How to backup your Mac

We all know how important it is to back up our Mac on a regular basis. While macOS is more stable than ever and Mac’s hardly ever crash, it only needs one piece of software behaving badly to wipe out lots of precious data. And even if the worst never happens, many of us trash files only to discover later that we need them again. A backup of your Mac makes it easy to retrieve that file.

There are several different ways to back up a Mac, and for absolute safety, you should use all of them.

1. Incremental backup

This type of backup makes a copy of all your data the first time you run it then, at regular intervals, scans your Mac, identifies files that have been added or changed, and copies those to a backup file. This means that each run of the backup is quick and uses few resources, because it’s only backing up new or changed files.

2. Clone

The other main type of backup is a complete clone of your startup drive, usually a bootable version. This gives you a complete copy of your main drive and allows you too get back up and running again quickly should disaster strike. It’s useful when you install a beta version of a new macOS or when you’re doing anything on your Mac that might cause a problem for the OS. Depending on the tool you use to create the clone, you can re-connect it to your Mac and update it on a regular basis – making new copies only of files that have been added or changed. That means your clone is always up to date.

There are a few other things to remember when creating a backup strategy.

  1. Incremental backups only work if they run regularly so make sure you’re always connected to the drive on which the backup will be stored, so the routine can run automatically when it needs to.
  2. Make at least two backups and keep one off site. That could be on an external hard drive you take home from work every day, or, more likely, on a remote server or cloud storage service.
  3. Check your backups regularly. You should, say every month, make sure your backup routine is running properly and that you can restore from the latest backup without a problem.

How to create a backup with Time Machine

Time Machine is built in to every Mac and is the easiest way to create incremental backups. You can backup to an external hard drive connected by USB, Firewire or Thunderbolt, or to a supported network drive such as Apple’s own Time Capsule. Network attached storage devices are good places to store Time Machine backups.

  1. Go to System Preferences and click on the Time Machine pane. Click the padlock and type in your user password, then check the box ‘Back Up Automatically.’
  2. Click ‘Select Disk’ and navigate to the disk where you want backups to be stored. Select the disk.
  3. Click Options in the Time Machine window and if there are any folders you want to exclude from the backup, click the ‘+’ navigate to the folder then click Exclude.
  4. Click Save when you’re done to return to the main Time Machine window. Before you quit System Preferences, check the box labelled Show Time Machine in the menu bar. That way you’ll be able to monitor when Time Machine is running, be alerted to problems and quickly recover files when you need to.

How to back up with Get Backup Pro

  1. Install Get Backup Pro from Setapp, if you haven’t done so already. If it doesn’t launch automatically, launch it by double-clicking it in your Setapp folder.
  2. Click the left hand icon at the top of the sidebar and click the ‘+’ at the bottom of the sidebar to create a new backup project.
  3. Type a name for the backup project into the first box in the window that opens and give it a colour label if you want. The idea is that if you create several projects, you can easily identify each one.
  4. Next, in Backup Destination, choose whether you want to create a folder or a disk image (folder is the default option – only choose disk image if the destination drive is on a network, rather than directly attached). Then click the menu labelled ‘Select a Destination’ and navigate to the drive where you want to store your backup. Click Choose.
  5. To create a schedule for your backup, check the box labelled ‘On schedule.’ Then select the options you want to create the schedule. So, for example, to set the backup to run daily at 10pm, select ‘Daily’ from the menu and then set the time to ’22’ and ’00’. Click Ok.
  6. Now, you need to add folders to be backed up. Withe the backup project selected in the left sidebar, either click ‘File+’ to add files and folders, ‘Apps Data’ to add data from specific apps and locations in your user folder, or drag a folder or volume onto the main window.

Creating a backup with ChronoSync Express

ChronoSync Express, also available in Setapp, allows you to create backup routines in much the same way as Get Backup Pro – by selecting source and destination and then setting a schedule or running the backup manually. But ChronoSync Express also allows you to do something else – synchronize folders you specify between the source and destination. That means, instead of backing up from one drive to another, and copying either the full drive or files that have changed since the last backup – ChronoSync Express looks at both folders and can copy files in both directions to make sure the folder are identical. And, with the addition of ChronoAgent, allows to synchronize files between Macs.

That’s not a solution for backing up your Mac, but it is useful if you work on two or more Macs and want to have all your files available on each Mac.