Backing Up and Restoring the System State

A Windows 2000 (Win2K) computer contains several crucial system components that are essential to its successful operation. You should ensure that you properly back up these components and that you can successfully restore them if things go wrong. Win2K Backup refers to these components as the System State, which has a different meaning depending on whether you're working with Win2K Professional (Win2K Pro) or Win2K Server. For Win2K Pro, System State refers to the boot files, the COM+ Class Registration database, and the Registry; for Win2K Server, it refers to these components and Active Directory (AD), Sysvol, the Certificate Services database, and the Cluster service. Screen 1 shows the System State components for a typical Win2K Server. Here's a summary of what the System State includes:

For Win2K Pro and Server:

  • Boot Files
  • COM+ Class Registration database
  • Registry

For Win2K Server:

  • AD (if the server is a domain controller)
  • Sysvol (if the server is a domain controller)
  • Certificate Services database (if the server is running Certificate Services)
  • Cluster service (if the server is running Cluster service)

System State Limitations
When you back up the System State, you back up the entire set of components to one .bkf file. You can either add to this file the next time you run a backup or overwrite it. Unfortunately, you can't back up or restore individual System State components using Win2K Backup because of certain dependencies among the components. It seems that unless you want to restore your entire system, including the AD and the Registry, backing up the System State won’t help. This all-or-nothing proposition can be time consuming and, in some cases, worthless. On my bare-bones Win2K Pro machine, the System State backup occupies more than 222MB of hard disk space. As you can imagine, a Win2K server running AD and other services would require a large amount of disk space for the System State backup. However, disk space isn't the real issue here—hard disks are relatively inexpensive. The problem is that if you make one change to your Registry or to a file in the Sysvol folder and then decide to restore the original from the System backup, you might have to restore half a gigabyte of data. Having said that, I should state that the purpose of the System State is to give you a complete backup of your important system files. To back up and restore individual components, you can use other methods that I address at the end of this column. Another limitation of the System State is that you can back it up and restore it only on a local computer; you can't back up or restore the System State of a remote computer.

Backing Up the System State
To back up the System State, run Win2K Backup program from Start, Programs, Accessories, System Tools, or use Start, Run, and type ntbackup.exe. You can use the Backup wizard from the Welcome tab, or you can click the Backup tab and check the System State box, as Screen 1 shows. Enter the backup media or file name at the bottom of the dialog box, and click Start Backup. The backup program will give you the option to append or replace the media, as Screen 2 shows. You can also configure some Advanced options, as Screen 3 shows, and schedule the backup. You must be an administrator or a member of the Backup Operators group to back up files and folders.

Restoring the System State
Restoring the System State is similar to backing it up. Screen 4 shows how to restore a System State on a Win2K Pro computer from Win2K Backup's Restore tab. Although you can’t restore individual System State components, you can restore them to alternate locations. Looking at Screen 4, you might wonder why the three System State components each occupy just 1KB on the Win2K Pro computer when my bare-bones System State backup takes 222MB. The answer lies in one of the options I selected under the Advanced Backup Options. If you select "Automatically backup System Protected Files with the System State" option in Screen 3, you'll back up all the system files in your \%systemroot% folder (\winnt by default), along with the boot files listed in the System State. On a Win2K Pro machine, this option can add over 200MB to your System State backup.

Restoring the Registry only. I mentioned earlier that the System State backup doesn’t give you the option of restoring individual components. When you back up your System State, you also back up your Registry files to the \%systemroot%\repair\regback folder. You can use the Registry files in the Regback folder to replace your corrupted Registry files without performing a complete System State restore.

Restoring the AD only. Once you have backed up your System State, you can restore the AD by starting your system in Directory Services Restore mode; this technique will also let you restore your Sysvol folder.

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