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avex 06-09-2006 10:21 AM

SuperDuper! erased my data during smart update
Hi All,

This is a tale that hopefully might save someone out there from having their data wiped. Here is my story.

I loved the look of superduper and after tinkling for a bit decided to purchase it. Previously I used CCC but it never worked right for me after upgrading to Tiger.

My laptop's external backup drive was also used to keep an archive of 150GB's of files from the last 10 years that would not fit on my powerbook's drive. The files were in a separate folder called "archive".

I chose to do the smart update. I read through the forum and skimmed the manual looking for tips and it looked like the right thing for me. I read some notices about copying and erasing files in the GUI, but I assumed that the out of sync files were deleted. After I hit "copy now" i happily watched as the drive was backed up.

After it was all done, and to my absolute shock I realised my "archive" folder had been deleted. I cannot describe that intensely sick feeling in the pit of your stomach.

What I did not realise was that when superduper does a smart update for the first time everything from the target drive get erased. Since the wording was "copy and erase" i knew things were deleted, but I thought this would only be the files that had vanished off my laptop.

Also, when I did the same process in CCC it always kept the "archive" folder untouched *and* allowed for a bootable backup.

Superduper does not allow a backup and archive to exist on the same partition.

Looking back to see where I went wrong I believe the text in the GUI is ambiguous. Usually when anything will be erased there is a very noticeable warning. My feeling is that because superduper strives to be so friendly and easy to use it glossed over important details and buries it in a paragraph of text.

This following screen should say very clearly "THE BACKUP DRIVE WILL BE ERASED"

To me, wording it "copy and erase" makes me think it adds files, and then deletes files that are not on the computer you are backing up, rather than erasing *everything* that is not actually on your hard drive.

Straight after it happened I panicked and IM'd the developer who was helpful in methods to try to recover the data. We spent a lot of time on IM, and for that I am very grateful. (Unfortunately, I lost 100% of the files)

So, I am posting this as a message for other's new to superduper new users to look out for, and hopefully as a way to have the wording changed to make it unequivocally 100% clear. I hope nobody else has to lose their important data.

dnanian 06-09-2006 11:16 AM

Hi, Chad -- nice to see you here and, as I've said elsewhere, I'm quite sorry you lost your archive folder.

From a design perspective, a classic problem when there are multiple solutions available for a given task -- like "Backup" or "Copying" or whatever -- is that extensive experience with one can sometimes set up assumptions for the others.

It's difficult to put wording that breaks through that. After the fact, it can seem that one phrase would have made it clearer -- but without getting back in the original midset, it's really hard to know what would have worked. Of course, it's awful that you lost data, and again I'm sorry it was unclear to you.

The What's going to happen? section, in the screen shot, doesn't say "THE BACKUP DRIVE WILL BE ERASED" because it won't be. That's what "Erase, then copy" does. Instead, it says:


Smart Update will copy and erase what's needed to make (the destination volume) identical to your selections from (the source volume). The result will mimic "Erase (destination), then copy files from (source)", but will typically take a fraction of the time."
So, it not only says it "copies and erases", emphasizing that the result will be identical to your selections from the source -- it also says "it's exactly like "Erase, then copy", but faster.

We then repeat this -- without the leading text, to "unbury" it and emphasize the action -- in the warning that comes up when you click "Copy".

For those who might read the User's Guide, I also give an explicit example of this case on page 42:


Important Note
As we said above, the result of a Smart Update will be exactly what
you’d get if you chose Erase Sandbox, then copy files from
Macintosh HD
. That means that any files “outside” the set of files
selected by the copy script will be erased.
As I've indicated in our private conversations -- I'll revisit the wording again and do additional user testing in future versions to see if I can make further improvements: clearly, data loss is not what we want for our users.

Thanks for the post and -- again -- sorry for your trouble.

sdsl 06-10-2006 12:58 AM

What happened to user "avex" is truly unfortunate, but it appears to really be "operator error" here because the SuperDuper instructions are very very clear. CCC does handle this process slightly differently, and it appears that the user misled himself because he assumed that SuperDuper would behave as does CCC. Still, the SuperDuper instructions in the manual and on screen are very very clear.

