How to Backup Files on a Mac Disk

It doesn’t take much time to learn how to back up a Mac computer—certainly less than what it takes to recover lost data. In this article, we describe multiple tried-and-tested backup methods so you can choose the one that fits your needs the best. Of course, it’s always a good idea to combine multiple backup methods for extra redundancy.

Backup DMG
How to Backup Data on a Mac Disk

Sooner or later, all hard drives begin to fail. Maybe opening files begins to take minutes instead of seconds. Maybe you start to hear strange noises coming from inside your Mac. Maybe you begin to see strange messages about corrupted files.

Instead of shrugging off these early warning signs, take action to back up data on Mac quickly. As long as your Mac is still running, you can use Disk Drill Mac data backup software to create an exact snapshot of the hard drive, also called a disk image, so that you can recover it later.

Disk Drill makes the creation of OS X backups quick and painless. The software copies every bit of data stored on the hard drive, including areas marked as free space, ensuring that even recently deleted files that haven’t yet been overwritten are not left behind. As such, it allows you to perform data recovery with Disk Drill and restore missing files right from the backup disk image.

Why You Should Back Up Your Mac

Data loss knows no mercy, and it has a tendency to come when you expect it the least. By regularly backing up your MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, iMac, Mac mini, or Mac Pro, you can avoid losing important files whose recovery otherwise wouldn’t be possible even with the best data recovery software.

Emptied Trash bin

Emptied Trash bin

Once emptied, the Trash bin folder, whose purpose is to temporarily store deleted files, can be recovered only using specialized data recovery software, and the results are not guaranteed, especially not when a TRIM-enabled SSD is part of the equation.

Erased or formatted partition

Erased or formatted partition

It doesn’t take much to make a mistake and accidentally erase or format a wrong partition. But with a complete backup at hand, you should be able to recover the entire content of the partition without any issues.

User error

User error

If only users never made any mistakes, data loss wouldn’t be such a widespread and costly issue. Unfortunately, users do make mistakes, which is why it’s so important to know how to backup MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, Mac mini, iMac, and Mac Pro.

Physical damage

Physical damage

Data loss can often be addressed using data recovery software, but not if its cause is physical damage. In such cases, your best option is to recover lost data from a backup.

Device theft

Device theft

Thieves are attracted to Apple devices as bees are to flowers. While a backup won’t give you your beloved MacBook back, it will at least make it possible for you to recover lost data.

File corruption

File corruption

Depending on its extend, corruption can make important files inaccessible, and it’s not always possible to repair it using first- and third-party tools.

How to Back Up a Mac with Disk Drill

Thanks to Disk Drill’s Byte-to-byte Backup feature, it takes just a few clicks to create a complete backup of your Mac and store it someplace safe. Should anything happen to your Mac, you will be able to restore all data with ease.

Step 1

Install and launch Disk Drill

You can download Disk Drill for free from its official website. The Byte-to-byte Backup feature is a free extra, so you don’t have to purchase a license to use it. To install Disk Drill, open the downloaded installer file and drag the Disk Drill icon to the Applications folder.

Install and launch Disk Drill
Step 2

Connect an external drive

Next, you need to connect a sufficiently large external hard drive to your Mac. The drive should be at least as large as the hard drive you want to back up, but it’s even better when it has plenty of extra storage space. With your external drive connected, you can go ahead and launch Disk Drill. Keep in mind that Disk Drill will ask for the admin password when launched for the first time.

Connect an external drive
Step 3

Create a byte-to-byte backup image

To create a byte-to-byte backup image, select the Byte-to-byte Backup feature from the left pane and choose the drive you want to back up. Click the Create backup button and specify where you want to store the backup file. When backing up a drive encrypted with the Apple M1/T2 security chip, Disk Drill will warn you that the backup image probably won’t be recoverable. Unfortunately, this is a downside of using full-disk encryption, and there’s nothing that can be done about it.

Create a byte-to-byte backup image

Other Ways You Can Back Up Your Mac

Byte-to-byte backup images created using Disk Drill make it easy to recover even from the most serious data loss situations, but they’re not your only backup option. Let’s take a look at five other ways you can back up your Mac.

Method 1

Manually Back Up Important Files to an External Storage Device

To back up important files so they can be recovered even if your main hard drive stops working, you actually only need a suitable external storage device, such as a USB flash drive:

  1. Plug in the external storage device to your Mac.
  2. Open Finder and navigate to the folder where the files you want to back up are located.
  3. Copy the files to the clipboard (CMD + C).
  4. Navigate to the external storage device.
  5. Paste the files from the clipboard (CMD + V).

Sure, there’s nothing convenient about manually backing up files like this, but the method doesn’t require any setup and it just works.

Manually Back Up Important Files to an External Storage Device
Method 2

Set Up Time Machine to Automatically Back Up Your Data

All Mac computers come with a backup application called Time Machine. You can configure this backup application to automatically back up your data to an external storage device:

  1. Open System Preferences.
  2. Go to Time Machine.
  3. Click Select Backup Disk.
  4. Choose a suitable backup disk and click Use Disk.
  5. Wait for Time Machine to create the first backup.

