Preservation copies vs. Immutable records

Immutable Records vs. Preservation Copies

gimmaladmin Marketing

The need to secure a document for legal holds or to meet industry-specific records compliance is not a new concept for records managers. Historically, records managers had relied on the “immutable records” approach for ensuring compliant records management.

However, with the growing popularity of the “preservation copy” approach of securing records while allowing end-users to continue working on the documents, many are considering the differences between the two strategies to determine which is is the most effective. 

Immutable Records

An immutable record refers to a document or file that has been “declared” a record at some point in its lifecycle or was placed on legal hold for a specified reason. By doing this, a records management system will typically place a lock on that content. This prevents end-users from deleting or modifying the content itself for its metadata properties. 

Unless a consensus is achieved and a records manager can unlock the record, an immutable record remains protected from modification or deletion throughout the remainder of its retention period until it is ultimately dispositioned. 


  1. Visual representation of a padlock or other icon appears next to a record, giving records management teams assurance that the document is locked for modification from end-users. End users, however, can still view a record for reference.
  2. Original documents can be used for historical purposes because it is common knowledge that there has not been any modification since locking the record.
  3. It is harder to lose information through human error when a record is locked due to the inability to alter or delete the file.


  1. Beyond merely referencing the document, end-users can no longer use the document in a collaborative way. To edit an immutable record, the records management team would need to lift the lock, leading to potential changes in the record lifecycle plan.
  2. Because end-users are aware that content will be locked, it may cause end-users to go against official policy. This may result in creating copies outside the official records repositories, increasing the risk of unclassified information in the organization.

Preservation Copies

preservation copy is a versioned copy of a record created when the original record content or metadata is updated or altered. These copies are usually stored in a different location than the original document and can be viewed to see record content and metadata from any given point in the record lifecycle.

End-users are able to use the original document as the preservation capability continuously creates and saves copies to preserve each version of that record. Preservation copies ensure that all changes are documented separately from the original record until it is officially disposed of according to retention requirements.


  1. End-users can use their content at their leisure without worrying about it getting locked down.
  2. All versions of the record are preserved in a 1:1 manner.
  3. This takes the burden of end-users adhering to records management practices because management is done on the back end.
  4. Preservation copies adhere to the official lifecycle of the original record.


  1. The lack of a padlock or other icon may downplay the document’s importance to end-users.
  2. For those organizations who do not want end users to have the ability to alter records, this will certainly not be the method of choice.

Are Immutable Records or Preservation Copies Better?

Both methods are effective means of managing enterprise records. Each approach ensures that content remains in a particular state and is discoverable throughout the intended lifecycle. Ultimately the decision of which approach to use should be made with the end-users in mind.

Here are some key questions to consider when choosing an approach:

  • Could your records provide more value to your organization if end-users can alter and modify them?
  • How comfortable are you with moving away from the traditional approach of record locking?
  • How likely is it that your end-users will work around records management policy to continue to work on the content that may be deemed a record – creating potential risks in the case of litigation or eDiscovery?

Whether your organization decides on maintaining the traditional immutable records approach or determines that preservation copies are right for organizational requirements, Gimmal Records can support your records management strategy with comprehensive records management tools. With the ability to both declare records or create preservations, Gimmal’s tools can manage the entire lifecycle of records, regardless of the repository.

Want to learn more about preservation copies, watch the on-demand webinar: Records Preservation: Do You Need It?