Grandfather-Father-Son backup – how does the GFS backup scheme work?

In the world of cybersecurity, we have a few problems that need to be solved. One of them is consistent data protection, where the backup has/plays a special role. There is this unattainable dream to keep all of your backup copies forever. Unfortunately for many organizations, such a task would be simply impossible to execute. Keeping backups requires storage space, which runs out quite quickly. 

As a way to solve this problem, security professionals advise using backup schemes like FIFO (First-in-First-out) or GFS (Grandfather-Father-Son). This article will take a closer look at the most popular one – the GFS backup scheme. 

The role of the GFS backup scheme

What is the goal of using the GFS backup scheme, or any backup scheme in general? 

Well, it is quite straightforward. To optimize the way you store your backups so that you can store as many copies as possible, and at the same time keep the continuity of security of your data intact. You need to find a compromise between being able to protect all of your data and protecting your organization in general. This is where the GFS scheme shines. So let’s see how the GFS backup scheme works.

GFS backup scheme in practice

The first thing you need to know is what the GFS stands for, and what part is responsible for which type of copy. 

The GFS stands for:

  • G – Grandfather – a full copy of your data
  • F – Father – a differential copy of your data
  • S – Son – an incremental copy of your data

One of our older posts describes in detail what types of backup – forever incremental, synthetic, reverse incremental – are available to the user.

Grandfather – the full copy

Grandfather copy is a full backup copy. It is the oldest one and contains the most amount of data. By default, it is performed once a month. Usually, a single version is kept for 12 months ahead. You can keep copies for as long as you wish, all you need is available storage space.

Father – the differential copy

The father copy is a differential copy from the Grandfather’s full one, and other father copies. It takes all the changes that happened between the creation of those two. By default, it is performed once a week, usually at the end of it. The most common approach is to keep them for one month – but of course, you can keep them much longer. 

Son – the incremental copy

The son copy is an incremental copy from the Father differential one or other son copies. By default it is performed once a day, so by that, it is also (usually) the smallest one of them. You can decide for how long you want to keep those copies, but usually, they are kept for a week or two. Because if you are looking to restore data from like 3 weeks ago, you have father copies available.

Grandfather-Father-Son – a full backup policy

Having those three types of backup connected in one scheme allows admins to save many backup copies while maintaining a high level of data protection. By saving storage space admins can also keep backup copies for a much longer retention period. 

Keep in mind that to use the full potential of the GFS backup scheme you need to keep your backups on a very strict schedule. You need to create copies every month, every week, and every day if you want to be fully protected. 

Only with that strict schedule comes great data protection. Moreover, this way of creating copies allows for a very quick recovery in case of any disaster. In the worst-case scenario, you only need 8 copies to fully restore your data. 1 full copy – the Grandfather, 1 differential copy – the Father, and 6 incremental copies – Sons. 

Problems with the GFS backup scheme

While the GFS backup scheme is a great solution for the long-term retention of your copies, But it comes with some limitations too. Let’s discuss this in detail. 

Let’s assume that we use the GFS backup scheme to rotate our copies. We create full copies once a month and keep them for 12 months. We create differential copies, once a week, and keep them for 4 weeks. And we create incremental copies, once a day, and keep them for 7 days. 

So if we put the backups available for recovery on the calendar it will look something like that:

If we create a file on Monday in October, and then delete it on Wednesday, in the long-term this file is lost, and we are not able to recover it. 

How does Xopero ONE GFS backup works 

Let’s take a look at how you can set up the GFS backup scheme using Xopero ONE.

Xopero One allows users to flexibly set up every level of copies, whether they want to create backup every year, every two months, or even more often. And it doesn’t matter what type of copy users are setting up – full, differential, or incremental. 

They can adjust how often, and at what time the copies should be created, and for how long they should be retained. 


The GFS backup scheme is a great solution for keeping an organization protected on a very high level, additionally offering smart storage management and long-term retention. But it comes with the cost that the older the copies are, the less granular the recovery process becomes. In this case, users need to choose which is more important: better long-term storage management or the full protection of data. 

Let’s not forget that the use GFS – or FIFO – backup scheme provided by Xopero ONE presents you with the tools to utilize the full potential of those rotation schemes, giving you full control over retention, schedule, storage, and many more!