The importance of regularly backing up your computer cannot be overstated. If you are like the majority of Mac users, there are a lot of very important documents and files that live on your machine’s storage devices. A catastrophic data loss could result in serious repercussions that can impact you in a variety of ways. It’s one of the dangers we need to accept if we want to reap the fruits of the digital world.

how to backup your Mac

Imagine what would happen to all of your digital photos and videos if your hard drive malfunctioned. Over time, it happens to the best equipment. Or if all of the documentation for your home business was suddenly destroyed by a big glass of soda that was inadvertently spilled on your computer.

The backup methods are not mutually exclusive, and to really protect your data you might want to consider creating multiple types of backups. Let’s find out how to backup your Mac to ensure that your precious data is safe in the event of an unforeseen event that leads to a data loss.

Reasons You Should Back Up Your Mac

It is considered a best practice throughout the computing community to regularly create backups. There are multiple reasons why you should adopt this activity to protect the valuable data stored on your Mac. Among the most important are:

  • 🛡️ Backups offer protection that can help you recover from unexpected data loss situations. They can be the only way to recover data from a lost Mac or one with a damaged hard drive.
  • 🍏 Backups can be used to recover user data after reinstalling macOS or when setting up a new Mac. 
  • 💽 Backups protect you in the event of a catastrophic disk failure or data loss on solid-state drives.
  • 🗄️ Backups provide a method for recovering historical copies of documents and files.

Storing Your Backups

When using Time Machine to create a backup or cloning your hard drive, you need to provide sufficient storage space on which to save your backup. You might be tempted to designate a partition of your main hard drive for this purpose but that would not be a good idea. The goal is to protect your data, and having a backup on the same physical disk as the original data does not fulfill that objective.

To adequately protect your data you will need to invest in a peripheral storage device such as a USB attached hard drive. You might choose to only attach this drive when performing backups or you can leave it connected to your computer at all times. If you want to run automatic backups, a device that is always attached will let your backups run with no manual intervention.


Method 1: Backup your Mac with Time Machine

There are many reasons that may have influenced your decision to purchase a Mac for your computing needs. One is the ease in which the advanced functionality of the machine can be harnessed by just about anyone. Your computer is full of features designed to make your computing life easier and more productive.

Backup your Mac with Time Machine

The engineers at Apple are well aware that it is important for them to provide users with a way to easily take quality backups of their system and data. To that end, they have included an excellent backup utility with your Mac operating system. It is called Time Machine and we are going to show you how to use it to protect your data.

Steps to Backup Your Mac With Time Machine:

  1. Connect your storage device to your Mac. Starting with macOS 11.0 Big Sur, the APFS file system is preferred for Time Machine backups. You can also use Mac OS Extended format (Journaled), Mac OS Extended (Case-sensitive, Journaled), and Xsan formatted disks. 
    Backup Your Mac With Time Machine
  2. After the storage device is connected you will be asked if you want to use this drive to back up with Time Machine. You can choose to encrypt your backup, and it is recommended that you do so. Then click on Use as Backup Disk. If your drive is not recognized automatically, open up Time Machine preferences and manually add the disk as a backup target.
    Use as Backup Disk
  3. Once the disk is selected Time Machine will immediately begin creating a backup. If it’s the , this will take some time to complete. The time required for subsequent backups will vary based on the number of new files or changes made to your system since the previous backup.
    backup my Mac with time machine

It really is that simple. Time Machine makes it easy for you to back up your Mac. It’s up to you to either leave the external drive attached or connect it periodically to allow the utility to protect your data.

How Time Machine Works

According to Apple, Time Machine will automatically make hourly backups for the past 24 hours, daily backups for the past month, and weekly backups for all previous months. As your storage device becomes full, the oldest backups are deleted so newer backups can continue to use the device.

This method of backing up, known as incremental backup, saves time and storage space by not making unnecessary duplicate copies of files. It does, however, save multiple copies of files that change, so you can go back to get previous versions as long as there is room on your backup storage device. For this reason, it is recommended that you obtain the largest storage device that you can so you can retain your old backup versions for a long period of time.


Method 2: Use Backup Software to Clone Your Hard Drive

The second method of backing up your Mac also requires the use of an external storage device to hold a clone of your hard drive. The external drive needs to be at least as large as your primary disk in order to be sure that there will be enough room to store the cloned copy.

A clone of your disk indicates that the disk is copied bit-by-bit to create an exact copy of your primary drive. Clones can be used as your main backup method and can also be instrumental in data recovery efforts by minimizing disk usage on a damaged drive.

Here are some ways to clone your Mac’s drives:

1. Clone your Mac with Disk Drill (Free)

Disk Drill software for Mac offers an easy & totally free way to clone your Mac. The tool can use the clone to enact data recovery functions or you can simply use it as a backup that is an exact copy of your original disk.

