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Full Vs Incremental Vs Differential Backup: A Detailed Comparison

Updated: Dec 5, 2020

In this tutorial, you will learn how these different types of backups work and their pros a cons.

There are three basic types of backup:

  • Full backup

  • Incremental backup

  • Differential backup

Full vs Incremental vs Differential Backup: Quick Comparison

Full Backups

A full backup involves copying the entire data set of the system into a separate partition or onto an external disk.

Because it creates a full copy of the specified data volume, it requires a lot of free disk space where the copy can be stored. What’s more, doing a backup of the entire system takes up a lot of time and is not practical on a daily basis.


  • provides the best protection in terms of data recovery

  • fast recovery of data in a single backup set


  • backup is time-consuming

  • requires more storage space

  • uses up a lot of bandwidth

Incremental Backups

An incremental backup is a resource-friendly alternative to full backup. Such a setup is designed only to back up data that has changed since the previous backup. Therefore, it exclusively saves data that has been modified or added to the existing data volume.

For example: A smaller-sized company that doesn’t require full backups daily can set up incremental backups between two full backup occurrences.

An administrator can arrange a full backup of the data set on Monday and then incremental backups between Tuesday and Friday. Therefore, on Tuesday, it creates copies of any changes that have been made since Monday. Next, on Wednesday, it will back up any changes made since Tuesday, and so on.

As a result, the weekly backup will consist of one full backup along with several smaller backup sets. This method is efficient as it takes up less space on the system. Also, since the sets are smaller compared to the volume set, they take less time to back up.

The downside to using this method is that each incremental backup depends on the one before it. This means that any damage or loss on one of the sets may inflict incomplete data recovery. Having a larger number of backup sets also affects recovery time.

Pros and Cons of Incremental Backups


  • smaller backups that take up less storage space

  • faster to backup

  • uses less bandwidth


  • time-consuming to recover

  • risk of failed recovery if there is damage to a segment in the backup chain

Differential Backups

A differential backup is similar to incremental as it relies on a full backup, followed by saving only the changes made on that source volume. With such a setup, the backup sets do not rely on each other, but rather on the full backup they stem from. As they only consist of two backup sets, their recovery time is much better. This provides better data protection and a valid disaster recovery solution.

While this method is faster to restore, it does take some time to back up and requires more storage space than an incremental backup.

Pros and Cons of Differential Backups


  • faster to restore as it only has two backup sets

  • faster to back up compared to full backups

  • takes up less space than full backups


  • takes up more space than incremental backups

  • slower to back up compared to incremental backups

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