An introduction to Microsoft SharePoint 2007 backup and recovery

SharePoint integrates data from many sources, presenting it in a simple Web interface. Because data is pulled from various locations, it can be difficult to back up and recover.

Probably the one thing that is the most appealing about Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 (which I will refer to throughout this article as SharePoint 2007 or just SharePoint) is that it pulls together business data from numerous disparate sources and presents that data in a unified, easy-to-use Web interface. However, the fact that data is being pulled from various locations can make it difficult to back up and recover SharePoint.

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The key to backing up SharePoint successfully is to understand how SharePoint works, and where its various components are located. At its simplest, SharePoint is really nothing more than a Web interface that is linked to a backend SQL Server database. This database contains all of the SharePoint user data and some of SharePoint's configuration data. Some of the configuration data is also stored in the Active Directory. Therefore, if you want to back up SharePoint in its entirety, you must back up your Web servers that are hosting SharePoint (including the IIS metadata on those servers), the Active Directory database and the SQL Server database that SharePoint is using. Although these resources can be backed up separately, there are several different disaster recovery mechanisms built into SharePoint.

The two-tier recycle bin

SharePoint comes equipped with a fancy, two-tier recycle bin. Although the recycle bin isn't technically a backup mechanism, I wanted to mention it, because it does allow you to perform some types of recovery.

When a user deletes a SharePoint resource, that resource is placed into the first tier of the recycle bin. By default, items are retained in this recycle bin for 30 days (30 days is the default setting, but you can change the retention period for the recycle bin at the Web application level). During that time, the user has the ability to restore the deleted items themselves.

Once the retention period expires for items in the recycle bin, they are moved to a second tier that is only accessible to an administrator. This allows a user's deleted data to be retained for a bit longer, (an administrator can determine how long to retain) but without counting against the user's storage quota in the way that items in the first tier do.

It is worth noting that deleted items such as documents, lists, and libraries are placed into recycle bins. However, deleted sites are not. If a site is accidentally deleted, it must be restored using another method.

The STSADM tool

SharePoint has a built in command-line tool called STSADM (which you can access by entering STSADM.EXE at the command prompt). STSADM isn't a dedicated backup tool, but rather a general administrative command-line tool with backup capabilities built in. It is not a dedicated backup utility, and therefore lacks the ability to write SharePoint data directly to tape. For that you need to use your regular enterprise data backup utility. The advantage of using STSADM is that it allows you to create more granular backups than are possible with many enterprise data backup solutions. For example, you can back up individual sites or site collections.

Here are a few common backup and recovery commands that you can use:

You can back up a single SharePoint site by using this command:

STSADM -O export -URL (the site's URL) -FILENAME (the filename that you want to use for your backup)

If you want to restore a SharePoint site that was backed up using STSADM, you can use the following command:

STSADM -O import -URL (the site's URL) -FILENAME (the name of the file that you want to restore from)

Using a similar command, you can back up an entire site collection (a site collection is a set of SharePoint sites that are linked to common administration pages). The command for doing so is:

STSADM -O export -URL (the site collection's URL) -FILENAME (the filename that you want to use for your backup)

To restore a site collection, you can use this command:

STSADM -O restore -URL (the site collection's URL) -FILENAME (the name of the backup file that you want to restore from)

The SharePoint central administration tool

The primary GUI tool for managing SharePoint 2007 is the Central Administration tool. This tool has its own backup application integrated into it. Some of the previous versions of SharePoint had a standalone backup tool, but this tool does not exist in SharePoint 2007.

To perform a backup, open the SharePoint Central Administration tool and select the Operations tab. Now, just click the Perform a Backup link, shown in "SharePoint backup: The Operations tab" (see below; click on image for full size). This will take you to another screen that allows you to select the components that you want to back up. As you can see in the figure below, the Operations tab also contains options for performing a restoration and for viewing history data related to backup and recovery operations.

SharePoint backup: The Operations tab

The Operations tab contains options for backing up SharePoint.

Although I have presented several different options for backing up SharePoint 2007, it is very possible that none of these backup methods will easily fit into your existing backup techniques. It is worth noting, however, that many of the major backup vendors offer add-on modules that make the backup applications SharePoint-compatible. If you do decide to use a third-party product, be sure to check the requirements for performing a restoration. Some of the backup products on the market require you to build a recovery farm before you can restore any SharePoint data.

About the author: Brien M. Posey, MCSE, has previously received Microsoft's MVP award for Exchange Server, Windows Server and Internet Information Server (IIS). Brien has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and was once responsible for the Department of Information Management at Fort Knox. You can visit Brien's personal website at

This was last published in February 2010

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