How I Do Offsite Backup To A Friend's Computer Using CrashPlan

How I Do Offsite Backup To A Friend’s Computer Using CrashPlan

CrashPlan Backup To Friend

By now you know that if you are going to be going paperless, backing up your documents is critically important. At the very least I recommend having a local backup on an external hard drive, but ideally you should have at least two backups: one local, and one offsite.

For offsite backup, using an online backup provider is becoming more and more popular, but what do you do if you don’t want your data stored on some company’s server somewhere?

I have a friend in that situation, so we decided to use one of the free features of CrashPlan: it allows you to do encrypted backups to a friend or family member’s computer.

Here’s what we did: I gave him a hard drive to plug in to his computer, he gave me a hard drive to plug into my computer, and then we set Crashplan to backup to each other’s house.

Why Not Just Carry Over A Hard Drive?

A common method of doing offsite backups is to save your stuff to an external hard drive, and then give that hard drive to someone trusted. Then do this on some sort of regular basis. If you ever experience a data loss, you just go get the drive and you are good to go.

The problem with this method for me is that any time something involves manual steps, I know I probably won’t do it consistently. I need things (especially backup) to be automated.

Isn’t CrashPlan Online Backup?

Yes, CrashPlan does have an online backup service called CrashPlan+ (which I do use), but the features I am talking about here are part of the free CrashPlan client software. You can back up to an external hard drive, another computer on your network, or even a friend or family member online.

Seed The Backup

Anyone who has done online backup will be familiar with our first challenge: backing up gigs and gigs of data can take an extremely long time. Neither of us felt like waiting weeks for this to be done, but fortunately we were able to seed the backup first.

What does seed mean? We did the backup first locally. I plugged my drive into my Macbook Pro, created a new backup destination for the drive, selected what I wanted to back up, and then let CrashPlan go to town. Since the drive was connected to my computer, it was very fast. He did the same on his computer.

Exchange the Drives

Once we had both done the local backup, it was time to exchange the drives. Farmhand Ale may or may not have been involved in this, and I think it is safe to say that we were the only ones in the pub that day exchanging hard drives while watching the Top 10 Crazy Hockey Moments Of All Time on TV.

Attach The Archive

Once I had his drive back home, I installed the CrashPlan client software on my Mac Mini and plugged in his drive.

I then fired up the CrashPlan client, logged in with my CrashPlan ID, and then went to Inbound and then Attach an Archive.

CrashPlan Attach An Archive

It then brought up a dialog box where I could navigate to his drive and the CrashPlan folder:

CrashPlan Find Folder

After that, it added his drive’s backup folder as an Inbound backup source to my CrashPlan, and automatically connected over the Intertubes to his CrashPlan client. After a few minutes, everything was all synchronized up and he could back up to his drive at my house going forward.

He did the same with my drive, and now I can see my drive at his house as a CrashPlan destination:

CrashPlan Destination

I Don’t Want My Friend Snooping Through My Stuff!

To be honest, I was really looking forward to poking through my friend’s bank and credit card statements. Unfortunately for me, CrashPlan encrypts everything before upload, which means when I go to look at his drive (and I have), I just see a bunch of nonsense. I can’t actually see his files.

Backup Folder


The only downside to doing an automatic online backup to a friend or family’s computer is that the receiving computer needs to be on for this to work. For us that is not a problem because we both have Mac Minis hooked up to our TVs (all hail Plex), but if you don’t have an always-on computer situation, you can go into the CrashPlan settings and control which times you allow backups to be performed and received.

This is one way to do offsite backups to a friend’s place and it is working great for us so far. How about you? I’d love to hear the ways that you do offsite in the comments.

(Photo by heydrienne)

About the Author

Brooks Duncan helps individuals and small businesses go paperless. He's been an accountant, a software developer, a manager in a very large corporation, and has run DocumentSnap since 2008. You can find Brooks on Twitter at @documentsnap or @brooksduncan. Thanks for stopping by.

Leave a Reply 22 comments

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How I Do Secure Offsite Backup For Free To A Friend’s Computer? | - June 1, 2013 Reply

[…] How I Do Offsite Backup To A Friend’s Computer Using CrashPlan | Tips To Learn How To Go Paperless…. […]

Tom - June 19, 2012 Reply

All that seeding and trading with your friend sounds great. Now say you have a disaster and you want to restore everything. Can your friend give you back the drive, you hook it up locally and restore? Or do you need to restore `through` your friend as a restore source? I can`t see how to bring the media from a remote destination and grab it locally.

    Brooks Duncan - June 19, 2012 Reply

    Exactly, if something happened I would go grab the drive, attach it using the CrashPlan software, and restore it locally.

      Koffe - August 25, 2014 Reply

      Hello Duncan, just curious, are you still satisfied with this way of backing up? Looking for a similar solution.

      Regarding above reply on restoring your grabbed drive locally, how does this exactly work in the crashplan software? When you connect the hard drive to your computer, does crashplan recognize it immediately as containing your backup?

        zak - May 30, 2016 Reply

        A little late of a reply, but you have to re attach it through the application to then use it locally but yes you can restore with the drive locally!