What’s great about Time Machine is that it gives you the ability to recover specific versions of backedup files.

Set Up Time Machine to Automatically Back Up Your Data
Method 3

Back Up to iCloud or Some Other Cloud Backup

It takes just a minute to back up files and folders to Apple’s cloud storage service, iCloud. Data in iCloud can be accessed from anywhere and any device, so recovering them is easy. To enable iCloud on your Mac:

  1. Open System Preferences.
  2. Click Apple ID.
  3. Select the iCloud option from the left pane.
  4. Sign in with your Apple ID if asked to do so.
  5. Enable and configure iCloud Drive.

Of course, you can use any cloud storage service you want—not just iCloud. Some of the most popular options include Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive, and Dropbox.

Back Up to iCloud or Some Other Cloud Backup
Method 4

Create a Bootable Disk Image Using Third-Party Software

Besides Disk Drill, there are various other third-party backup software solutions that can create byte-to-byte backups, and some can even create backups that are bootable.

One such third-party software application is Carbon Copy Cloner, whose latest version automatically uses Apple's proprietary APFS replication utility (ASR) to make an exact copy of the source.

Create a Bootable Disk Image Using Third-Party Software
Method 5

Buy a Network-Attached Storage (NAS) Device

A network-attached storage device, or NAS for short, is basically a file storage server that can be connected to your home network and accessed from any device on the same network. That’s right, NAS devices let you back up your MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, Mac mini, or Mac Pro to a remote location wirelessly using Time Machine or any other backup software.

These days, NAS devices are fairly affordable (at least considering what they can do), so the convenience they provide is well worth the investment. Popular manufacturers of NAS devices include Synology, QNAP, Seagate, WD, and Buffalo.

Buy a Network-Attached Storage (NAS) Device

Frequently Asked Questions

Updated on by Disk Drill Team

How do I back up files on my Mac?

You can back up files on your Mac using Apple’s own built-in backup feature, called Time Machine:

  1. Connect a suitable backup drive to your Mac.
  2. Launch System Preferences and then click Time Machine.
  3. Click Select Backup Disk and pick your backup drive.

Keep in mind that the first backup can take a long time to create, especially if you have many files on your computer.

What is the best way to back up my Mac?

Here are the best ways to back up a Mac computer in 2021:

  1. Best automatic backup solution: Time Machine
  2. Best for byte-to-byte backups: Disk Drill Drive Backup
  3. Back cloud storage: iCloud
  4. Best open-source: Duplicati
  5. Best proprietary: Carbon Copy Cloner

How do I back up my Mac to an external drive?

You can back up your Mac to an external drive using Time Machine, a built-in backup feature that lets you automatically back up your personal data:

  1. Connect your external backup drive.
  2. Open the Apple menu and select System Preferences.
  3. Choose Time Machine.
  4. Click Select Backup Disk and add the external backup drive.
  5. Check the Back Up Automatically box and close the Time Machine window.

In fact, Time Machine only works with external drives (and shared network folders), connected using either USB or Thunderbolt.

Can you back up a Mac without an external hard drive?

Yes, you can back up your Mac without using an external hard drive. There are many backup tools, such as the byte-to-byte feature included for free in Disk Drill, that let you save your backup to any suitably large storage device. Alternatively, you can also use a cloud storage service like iCloud, Microsoft OneDrive, or Google Drive.

Can I backup my Mac without using Time Machine?

Absolutely! You can, for example, use the byte-to-byte backup feature in Disk Drill:

  1. Launch Disk Drill.
  2. Select the Byte-to-byte Backup option from the left pane.
  3. Read the text and click “OK, let’s do it” if this is your first time launching the feature.
  4. Select the partition you would like to back up.
  5. Click the Create backup button and specify where you want to store the backup.

How long should a Mac backup take?

That depends entirely on the size and speed of your hard drive. If you have a Mac with a very large hard drive, then a full backup may take several hours, especially if the hard drive isn’t an SSD.

How do I manually back up my Mac?

There are many ways to manually back up a Mac, but it’s never a good idea to rely on just one backup method. Instead, you should combine several methods to achieve redundancy. Here’s an example of how you can do just that:

  • Create local backups of important files using Time Machine.
  • Use iCloud or some other cloud storage service for offsite backups.
  • From time to time, use Disk Drill’s backup feature to create a byte-to-byte backup of your system drive.

Disk Drill is a thorough scanner

Use Deep Scan feature for those times when there is hardly any file structure left. Disk Drill will scan through the raw data on your hard drive no matter if it is FAT, or NTFS, or something else. It will work file fragments into a single structure and will look for the binary signature of the lost files. Once Disk Drill recognizes a sought for file signature, XLS, DOC, AVI, MP4, JPG, and other formats recovery goes quite fast.

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