Manage and restore Palm PDA backups with these tips

When a user's Palm crashes, you can often restore the handheld with a simple HotSync. Learn how to do it, what caveats you should be aware of, and how to create a current state backup to ease the setup when upgrading to a new PDA.

By Douglas Welch

Having to restore a user's Palm PDA from backup files can stem from a number of problems. For instance, a program error can leave the PDA in such a state of confusion that only a hard reset will bring it back. Or, data can be lost if the batteries on the device are allowed to go completely flat for an extended period of time. Unfortunately, a hard reset also deletes all of the device's data and programs, leaving the PDA in its factory default state. Finally, if a user's PDA is lost or destroyed, you'll need to move your user's data to a new device.

If your users regularly HotSync their Palms, though, all their data and programs have already been protected and are simply waiting to be reinstalled. Look in the Palm Backup directory on their computer, and you'll see a complete copy of every program file (*.prc) and every data file (*.pdb) that once existed on their PDA. Let's look at where these backups are stored and what you'll experience when you restore a Palm from a backup.

Palm data locations
Palm backups are located in the following directories, depending on which operating system your users run:
  • Windows—C:\Program Files\Palm\<username>\ED\Backup\
  • Mac OS 9—Macintosh HD:Palm:Users:<username>:Backups
  • Mac OS X—<homedir>/Documents/Palm/Users/<username>/Backups/

Restoring these files to the PDA couldn't be simpler. When you HotSync a PDA that has undergone a hard reset, HotSync will compare the two devices. When it sees that the PDA is empty, it will attempt to reload any backup that exists on the PC. Once this data is reloaded, the PDA will ask to do a soft reset. This is simply a restart of the device and doesn't affect any of the newly installed data. This then returns the PDA to working order, with all the data and programs functioning as they were before.

When you perform a full restore, you may notice something odd. Programs that you once had installed and then deleted will reappear on the PDA. Old memos that you archived will also show up. This is because of the way the HotSync program creates its backup files.

When you HotSync, any program that has been added and any data file that has been updated is copied to the Backup directory. Even if you delete the program or data file from the Palm at a later date, a copy of the file will still remain in the Backup directory. Because a restore simply copies anything in the Backup directory back to the Palm, you'll see these old programs reappear.

In most cases, this isn't a major problem. You can simply delete the extra files from the Palm. But if you're like me, you may be constantly installing a large number of programs for testing purposes and then removing them when they're no longer needed. This can bloat your Backup folder and complicate the restore process.

Not only will the restore take longer if you have large numbers of programs backed up, but if you're using an older Palm PDA with limited memory, it's possible to fill the memory before the entire backup is restored. This can happen when the Backup folder is actually larger than the existing memory available in your devices. In this case, you may need to prune your Backup folder manually before performing the restore.

Looking in the Backup directory, you should be able to easily locate unnecessary programs. Usually, the name of the file will match the name of the program on the PDA. Data files are a little more problematic, but it's usually possible to discover which files belong to which programs. For particularly obscure filenames, you can turn to the Internet for help by performing a Web search for the filename. This will usually turn up its associated program.

Instead of working on the live Backup folder, I highly recommend you make a complete copy of the folder and set this aside in case you happen to delete a needed file. This will allow you to start over, should anything untoward occur.

Current state backup
Over the years, I've found a way to avoid some of these restoration issues by creating a current state backup of my PDA. This is easy to do. Before your next HotSync, rename the Palm Backup file. I usually add the date to the folder name (e.g., Backup 031010). During the next HotSync, a new Backup folder will be created. This Backup folder will contain only those files currently installed on the PDA. This provides for a much cleaner restore should it become necessary. I recommend creating this current state backup every few months, depending on how often you add and remove new program files.

Upgrading to a new device
Creating a current state backup is a great way to prepare for upgrading to a new PDA, as well. The process of upgrading is also simple. Leave your data files in place and simply install the new device and perform a HotSync. Since the HotSync program will see the new device as “empty,” it will copy all of your existing data into the new PDA.

In most cases, this works fine, but even with a current state backup, there might be a few files you'll need to clean up first. On some PDAs, there are device-specific files that shouldn't be copied to a new device. Recently, I moved from a Sony Clie PDA to a Handspring Treo. The built-in applications on the Clie included programs for displaying and managing photos as well as versions of programs designed to use the Hi Res settings of the Clie. I made sure to purge these programs before the HotSync to avoid any possible problems on the new device.

The built-in Backup/Restore functions of Palm PDAs are designed to make it easy to protect your PDA data and restore it when needed. Spending a few minutes managing this backup can ensure that no matter what happens to your PDA, you're only a few minutes away from putting it back in working order.

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