Solve problems with OneDrive and backup software

Store your files in the cloud

Store your files in the cloud

OneDrive, or SkyDrive as it used to be called, is Microsoft's online cloud storage facility and it is very useful for storing documents, photos, work files and so on, especially if you use multiple computers and/or devices. Have you found that certain backup software can run into problems when you are backing up the disk drive? It is because of the way that OneDrive works, so here's how to solve those problems.

OneDrive is built into the latest version of Windows, but it can also be added to Windows 7 by downloading the OneDrive app. You may or may not have encountered problems when making backups of the PC's disk drive and it depends on the  software and the way it works. One backup utility I was using was very, very slow and when I checked why, I found it was pausing for a long time with certain files. Each of these files took a long time to process, even though they were quite small and should have backed up in no time at all. Looking at the backup log afterwards, there were lots of error messages about files not being able to be backed up. The clue was that they were all in the OneDrive/SkyDrive folder.

The problem is the way that OneDrive works. Open the OneDrive folder in Explorer by selecting it in the left folder/drive panel and you can see all the files and folders on OneDrive. It looks like they are stored on the local disk drive like any other file, but the Explorer view is deceiving they might actually be stored remotely online. What you see in Explorer might be a real file or just a link to the real file in the online storage.

Double click a file to open it or perform some file operation like copying or renaming, and it just works. If the file is on the disk drive then fine, if it isn't, Windows just downloads it first and then performs the open or file operation.

The backup program tried to back up all the files on the disk drive, but stumbled when it came to the OneDrive files. (OneDrive is stored in your user account folder C:\Users\YourName\OneDrive.) It was the links to online file that were causing problems. The program tried to back up what it thought was a file on local disk drive, but it wasn't actually there. After many failed attempts to back it up, it gave up and moved on to the next one. This is why the backup program was running so slowly.

There are two solutions to this problem. One is to set the OneDrive folder as an exclusion in the backup job. The downside to this is that you won't have a backup of the files on OneDrive. You would need to trust that Microsoft won't lose any of your files, which is unlikely, and that you will never lose access to your account, such as by being hacked. That sometimes happens. You will lose more than your email if you end up locked out of your account.

A better solution is to store a copy of everything that is on OneDrive locally. This will consume some disk space, but even budget PCs and laptops come with 500GB drives these days and space should not be a problem for most people.

Store copies of your OneDrive files on the disk drive

Open an Explorer window and right click the OneDrive folder in the left-hand pane. Select Make available offline and OneDrive will download copies of all the files and folders on your cloud storage. This means that you have a backup of everything online on the local disk drive. Any changes are automatically synced with your online storages, so there are no drawbacks apart from the loss of a few gigabytes of disk space. With everything stored locally, your backup software can include the OneDrive folder in the backup job.

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