for different Windows versions. A free version of CBackup offers every new user 10 Gb of free cloud storage to work with – as well as the ability to expand that limit with additional payments. CBackup can also transfer copies of your data to one of several popular cloud storage providers – be it OneDrive, Google Drive, Dropbox, etc. CBackup is also capable of offering a number of generally useful backup-related features, such as AES-256 backup encryption, as well as many others.
- Not only CBackup has plenty of features related directly to performing backup and recovery tasks, but there are also features such as scalability, file synchronization, and backup automation, to name a few
- CBackup ensures data consistency of all of its user via AES-256 encryption and other security-centric capabilities
- CBackup can provide its own cloud storage for customers while also supporting a variety of third-party cloud storage providers
Pricing (at the time of writing):
- CBackup’s licensing is subscription-based and is also separated in four pricing tiers
- “Free” – $0 per month, a very basic feature set with 10 GB of cloud storage and 1 GB of traffic per month, supports up to 2 backup threads, end-to-end encryption, and most of CBackup’s feature set
- “Standard” – $1.99 per month, up to 100 GB of traffic per month, 5 threads for backup/synchronization tasks, 24/7 support, and backup scheduling
- “Essentials” – $4.99 per month, includes 2 TB of traffic per month, 1 TB of cloud storage, and all of the aforementioned features
- “Premium” – $14.99 per month, no limitations on the traffic per month, 5 TB of cloud storage, up to 7 backup/synchronization threads, and the rest of the feature set
My personal opinion on CBackup:
CBackup has a competent lineup of basic backup and recovery features to all of its users. This includes AES-256 data encryption, backup automation, data versioning, and good solution performance. The software in question has its own cloud storage space it offers to all new users (only 10 GB), and it can also work with a number of third-party cloud storage providers. It can also be expanded in terms of cloud storage, multitasking, more consistent customer support, and traffic limitations – but all of that costs more than the baseline of $0.
EaseUS Todo Backup is a rather notable backup and recovery solution that is suitable for both companies and individuals. It is a powerful data recovery platform that supports devices on Windows, macOS, as well as Android and iOS devices. It can perform data transfer operations, create backups, and restore backups. It also has features such as disk cloning, data encryption, one-click backup capabilities, and even custom messages to be sent to specific recipients after every backup or recovery operation. It is also incredibly convenient, since all of the tools have a cloud version that can be accessed from any device. EaseUS Todo Backup has both free and paid versions of its software, with the free version being somewhat limited in its capabilities and only offering up to 250 Gb of cloud storage as a free user.
- Capterra – 4.5/5 stars based on 90 customer reviews
- TrustRadius – 8.1/10 stars based on 13 customer reviews
- Backups can be saved to Cloud storage
- There is a choice between full disk backups and file-level backups
- At least three different backup types – full, differential, incremental
- Impressive performance with backup restoration
- EaseUS Todo Backup Free is a free-of-charge version of the backup solution that provides an essential set of features for personal backup creation. Some of the features of EaseUS Todo Backup are only available in paid versions of the software, such as email backups, dick cloning, Image Reserve Strategy, and so on
My personal opinion on EaseUS Todo Backup:
It would be fair to say that EaseUS Todo Backup is more known for its individual backup capabilities – it is an interesting multifunctional backup solution with support for a variety of device types. It can perform disk cloning, save data to different locations, encrypt data, and more. It is quite an impressive solution on its own, but at least some of its features are locked behind a paywall – since the solution in question is distributed using a freemium model (a basic free version with unlockable additional features).
AOMEI Backupper is a comprehensive data protection solution with many different features. It was released back in 2009 and continued to evolve ever since, offering a variety of different capabilities ranging from standard backup and restore operations to ransomware protection and system migration. AOMEI’s solution can create several different backup types, perform disk imaging, synchronize files and folders, schedule backups, manage partitions, automate backup and recovery operations, and many other useful capabilities.
