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.
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.
Preparing Your External Drive
If you choose to back up your Mac to an external drive, you need to make sure that the drive is fully prepared. You should check two things before backing up your computer: whether there’s enough space in the external drive to fit all your data and whether the drive is of the correct format.
Here’s how to format your external hard drive to make it compatible with macOS:
- Plug in the external drive to your Mac.
- Head to Launchpad > Disk Utility.
- Choose your external drive from the sidebar.
- Click the Erase button.
- Type in a name for your drive and select the format (it’s best to choose the Mac OS Extended (Journaled) format).
- Click Erase to confirm, and when finished, click Done.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
Time machine on mac is a life saver— Seenz 🇯🇲 (@Seenzz_) March 10, 2021
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:
- Download and install Disk Drill on your Mac. Data recovery for free
Your Companion for Deleted Files Recovery
- Launch Disk Drill and select “Byte-to-byte Backup” from the left panel.
- Select the drive to make a byte-to-byte disk image from.
- 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.
- Wait for the backup to be created.
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.
Here’s how to back up your Mac with SuperDuper!:
- Connect your external drive to your Mac.
- Download SuperDuper! and follow the onscreen instructions to install the app and open it.
- Click the first dropdown menu and choose the drive that you wish to copy. Use the next dropdown menu to select the place where you wish to store the backup.
- Give your backup file a name and select a destination.
- Click Save to confirm.
- When ready, click Copy Now.
- Wait for the process to finish, and then eject your external drive.
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. If you want, it’s also possible to try out this application for free.
Follow these steps to clone your Mac with Carbon Copy Cloner:
- Download and install Carbon Copy Cloner on your Mac.
- Launch the app.
- Choose Tasks from the sidebar.
- Click the icon under Source and choose your main drive for the backup.
- Click the icon under Destination and select the location which you want to use to store the backup.
- If you want to schedule the backup for a specific time or change its frequency, click the icon under Automation and select the option that you prefer.
- When ready, click the start button on the bottom-right of the screen.
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.
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.
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.
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.
100 GB will cost you $1.99 a month and a terabyte of storage will set you back $9.99.
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.
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 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.
- Download the free OneDrive app from the Mac app store. It provides 5 GB of free storage for your Mac.
- Launch the OneDrive app and enter your Microsoft account credentials.
- Choose a location for your OneDrive folder.
- 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.
- Connect the device that contains the Time Machine backups to your Mac to make its data available for recovery.
- 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.
- Open Time Machine by clicking the Time Machine icon on the menu bar. Time Machine can also be started from Launchpad.
- 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.
- Select the items you wish to recover and click the Restore button. The restored items will be recovered to their original storage locations.
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.
Follow these steps to back up your Mac with Time Machine:
- Connect the storage device that will be used for the backup to your Mac.
- Open Time Machine by clicking on the clock icon on the Mac menu bar.
- If it’s the first time you are using the storage device, you may need to select it in Time Machine. Subsequent backups will automatically go to the device if it is connected when you start Time Machine.
- Select Back Up Now to perform a backup immediately.
- Open Time Machine Preferences to change the backup disk, choose folders to exclude from backups, or set Time Machine to backup automatically when the storage device is attached to your Mac.
Disk Drill enables you to create a byte-level backup of your Mac using the following procedure.
- Launch Disk Drill on your Mac.
- Select “Byte-to-byte Backup” from the left panel.
- Choose the drive or partition you want to back up.
- Click the “Create backup” button and select a target location where the data will be stored.
- Allow the process to complete.
Backing up a Mac takes a variable amount of time based on a few factors.
- If it’s the first time you back up the machine, the elapsed time will be directly influenced by the amount of data. More data equals a longer backup.
- Once the initial backup has been taken, the time necessary to back up a Mac will depend on the amount of data added to the machine as well as modifications made to existing files. The more changes you make, the longer a backup will take.
- The third factor in backup time is the location of the target storage device. A local backup taken with Time Machine to a USB attached external drive will usually be faster than an online backup that needs to send data over the Internet.
The best backup tools for Mac are:
- Time Machine – included with macOS, creates full backups of your Mac
- iCloud – accessible with an Apple ID, saves user data to the cloud
- Disk Drill – data recovery software with extra tools, creates byte-level backups
- Carbonite – an offsite backup service
- Google Drive – Save files and folders to the cloud
- DropBox – Save files and folders to the cloud
- OneDrive – Save files and folders to the cloud
Use these steps to backup data on your computer to iCloud.
- Go to Apple menu > System Preferences, then click Apple ID. If you’re using macOS Mojave or earlier, you don’t need to click Apple ID.
- Choose iCloud.
- Sign in with your Apple ID if prompted.
- Select iCloud Drive.
- Choose the items you want to be backed up to iCloud and select their checkboxes.
Yes, there are ways to back up the data from your Mac without an external hard drive. For example, you can use an online backup service such as iCloud to backup your computer. Or you can use a third-party app to create a bootable disk image of the hard drive and upload it to an online data storage service.
Since iCloud is available on all Macs, here’s how to backup your computer using this service:
- From the top menu on your Mac, click the Apple logo > About this Mac.
- Click the Storage tab.
- Click the Manage button.
- Click Store in iCloud.
- Choose whether you want to store on iCloud your desktop files, photos, or both. Click Store in iCloud to confirm.
Alternatively, you can simply drag and drop the files or folder that you wish to backup to iCloud Drive through Finder.
Yes, actually, that’s what iCloud was made for. You can safely back up all of the data from your Mac (photos, videos, documents, contacts, etc.) using this cloud storage service. And it is incredibly easy to set it up since iCloud is a native app on all Apple devices.
If you don’t want to use Time Machine to back up your Mac, you can use a specialized third-party app to clone your computer’s hard drive and upload it to an external storage device. For example, apps such as Disk Drill, SuperDuper!, or Carbon Copy Cloner can quickly get such a job done.
It depends on how much data there is to backup. For example, if this is your first time backing up your Mac and you’ve been using it for a while, it can take up even a few hours to complete the backup process. But if your Mac is relatively new and there are just a few files located on it, then the process should take only a few minutes.