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How To Remotely Backup Your Data for Free with CrashPlan

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Backing up your data can be such a trivially easy affair that you don’t have an excuse for putting it off—and risking your data in the process. Today we look at the CrashPlan backup suite and how you can use it for free remote backups.

A good backup solution is simple to use, creates multiple copies of your data (including offsite versions), and is inexpensive enough that you’ll continue to pay for it. CrashPlan offers a free and cross-platform solution that makes it so easy to backup your data both locally and remotely that it’s criminal not to.

CrashPlan: The Basics

What is CrashPlan? You’re likely familiar with online backup services like Mozy and Carbonite. You install an application on your computer, buy an account with the cloud-based backup provider, and then it uploads your files for safe keeping. CrashPlan is like Mozy/Carbonite on steroids. Instead of limiting you to simple cloud-based storage, CrashPlan offers a multi-tier backup strategy that includes the following:

  • Cloud-based storage (for pay, but very reasonably priced)
  • Remote storage (friend-to-friend backups)
  • Local network backup (backup to home server or NAS unit)
  • Folder backup (backup to secondary or external hard drive)

If you simply use the CrashPlan software without a CrashPlan account you can backup your data to a secondary drive on your computer, another computer on your home network, and to your friend’s/brother’s/mom’s computer all for free—don’t worry the data is encrypted via the Blowfish algorithm. Want to add cloud-based storage into that? You can backup 2-10 computers for a mere $10 a month with unlimited storage—it’s an outrageous bargain compared to other cloud-based storage solutions.

For this tutorial we’re going to focus on using your friend’s computer for remote storage; even if you intend to use CrashPlan for local/network backups reading through the guide will give you a solid look at CrashPlan and the menu system.

Getting Started: What You’ll Need and Installing CrashPlan

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For this guide you’ll need the following things:

  • A copy of CrashPlan for Windows, Linux, or Mac.
  • A free CrashPlan account.
  • A friend/relative with a broadband connection and a copy of CrashPlan

Again, we’re focusing on using your friend’s computer as a remote backup location. If you lack for a friend willing to share some hard drive space and/or their broadband connection you can easily follow this tutorial to do the backing up over the local network.

Installing CrashPlan is straight forward. Download the application, run the installation file, select a location, and install. When you run CrashPlan for the first time after installation it will prompt you to create an account. That too is a simple process, simply plug in your name, email, and create a strong password. When you’re done with the process you’ll be greeted with the CrashPlan interface, like so:

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It might seem a bit sluggish for the first minute or so as it scans for files. By default it check your user directory and indexes the files there. You can easily subtract or add drives/folders to your backup. For this guide we’re going to cut down on the size of the backup considerably so we don’t have to wait for all 16.2 GB in our user folder to seed. The size of your remote backup is limited only by your broadband speed and the space your friend is willing to share.

Configuring Your Backup

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Depending on how large the original sweep was you may want to reconfigure the size of your backup before dumping it to your friend’s computer. Look at the bottom of the interface in the Files section and click Change. There you’ll find a directory list with your entire User directory checked. If your backup size is reasonable you can leave it as is. If it captured a lot of bulky directories (like your entire MP3 collection for instance) you might want to opt to locally backup your music instead of chewing up the time and bandwidth transferring it all to your friend’s computer. As we mentioned above, we opted to reduce the number of files for our tutorial in order to avoid a lengthy seed time.

Once you’ve selected the folders you want included in your backup, click on the Friend link in the Destinations section. You’ll see this in the lower section of the screen:

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Here you can get your backup code (to share with a friend who wants to backup to your computer) or plug in the code they’ve sent you. We’ll presume that you’ve already cleared this backup-sharing plan with your friend or relative and have their code on hand (and thus can skip the invitation step).

With the code in hand, plug it into the Enter friend’s backup code slot and click start backup. It will immediately start backing up the files if your friend is online. When it’s done you’ll see a screen like this one:

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Your files are now stored on the remote machine, a veritable Poor Man’s Cloud Storage. It’s worth noting here that if your total backup size is small (say, a few GBs of documents and photos) it’s worth it  to set up this arrangement with multiple friends. You’ll backup their documents and in turn you’ll be able to spread your documents and such across even more remote locations.

Advanced Configuration and Backup Sets

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CrashPlan is astoundingly simple to set up, as we saw in the above tutorial steps (in a mere handful of mouse clicks you can set up a remote backup). There are a few things you’re going to want to tweak, however, to take full advantage of the application.