5 Steps you Need to Backup your Mac with Disk Drill:

  1. Download and install Disk Drill on your Mac.
    Disk Drill
    Data recovery for free
    Your Companion for Deleted Files Recovery
  2. Launch Disk Drill and select “Byte-to-byte Backup” from the left panel.Backup your Mac with software
  3. Select the drive to make a byte-to-byte disk image from.byte-to-byte disk image
  4. Connect the external drive that will hold the clone. Press “Create backup“. Disk Drill will warn you if there is not enough space for the clone. If there is no warning, the program begins to create the clone.free backup for mac os x
  5. Wait for the backup to be created.how to backup mac for free

It may take a while, but eventually the process will end and you will now have a large DMG file that contains the contents of your hard drive. This clone can be used for data recovery operations, or simply stored as a backup of your machine.

2. Clone a Mac with SuperDuper! (Paid)

Another tool that you can use to create disk image clones is SuperDuper!. It is an easy to use utility that can be downloaded for a free trial, with a paid version costing $27.95. It is a reliable application that can be used to protect your Mac’s valuable data.

3. Clone your Mac with Carbon Copy Cloner (Paid)

Here is another software utility that lets you create bootable disk images of your Mac’s hard drive. It works with all version of the macOS and will cost you $39.99 for a fully licensed version.


Method 3:  Back up Your Mac to an Online Backup Service

Recently a new method of backing up your computer has become available to individual users. Remotely backing up to the cloud offers the user some advantages over more traditional backup methods. Rather than use an external storage device that you furnish, when using an online backup service you use their storage.

There are many options available for performing online backups. We will take a look at a few of them and describe what they offer and their costs.

iCloud Drive

online backup with icloud

Free options:
Your Apple ID and password give you access to iCloud and a 5GB storage capacity. You can easily create a folder structure on your iCloud Drive and manually copy your files to the cloud location.

Paid options:
Based on how much data you will store in the cloud, you can upgrade your storage plan. With iCloud, you can obtain 50GB a month for $0.99 all the way up to terabytes at $9.99 each.

Google Drive

macOS backup with google drive

Free options:
Similar to iCloud Drive is the online storage offered by Google. When you sign up for a Google account you are given 15GB of free storage which can be upgraded as you need it.

Paid options:
100 GB will cost you $1.99 a month and a terabyte of storage will set you back $9.99.

Dropbox

mac backup with Dropbox

Free options:
Another online alternative that will allow you to backup your data is Dropbox. When you sign up for a Dropbox account, you can save any of your data to their online storage – you get 2GB for free.

Paid options:
An upgrade to 1 terabyte will cost you $9.99 / month; 2 terabytes – $19.99 / month.

You pay for the storage by the month and can use as much as you are willing to purchase. You are not constrained by the size of your storage device. Since you have backed up to an online location, your data is kept separately from your computer, ensuring that you can retrieve your data in the event of a catastrophe such as a fire or flood that may destroy the primary and backup copies of your data.

OneDrive

OneDrive online backup service

OneDrive is Microsoft’s consumer cloud storage platform and can be used to back up files on your Mac by using the following steps. You need a Microsoft account in order to use OneDrive. Once you have created your account, you can continue this procedure.

  1. Download the free OneDrive app from the Mac app store. It provides 5 GB of free storage for your Mac.
  2. Launch the OneDrive app and enter your Microsoft account credentials.
  3. Choose a location for your OneDrive folder.
  4. Copy or drag files and folders from your Mac to the OneDrive folder. 

Files copied to the OneDrive folder are backed up to the cloud and accessible from any of your devices with Internet access.

How to Restore a Mac from a Time Machine Backup

Backups are only useful when used to restore or recover data. Following is the procedure to recover data from a Time Machine backup. We will look at how to selectively restore files from Time Machine in the event of lost or deleted data. The selected files must have been included in one of your Time Machine backups for this method to work.

  1. Connect the device that contains the Time Machine backups to your Mac to make its data available for recovery.
  2. Open a Finder window that displays the storage location where the lost data was last stored. For example, if the missing files were last in the Applications folder, open a Finder window that displays that folder. There is no need to open a Finder window if the missing item was on the Desktop.
  3. Open Time Machine by clicking the Time Machine icon on the menu bar. Time Machine can also be started from Launchpad.Restore a Mac from a Time Machine Backup
  4. Use Time Machine’s arrows and timeline to browse the local snapshots and backups to find the items you want to recover. You can restore individual files or a complete disk from here.
  5. Select the items you wish to recover and click the Restore button. The restored items will be recovered to their original storage locations.how to recover Mac from a Time Machine Backup

Conclusion

As you can see, there are a multitude of techniques you can employ to backup your Mac. Failure to backup your machine leaves you exposed to data loss and all the problems that can result from such an event. If you are not currently backing up your Mac, choose one of the options above and start doing it today. You never know when a backup may be required to recover your precious files.

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Jeff Cochin

Jeff Cochin is a data management and recovery expert. He also serves as a technical writer, testing and reviewing tech solutions in various fields. Jeff Cochin is a professional data management, warehousing and recove...

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Brett Johnson

This article has been approved by Brett Johnson, Data Recovery Engineer at ACE Data Recovery. Brett has a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Systems and Network, 12 years of experience.