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How to Back Up Your Data on macOS: 4 Safe & Easy Ways

Ensure your data safety with macOS backup methods.

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Last updated: December 10, 2023

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To back up your data on macOS, use one of these methods:

  1. Use Time Machine to automatically back up your entire system, including apps, settings, and files.
  2. Use iCloud to synchronize your files across devices and enjoy accessibility.
  3. Use an external hard drive to create a physical backup of your data.
  4. Use third-party cloud services, like Google Drive, Dropbox, or OneDrive.

I’ve learned the hard way that regular backups are not just a precaution but a necessity. So, I thought I’d put together a guide to show you how to back up your data on macOS. Whether it’s personal photos or work documents, these steps will protect your data.

Before We Begin

Backups can take a long time if your Mac has a lot of data. Download MacKeeper to use its Duplicates Finder feature to find and delete duplicate files and photos from your Mac. This will remove unnecessary files, and you can back up the important ones.

4 Easy Ways to Backup Your Data on macOS

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macOS offers not one, not two, but four different options for backing up your data. Let’s take a closer look at these backup options.

1. Back Up Your Data on macOS Using Time Machine

how to backup your mac using time machine

Time Machine, macOS’s built-in backup tool, automatically saves your entire system, including apps, settings, and files. It keeps hourly backups for the last 24 hours, daily for the past month, and weekly for each month. So, you can restore a previous version of a document when necessary.

Just follow these simple steps to set up and use Time Machine to back up your data on Mac:

  1. Connect an external hard drive or SSD to your Mac.
external hard drive connected to mac
Photo: Sarah Kobos
  1. Click the Apple icon in the menu bar and select System Settings.
click the apple icon and select system settings
  1. Click General and select Time Machine.
click general and select time machine
  1. Tap the Add Backup Disk button and choose the external hard drive you connected.
click the add add backup disk button in time machine
  1. Once selected, Time Machine will automatically start backing up your data.

How to Restore a Mac From a Time Machine Backup

Restoring your Mac, specific applications, or individual files is straightforward when you have a Time Machine backup. To perform a full or partial restoration, the Migration Assistant is the ideal tool, available on every Mac by default.

Here’s how to use Migration Assistant on your Mac:

  1. Connect your external drive to your Mac.
  2. Open Migration Assistant, located in the Utilities folder.
migration assistant in utilities folder
  1. Choose to transfer information From a Mac, Time Machine, or Startup disk.
  2. Select your Time Machine backup and click Continue.
  3. Select the data you wish to transfer and click Continue to initiate restoration.

Alternatively, Time Machine also allows you to retrieve a specific file version. Here’s how:

  1. Open the folder where the file was previously located.
  2. Click the Time Machine icon in the menu bar.
  3. Choose Browse Time Machine backups.
  4. Navigate back in time to the version of the file you need.
  5. Select Restore to recover the file.

2. Back Up Your Mac Data Using iCloud

ios15 iphone13 pro ipad pro set up apps and data hero

iCloud is a cloud-based backup option on macOS that securely stores your files, photos, and data online. Linked with your Apple ID, it lets you access your data from any device, anywhere, at any time, making it a convenient solution for keeping your information safe.

To set up iCloud and back up your data on macOS, follow these steps:

If you forget your Apple ID password, you won’t be able to access your iCloud backup. So, make sure you remember it.

  1. Click the Apple icon and select System Settings.
click the apple icon and select system settings
  1. Click your Apple ID and select iCloud.
click your apple id and select icloud
  1. Next, select iCloud Drive.
click icloud drive in icloud
  1. On the window that appears, tap the Turn On button if your iCloud Drive is not turned on. If it is on, click the Options button to see which apps are syncing to the Drive.
click options in icloud drive window
  1. You’ll see a list of apps. Check the little box next to each app to enable syncing to iCloud Drive. Then, click Done.
check all options you want to store in icloud

3. Back Up Your Mac Using an External Hard Drive

From my own experience, I’ve found that an external hard drive is a reliable partner for backing up my Mac. It’s a bit old school but keeps all my important files and folders safe.

Just a tip: these drives vary in size and storage capacity, so choose one that matches how much you need to store. Always ensure your drive has enough space and is formatted right for your Mac.

If you’re not sure how to format your drive on Mac to make it compatible, here’s how:

  1. Connect an external hard drive to your Mac. If your external hard drive is not showing on Mac, you may need to troubleshoot.
connect external hard drive to mac
  1. Open the Disk Utility application, which can be found in the Applications > Utilities folder.
launch disk utility from utilities
  1. In the left sidebar of the Disk Utility window, select the external hard drive you want to format and click the Erase button at the top.
choose your external drive from the sidebar and click erase
  1. On the confirmation pop-up, type a name for your drive and select Mac OS Extended (Journaled) as its format. Then, click Erase.
type in a name for your drive and select the format
  1. This will format the external hard drive and make it compatible with macOS. Remember that formatting the drive will erase all stored data, so be sure to back up important files before proceeding.