The first thing you’ll want to customize are the Backup Sets. Click on Settings –> Backup Sets. Here you’ll see the original backup set you created, labeled Default. The Backup Sets feature allows you to create individual backup sets for different scenarios. You can create a backup set that is just your critical documents to backup to a friend’s computer who doesn’t have much room to spare, a more generous set for another friend who has a home server with ample space, and yet another (and more complete set) for backup to your local USB drive. Each Backup Set can be independently configured and assigned to your unique backup locations.

In addition to configuring your backup sets you’ll also want to head over to Settings –> Network. The default settings for transfer speeds may be a bit weak for your taste. The software tends to error on the conservative side. If you’re running backups up at night without any other apps competing for bandwidth you’ll likely want to raise the upload speeds.

Finally, if you’re hosting backups for a friend you’ll want to put the backups on the most suitable drive. By default the backups are stored on the disk you installed the application to. You can change this by going to Settings –> General –> Configure, and switching the Default backup archive location at the bottom of the Inbound Backup Settings menu. This is definitely a step worth sharing with your friends so they can pick an optimal drive to store the backups you’re sending their way.


CrashPlan is a robust program and after following this tutorial you’ll have at least one, if not multiple, remote backups. If you take full advantage of the CrashPlan software and subscription service you’ll have redundant local backups, remote backups at your friends’ houses, and backups in the CrashPlan cloud. If that doesn’t help you sleep easy knowing your data is secure, we’re not sure anything would.

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 05/24/11

Comments (21)

  1. Screwtape

    Also, Crashplan “Backup Sets” are only for the paid plans.

    You’re seeing them because you have a free 30-day trial of Crashplan Central. Once the 30 days is up, the Backup Set features disappears (until you give them $$$)

  2. runtime

    Does anyone know their policy on not so legal content? About 1TB of not so legal content.
    If they’re ok with that I think I’ll sign up.

  3. Darrell

    So my question here would be… restoring from a backup….

    So if I give my friend a hard drive, and I backup to it.. and then have a crash.. can I get to the data if I bring the hard drive back to my house locally so that I don’t have to wait for network? The most important part of a howto on backup.. is the restore part…

  4. Darrell

    @runtime
    Not even going to ask what it is.. but if it is encrypted and they supposedly can’t get to it (which is important, I don’t want people snooping in my family pics looking for bikini pics of my wife etc, or if I have some document that gets uploaded with my social security number on it) then they have no idea what the data that your uploading is.

  5. MoMo55

    Does anyone know if there is a way to set CrashPlan to do local, unencrypted backups that are stored as a mirror of the source? I don’t want a backup that’s some proprietary disc image or archive format in a single file. If one of my PCs has the hard drive crash, I don’t want to have to wait until I have a new HD installed and OS installed then have to restore a whole disc image just to get one file.

    I tried CrashPlan a while ago and it seemed great except for that one issue. I want a back up where I can just grab the destination drive, connect it via USB to any PC and easily go after one or two files that I need right then.

  6. GPeter

    In reply to MoMo55, Genie Backup Manager can do that, and a load of other things. It’s my current backup solution which I’ve been using a lot for about 2 years, in various different versions, and it’s pretty flexible. Not perfect, however, which is why I’m still looking for something better. Some niggles that I have with Genie: I find Genie is too slow over broadband to do a big data backup (16GB) to Genie’s own online cloud storage (paid for), so I have had to do those backups to local media; it can’t do incremental backups when backing up to FTP space (only to local storage or to Genie cloud); if backing up to Genie cloud space, you can’t download the entire backup file locally when doing a restore, you have to restore from the remote copy which is slow and I found prone to crashes, though you get there in the end after several attempts. Genie does have good scheduling and many other useful features… I’d sum it up as good enough but not perfect.

  7. Hyfidel

    @Momo55, try Cobian. It’s free and does exactly what you’re looking for. It can even keep multiple versions and incremental backups.

  8. Freak Andelle

    @ MoMo55

    Also take a look at Wuala!

  9. @MoMo55

    While you can’t have unencrypted backups with CrashPlan (AFAIK) – the use case you described – of accessing files without having to wait until your crashed-PC comes back to life – is 100% supported by CrashPlan.

    If you go to any of your other computers that have CrashPlan on them and have access to the local backup, and go to the Restore pane – take a look at the top pulldown menu. You can simply choose the PC that crashed, and restore files right away from it.

    Assuming you backup much more frequently than you restore (which is almost always a safe assumption) – the advantages of using CP far outweigh the need to go through the UI to restore files, instead of having them laying around unencrypted and uncompressed.

  10. Shamus

    Since I run cygwin, I’ve found that files and directories with some “unix” permissions (ACLs) wrap backup programs around the axle. Looking for a product that could do incremental backups I tested 8 of the “free” (commercial) backup products out there last month**. Only Cobian and CrashPlan could backup and restore my cygwin test set. I initially started using Cobian, but found it could not back up my wife’s mail folder so I switched to CrashPlan.