- Simple and easy first-time setup process
- A variety of features that allows AOMEI to be useful in plenty of circumstances
- The overall interface of the solution is simple and intuitive
- Experiences irregular slowdowns at random intervals
- Performing backups takes most, if not all, of the system’s resources for the duration of the backup process
- The number of different customization options available is very low
- AOMEI Backupper (Standard) is distributed using a “freeware” licensing model, with a basic version of the software that is completely free – with the ability to upgrade to a number of paid versions for a price
- AOMEI Backupper Professional starts at $39.95, offering 24/7 support, different backup types, data encryption, etc.
- AOMEI Backupper Workstation starts at $49.95, the only solution out of the three that can be used in a business environment
My personal opinion on AOMEI Backupper:
Another notable example of a backup solution that is mostly known for its performance in terms of individual users is AOMEI Backupper – a backup solution created back in 2009 that is still being developed to this day, offering a surprisingly impressive array of features to both regular customers and commercial users. It can perform disk imaging, backup scheduling, backup automation, and partition management, to name a few. It has its issues, though, from the lack of proper customization for most features to the excessive resource usage for every single backup task, so it may not be the best option for everyone – but its freeware version is still quite competent at what it does.
Last, but not least, is a group of backups that only have a timed trial as their means of free access to software or a solution
UBackit from Wondershare is a relatively unknown but effective incremental backup software that boasts user-friendly interface and a simplistic process of managing various backup tasks. Wondershare UBackit can perform different types of backup tasks, offers extensive data protection capabilities, can perform in-depth file/folder search, and more. UBackit’s possible backup targets are files, disks, partitions, NAS devices, and even Outlook data. There is also versioning and data encryption, and the solution itself is available for a month for free before asking for payment.
- Support for a variety of backup types, from file backups and partition backups to Outlook backups, NAS backups, and more
- Simple and effective restoration at any point in time, as well as backup cloning capabilities
- A constantly developing nature of the solution promises a lot more features in the near future
- UBackit’s pricing model is fairly simple and relatively cheap – there are only three versions of the same pricing plan:
- $9.99 for 1 month
- $19.99 for 3 months (1 quarter)
- $29.99 for 1 year
- All of the pricing offerings have the same feature set, and there is also a free trial for all new users that lasts 1 month and offers the entire feature set of UBackit
My personal opinion on Wondershare UBackit:
Wondershare UBackit may be the newest solution on this list, with its first version releasing in 2019. It is a relatively unknown backup software that has been developing quite rapidly since its very first version. It can offer data encryption, data versioning, support for plenty of target storage types, extensive file search capabilities, and more. It has a one-month-long free trial version with unlimited features, and its overall pricing model is fairly inexpensive (allowing for a one-year plan to be purchased for the price of three separate months is unheard of in this industry).
If the previous solution is more about user-friendliness, Backup4all is more focused on being as simple as it gets. Not only is the solution itself extremely easy to use, but there are also plenty of different guides to help even the least experienced users with various tasks. It can create different backup types - not just incremental - there is also extensive versioning and plenty of different Windows versions supported. Backup4all has several different versions, and they are not structured in a way most of the backup solutions do. The basic version of Backup4all is a regular standalone software that can only be installed on regular personal computers. The portable version of the software can only be deployed to external devices such as USB sticks, and the “monitor” version is a newer version of the same solution that has remote monitoring as its main purpose. Backup4all also does not have any form of subscription and only sells per-person perpetual licenses, and there is also a free 30-day trial available for new users.
- Plenty of customization options for backup and recovery tasks
- A variety of features to work with, including support for local and cloud backup target locations
- The ease of use for most backup operations via a convenient backup wizard
- User interface as a whole is simple and easy to work with
- Backup4all offers 4 different licensing tiers, all of which are one-time purchases with a different feature set:
- “Professional” – $59.99 for the complete feature set of Backup4all, with cloud backups, physical backups, and all of the features that the company can offer
- “Standard” – $39.99 for a basic backup solution with most of the features included, only lacking a select few features of the Professional version such as scheduled suspend, AES encryption support, etc.
