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There are three types of variable data files to backup:

 * Database files

 * Configuration files

 * Log files

[[http://mail-archives.apache.org/mod_mbox/incubator-couchdb-user/200808.mbox/<32800028-9286-47C8-82A5-1ECC25667FDA@apache.org>|Couch-users discussion from Damien Katz - August 2008]]:

Actually, you can copy a live database file from the OS at anytime without problem. Doesn't matter if its being updated, or even if its being compacted, the CouchDB never-overwrite storage format ensures it should just work without issue.
For all platforms, locate your database, configuration, and log files and perform a filesystem copy. Be careful to preserve file permissions, too. Archive these files to wherever you want-- ideally on a different machine in a different physical location -- with appropriate security limiting access.

For example, here are the directories to backup for a [[http://wiki.apache.org/couchdb/InstallingOnUbuntu|CouchDB install on Ubuntu]]:

 * Configuration: /etc/couchdb/

 * Database files: /var/lib/couchdb/

 * Logs: /var/log/couchdb/

And to backup for a [[Installing_on_Windows|CouchDB install on Windows]] where ''%couch%'' is where you've installed or unpacked CouchDB:

 * Configuration: %couch%\etc\couchdb\

 * Database files: %couch%\var\lib\couchdb\

 * Logs: %couch%\var\log\couchdb\

'''Note:''' Before CouchDB 1.0 intermediate releases can have incompatible database file formats. For details on migrating those, see BreakingChanges.