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.

Complete Guide to Mac Backup

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

Incremental macOS 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.

There are a some 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.

Full Mac HD clone backup

The other prevalent 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 to get back up and running again quickly should a 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 — Disk Utility, Get Backup Pro, and Disk Drill being the most popular ones — you can reconnect it to your Mac and update 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.

How to clone Mac drive using Restore option of Disk Utility

Disk Utility is a default tool that comes pre-installed on your Mac. To use it to clone your drive, follow these simple steps:

  1. Open Disk Utility on your Mac from Utilities or Applications
  2. Click Erase at the top of the Disk Utility interface
  3. Choose a media on left panel to mark your backup drive
  4. In the drop-down list with Format options, choose macOS Extended (Journaled). Hit Erase again and wait for the drive to remount on Mac.
  5. Click Restore
  6. Select the target drive which has to be cloned. Drag and drop it at the Source field.
  7. Drag and drop the destination Disk/Drive and leave it at the Destination field
  8. Hit Restore. The contents of the drive will be copied and saved on the destination drive

Clone hard drive with Disk Utility

Note: The backup copy created using Disk Utility is not bootable.

How to make bootable disk clone with Get Backup Pro

Get Backup Pro can serve as a great companion to Time Machine for its extra features like creating bootable backups using disk cloning functionality. So you can copy one entire drive to another drive, and boot from the copy in an emergency. You can simply boot from the cloned drive and be up and running again in minutes. And one more feature: you can update your cloned volume.

  1. Plug the external hard drive into your Mac, go to the Setapp and run Get Backup Pro
  2. Create a project with the "+" button. Then, use the drop-down menus to specify the source location
  3. Choose an external location where the clone will be stored. You can then manually select which files you'd like to clone and press the large Play button.

Clone hard drive with Get Backup Pro

Try Get Backup Pro for free to clone your disk volume to get a backup disk that can be booted up at any moment, whether you have new APFS or traditional HFS+.

Tips for cloning an HD with Disk Drill

Disk Drill is one of the most popular apps for protecting, recovering and backing up your data. Although intuitive and easy to use, there are some tricks to help you get the most out of it.

When Disk Drill warns you that the external hard drive does not have enough space, either free up space on the external drive by deleting files or find another hard drive with more space. If there is sufficient space, Disk Drill will begin backing up your Mac, making an exact copy of your hard drive on the external drive. This process is time-consuming, so sit back and relax while Disk Drill does the heavy lifting.

Once the copying process is complete, you will have a large DMG file on your external drive that has the name of your main hard drive. This Mac data backup is an exact copy of the data on your hard drive. Everything is included in this file, even live files and "empty" sectors that need data recovery in order to be read. 

Note: if you need to get you clone updated you should create DMG file regularly.

How to create a backup with Time Machine

Time Machine is built in to every Mac and is the common 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. After you set up Time Machine, it makes backups automatically hourly for the past 24 hours, daily for the past month, and weekly for all previous months.

  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.

Back up a Mac with Time Machine

While Time Machine is the most accessible data recovery tool, it does have its limitations, which make professional robust tools like Disk Drill,  Get Backup Pro and ChronoSync Express more attractive:

  • Time Machine saves your data every hour, though it only keeps the last backup made in a day. Then, it only keeps the daily backups for a month before just keeping weekly snapshots.

  • It can't create bootable backups. You can only restore damaged drives from the Time Machine archive.

  • It only works well to backup your primary internal hard drive and will fail for some external and network drives

  • It has no easily readable, user-accessible log file

  • It has no diagnostic or feedback system for checking the integrity of your backups.

Using Time Machine on two hard drives

You can use Time Machine to backup to two different hard drives, or more if you like. Time Machine will rotate the schedule among the drives so that it backs up to each disk in turn and will backup everything that's changed since the last backup was stored on that disk. You can switch disks before entering Time Machine - hold down the Option key, then choose Browse Other Backup Disks from the Time Machine menu. If you work in different locations, you can keep different disks at each location, giving you additional security.

How to back up with Get Backup Pro

As is the case with most apps, there are options other than Time Machine when it comes to backups. Get Backup Pro is a reliable and versatile utility, giving you a variety of backup choices, including the ability to transfer your data to any computer, regardless whether they have the app.

How to backup Mac with Get Backup Pro app

  1. Install Get Backup Pro(with a free trial).
  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.

Synchronize folders with ChronoSync Express

Sync folders and files

ChronoSync Express 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.

ChronoSync Express, however, 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, the app allows to synchronize files between Macs.

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

How to backup a Mac to an external hard drive

There are good reasons for backing up a Mac to an external hard drive. It's more reliable than wirelessly connecting to a Time Capsule or NAS and more secure than using a cloud service.

You should make sure your external hard drive is at least the same capacity as the disk you want to back up. And use the fastest connection available on your Mac. On newer Macs that's USB-C or USB 3. On older models, Thunderbolt or FireWire.

If you use a Mac laptop, you'll want a portable drive. If not, a desktop external hard drive is perfect. Make sure you erase the drive and format it using APFS if you're running High Sierra or macOS Extended if you're running an older OS version.

Then follow any of the procedures above, either using Get Backup Pro, Time Machine, or ChronoSync Express, and select the external hard drive as the target for your backup.

How to move photos library to an external HD

  1. Quit Photos
  2. Navigate to your Pictures folder and drag the Photos library file to your external disk.
  3. Launch Photos while holding down the Alt (option) key and select Other Library. Navigate to the Photos library on your external HD.
  4. If you see a message warning you about incomplete items, click Delete Incomplete Items.
  5. In Photos, go to the Preferences menu and in the General tab, click Use as System Photo Library.
  6. If you want to use iCloud Photo Library, go to System Preferences, click on iCloud then "options" next to Photos and check the box next to iCloud Photo Library, if it's not already checked.

How to connect multiple external hard drives

There are three ways to connect multiple external hard drives to your Mac:

  1. Use separate ports for each drive, if you have enough of them. Just plug the drives in and you should see them mount in the Finder. If not, run Disk Utility and mount them. You may have to erase and reformat the drives.
  2. Buy a USB hub or Thunderbolt dock. Hubs and docks have several ports, allowing you to plug in multiple hard drives. If they have their own power supply, they can also provide power for portable drives.
  3. Daisychain the drives. If your Mac has a FireWire port, you can connect one drive to another in a chain. It's not an ideal solution as all the drives will be using the same bandwidth, but it works.

All in all, having a reliable backup strategy should be your priority, as you never know when disaster strikes. Try a few approaches, including apps like Get Backup Pro and ChronoSync Express from Setapp, and find the ideal setup that works for you.


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