Now, follow these steps to back up your data to this drive:

  1. Connect the external hard drive to your macOS device.
external hard drive connected to macbook
Image Credit: Shutterstock
  1. Open Time Machine or your third-party backup software and select the external hard drive as the destination for your backup.
  2. The software will automatically begin backing your data to the external hard drive.

4. Back Up Your Data to Dropbox, OneDrive, or Google Drive

If you’re using a third-party cloud storage service such as Dropbox, OneDrive, or Google Drive, you can also use it for backing up your Mac. Below, I’ve shared the steps for each service.

a. Backup Using Google Drive

To use Google Drive for backing up your Mac, follow these steps:

  1. Download and install Google Drive on your Mac.
  2. After installing, follow the on-screen prompts to set up Google Drive on your Mac.
  3. Once the Drive is set up, click the Google Drive icon in the menu bar.
click the google drive icon in the menu bar
  1. Click the Settings icon and select Preferences.
click the settings icon and select preferences
  1. Click Add folder in the Google Drive Preferences window.
click add folder in google drive preferences window
  1. Select a folder you want to backup on your Google Drive and click Open.
select a folder from your drive and click open
  1. Select an option from Sync with Google Drive or Back up to Google Photos and click Done.
select an option to sync or back up to google drive and click done
  1. This will add the folder to the list. Click Save to start the backup process.
click save to start the backup process on google drive
  1. You can check the progress in the menu bar.
check the backup progress in the menu bar drop down

Once the files are backed up, you can open your Google Drive files from other devices, like a different Mac, iPhone, or iPad.

Remember, Google Drive is great for syncing files across devices, but it’s not the best choice for full backups.

b. Backup Using Dropbox

Here’s the process for backing up your Mac using Dropbox:

  1. Download and install the Dropbox desktop app on your Mac.
  2. Sign in to your Dropbox account.
  3. Click the Dropbox icon in the menu bar.
click the dropbox icon in the menu bar
  1. Open the Preferences from the dropdown menu or click Show me how on the Keep your Mac files backed up prompt.
click show me how on the backup prompt in dropbox menu
  1. Select a folder you want to back up and click Set up.
select a folder you want to back up and click set up
  1. Once the folder is saved, you’ll get a Your folders are set up successfully notification and Dropbox will begin backing up the data.
folder set up for backup on dropbox

c. Backup Using OneDrive

For backing up your Mac with OneDrive, follow these steps:

  1. Download OneDrive on your Mac.
  2. Sign in to your OneDrive account or create a new one.
  3. Access Preferences in OneDrive from the menu bar.
  4. Go to the Backups tab.
  5. Choose Manage Back up.
  6. Select a folder you wish to back up and click Start Backup.

How to Create a Bootable Backup of Your Mac

Besides regular backups, bootable backups for MacBooks are also great for protecting your data and system settings. A bootable backup is a full copy of your Mac, including a macOS installer. This means you can start your Mac with this backup, even if the macOS on your computer isn’t working.

Making a bootable backup takes more steps than regular backups, but it’s also more reliable. Before you can create one, make sure you have the following:

  • 💽 An External Hard Drive: It should be large enough to store all the data from your Mac.
  • 💾 Backup Software: Time Machine can create backups but not a bootable clone. Consider third-party software like Carbon Copy Cloner, SuperDuper!, or similar for a bootable backup.

Here’s a simple way to create one:

  1. Open Disk Utility from the Utilities folder.
launch disk utility from utilities
  1. Connect an external hard drive to your Mac.
  2. Select your hard drive and choose Partition.
select your hard drive and choose partition
  1. Click the + button.
click the plus button
  1. Adjust the partition size by dragging the circle.
  2. Provide a name for the partition and click Apply.
name the partition and click apply
  1. Next, use Terminal to get the installer. Type the following command and press Enter:
softwareupdate --fetch-full-installer
  1. Save the installer in one section of your backup drive.
  2. Use your preferred third-party software to back up your Mac to a different section of the external drive.

How to Clone Your Mac’s Hard Drive

Cloning your Mac’s hard drive allows you to create an exact copy of your current hard drive, including the operating system, applications, and personal files. This can be useful for backing up your data, upgrading your hard drive, or setting up a new Mac with the same settings and files as your current one.

Here’s a general guide on how to do it:

  1. Choose a cloning tool. Several software options are available for cloning a Mac’s hard drive, such as Carbon Copy Cloner, SuperDuper!, or Disk Drill. I will be using Disk Drill for this guide.
  2. Prepare and format your external hard drive. To do this, open Finder > Applications > Utilities > Disk Utility.
launch disk utility from utilities
  1. Select your external hard drive from the menu on the left.
  2. Click the Erase option in the upper menu.
choose your external drive from the sidebar and click erase
  1. Choose the Mac OS Extended (Journaled) format.
  2. Click Erase to complete the formatting process.

