I'd like to run backup to an external disk, and have the backed up files available for use without using the backup software. In other words, I'd like my backed up files not to be stored in a closed format which require a particular backup software to access them.

Previously, I've run a custom rsync command, which basically have just mirrored my files (with link to previous copies of the files) onto the external disk.

Is there any (free) backup software out there that might fit my needs?

Regards, kenneho

  • 3
    just a hint: a backup and synchronisation/mirror are two different things! -- with a backup, wrong operations are no problem even after a while (e.g. the backup-/sync-software was executed), but with just a sync/mirror, you are screwed. -- in serious environments or if you have to deal with important data, there is no replacement for a real backup! Commented Apr 23, 2017 at 13:44
  • 1
    On *nix, I use a variant of rsync backup for that – which takes what you describe while considering what @DJCrashdummy is suggesting. Creating multiple generations it uses hard links for files that didn't change, to keep the volume low. For restore, you can simply copy what you want with any file manager/copy command. But I'm not sure if that's possible/available on Windows, or even if Windows supports hard links.
    – Izzy
    Commented Apr 24, 2017 at 11:41
  • Can you outline the reasons you feel a backup solution (rather than a sync solution) would not be appropriate?
    – CJM
    Commented May 23, 2017 at 15:49

3 Answers 3


To synchronize files, between two folders (or the whole partition), you can use https://www.freefilesync.org/ You can simply copy-paste your files first and then run FreeFileSync periodically between pairs of folders. It is easy to use and powerful ; just take care not doing mistakes, but this is valid with every software.

To create a low level clone ─ which mean that you can both access your files from the external drive, as well as start the OS from the clone exactly like thus was the original drive, whish is especially useful in case of an OS failure ─ you could use Acronis True Image.

Take care that Acronis can extend the partition to thus of the external drive. For instance, if your internal hard drive has a capacity of 250 GB and your external drive a capacity of 500 GB, the clone would be 500 GB, forcing you to use a 500 GB medium as target when you want to clone back. So, when performing a clone with Acronis, I would advise using a target drive with capacity no larger than thus of the source drive. Also take care that two drives of the "same" size (eg. 250 GB) may have a slightly different number of available sectors, depending on the model. The best would be using a drive similar to the one present in your computer.

To create a low level clone, you can also use Linux dd command or ─ better ─, Linux's ddrescue which will allow you to log errors to a text file. You can run Linux from a live CD and write the log file to an USB key that you mount. ddrescueis present on SystemRescueCD. For more comfort in case of a regular use, you can install Linux on a hard drive or SSD of small capacity, install ddrescue, boot from this drive and write the log file directly on it. If you give a descriptive name with date to your log files, you can keep track of your backups history.

To copy specific folders from the console/terminal, also look at Windows xcopycommand and Linux ddcommand.


As per DJCrashDummy's comment, do you want a Sync tool or a Backup tool?

It sounds like you are asking for a sync tool, in which case, I'd recommend FreeFileSync which I use for mirroring photos/videos/music across various stores around my home network, and it does the job reliably every time.

However, it sounds like you might benefit from a backup solution. Many modern backup systems grant you easy access to (multiple versions) of your files, so it is no great encumberance to you. Most are readily searchable and many will quickly present you a virtual folder listing, so you can browse just like you can through the file system. Perhaps consider Duplicati or Bacula, both of which are free and open source.


I've started using Syncthing for file mirroring. I use it for mirroring about 350GB from a Desktop to a Laptop. It's been working perfectly in synchronising changes to each disk, so when I'm out on the road with the Laptop and return to the office, it automatically synchronises changes to the other disk.

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