There are different data or backup file formats in QuickBooks. Which ones do you need? Which ones should you use when you send data to your colleagues? Which ones do you want to backup to the cloud or offsite in case your drive crashes? Which ones would you send out for data repair in case of a data catastrophe?

QBW file. The first thing to understand is that your actual working data file is a QBW file. This is the most important QuickBooks data file you have on your system.

If you are looking at a QBW file in Windows, the Type is “QuickBooks Company File”. There will only be one of those for your company name.

Confusing: There is also a file called yourcompanyname.QBW, where the Type is “Data Source Name”. That file is not your actual data file.

QBB file. This is a regular backup file made within QuickBooks through the Backup Company / Create Local Backup command. It is often actually bigger than the main QBW file, and that’s normal. The QBB file contains the contents of the TLG file too, which makes it bigger.

RELATED: Why You Should NOT Backup to a USB Flash Drive

QBM file. This is a portable file, a kind of backup file made with the QuickBooks Create Copy… / Portable company file command. This file is quite small compared to the main QBW file; it is often only 20% the size of the main QBW file. That’s because the indexing in the file is largely removed. But when you restore it, everything is there. So this file format is best for when you need to transfer QuickBooks data to your colleagues. This is the file format we request that clients upload to us for data repair, supercondense, or Enterprise downgrade work.

So which of these files should you upload to your cloud backup service, or offsite backup solution? Answer: All of them. If your system gets infected by malware, or your server drive goes down, or somebody accidentally deletes your files, you’ll want all the backups you can get, from as many recent dates as you can get, and in any format. To me, you can never have too many copies or backups of your accounting data.

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Scenario: You find yourself in QuickBooks catastrophe mode: your server drive or local hard drive or RAID drive goes down. You don’t have the cloud or off-site backups you thought you did. Your IT pro recovers files from the crashed drive, including QuickBooks files. Yet, when you try to open the files, or restore backups, it fails. At that stage, only your QBW files might be salvaged. Damaged QBB or QBM files are not recoverable. But it might be possible to repair your damaged QBW file.

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Bottom-line: When you are setting up your backup system, make sure you will be backing up everything in your \Company Files folder and subfolders under it. Or if you create or store your QBW, QBB or QBM files in a different folder, specify that folder to be backed up daily.

RELATED: I Can’t Backup My QuickBooks File! Help!

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First, if you’ve been backing up to USB flash drives, you are to be commended for at least getting your data off your computer and onto a separate, removable backup drive. That’s better than keeping EVERY copy of your data on your hard drive alone. (Why? Because, of course, if all your backups are on your hard drive, and that hard drive goes down, you are in trouble!)

But you need to revise your backup strategy at least a little in order to be safer. Why? Because USB drives aren’t super reliable target drives for QuickBooks backups.

I talk to people all the time whose company file gets badly damaged somehow. They think they are OK — “I’ve got a ton of backups on my flash drive!” But when they plug in their flash drive and try to restore these backups, the backups are corrupted and unusable. Or the USB flash drive itself is dead. That makes for a bad day (and a day when people call me for QuickBooks file repair).

It’s better — more reliable — to backup to an external hard drive or a cloud drive.

But regardless of whether you want to have your backup file on a USB flash drive, external hard drive, or the cloud, do this: Backup to your Windows Desktop, then copy the backup file from Desktop to your ultimate backup destination through Windows.

Why do this extra step? Because writing data to your local hard drive (where Desktop lives) is fast and reliable. QuickBooks is designed to read and write data to hard drives very well. Writing data, especially large files, directly from QuickBooks to other kinds of drives, however, can be problematic. I believe that slower write times leads to file writing errors, which leads to restore problems later on.

RELATED: What Kind of Drives Can You Open QuickBooks On?

And if you make your backup initially to Desktop, it’s very easy to find your backup file when you copy it in Windows to your ultimate target drive, whether in the cloud, external HD or USB flash drive.

Bonus tip: If you try to restore a QuickBooks backup from a USB flash drive and the restore fails, try simply copying the backup file from the flash drive to Desktop, then try to restore the file from Desktop. This sometimes works when a restore directly from the flash drive fails.

Let’s face it….USB flash drives are as common as potato chips, and there is hardly anything more convenient than backing up to a USB flash drive and putting it in your pocket. But don’t rely on a USB flash drive as a mission critical piece of technology. And improve your odds by mediating the process through Windows Desktop.

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We frequently hear from people that they can’t backup their QuickBooks file:

* The verification stage of the backup process fails

* The backup command crashes

* Regular backups can be made, but portable files cannot be created

The problem might be media related, but it’s most often caused by data corruption. Here are the DIY fixes:

* Rebuild your company data (File / Utilities / Rebuild Data) and try again. The Rebuild command can often fix things in the file that prevents a verified backup from being created.

