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What is a Computer Archive?

S. Gonzales
S. Gonzales

When someone refers to a computer archive, he or she usually is referring to a specific type of Internet archiving. This type of Internet archiving saves a snapshot of the index page of a website. However, it can also mean another type of Internet archiving in which posts or entries on a website are categorized and archived.

Creating an archive of a website's index pages can have many benefits. First, the website's history is documented and can be recalled at will. This can show researchers how the website has evolved through time. Legally, a computer archive might also be able to help those involved in legal disputes by serving as evidence. A computer archive can retain a lot of content, such as text, that would have been lost without the archive's effort to capture and store the website's index page.

Man holding computer
Man holding computer

Computer archives can also function within an individual website. If a website owner uses a particular software that encourages the act of archiving, like popular blogging software, a computer archive can be established with little to no effort on the part of the website owner. These post or entries might be automatically archived according to date or category after a specific amount of time or when the website owner manually designates them as being archive material. Some software allows users to edit posts or entries so that dates or categories are changed or added and archiving can take place.

An index page can be recalled through the use of a computer archive, but elements of the pages might not function as if they were on a live website. For example, links might be broken, audio can malfunction, and images might not show properly. The same can be said for video or other streaming content that requires a user's computer to connect to a host. Without a live host, content can remain inactive. When confronted with these types of limitations, users are reminded that a computer archive can really just be a library full of website captures, rather than a directory of functional websites.

A computer archive usually is collected and maintained by parties not intimately associated with the websites that they archive. Typically, the archivists are third parties who simply want to record the Internet's or a website's history. A computer archive can function and serve much like a digital library. It might even acquire regular patrons in the form of scholars, researchers or the general, curious public.

Discussion Comments


@hamje32 - I am going to be the contrarian here and insist that computer archive does in fact refer to backing up web pages. The article said that people “usually” use the term to refer to Internet web pages, and as someone who has worked as a webmaster, I can tell you that this is the case.

Yes, the term is general enough that it could encompass any kind of data archive, but “usually” it means backing up a site. That has been my experience.


@MrMoody - That’s correct. If you archive emails, for example, you’ve created a computer archive. Emails are made up of text files which are backed up. Periodically when I go into my email program I am asked if I want to make an archive of old emails—to save space—and if I say yes, the software compresses the files and puts them in a backup directory.

I suppose I could retrieve those emails from storage if I had to, but I’ve never tried that. However, the point is that the principle of an archive is that it is storage. Nowadays, much of the storage is online, but it could be local as well.


I don’t know if I buy the premise here. A computer archive is basically any archive of computer files. It could be disk storage, flash drive, a backup disk drive, an online backup service—and yes, indexing Internet pages.

These pages are said to be “cached” and sometimes you pull them up in the search engine results. I would guess that would be the sense in which the word “archive” is used here, but I don’t think the term should be limited to the Internet only. It has a much wider range of meaning.

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