DocumentSnap Time Machine | Tips To Learn How To Go Paperless | DocumentSnap Paperless Blog - April 29, 2012 Reply

[…] How I Do Offsite Backup To A Friend’s Computer Using CrashPlan I still do this. Haven’t had to restore from it, thankfully. It is very handy to have an automatic, offsite, but local backup. […]

Ron - January 12, 2012 Reply

So I have finished my "local backup" of my LAPTOP and it is sitting on one my my SERVERS at work (which I control). I have installed Crashplan on the server as well. What do I do next to get my LAPTOP to connect to the SERVER and pick up the seed?

I am making an assumption here:

1. Remove the local drive destination in Crashplan from my LAPTOP.
2. Attach the archive from the local drive to Incoming on my SERVER.

Then what?

    Brooks Duncan - January 19, 2012 Reply

    Hi Ron, that should be it. CrashPlan's client software should then connect to the CrashPlan software on your laptop (assuming there are no firewall issues), find it, and then the backup should start over the network or Internet.

CrashPlan Goes Mobile | Tips To Learn How To Go Paperless | DocumentSnap Paperless Blog - October 11, 2011 Reply

[…] I have been using CrashPlan for a few months, both as my online backup solution as well as an offsite backup at my friend’s house. […]

Albert - September 18, 2011 Reply

I was thinking, if for whatever reason Crashplans service becomes offline and you needed files from your friends backup you would be screwed due to the encryption. So if hackers bring-down crashplan or the company fails you and your friend would be out of luck right?

Not trying to be negative here just trying to find a better way for my personal use. So far I think I will leave a truecrypt volume on my works office and configure DYNDNS and both routers so I can robocopy or rsyns the files over.

    Mike Evangelist - September 19, 2011 Reply

    If something happened that caused CrashPlan's servers to be offline permanently, you would need to back up again. We believe the advantages of strong encryption outweigh the risk of this very unlikely situation. No matter what happens, no one else would be able to get your data.

    Mike – CrashPlan marketing guy

    We been in business for ten years and are profitable and growing. We don't plant to go anywhere.

      Brooks Duncan - September 19, 2011 Reply

      Thanks for responding so quickly Mike. I also checked with CrashPlan support and this is what they had to add:

      "You do need an active connection to the internet to be able to restore data, but not due to the encryption. The Software must authenticate with the CrashPlan servers to begin a backup or a restore. If our service ever went out of business, we would release the software so it did not have to authenticate to restore, but we are big on security so we have to check each connection to ensure that it is secure with our authentication."

      So there you go. By the way, very impressed with CrashPlan's responsiveness in answering these questions.

        None - December 19, 2011 Reply

        Can you imagine the upheaval that might occur if the company went bust?

        I would imagine that releasing a client that “did not have to authenticate to restore” would be fairly low down in the priority list of its employees (or former employees).

        If such a client, or functionality, already exists then I believe that it should be made available.

          Brooks Duncan - December 19, 2011 Reply

          Not a bad point, though I always recommend having multiple backups and not relying on just one destination, especially when a third party is concerned (as you rightly point out).

JustaguyOK - August 19, 2011 Reply

Do these "seed" drives have to stay connected to the host machine, or do you get the option of incorporating the seed data to internal storage and keep the sync going from that? I only ask because it doesn't seem ideal to leave the USB drives permanently connected to each others computers.

    Gary - November 24, 2011 Reply

    Before "attach the archive", I copied the directory of files to the friends computer drive "D:". Then removed the 'seed' drive and followed the instructions for attaching. Seemed to work fine, but the settings were set such that it was going to do backups to the default directory "C:", so I had to change the settings to use the folder on "D:" and that seems to be working just fine.

      Brooks Duncan - November 25, 2011 Reply

      Thanks for the tip Gary!

pendolino - May 14, 2011 Reply

i've been trying to decide between crashplan and backblaze and seem to be leaning towards the former but an important aspect has recently cropped up in the news and that is data access.

its important that NO ONE can access sensitive data no matter who asks for it and this, as far as i am aware, can only be done if only the user has control of their private keys that are used to encrypt the data BEFORE transmission to the server.

dropbox has recently been in the news for this matter and i am paying closer attention to this since you never know when an unscrupulous employee could find a way to access your data even if their rules dont allow it.

any thoughts on this matter?

    Brooks Duncan - May 14, 2011 Reply

    It just so happens that I wrote a post on exactly this topic recently:… . It should have some options for you. I am not sure about Backblaze, but I know Crashplan does encrypt locally, so (the company says anyways) they have no ability to get at your files. They take pains to point out that if you forget your passphrase, you are screwed because they can't help you.

      nobody - March 29, 2012 Reply

      thats not true… they can restore your password and you can log in again… we have few crash plan servers (Inhouse) and you can restore the password of the user… so no problem if you loose your password… and no problem for FBI NSA CIA and and and…

        Brooks Duncan - March 29, 2012 Reply

        Hi, uh, nobody. It depends on the level of encryption that you choose and whether CrashPlan has your key or not.

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