Picasa Backup: Protect Your Face-tagging & Geotagging

PicasaAwhile ago I recommended Picasa 3 to you. It’s fun and interesting and all that but there’s a little problem with backups. Picasa does offer the option of backing up your entire photo collection but it’s labour-intensive, inefficient and redundant. If you’ve been paying any attention at all, you should already be keeping at least one up-to-date backup of your entire photo collection. The issue here is backing up the work you do in Picasa.

Face Tagging, PicasaIf you’ve installed the latest version of Picasa, you’ve probably noticed that they’ve added some fun face-tagging to the mix, where all your people photos are divided up into individual faces. You can spend hours and hours adding names to them and then making face collages. You can spend even more hours adding geotags to all your photos.

And since we’re family historians and we just love organizing, it would be nice to know that our efforts are secure, not blown to the wind the next time our computer crashes or the next time we have to reinstall our operating system. This is something you should always consider when investing your time in cataloging files. Can you make a backup of it? Is your work going to be there later?

Picasa does provide a backup system, but I fail to see why anyone would want to use it. Regardless of how else you may already be making backups of your photo collection straight from your file folders, you would also have to burn your collection from within Picasa.  And keep on burning disks as you add and change information. I believe this is the only way provided for preserving the face-tagging information.

If you follow this file-path:

C:\Documents and Settings\username\Local Settings\Application Data\Google\Picasa2

you’ll come to a folder called db3. This folder is full of Picasa database files. The face-tagging, on the other hand, is in the .ini’s. You’ll see the .ini’s in your photo folders if you use Picasa at all. Those are created automatically and should be left the way they are. If you open one with a text editor after doing some face-tagging, you’ll see lines like this:


which represent the face-tagging information. The names the faces belong to are also in the .ini code. For instance, in the example above, 4310d561… is my father, in thumbnail form. The geotagging is also embedded in the .ini code. It sounds pretty good so far.

But here’s the problem. The names connected to the numbers in the .ini files are controlled by files in db3. If you need to run Picasa on another computer or retrieve your work after a computer crisis, you’re going to need a backup of db3. If you don’t have one, Picasa will still import your photos but everyone in your folder tree under People will be listed as  Unknown Person.

Folder Options, Windows

Your thumbnails will still be grouped the way you left them, but you’ll have to go through and rename all your friends and relatives. Even on a good day I’d find that really aggravating.

If you use online backup, add db3 to your routine.

If you’re using an external drive, I assume you’re also using some kind of backup utility to help you out with that. If not, try the free version of Syncback; it’s excellent. And make a backup set to include db3.

There’s another file in Picasa2 under Contacts called contact.xml that I believe is associated with using Picasa Web Albums. You might want to make a backup of that, too. But if you want to make sure you have everything, just back up the whole Picasa2 folder. Also back up the Picasa2Albums folder or you’ll lose any albums you’ve created.

(I’ve heard that syncing your files and contacts with Google Contacts and Web Albums will maintain your settings, but I haven’t tried it. And I wouldn’t believe a word I heard unless I tried it.)

If you’ve installed Picasa3 on another computer, you can copy the db3 folder into the Picasa2 folder to overwrite the default db3. If you can’t see where you’re going, click on Tools/Folder Options in any Windows window (such as My Pictures) and then click View/Show hidden files and folders. Same thing if you need to restore your work on your main computer.

Maybe someone with a home network could figure out how to make this synchronize. It’s not built-in and it’s out of my realm. I’m only interested in explaining the necessity of straight backups here. It’s really easy to get carried away with the cuteness of Picasa and not realize that underneath you’re heading for a ditch.

Make sure you’re running the same version number of Picasa on both computers when you copy the folders over. You may still have to go into Tools/Folder Manager in Picasa and let it re-find your photos, but your database work should be intact. This is only for emergencies. Set up a backup and then you don’t need to worry about it anymore. Or try not backing up these folders and let me know how it goes.

11 thoughts on “Picasa Backup: Protect Your Face-tagging & Geotagging

  1. JL Post author

    One more caveat. If you rename pictures outside of Picasa, you’ll have to delete the related folders using Folder Options, restart the program and add the folders back in. Then Picasa will rescan the contents.

    1. Lester Larrabee Post author

      Thanks for the tip. I just spent a lot of time going though 11,000 faces it detected and would not have been very happy if backup didn’t save the data. Nice to see you blogging more often again 🙂

  2. JL Post author

    Over at the Picasa Help Forum, there are quite a few frustrated people discussing backup and sync issues. I got so riveted by the conversation, I stayed up all night running back and forth between my desktop and laptop testing various things so I could give you accurate information. I had not run into any problems myself yet, but it suddenly occurred to me (around midnight) that I might.

    Obviously, running Picasa on more than one computer could be an issue, if you have to manually copy your db3 folder back and forth. Just mentioning in case it hadn’t occurred to you.

    In my experience, Google is not terribly interested in standards or anything else that would hamper their creativity, so it pays to not assume.

