I want a simple backup plan. That's simple. Did I say "simple?"

This may sound easy to an expert, but I'm not quite sure and can't seem to find a well-spelled-out answer online, so....

I just installed the free version of Aomei Backupper Standard and it lists the following backups:

System Backup - "Backup Windows and create an image of system partition"
Disk Backup - "Backup hard disks to an image file"
Partition Backup - "Backup partitions or dynamic volumes to an image file"
File Backup - "Easily back up files and folders to an image file"

Hah?

My feeble understanding is this:  I have a computer and maybe an external hard drive or two. Internally, the computer has an operating system which is made up of a lot of techie stuff I don't understand. As long as it works. Then I have programs and files/data generated by those programs (or ones I've bought to use} and usually put into folders. If this is correct, all I want is some simple way to back up this stuff! (I do understand the "incremental backup," which seems to be straightforward.)

So what do I need to do to keep it simple, simple, simple, and just back my stuff up to a BIG external hard drive and maybe to the so-called Cloud just as an extra level of safety?

I know it's old and maybe a little trite, but I have to say it: this question falls into the category that is best described by the saying "Just tell me what time it is, don't tell me how to build a clock!"

Experts?
RadioGeorgeOwner/ProgrammerAsked:
Who is Participating?
 
PerarduaadastraCommented:
Essentially, this question boils down to what you want from your backup.
There are basically two types of backup - file copying and disk imaging. The former simply copies your chosen files to another location such as an external hard disk, while the latter makes an exact copy of the entire disk/partition/volume which is then saved as a (very large) file to external media.
File copy backups enable quick retrieval of individual files if an original is deleted or overwritten with a later version by mistake, whereas an image backup is used to restore entire disks/partitions/volumes if a hard disk goes boom or is devoured by ransomware. In the case of a system drive this can save a great deal of time and frustration, because an image restore returns the system to the exact state it was in when the image was generated, thereby removing the need for finding original installation media and then having to download and install a gazillion updates.
Better disk imaging products will also permit their image files to be mounted as virtual drives, thus allowing individual files and folders to be retrieved without the need for a full restore.

I’d also suggest using differential backups instead of incremental ones, as this reduces the file count of your backup to just two. The greater the number of files in your backup, the more likely it is that file corruption will occur. If you have a chain of 50 incremental backups and number 6 goes bad then everything above number 5 is useless...

Decide whether file copy or disk imaging software is the best fit for you, and then choose a suitable product and learn it thoroughly. This will pay big dividends in future in terms of your data security.

Hope this helps.
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David Johnson, CD, MVPOwnerCommented:
There are 3 rules for backup
3 copies on 2 different media and one copy offsite or at minimum offline

Each backup media should be at least 2x the size of the source to backup.

When we talk about backups the terms RTO (Time to return to operation) and RPO (at what point in time to we restore to) come into play.

You could simply use Windows Backup for Windows 7, by default this creates images and file backups that are a full and incrementals and a new full every 15 days.

For the Operating system you'd want an image backup, but for data you'd want a file level backup. So if you keep your OS and your data on different drives (suggested) you would do an image backup of the system drive and a file copy backup of the data files.

This way if you mess up or the drive goes bad for the OS you simply restore from backup (about 1 hour) to RTO from the last backup (RPO i.e. 1 day ago, 1 week ago, 1 month ago)

If you say deleted or overwrote a file then an image backup would not be ideal as you would be restoring everything from the last time you backed up, you'd rather just restore that 1 file.  If your backup solution includes versionsing then you could go back to the version that you want.

Windows 7 backup image backup + using file history gives you the best of both worlds.
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Mal OsborneAlpha GeekCommented:
For a neophyte home user like yourself, I generally advise simple, manual backups to a USB key. Just copy important documents to a few $10 USB keys. Of course, this does nothing to help if you computer catches fire or something, but provided you have a USB key somewhere with your documents on, you can always use some other machine to read them.
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nobusCommented:
te simples t backup is the manual backup - done by yourself
you copy the files you want from the Original location to the backup location
in general you find these files in following folders : My Documents, My Pictures, My video's, My Music, My Favorites
there may be other programs directing data to other folders - but if you set up the data location to My Documents also - everything stays rather simple
Depending on the version - you will find your mails in My documents - or other folders(you can google the mail location folder per mail version)
BUT in general, all are found in C:\Users\username

the above can be automated by software also, like the AOMEI backupper, or many others
the backup size and location depends also on the size you want to backup - Personally, i'm no big fan at all of incremental backups - and how often: dayly, weekly, monthly ?....
a good backup is one of the things you should put more thought in the correct planning, than in the actual backup
keep also in mind when long term backup comes into play, that you need the play back device too, eg DVD player, iomega disk, etc to name a few

as last comment - for a simple home cd - you can strip it fairly easily down to the manual backup - or automate that
what i do is more stringent : i do a fresh install every one or 2 years, so i'm sure everything works and is updated; but that may be an overkill for most
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nobusCommented:
here a backup plan discussion :  https://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2363057,00.asp
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JohnBusiness Consultant (Owner)Commented:
Ask yourself whether you need to back up your software over and over again. I do not need to do this.