    I’ve been satisfied with CrashPlan and I’m now past the 30 day trial period. I didn’t use the advanced features; so everything looks okay. I bought a couple of 2TB USB drives, one is always off site and I swap the drives every month or so. CrashPlan “catches-up” the replacement drive when I do the swap. Works well.

    ** Some commercial “free” product versions do not offer “incremental” backups, so I didn’t test them.

  11. Vitaly

    I just want to pitch in and say that encryption in backupped files is a taboo for me when talking about local backups.

    I was using Acronis TrueImage to do my backups and when the the day of the crash came and I tried to access my files, I got a “Corrupted archive” message. I blamed myself for not using the “Verify archive” message, counted my loses and went on with it. However, just a few months later, while inspecting my backups, I got the same message again.

    I decided I had enough and switch to plain-file backups by Cobian: Not only it does mirroring, but it can do full/incremental/differential setup and it is highly configurable. Sure, it isn’t as pretty or slick as other software, but at least I am a lot more confident about my backups now.

  12. Ray Ratliff

    I am new to this backup game. I would like to know if there is a way or program that will backup not only data but programs also. I would like to have a completely usable backup when the HDD goes south. Is this possible?

  13. Bri

    @ray ratliff – you could take an image of your drive with some thing as age old as norton ghost which would create you a full set of bootable recovery disks. I use it even today – I basically install the OS, install all updates and latest drivers, install the programs I use daily then ‘ghost’ an image off. Then is everything goes pear sha

  14. Bri

    Bah caught the submit comment button as on my phone…. Anyway, to continue – if everything goes pear sha

  15. Bri

    …and again… O_o

    I hate my iPhone lol

    Long story short, boot from your backup and restore! I’m now going to sit down for a while…

  16. john3347

    I seem to have a unique need as I have thus far (for over 20 years) not found exactly the application I desire for backup.

    I have computers in different locations (all on the same home network connected through a wireless router and a Windows Home Server). I also have a network external hard drive (Pogoplug – very flaky and unreliable software at this point) so I don’t particularly need more backup capacity – I need a synchronization plan. If I am in the workshop and make a change to a drawing or create a new file, I want that change to automatically be transferred to all the other computers on the network automatically when I close the file I just modified (or on an hourly or some other frequent schedule). With this plan, I can make a change from the workshop and that change will automatically be applied to the mirrored file on my office computer in the house, and all the other (total of 8) computers on the home network. I am currently using SyncToy to do this operation and it is a whole lot of frustration to do this manually. There is always a portable computer or two that are not within range when syncing takes place and the system just does not work well.

    Do any of these applications mentioned here fill this need without one having to rent humongous quantities of online storage – which becomes prohibitively expensive very quickly?

  17. john3347

    The smiley in my previous post was supposed to be the number “eight”. Don’t know what happened there.

  18. Bri

    Ever thought of using Dropbox?

  19. Aardvark

    I have Carbonite on all my machines and the wife and childs laptops as well to backup what they lose. I also have on my personal machine Genie -the fancy version. I have a remote data computer in the basement on the network and I backup that data twice, once is on a Iomega quickbackup to an external drive and that the Genie also will go through the network and grab the data off the C:Drive. Then upstairs, I have 3 external backup drives, each with something different being saved on that. One internal extra drive and the one with my bank files goes to a cloud service off site. I don’t think I am being paranoid on this , do you?

    In any case most people do not have a backup plan if their machine crashes and dies off. What I do like is that I can backup my data and if things go south, I can get it back or if I purge something and then say “oops” I have a shot at getting that back.

  20. BallyIrish

    Much enthusiasm has been expressed for Macrium Reflect on various sites. Why is it not mentioned here? I don’t like the sound of Crash Plan somehow. I back up to a second hard disk D:\ on my PC and to an Iomega external HD. Advise an old man, folks, what’s wrong with backing up to an external HD which is right here on my desktop?

  21. fredg

    @BallyIrish – you are not backed up until you have at least two local copies and one off-site copy. If your house burns down, your two local copies won’t do you a lick of good. I currently mirror everything locally and then back up off site using Mozy. But I got to this article because I’m thinking, why not buy a 2TB drive and keep at a relative’s house out of state and back up to that? They can have a 2TB drive at my house for the same purpose.

    @john3347 – How about a central file server? Set up one computer with massive amounts of storage connected to the router. Save your document there. Share the hard drives on your network. Access the file, open it, modify it, save it from any other machine in your house. But it’s always saved on the one file server (then back that up off site, also).

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