* Try backing up to a local hard drive, instead of to a network server, cloud drive, external drive, or USB drive. All those kinds of drives, besides a local hard drive, could possibly have connectivity or speed issues that would prevent a successful backup being made. Try backing up to your Windows Desktop and see what happens.

Still having problems? Then your data is probably corrupted to the point where the Rebuild command can’t fix it. If that is the case, you have three options:

1. Restore your last good backup and go forward from there. That might or might not require a good bit of data rekeying.

2. Get your current, damaged data repaired.

3. Ignore the problem. There are some obvious risks with doing this, but sometimes data can be damaged enough to prevent a verified backup being made, but that otherwise doesn’t cause errors in the operation of QuickBooks. If you choose this option, you can turn off the verification option in the backup command so that you can still make backups. Please note, however, that you are backing up damaged data.

Any other thoughts on this? Any other options or workarounds to consider?

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If you ever need to restore a really old backup of your QuickBooks company, you might be worried about how that will work.

Fortunately, most of the time, the old backups restore without any issues. You just do the “Open or Restore Company” command and restore it just like you would a current backup.

Of course, in lots of cases, the old data was originally created with an old version of QuickBooks – a version you no longer use.

That’s OK most of the time. Whenever you restore a backup in QuickBooks that was originally made with an older version, QuickBooks will automatically update the data to the currently installed version. When the restore process is completed, the update process is completed too, and your data is ready to go.

Sometimes, if the jump between versions is really big (restoring a QuickBooks 99 company under QuickBooks 2012, for example) then there can be restore/update problems. And sometimes there is data corruption (unknown to you) in the old file that would prevent the data from restoring and being updated.

In situations like these, data can be repaired and updated for you.

Here’s a hitch we have heard of: You can’t restore an old backup to a computer running an even older version of QuickBooks. For example, trying to restore a backup made with QuickBooks 2009 on a computer running QuickBooks 2008. That won’t work. QuickBooks can restore backups made from prior versions, but not future versions. In the scenario I described, you’d have to get a copy of QuickBooks 2009 or later to restore a QB 2008 backup.

In most cases, however, old data will restore just exactly as you wish it would.

CAVEAT: One final word of caution when restoring old backups — don’t overwrite your current file. People sometimes do this, not thinking about the implications. If you replace your current file with the old file, then all you’ll have available afterwards is old data. People sometimes call me up and say that their company is now missing a couple years’ of records. Many times, it’s because they restored a two year old backup and that’s all they have available now. Sad! Don’t do that!

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Memory aid
Do you remember to make QuickBooks backups?
The classic problem with backups (Quickbooks or otherwise) is that they don’t get made consistently.

So people are always calling with QuickBooks data corruption and…you guessed it…no good current backups.

So what’s the answer? The solution is to always have backups available that are technically sound, current, and deep.

Deep? Well, sometimes your file gets corrupted, and your last good backup is corrupted too. You can’t just restore your backup, if you’re only “one backup deep”. So you need a number of backups going back in time. If your last backup is bad, perhaps the one created the day before that is OK.

There’s gotta be an easy way to do this, right? A way that you don’t have to think about too much?

These days, backing up your QB data can be easy and automatic. Let’s look at some options.

1. Intuit Data Protect. This plan seems to be replacing QuickBooks Online Backup, although it is only available for QuickBooks 2011 and higher (QuickBooks Online Backup works with earlier versions too.) This fee-based service will automatically backup your QuickBooks files, and other files too, to Intuit’s cloud. It will keep your data around for 45 days. So that’s pretty good “depth”. This plan is included for no extra charge if you have certain Intuit support plans.

2. 3rd Party Online Backup Services. There are a lot of these out there. Global DataVault, iDrive, Carbonite, Mozy, and others compete in the online storage marketplace.

Most of these will automatically sync your hard drive to your online storage account, and backup your files whenever then change. This includes your QuickBooks company data files.

The potential vulnerability here is with one-generational backups. Example: Your company file is getting synced continuously with your online backup account. But then your data gets corrupted. And backed up to your online account. Hmm, where’s a good backup? It’s not online!

The workaround for this is to still make manual backups within QuickBooks. You can configure your preferences in QuickBooks to prompt you every time you exit to make a backup. I would recommend that you do this. Making a backup doesn’t take much time. Then, theoretically, you have an almost limitless number of backup generations if you get in trouble.

These are really the only easy and automatic methods I know of. If you have in-house IT, perhaps you have a way of getting automatically produced server backups off-site and off your server. I’ve talked to too many IT consultants over the years who end up with a crashed RAID and NO good server backups. No good. It might seem scary, but you really want to backup your most important data to the cloud. The scarier alternative is finding yourself with no good current backups at all.

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