I use Sync Back Pro.

I synchronize my data and documents (about 100 GB of stuff) between my laptop and my desktop computers. I run this manually about 3 times a day but it can be scheduled. Habit and it is really simple.

I backup this same stuff additively to my second drive on my desktop. I do this at the end of the day. Again it can be scheduled.

All my data is backed up, my software does not need to be backed up.
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RadioGeorgeOwner/ProgrammerAuthor Commented:
OK, not bad for starters.  Now let me throw in an angle or two that wasn't in the front of my mind when I posted this question.

First, my understanding is that a disk backup [Is this the same as a disk image?] takes care of what I'm calling the operating system--Windows and all the crap Microsoft uses to make it work. Right?

Next, Perarduaadastra perhaps said it best: file copying is exactly what the expression says. Unless I'm way off here, this is the backup of pictures, videos, documents, etc. Right?

Now, in the clear light of day and the expert comments so far, here's the first factor that may be what has given me such a hard time as far as backup go:

I have a pretty good sized batch of programs (such as 7-zip, PDF reader, audio editors, etc,) which I use regularly. As a matter of habit--and what has seemed the most logical and easiest thing to do--I have saved the documents and/or other files created by these programs in specific folders in the folders containing the program, rather than sticking everything into My Documents. For example, I might take a raw spoken word audio file and save it in the "Raw Audio" folder which is in the "March 2018 Audio work" folder. And, as most programs that I use seem to do, each will save data to a folder whose location and name are designated in the program...which I use by default since it makes sense to me to keep data generated by Program A into a folder somehow connected to Program A, as opposed to in My Documents.

I realize this may not be an issue, but you don't know if you don't ask, so I'm asking.  So far, this is what seems to be the deal:

1. A backup for Windows operating system (a system disk and/or image file).
2. Everything else.

Second factor: Even with an "everything else" backup, does this mean that I will need to reinstall all programs I have bought to use, meaning going through the setup and registration process all over again as opposed to copy and go?
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JohnBusiness Consultant (Owner)Commented:
have saved the documents and/or other files created by these programs in specific folders in the folders containing the program, rather than sticking everything into My Documents

I do not use My Documents for everything. But I do have about 5 main folders.
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PerarduaadastraCommented:
Your matter of habit, while working well for you, isn't what Microsoft envisaged so many file backup programs will miss a lot of your stuff because it's not in the default location of My Documents. Any file backup utility will allow you to manually select all the locations of your data files but it will be a chore as you'll have to browse through all the various Program Files folders to find your data files, and the latter will probably seem to be exceedingly numerous and widely spread by the time you've finished... There is a certain logic in using My Documents as your data repository with suitably named subfolders identifying the program that produced them, at least from a backup point of view.

Using a disk imaging backup tool may be a better choice for you because it doesn't see files and folders; such tools instead work with disk boundaries and disk sectors to create an exact replica of the entire contents of the disk/partition/volume and save it as a file on the specified target. This approach is even simpler if you just have drive C: on your computer because you won't have to make image backups of any additional volumes on the hard disk. You will of course have to make a bootable disaster recovery CD or USB pen drive using whatever tools the imaging software provides and test it for correct operation, but once that's been done you would only have to repeat the procedure if the imaging software was upgraded to a newer version.

Because the the image is an exact copy of your existing Windows installation - registry, programs, data files, the lot - restoring it to a replacement disk will quite literally restore your Windows installation to the point in time at which the backup was taken without the need for anything more than a reboot after the restore has finished. This of course assumes that the rest of the computer is unchanged; it is certainly possible to restore the image to a different computer, but driver and licensing issues make doing so a perilous undertaking.
As I mentioned in my previous post, the more capable image backup programs allow you to mount their image files as a virtual drive to allow you to retrieve individual files and folders without having to do a full restore. Over the years I've used Acronis, Novastor, and ShadowProtect to good effect, but I don't doubt that there are others.
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nobusCommented:
i suggest you make a list of all options - then make a second one , containing only the ones you need, or want.
This way, you can easily compare, and change options if you test them out
you can usually change the backup location of the programs you talk about, giving them the proper place in my documents - or you continue as is (this is only a bit more complex for a manual backup, if you keep the program locations in a list)
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Fred MarshallPrincipalCommented:
The one thing that I believe no one has mentioned is "what format are the backups in?".  For disk or image backups I don't care about this.  But, for documents, etc. it can make a difference.  Here's why:

If the file backups are in a proprietary or compressed format, then are individual files accessible to you with no trouble at all?
Scenario:
Your computer crashed along with the backup program and you need some files fairly quickly.
How are you going to get them?
You could build up a new computer WITH the original backup program installed (see note about CDs/DVDs below) and then get them.
You could connect the backup device to another computer and get them much quicker.
So, I favor backups that are in native file format.  That is, .doc, .xls, .pdf, etc.

The disk image backup is useful if your hard drive crashes and you've installed a new one.  Gets you back up and running with all your programs and data in a short time.  You would imagine that this requires a USB or DVD boot media be prepared ahead of time - otherwise, how will you boot the computer with an empty hard drive?  But you generally can't pick and choose data files from this kind of backup.  It's all or nothing.  You should definitely TEST the boot media before thinking you're ready for a real disaster.  Can it really boot?  Can it find the backup file? etc.  If those are OK then you're likely safe proceeding with the idea of actually using it.

These days of lots of storage space, I am tending to save .ISO images of install disks and include those in the backup.  
Then, if you have to rebuild from scratch, you have the programs.
Yes, the contents age with time and you can probably download the needed (and fresher) installs anyway.  But it's a rather easy precaution.  It's a rare individual who knows where their install CDs/DVDs have gone!

If you're in a position where you might mess up a file and save it with the same name, then a file backup with "versioning" might be good for you.  A few past versions of document files in the backup don't generally take up much space.  Outlook files are the worst in this context as they can be big and each day there's a new file version.  That doesn't make it untenable, just a note.  A corollary to this approach is to always SAVE a file with a new name before editing.  It usually doesn't take much space and is just good practice IMHO.

I use Second Copy for file backups with a cloud-based backup of those backups.
There are a variety of image backup programs and you have one already.
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nobusCommented:
i prefer also native formats - along with zip format for compressed data
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PerarduaadastraCommented:
The imaging products I mentioned do permit individual files to be retrieved, although with the caveat that the product has to be installed on a working computer to enable its image files to be mounted as virtual drives.

 If the OP has files that simply have to be available in their native format at all times then those should be copied to a USB pen drive or other convenient media type in any case. The great virtue of image backups is that they literally restore your computer to how it was at the time the backup was taken, and so are a very effective remedy for hard disk failure. I concede that such backups are arguably less useful if you're trying to restore an image made on a ten-year-old computer that just suffered a motherborad failure, but trying to cover every possibility is very much a game of diminishing returns.
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RadioGeorgeOwner/ProgrammerAuthor Commented:
OK, we're getting away from "simple." I know that may sound strange to the experts here, but one person's "simple" may well be another person's "Greek to me" because we grow accustomed to the concept that what we're saying is so remarkably simple, how could anyone possibly not understand it?

BUT--after taking a couple of days to think about this and bat it around, I think I've almost pieced together a plan based on most answers given here. Just a couple more things and we'll wrap 'er up.

A simple question came up at breakfast this morning that needs to be included in the resolution question of this question:  when a user installs a program (assuming the program is typical and has anywhere from a few to many associated files to set it up), the installation is likely to install various "bits and pieces" of stuff that is necessary for the program to run when the user want it to...AND that those bits and pieces are automatically placed into folders created by the installation procedure which are created in locations not readily apparent to the user....thereby screwing up any very simple "copy them all" as backup to another computer.

To be as clear as I can be, what we're talking about here is essentially duplicating everything from computer #1 to computer # 2 so that in the case of computer # 1 suffering a hard drive crash or total breakdown, I could simply crank up computer # 2 and continue working with very little grief or hassle.
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David Johnson, CD, MVPOwnerCommented:
Image the system drive and copy off the data drives
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Fred MarshallPrincipalCommented:
It doesn't screw things up if you approach it in a reasonable way.
What you say is correct about new program installs.

If you "copy them all" (I assume you mean make an image of the entire hard drive) then that *is* something to deal with.
If that's all you do, then data would also be an issue.

It is typical for workstation setup to be fairly static even if involved.  In this case, an "older" image will bring it back to whenever the image was created.  And, in this case, a DATA backup would be used to bring the data up-to-date.  And, in this case, Windows updates might be applied to catch up as well.  But, not new programs.

