Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Set up your own system and backed up files will be kept as long as you keep them. It's totally in your control.

We've been using Carbonite for a few years and I've recently learned that Carbonite only keeps one's deleted files for 30 days. Going through my photo files, I was devastated to discover that some were missing and that I could only guess that I had inadvertently deleted them while cleaning up duplicates. Sadly, it was well past 30 days when I made the discovery and so Carbonite recovery was no help. Is there another storage system that keeps files indefinitely? Even if deleted from the computer?

In this excerpt from Answercast #55, I look at a case where deleted files have been lost in an online backup service.

Keeping backup files

Yes, there is. It's a storage system that you set up yourself!

If you set up your own backups using say, Macrium Reflect, back up to your own external hard drives - and keep those backups according to some kind of a schedule that you set yourself. Then absolutely, you can keep them as long as you like.

Files backed up are kept as long as you keep the backups of those files. It's totally in your control. There won't be any surprises by limits like whatever this 30 day deleted file limit is.

Online backup limits

To be fair to Carbonite, it totally makes sense that they would have such a limit. The fact that they even have the 30-day period is a great one.

I think that's pretty useful in the sense that, "Oops I deleted a file. Gosh, I can get it back!"

Usually, you find that out within 30 days. Heck, usually you find it out within 30 minutes. So, I don't want to slam Carbonite on this. I think that's a very neat feature that they're providing. 30 days is pretty reasonable because, when you think about it, you delete a lot of files over time. That would imply that Carbonite would have to store a tremendous amount of data for all of their users indefinitely, regardless of what their storage plan was.

So, I'm OK with Carbonite having done this. There may be other online services that will, I don't know, somehow pay attention to your backup files and let you keep them longer. But in all honesty, I really don't expect it.

I don't expect other online services to be much better than this. I think what Carbonite has been giving, as I said, is already pretty darned good.

Keep your own backups

That's why I say it's time to take control of your own backups. It's time to take control of what it is you save because that way you get to set the rules. You get to decide how long things get kept.

For example, in my case, I can go back to a backup of my machine from three years ago if I want to. That's just the way I kind of, sort of keep these things. It's not every backup I've taken for the intervening three years, but once a year, I save a snapshot and I save that forever.

That's on purpose. That's so that, you know, random things happen! Maybe I do need something that I don't have anymore that I did have three years ago.

So, ultimately, I strongly recommend that you move to your own backup system. Invest in a couple of external hard drives and start keeping the backups longer to protect yourself from these kinds of things.

Double backups

You can do that in addition to Carbonite.

Carbonite is a fine online backup service. It's an approach to getting what we call "offsite storage" to many of your important files. But obviously, it can't store everything and that would be what you would keep your own backups for.

Duplicate files

Finally, I have to comment on the fact that you are deleting duplicate files.

I really understand the desire to delete duplicate files, if you're running out of space. Very often duplicate deletion has the potential for actually recovering a fair amount of free space.

The fact is, though, I have seen it go wrong much more often than I've seen it go right. That's scary. Normally, it's system files that end up getting hurt, but this is a clear case of (if you really suspect that this was over-aggressive duplicate file cleaning going on) you've deleted some important stuff that, unfortunately, you may not be able to recover.

Deleting duplicate files, like I said, while it's nice, it's also typically not the best way to get disk space back. Usually, there are other things that are more productive and more useful to get disk space back. So I rarely point people at duplicate file deletion as a way to manage their disk space.

Create your own system

But as I mentioned, go to your own backup service. Set up your own backups so you can keep things forever. And once you do that, many of the other issues that you're facing here kind of, sort of become moot.

Article C5841 - September 23, 2012 « »

Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

Tom R.
September 25, 2012 8:52 AM

I wonder if the questioner checked their Recycle Bin? It's amazing how many people don't know what that is and have never looked in it to see what was there.

Old Man
September 25, 2012 11:38 AM


A comment on your suggestion to use an external hard drive. I found it more useful to use hard drive cases and my own old hard drives. Whenever I get a larger drive, I clean out the smallest one and replace it - just reusing the external case.

I like some put out by Sabrent. They are set for either IDE or SATA. So, as I continue to upgrade my IDE drives to SATA, I can still use their cases.

I have one external 1.5T that I use solely as a backup of all my files. That way I have two copies of everything (except the OS and installed programs). I use a strictly manual backup system. When I save a file, I also put a copy on the 1.5T (identified to show which HD has the original).

Some duplicate-finder programs do a search and list the duplicates found. Then the user can select which ones are to be deleted. This is very handy when more than one computer or HD is involved. For example, I can do a duplicate search on the backup drive and see if any files are on more than one other drive. If any are found, I can decide which HD it should be on and delete the others (both on the original drive and the backup) leaving me only two copies.

Files such as pictures, financial records, and others that won't be changed, are copied to CD/DVD. Once the disc has been checked and verified, the copies are no longer needed on any HD.

One extra point. Always check to see if your backup file was actually copied. Several times I've had Windows copy some of the files in a folder, but not all of them. I even lost a whole HD's worth of data because of this. Windows spent about two hours copying the files, but when I went to open one, there was nothing on the drive - nothing at all! Unfortunately I had already reformatted the original HD, so everything was lost. Fortunately, most of the data was also located on other drives, so I was able to recover it. Lessons learned: 1) only copy small amounts of data in Windows, then check to see if the files were actually copied; 2) always make sure you have another copy on a different HD.

September 25, 2012 3:15 PM

Most cameras don't erase images when you move them to your computer, so you could check there. Also, there are programs that recover photos deleted from camera memory. I also upload the ones I want to keep to a Flickr Pro account ($44.95 for two years of unlimited storage space), which you could add to or substitute for Carbonite.

September 25, 2012 3:46 PM

Sorry, I should have gone on to the "KEEP BACKING UP FILES" advice re, using MACRIUM REFLECT and EXTERNAL HARDRIVES.

September 25, 2012 7:34 PM

The online backup program CrashPlan can be configured to keep deleted files anywhere from one day to forever. They also keep unlimited revisions of files. If you stop paying their monthly fee, obviously they will delete your files, but as long as you keep paying it, they will keep your files and revisions for as long or short as you want.

September 29, 2012 11:16 AM

Leo even told me when I asked a similar question, when I said forever as the newer computers in the distant future may not be able to open current files. I do not own one, but saw someone's IPAD and there is no USB port to transfer photos. If everybody goes to tablets and desktops and laptops completely disappear.

Mark J
September 29, 2012 3:23 PM

Laptops and desktops will be here for a long time. Tablets are useful for certain things, but I tried doing my work on a tablet and it was just too uncomfortable.
It's true that programs will change and data formats will change, but you will always be able to convert from the previous step to the next step. I wouldn't count 100% on saving a file and having it readable in 100 years, but if you save it in one of the most common formats like .doc, .rtf, .txt, .jpg, .png, .bmp etc., chances are that there will be a legacy application available to read those files. There may also eventually be cloud soultions to preserve data for many years.
You have to remember that there will be billions of files in those formats and there will always be a market for a program to read them. As for iPads and other tablets, data can be transferred to them via the Internet through appplications like DropBox or even Email, not to mention plugging them into a computer via USB.

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