- “Lite” – $29.99 for a basic version of the software with plenty of features cut out; most of the solution’s capabilities still remain for a reduced price
- “Portable” – $59.99 for a relatively competent version of the solution with most features available to its users; there is also a single feature that sets this version apart from the rest, and that is the ability for the solution to work without installing itself in the system beforehand, it can only be installed on a flash drive and works using that flash drive
- There is also a free trial of 30 days for any version, including Professional and Portable
My personal opinion on Backup4all:
Backup4all is another interesting option when it comes to incremental backup software. It is a counterpart to another free backup solution – FBackup, but that one does not have incremental backup capabilities. Backup4all, on the other hand, can do so – and there are plenty of other features to choose from, including extensive versioning, cloud backups, support for plenty of storage locations, and so on. It only works with perpetual licenses and has a free trial for 30 days for all of its solution variations – including the portable one that can be installed (and used from) a USB stick.
NovaBackup, on the other hand, is not that user-friendly or modern in terms of the interface – but it compensates for it with a massive feature set. NovaBackup is a versatile and powerful backup and recovery solution that aims to help both individuals and small businesses with securing and restoring sensitive data. It has a detailed setup wizard, backup automation capabilities, and data verification. As for more advanced features, there are also bare-metal restore capabilities, backup multi-threading, advanced encryption, and more. NovaBackup does not technically have a free trial, but it does have a 30-day money back guarantee, which could perhaps be interpreted by some as a free trial!
- Plenty of automation capabilities across the board
- AES-256 encryption with multiple other security-oriented features
- Ability to store backups to NovaBACKUP’s cloud storage or any S3-compatible cloud storage
- Complete disaster recovery protection with commitment to 3-2-1 rule
- NovaBACKUP’s pricing model can be rather confusing, since it implies different pricing values for companies and individuals, including:
- NovaBACKUP for PC (Single PC) – €49.95 per year for a base package (can also include additional cloud storage for a higher price), covers basic file-level and image-level backups, local and cloud backup types, and so on
- NovaBACKUP for PC (Up to 5 different PCs) – €199.80 per year for a base package (no cloud storage included), practically the same offering as with the Single PC version for more than one individual user
- NovaBACKUP for Servers (Standard) – €229.95 per year for a base package (no cloud storage included), offering installation help and customer support, as well as file server backup capabilities
- NovaBACKUP for Servers (Business Essentials) – €299.99 per year for a base package (no cloud storage included), expands upon the Standard version with support for Exchange, MS SQL, VMware, Hyper-V, and more
- Other variations of NovaBACKUP do not have public pricing available on the official website – and there is also a free trial for the solution in question that can be initiated by creating an account
My personal opinion on NovaBackup:
NovaBACKUP represents a variety of different solutions for individuals, companies, and plenty of other potential use cases. They also tend to vary in terms of both price and feature set depending on the target audience. For example, the version of the solution targeted at individuals has four different pricing plans, with only one of these plans being a cheaper version of the basic offering for multiple users. NovaBACKUP is fast, feature-rich, and can offer plenty of features to users who need them, including advanced multi-threading, extensive data encryption, and so on.
As outlined above, there are a good number of different backup solutions that are capable of performing incremental backups. However, there is one more important example of a completely free incremental backup software called Bacula Community. Bacula Community is often considered the best open source incremental backup available, as it offers very high security, and an especially large range of features and capabilities. Important for medium and large organizations is that Bacula is extremely robust, scalable and stable. As part of its broad range of features, it offers flexibility and customizability regarding different backup levels. This possibility to fine-tune backup levels and other relevant controls makes Bacula a favorite among system administrators looking to solve network saturation issues, achieve successful backups within limited time windows, increase their storage destination options, or take more resolute action against the threat of ransomware. Bacula is operated by either command line interface or a choice of web-based GUI’s.
Bacula’s highly efficient code is a result of being extensively tested and modified by its large open source community over the years, with well over four million downloads to date.
There is also a large community that revolves around Bacula, providing support, advice and learning to address the majority of problems in the shortest amount of time with the knowledge-base that comes from so many experienced users already benefiting from Bacula Community.
If you’re also interested in Exchange Backup, check out Bacula’s solution.