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May 13, 2003

By Karen Kenworthy


It was an exciting weekend, here at the secluded Power Tools workshop. Between tornados, my nephew, terrific Tom, graduated from High School. It seems like only yesterday I could hold "Little Tommy" in my arms. Today he's a strapping young man with healthy interest in cars and girls. And a worrisome interest in computers. :)

Replicator Grows Up

As it happens, one of my babies, Karen's Replicator, has graduated too.

Since its birth just a year ago, this program has become one of our most popular Power Tools. As its name suggests, it replicates files and folders -- automatically copying your important data to backup locations in another folder, on another drive, or even, another computer,

I must admit I've been surprised by the number of uses folks have found for this little tool. Some ask the Replicator to backup frequently-changed files several times a day. Others let the program synchronize two computers, making sure both always have the same versions of important files.

The Replicator can distribute new data files and programs, copying them throughout a network. And it's been used to "repair" drives, replacing missing or corrupted files with intact copies from a master disk.

And like all popular programs, the Replicator's garnered a lot of suggestions, recommending ways to make the program even more useful. As I expected, many folks want the Replicator to do more. And a few want the program to do less. Fortunately, these two goals aren't incompatible. And I hope they were met in a major new version of the Replicator ...

What NOT To Copy

That's right! The new Replicator lets you to optionally specify which files it shouldn't copy. Now you can order the program to bypass temporary files, and other files whose contents don't need to be saved.

To see this new feature in action, let's recall how we tell the Replicator which files to copy. Start by selecting the drive or folder containing the files to be replicated.

When making this selection, you can make a few additional choices. For example, one option automatically selects all subfolders beneath the original folder too. Other options determine whether all files in the selected folder(s), or only files that have changed, will be copied.

Finally, specify a "File Filter". Now we're done. Only files that "match" this filter, and are located in one of the selected folders, will be copied.

Simple, right? Well maybe. But what is a File Filter?

As you've probably guessed, a "File Filter" filters files. It separates files into two groups: those that pass the filter, and those that don't.

The Replicator uses File Filters to decide which files will be duplicated or replicated. Files that pass through the filter are copied. All other files, those the filter rejects, are skipped, left alone and un-cloned.

What does a File Filter look like? It turns out this bit of text looks a lot like a filename. In fact, every filename is also a perfectly good File Filter. For example, a filter might look like this:


To see if a file will pass through a filter, just compare the filter to the file's name. In the case shown above, only files named "Expenses.xls" will pass through the filter, so only files with that name will be copied.

But most File Filters aren't merely filenames. They usually include one or more "wildcards", characters a filename cannot contain. There are two different wildcards: asterisk ("*"), and question mark ("?").

Normally, a file passes through a filter only if every character of its name exactly matches every character in the filter. But wildcard characters punch "holes" in a filter, letting more files pass through.

A question mark matches any single character in a file's name. For example, the filter "Week ?.doc" passes files named "Week 1.doc", "Week 2.doc" and "Week X.doc".

To make a filter more porous, add more question marks. The filter "Review.???" passes files named "Review.xls", "Review.doc", and "Review.ppt". In fact, it will pass every file whose name consists of "Review.", followed by any three-character filename extension.

You can punch even larger holes in a filter, by adding an asterisk. A single one of these little characters will match several filename characters at once.

Consider the filter "Invoice*.xls". Through this filter will pass files named "Invoices - January.xls", "Invoices.xls" and "Invoiced but Not Paid.xls". It will also pass every other ".xls" file whose name begins with "Invoice".

Even better, try this filter: "*.*". Thanks to it's full complement of asterisks, this filter passes every file regardless of name.

OK. But how do you tell the Replicator what NOT to copy? It's easy. Placing a checkmark in a new check box labeled "Exclude files that match filter(s)" turns a filter inside-out.

Think of it now as a filter from a parallel universe, one that's a mirror image of our own. Files that would have passed through the filter, and been copied, will now be skipped. Files which previously were blocked will now be replicated.

To see this nifty feature in action, imagine a filter that looks like this:


Normally, this filter only passes files with names that end in ".bak". But tell the Replicator to exclude files that match, and the filter is reversed. Now the filter passes, and the Replicator copies, all files EXCEPT those whose names end in ".bak".

When Not To Copy

Yes, the Replicator can now take a vacation. This new feature lets you order the program to stop copying a group of files for days at a time.

The Replicator has always given you considerable control of when copies are made. For example, you can order the program to backup some of your data once a day, perhaps at 5 p.m. Very important and frequently-changing information might be copied every five minutes, while other files are replicated weekly, or even monthly.

The new Replicator preserves all these options. Plus it lets you specify the days of the week when a file, or group of files, will be skipped.

For example, suppose you want email files copied only during the weekend. Other data must be duplicated every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Yet another group of files can't be replicated on the last day of the week.

No problem. Tell the Replicator about each job, as before. But now include the appropriate weekday schedule for each job. If a job would normally run on one of its days off, the Replicator simply reschedules the work for the job's next permitted work day!

There's a lot more to say about the new Replicator. Cool stuff like the new color-coded log file. A new feature lets you run the Replicator from the command line. The program can even create desktop shortcuts that instantly run one or more jobs. But we'll have to wait until our next get- together.

Until then, if you'd like to learn give the new Replicator v2.0 a try, visit its home page at:


As always, the program is free (for personal use). Programmer-types can download the program's free Visual Basic source code too!

Or if you prefer, get the latest version of every Power Tool, including the new Replicator, on CD. The disc also includes three bonus Power Tools, not available anywhere else. You'll also find every back issue of my newsletter, and a few articles, in the CD's library. It even includes a special license that lets you use your Power Tools at work.

Best of all, buying a CD is the easiest way to support the web site and this newsletter. To find out more about the CD, visit:


Until we meet again, if you see little Tommy, give him a pat on the back. And if you see me on the 'net, or in the secluded Power Tools storm cellar, be sure to wave and say "Hi!"