You can use capabilities that are provided by VEEAM to create a "running image".
You can use capabilities that are provided by Carbonite to create images - perhaps periodically.

Either way, you are likely to have to boot from a USB or DVD to get the recovery going because, after all, you don't have a computer that's working when you begin, right?

If computer #2 is identical to computer #1 (I'm thinking mostly about drivers here) then you might have a process to do what you want.
Windows licensing is another matter.  If the two computers aren't identical then you would have to allow for driver differences at least.
Maybe you can prepare for the differences ahead of time and maybe you can install new drivers after the fact.  Paragon provides tools for moving from one machine to another (different one).


Having something that's fairly easy to use or quick to use is antithetical to making that capability, understanding it and managing it.
This requires some thought AND continued management.
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PerarduaadastraCommented:
Your idea of simply starting up computer #2 using a restored image  if computer #1 suffers a terminal failure seems OK until you realise that licensing issues rear their ugly heads, and that if those two computers aren't identical in terms of hardware then you have not only licensing issues but driver and possibly hardware compatibility issues as well...

I'd suggest instead that you do the following:

1. Make an image of your existing hard disk
2. Make whatever boot media your chosen imaging software requires and confirm that it works by testing it (no restore will be required)
3. Remove the hard disk from your computer and replace it with a new one of the same or greater capacity
4. Restore the image you've just made to the new disk using the boot media you've tested as working correctly
5. Confirm that the computer boots into Windows as expected, restart it when prompted to do so, and confirm once more that everything is as it should be
6. Assuming that all is well, remove the new disk, label it to describe what it is and the date the restore was done, and put it in a safe place
7. Replace the original disk and carry on as before

David Johnson's suggestion is eminently sensible if your data is stored on a separate volume to the system, and in principle is equally sound if you keep everything on the system drive. However, to make your life a bit easier if you intend to use simple copying to back up data files in their native format, consider moving all your data folders and files to the My Documents folder (or indeed any single folder) and be sure to include that folder in any file copy backup that you do. The folder names will still tell you which program generated the data files that they contain but you wouldn't have to trawl through a vast array of Program Files folders in order to locate the data you want to copy.
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nobusCommented:
George - it is good to note now that an image of the System disk is a good way to solve your problems; but also note that after imaging, you can install more softwares; so you need regularimages of the drive. Up to you to decide how often (monthly or yearly), and HOW much copies you want to keep (given their size, it may need big drives)
don't forget to include this in your backup plan
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RadioGeorgeOwner/ProgrammerAuthor Commented:
OK,  we're almost ready to wrap this topic up....

I visited the help desk at my local Micro Center the other day to talk with the staff there about my backup questions and had the amazingly good luck to speak to a young lady who was very knowledgeable about backups. I was able to use the info that you experts have provided and a few nuggets she added to come up with  what I think is the best plan for me.

I let all this info sink in for a couple of days and here's what I've decided:

1. The Micro Center wizard lady gave me lots of printouts on creating a system image in Windows 10 and 7 using the tools Microsoft provides. However, it's my policy to AVOID using any Microsoft fixes/tools because Microsoft is just not trustworthy. An  expert here on EE recently suggested I use Microsoft's Easy Transfer program on a Windows 7 computer I have. I did and learned after the fact that there are multiple glitches that occur and that WET adds a ton of unwanted and ultimately unnecessary files in doing what it's supposed to do. For a non-techie, it was a nightmare. I should also mention that I keep reading and being told that Office 2000, Word 2002 and FrontPage 2003 will not work on later Windows systems, such as 7, 8  or 10, which is simply not true.  I have installed them on computers running all those systems and have never experienced any problems. I've also never spent the hundreds of dollars it would have cost to upgrade those tools, of which I only use a small number of features.

2. I have decided to set up my system this way:

--Main computer
--Backup computer (simply a duplicate of the Main computer with everything including working operating gsystem, programs, all other files)
--Travel computer (consider it another backup computer, a little smaller and lighter
--Three external hard drives containing all data files to run with the programs on the computers (One for the main website I run, the second for another website, and the third for everything else)
--Three MORE external drives which will used as backups for the others and selectively for travel

3. Also use a cloud backup for program files from the "main" computer, and the three external hard drives.

4. I'm not that worried about a system crash because it's been my experience that you simply have to reinstall the operating system as a starting point when that happens, and then load everything back again.  But any suggestions you have regarding this point are also welcome

Since I'm no expert, I would like to hear from YOU with evaluation of my plan, suggestions for the backup plan I outline here, any comments on stuff I may have overlooked, etc.....all keeping in mind that you are talking NOT to an expert. Consider me one or wo steps above a novice and that should avoid any lack of comprehension on my part. I do confess to owning a few "....for Dummies" books, you know.

