Currently I'm finishing my master thesis. During time I was systematically copying entire file (TeX, bibitex etc.) on external drive.

Are there any better ways than that?

What ways of backup you can recommend based on your experience?

I don't want to set up my own repository on external server or buy a RAID. What I'm looking for is a rather easy solution.

  • 2
    This isn't (shouldn't be) a TeX specific question, and if you're thought process seems a bit... odd. It is a couple files... why are you considering (and then dismissing) external servers and RAID? Don't you run backup on your personal computer?
    – mankoff
    Commented Nov 21, 2010 at 18:00
  • 3
    see tex.stackexchange.com/questions/1118/…
    – mankoff
    Commented Nov 21, 2010 at 18:00
  • @mankoff I don't know about setting up his own repository (which I could see sounding hard) but RAID arrays are expensive, and external HDs don't help you if your house burns down or is robbed.
    – Canageek
    Commented Oct 6, 2011 at 22:12
  • @Canageek I don't see mention of RAID in that discussion. Setting up repositories is easy. Ideally solutions there (version control) combine with suggestions here (Dropbox). They complement each other as Dropbox only provides 30 days of history.
    – mankoff
    Commented Oct 6, 2011 at 22:18
  • Hmmm? I was referring to the above; "why are you considering (and then dismissing) external servers and RAID?" In your first comment.
    – Canageek
    Commented Oct 6, 2011 at 23:02

6 Answers 6


Dropbox or a similar service?

  • 1
    +1 for Dropbox, saved me couple of times from partial and complete loss of data. And if you're using Linux and if you're a little bit paranoid, you may use encfs for encryption, just in case ;)
    – Meho R.
    Commented Nov 21, 2010 at 16:37
  • Amen. Dropbox and you're done. Commented Nov 21, 2010 at 17:11
  • And for those who haven't used Dropbox, it allows you to recover old versions of files, at least to some extent. Commented Nov 21, 2010 at 17:28
  • 1
    a) I'd like to point out that they've had privacy issues in the past, in case your thesis has cooperate associations and NDAs and such. b) I'd go with the answer below about distributed version control, as Dropbox is designed from the start for file distribution not backup, whereas Git and Mercuiral have backup as one of their core functions. They also both tie into diffs and such well.
    – Canageek
    Commented Oct 6, 2011 at 22:15

Use a version control system, then you'll be also protected from your own errors in editing. Distributed VCSes have nice sync mechanism (pull/push), so you can easily copy it to various locations and then have them in sync. Not to mention you can use some online service like GitHub or Bitbucket, quite complete list for Git, for Hg, for Bzr.
Some of them offer limited number of private repositories for free (you need one though).

  • 2
    It should be noted that Bitbucket now supports both Git and Mercurial, and provides free private repositories for academics. I'm using this for my thesis right now and it works very well. I screwed up two files and was able to revert with no issues, and Mercurial has a very nice Windows GUI if you swing that way.
    – Canageek
    Commented Oct 6, 2011 at 22:10

If it is just a few really important files, one simple way to do it is just to periodically tar the whole collection and e-mail it to a G-Mail account. On a unix/linux box you can automate this with a simple shell script. With 7G of storage, you are unlikely to run out of space, and with e-mail it is directly time-stamped and retrieval (even from another computer) is easy. Plus it can probably count as "remote backup". The downside is that it is not very scalable if you have a large number of files.

On the other hand, if you envision needing to use TeX a lot even after you finish your master's thesis, I really recommend setting up an svn or git repository somewhere. For managing large number of files it is extremely convenient. Since I am in academia, I put my repository on my department server, which has the added advantage of being backed-up regularly by the IT team there.


I put my thesis on a SVN repository. This, in addition to a remote backup (especially if the repository is itself backup, like it is often the case in research institutions) allows for version control, tagging of specific versions, etc.


Windows and Mac now have backup built into the OS, as a program that periodically backs up parts of the hard drive. I don't know the name of the unix service which does this but I'm sure it exists.

  • Run rsync off cron on Unix. Commented Nov 22, 2010 at 9:09
  • @Charles: rsync is great. Mac Time Machine allows the user to restore files and directories to their states at various positions in the past, rather than just the last synchronized copy. rsync can't do that alone, can it? Commented Nov 22, 2010 at 10:30
  • 2
    For something like this, I think proper version control is better than just sync...
    – Seamus
    Commented Nov 22, 2010 at 11:41
  • 1
    Matthew: You can create many backups sharing common files using the --link option to cp to copy backup directories, the same way that Time Machine does. This will take a couple of extra commands. Commented Nov 24, 2010 at 10:34

Like Willie Wong, I just have a script to tar all my source files, and I upload it to my college's server instead of to gmail (which is nice because I can automate the uploading too). Even if you have a lot of files, you can write a script to search the directory for the important ones (i.e. .tex, .bib, .sty, etc.) so that you can reuse the script for various projects. (I actually back up lots of things this way.)

E.g. (in bash):

LIST1=`find -name '*.tex'`
LIST2=`find -name '*.bib'`
LIST3=`find -name '*.sty'`

LIST="${LIST1} ${LIST2} ${LIST3}"

tar  --transform='s,./,'$1'/,' -cvvzf $1.tar.gz $LIST
  • What, you don't have a working sendmail? For shame!
    – SamB
    Commented Dec 19, 2010 at 6:15

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