Pressing the Erase button will delete all the data on the drive. Double-check that you have chosen the correct new hard drive before proceeding.

type in a name for your drive and select the format
  1. Connect the external hard drive to your Mac. You can connect the external hard drive to your Mac with a USB, Thunderbolt, or FireWire cable.
  1. Launch Disk Drill on your Mac from the Applications folder.
double click the disk drill app in applications
  1. Click the Byte-to-byte Backup option in the left sidebar and tap OK, let’s do it in the right pane.
click byte to byte backup and tap ok lets do it
  1. Next, choose the hard drive you wish to clone and tap the Create backup button.
choose a hard drive to clone and tap the create backup button
  1. Select a name for the backup and designate the preferred location for storing it. By default, Disk Drill suggests a name for the backup, but you can customize it if desired. Click Save.
choose a name and location for the backup and click save
  1. Allow the backup process to complete. The duration will depend on the data being backed up, so it may take some time.

I backed up a mechanical hard drive instead of an SSD, which took approximately 4 hours despite the time displayed indicating just over an hour. If you have an SSD, the process will go faster.

  1. You’ll receive a Disk image created! notification once the backup progress reaches 100%.
  2. All your data is now securely cloned on your external hard drive.
  3. To locate the clone on your external device, click the Show results in Finder option. This feature proves useful if the original drive had any issues, allowing you to access and examine the backup.

Remember, avoid using your Mac for other tasks while cloning to prevent data corruption. Also, regularly update your clone to ensure it remains an accurate copy of your hard drive.

Delete Duplicates With MacKeeper to Save Time While Backing Up Your Data

Backing up your files can be time-consuming, especially if you have a lot of them. With MacKeeper, you can reduce the time a backup takes by deleting duplicate files. MacKeeper’s Duplicates Finder locates and deletes redundant copies of files, freeing up disk space.

Here’s how to use Duplicates Finder to delete duplicate files on your Mac:

  1. Download and install MacKeeper on your Mac.
  2. Open MacKeeper and select Duplicates Finder under the Cleaning section.
click duplicates finder in mackeeper under cleaning
  1. Click Start Scan.
click start scan in duplicates finder
  1. After the scan is complete, select an individual file or click Check All. Then, tap the Remove Selected button.
click check all and tap remove selected
  1. Tap the Remove button on the confirmation pop-up.
click remove on the pop up window in duplicates finder
  1. This will delete the selected files and display a Removal Completed message. Click Continue to end the process.
click finish in duplicates finder to complete the process

What Else Can MacKeeper Do?

Besides getting rid of duplicate files, MacKeeper has plenty of other features to optimize your Mac. You can use it to clear the cache on your Mac, block ads, run a virus scan, and remove login items. Read my detailed MacKeeper review to learn more about its features.

Why Should You Back Up Your Mac?

Backing up your data on macOS is crucial for several reasons. Trust me, you don’t want to learn the hard way. Here are some key reasons that prove you need a solid backup solution:

  1. 🛡️ Data Protection: Safeguard against data loss due to hardware failure, accidental deletion, or software issues, ensuring your important files are not permanently lost.
  2. 🦠 Recovery from Malware: In case of malware or ransomware attacks, having a backup means you can restore your data without succumbing to cybercriminals’ demands.
  3. 🕒 Version Control: Regular backups allow access to earlier versions of your documents, which is invaluable if you need to revert to a previous state or an update causes issues.
  4. 🚨 Device Loss or Theft: If your Mac is lost or stolen, a backup ensures you can still access your important files, minimizing disruption in your work or personal activities.
  5. 💼 Ease of Transition: If you decide to sell or give away your Mac and upgrade or replace it with a new one, backups make transferring your data, settings, and applications smoother.

Create A Back Up of Your Mac

Backing up your data is absolutely crucial to avoid accidental data loss. Here are some more tips for additional information about backing up and protecting your files:

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Can I back up my data on macOS without an external hard drive?

    Yes, you can back up your data on macOS without an external hard drive. You can use iCloud as a backup solution instead of an external hard drive. However, you’ll need an external hard drive to create a physical backup of your data.

  2. How long will it take to back up my data on macOS?

    The time it takes to back up your data on macOS depends on your data size and the backup solution you’re using. Time Machine and iCloud backups can take several hours, depending on the size of your data and the speed of your internet connection.

  3. What is the best backup solution for macOS?

    The best backup solution for macOS varies based on individual needs. Time Machine is user-friendly for most, while third-party software offers more customization. iCloud is ideal for cloud-based backups linked to your Apple ID.

Hashir Ibrahim

Author

I'm Hashir, a tech journalist with a decade of experience. My work has been featured in some of the top tech publications like MakeUseOf and MakeTechEasier. I have a bachelor's degree in IT, a master's in cybersecurity, and extensive knowledge of Apple hardware, specifically MacBooks. As the senior writer at MacBook Journal, I write in depth guides that help you solve any issues you have with your mac and unbiased reviews that help you make the right buying decisions.

Ojash

Reviewer

Hi there! I'm Ojash, a tech journalist with over a decade of experience in the industry. I've had the privilege of contributing to some of the world's largest tech publications, making my mark as a respected Mac expert. My passion lies in exploring, using, and writing about MacBooks, and I enjoy sharing my expertise to help others make informed decisions and get the most out of their MacBook experience. Join me as we delve into the fascinating world of MacBooks together!

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