After you reply, I'll award the points and warp this up!
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Fred MarshallPrincipalCommented:
If you consider that reinstalling Windows, reinstalling Windows Updates and all the programs and their updates and the printer(s) and re-configuring everything is easy then there is a lot less to talk about.
In that case, there's no real need to image.

I would caution that external hard drives won't protect against fire and theft unless dispersed.
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nobusCommented:
That seems good - but i don't see a timing plan
how often will you image the pc's? dayly, weekly, or monthly?
also - what software will you use for it?
and you don't plan a file backup ?
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RadioGeorgeOwner/ProgrammerAuthor Commented:
I have not yet decided on imaging the PCs but I'm thinking monthly at this point, and I have 5 plans (backup programs, that is) in front of me, with the selection going to the absolute easiest to use.  Ditto for a cloud backup. RE: file backup. The documents and 'working" files will be on one of the three "working" external hard drives, which will be used for ALL files other than program files. These will be backed up very simply weekly. Program files will be on the three computers I believe I mentioned (working, backup, and travel, as well as a 4th external drive just for programs.

Once this gets put into place, I think the actual backup operations will be fairly straightforward and easy. I'm sure the segmentation sounds a little repetitive and/or redundant to some experts, but there does not appear to appear to be ANY backup plan I have encountered that makes backing up simple and straightforward. It seems that every plan I've looked at talks about how easy it is to do a backup and then has the equivalent of a "buy to also have to do this..." statement repeated again and again.

Multiple copies of programs and data which I dictate and control, with the understanding that there may well be a computer crash that will require reinstalling a system or new system and a batch of programs on ONE computer at a time at different intervals if the absolute worst happens, all of the backups blowing out--which under my plan,simply cannot happen at the same time.

Thanks, nobus. LAST CALL for any other experts to make suggestions. Will close this out tonight.
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RadioGeorgeOwner/ProgrammerAuthor Commented:
..make that "BUT" rather than "BUY" in the second paragraph of my previous post. Having a bad typing day today.
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Fred MarshallPrincipalCommented:
I don't see why backups aren't daily.  Weekly backups leave a lot to be lost if any work is going on.  
I schedule Second Copy (SC) (and, if necessary, Windows Task Scheduler to trigger SC) so it's all automatic and hands off.  So why not?
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PerarduaadastraCommented:
In my view, I outlined a compelling argument in favour of imaging in my ealier post:

"...File copy backups enable quick retrieval of individual files if an original is deleted or overwritten with a later version by mistake, whereas an image backup is used to restore entire disks/partitions/volumes if a hard disk goes boom or is devoured by ransomware. In the case of a system drive this can save a great deal of time and frustration, because an image restore returns the system to the exact state it was in when the image was generated, thereby removing the need for finding original installation media and then having to download and install a gazillion updates.
Better disk imaging products will also permit their image files to be mounted as virtual drives, thus allowing individual files and folders to be retrieved without the need for a full restore."

Using the differential backup and scheduling feaures of these imaging programs also takes care of keeping the images up to date. For me, not having to re-install Windows in the event of a disaster is a most persuasive argument for using imaging, not because doing so is particularly difficult, but because it just takes so long!
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RadioGeorgeOwner/ProgrammerAuthor Commented:
While I can definitely use the info presented here, what I've really learned is that  there is NO simple, straightforward how-to-do-it for explaining what a backup is to how to choose what's right for the individual. And I don't think I'm asking too much. The overlapping "angles" and options never seemed to be presented in simple, logical form.

I liken this to telling someone to back up a car to load some stuff into the trunk:

1. Start the car.
2. Back it up to the dock.
3. Put the stuff into the trunk.

So where are the additional questions for something this simple?

1. How do I open the car door. How do I start the engine?
2. How do I put this car into reverse gear? Which pedal is the gas, and which is the brake?
3. I don't see anyplace on the trunk to unlock the car. What do I do now?

All of the answers in and of themselves are simple. But overlook them and things get very confusing fast.

In spite of this, I do appreciate the responses from the experts, and I'm sorry it took awhile to wrap his up. Some traveling came along that took precedence over everything else for longer than I expected.
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JohnBusiness Consultant (Owner)Commented:
Thanks for the update and I was happy to help you.
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nobusCommented:
well - your problem seems simple - but it's one of the most difficult ones to solve - if you want to take everything into account
you best make a list of all options  - then make a second one with ONLY the options you need - or are practical for you
that should trim it down
niot everyone wants an image backup on a regular schedule, or complete backup
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