    On the other note, I find myself lately stealing hours from my official work for genealogy and my old photographs. I also had a note from my #1 co-researcher who’s suddenly come back from two years of hibernation renewed about chasing down this and that other old cousin so she’s contributing to my distraction.

  3. Jeff

    Sub-question re: Picasa2-to-Picasa3 upgrade.

    Is there some simple directions as to how to RESTORE my PAL files from P2 to my existing new installation of P3? I have those PAL files in the Google directory but they’re in a ‘re-named’ directory, I think “OldPicasa2” because I was following “one of those” discussions somewhere. It initially worked to restore the lost albums back to my at-that-time-existing P2 installation.

    But then . . . I took the bait and installed P3, and again lost the Albums, and I’ve not managed to get them restored to PAL3. Actually, some or all of the albums show up, they just don’t have the pictures in them. Can I still restore the PAL files to an earlier backup date? And if so, how? Or am I screwed?

    It seems with these old PAL files still in existence, labeled and stored “safely” (though yes, renamed to be in a directory called “OldPicasa2”) there must be a way to get Picassa3 to recognize my old PALs and retrieve their contents, right? But I don’t know how. There is the added confusion that the initial PAL files had been stored on my C drive, but I moved everything to an outboard hard drive. I know, I know, too much too fast. So I reapeat, am I screwed?

    I would be soooo grateful if someone has the magic to save me from this problem.

    1. JL Post author

      Yikes. That’s quite a tall order. The first thing I’m wondering is what are PAL files? My clueless answer is: If you have a backup of the PAL files, which it seems you do, and you know/knew what directory they lived in for Picasa 2, maybe you could try moving (a copy of) them to the same location in Picasa 3 and see if that works. But they may have messed around with re-coding the new version to the point where nothing is recognizable.

      Have you tried telling your troubles to the Picasa Group over at Google? There may be someone over there who recognizes your problem.

      Are you terribly attached to Picasa or open to moving on?

      I, personally, have taken Picasa right off my computer because it mucks around with IPTC in a way that I can’t stand. Since I spent hours and hours face-tagging, I saved a copy of my db3 folder just in case the day ever comes when Picasa gets up to speed with a standard that the rest of the world uses. I’m not holding my breath.

  4. Pontus Berg

    I also have problems with a number of \unknown\ people in the list. There is NO way to get rid of them. In my case they are all dupes – I have the same person already in an existing album and most often the very same picture has the same person there. (Same identifying frame obviously points to two different persons).

    I tried moving the pictures to another album – fail.
    I tried renaming them and merging with the proper contact – fail
    I tried deleting the \unknown\ person – fail
    I tried deleting the album – fail.

    So I have the Unknown in both the online contacts and also in Picasa and there seem to be no way I can force the pictures over to the right person.

    The contacts.xml is simply stupid! Why no an id in the normal contact list? Then the contact would follow.


    Is there no \database integrity checker\ that can be run to clear the integrity issues such as the above referenced one?

  5. Eric

    Requesting a simple solution to Picasa 3.6. I too reinstalled my system and then Picasa and restored thousands of photos, minus their people names and geotags. What should I look for in my backed up files and how would I restore this information?

    1. JL Post author

      I don’t have Picasa on my computer anymore so whatever I say is from rooting around in my memory and best guesses.

      First of all, it depends what you mean by ‘backed up files”. If you went through Picasa‘s own Backup process, then you should be able to use the Restore option to restore from disk. And it shouldn’t require anything else. This is the only ‘official’ way that Picasa provides and anything else is fudging it.

      If you didn’t use Picasa‘s Backup option, then this is the fudging option. If you backed up your db3 folder, then you need to have kept the ‘ini’ files in your photo folders because they’re an important part. I can’t guarantee this will work but what I would try, at this point, is to find the db3 folder in your new Picasa installation and overwrite it with your db3 backup folder. Or take the present db3 folder out and put the old one back in the same location. Your directory might look something like this so you can see clearly where the db3 folder goes.

      Picasa 2

      If you’ve reinstalled the same version of Picasa that you were using when you made the db3 backup this is more likely to work. If you’re working on an upgraded version of Picasa, who knows. But since you’re presently missing your people names and geotags I don’t think you can make it any worse.

      It looks to me like the ‘tagged’ folder contains the geotagging info so you might want to overwrite that one too.

      Please report back how this works for you. A lot of web traffic comes here looking for an answer.

  6. Jean-Michel


    I just followed your indications to transfer to my new desktop my Picasa 3.8 with more than 15000 pictures + tags and location.
    Upgrading from XP to Win7 I have simply copied the folders db3 and contacts
    * from C:\Documents and Settings\user\Local Settings\Application Data\Google\Picasa2
    * to C:\Users\user\AppData\Local\Google\Picasa2

    Then I copied all the folders containing the pictures with the .ini files. I even reorganized the folders structure.

    When I started Picasa again I had all my person tags and locations.

  7. tqmbill

    Thanks, JL. I knew there had to be a better way than the idiotic, wasteful backup ALL and restore. I would have “guessed” at the DB3 folder, but would have been wary that I would have missed something.

    I just did it with picasa v3.9 and it worked like a champ.


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