But mistakes can still happen. This is why, in fact, I have split my external firewire drive into two partions and alternate backups to each, just in case something bad happens to one of them. I also make a finder copy of "important files" (not the whole operating system) to yet another external drive that is located elsewhere but is accessible via network. And the fourth layer of defence is a DVD of "important files" made every month or so. (I know some people who store those DVDs in a safe deposit box off site, but I haven't gotten that far yet.) I don't want to criticize user "avex" anymore because he's been through enough, but I think having multiple backups of important files is essential. That 150 GB archive on the external drive does not itself seem to have been backed up itself, i.e. it was the one and only copy of those files. A separate external hard drive to back up the archive would be the solution, maybe costing $100 and taking half an hour or so. That archive would also have fit on about 35 DVDs, which probably would have taken ~ 10 hrs to make.

Getting back to SuperDuper, the instructions clearly state that the option selected will make the backup drive look just like the source drive. That to me means, same files, same space used etc.

Note that with CCC, it is the opposite, one can create a folder on the backup drive and call it something that doesn't exist on the source drive (like "do_not_touch_me") and copy essential files on the backup drive into that folder, and they won't be touched when the backup is run.

avex 06-10-2006 06:47 AM


Originally Posted by dnanian
For those who might read the User's Guide, I also give an explicit example of this case on page 42:


Important Note
As we said above, the result of a Smart Update will be exactly what
you’d get if you chose Erase Sandbox, then copy files from
Macintosh HD. That means that any files “outside” the set of files
selected by the copy script will be erased.

I think it is very clear here, but this is on *page 42* of the user guide. I did skim the guide, but I obviously missed this. I think the explicit wording like above "That means that any files “outside” the set of files
selected by the copy script will be erased." could be useful in the prompt that comes up when you start copying.

As an update, I have been further chatting with the developer and I feel this issue is resolved. As stated by SDSL the information is there, but it was not apparent to *me*. When doing things like backing up data you should always be careful. I feel confident that Dave is making every effort to ensure this is never repeated. Thanks Dave for your support.

PunkRockster 10-27-2008 07:22 PM

Me too - not user error (!)
This happened to me this passed weekend.

The process is not explicit enough, and I don't believe you can bury that sort of thing on p.42 and expect people to have read it. At least your app should be throwing up a warning "continuing will delete any data including (sample file names that exist on target disk) are you sure you want to continue?"

Incredible UI failure.

Backup 200GB of data to a 1TB drive with 500GB used in one folder called "PUNK" - no system folder called punk, shouldn't touch it... after backup, over 700GB available and PUNK is gone.

How do I get my data back?

That's 500GB of irreplaceable stuff. Please consider this your user testing: FAIL

Tell me what to do to get my stuff back. Trying Data Rescue II right now, but that's just going to leave a mess of junk I'll never NEVER be able to sort back into the proper files/folders.

One upset and unsatisfied customer.

jonheal 10-27-2008 08:08 PM

My sympathies folks, but good grief, if an alert even obliquely hints at the possibility of data deletion, why not err on the side of caution and give it a double-take or do some more research, or something...

Very regrettable, but user error, nonetheless, I'm afraid.

dnanian 10-27-2008 08:43 PM

Sorry you're upset, Mick. As I said in my emailed reply, we've tried really hard to warn you all over the UI that it does this.

Even apart from the User's Guide, which explains this on page 7 (not p42), it says so in the Options panel, it says so in the "What's going to happen?" section of the UI, and then it warns again when you click "Copy Now". It never, ever says it's going to preserve anything -- in fact, as you can see above, it explicitly says it's "Just like Erase, then copy". So, if your drive has been erased, and then the data has been copied, there's no way it could preserve anything.

Unfortunately, the problem here is often that people assume what it's going to do, rather than actually paying attention to what it explicitly says. That's unfortunate, but it's hard to break through assumptions -- no matter how many times we've tried to warn... and we do try, very hard.

Given the small number of people who make mistakes, I'm not sure that's a "FAIL". But, I hate hearing when it happens to anyone, and we're always looking for ways to improve. I'm not sure what wording would have been clear to you at the time it was presented, rather than now, in hindsight... and it's impossible to get your mind back to the point where you made the decision, without knowing what you know now...

Sigi 10-29-2008 10:13 AM


my sympathy to avex. For me it all comes back to the defintion of "backup"
Many people say that one can only speak of a "backup" if the file is copied minimum 3 times and on different media.

To be honest I am also not sticking to this rule 100% (I do not have it on 3 different media, but I have it 3 times)


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