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[Multiple Ways]How to Back Up Mac with or Without Time Machine

Updated on Thursday, June 16, 2022

iBoysoft author Amanda Wong

Written by

Amanda Wong
Professional tech editor

Approved by

Jessica Shee

How to Back Up Mac to Keep Your Files Safe

Summary: This is a tutorial on how to back up Mac. It introduces multiple ways to create backups for Mac, including Time Machine, iCloud, backup software, etc.

back up Mac

Table of Contents:

It seems that machine failures are inevitable to occur, and your Mac computer is no exception. It would be a nightmare if you haven't backed up your Mac when the Mac undergoes dreadful issues like MacBook won't turn onMac keeps restarting, etc., posing risks to the crucial files stored on your Mac. Therefore, backing up your Mac is of great importance to keep your files safe.

Why you should back up your Mac

Mac's malfunction is not the only reason to back up your Mac. In addition to that, we conclude some quite common scenarios you may encounter that will result in losing all the files on your Mac, including documents, photos, videos, notes, and so forth.

  • Hard drive failures such as corruption.
  • Physical damages on the startup disk.
  • Your Mac could get stolen or lost.
  • Virus and malware infection.
  • Mac SSD data recovery is particularly challenging.

Once you have backed up the Mac, you can access the data from another device and in another place, retrieve the early version of your working document, transfer files between two Macs, or restore the dysfunctional Mac to make it work again.

How to back up Mac with Time Machine

Time Machine is Apple's solution to back up all your files and macOS on the Mac. This built-in backup feature appears on every Mac since 2006. It creates images or snapshots of your data and enables you to restore a specific file or the whole system when needed. And it is most commonly used with external hard drives connected using either USB or Thunderbolt.

When you turn on Time Machine on the Mac, it will automatically create one backup every hour for the past 24 hours, daily backups for the past month, and weekly backups for all previous months. If the backup external drive becomes full, it will delete the oldest backups to release space for the new one.

Steps for backing up Mac with Time Machine:

  1. Connect an external hard drive to your Mac.
  2. Open Time Machine preferences from the Time Machine menu in the menu bar. Or click the Apple logo > System Preferences, then choose the Time Machine app.
  3. Click Select Backup Disk.../Select Disk... to choose a disk for Time Machine backups.
  4. Tick Encrypt backups if you want to protect private information, then click Use Disk. Time Machine backups could be written to Mac OS Extended drive on macOS Catalina and earlier and APFs drives on macOS Big Sur and later.choose Time Machine backup stick
  5. Tick the box next to Back Up Automatically to enable automatic backups.
  6. Check Show Time Machine in the menu bar for convenience's sake.
  7. Click Option to exclude some items. Use the ( + ) and ( - ) buttons to add or remove.
  8. Wait for the automatic backup, or start a backup manually by clicking the Time Machine icon on the top-right menu bar and choosing Back Up Now.

manually backup with Time Machine

Creating the initial backup with Time Machine takes the longest compared to subsequent incremental backups. Keep your Mac charged and don't put it to sleep during the backup process.

How to back up Mac without Time Machine

Although Time Machine is effective and reliable for the most parts, it does have some downsides such as complicated setup, slow speed, and reliance on external hard drives. So if the Time Machine isn't the ideal option for you, there are some alternatives you can choose from, including backing up Mac using local drives, cloud storage, and third-party applications.

Back up Mac to an external hard drive 

Different from Time Machine, you can select to only back up the important files to an external storage device instead of the whole boot disk. It saves both time and storage space. Only a few steps away from creating a backup.

  1. Connect the external storage device used for backup to your Mac.
  2. Wait for the Mac to detect the drive and display the inserted drive on the desktop or in Finder.
  3. Open the backup drive and create a folder to reside backup files.
  4. Find and drag the important files to the folder.
  5. Control-click the drive and select Eject.

external hard drive for mac

Back up Mac using iCloud

iCloud is a cloud storage and cloud computing service from Apple Inc. This feature is available on every Apple device like Mac, iPhone, and iPad. When the iCloud is enabled, it wirelessly backs up your photos, files, notes, and more to iCloud. You can access stored data on all Apple devices signed in with the same Apple ID. Check how to create a Mac backup on iCloud below.

  1. Go to the Apple menu, open System Preferences, then click Apple ID.
  2. Select iCloud on the left sidebar.
  3. Sign in with your Apple ID on the Mac.
  4. Choose iCloud Drive and click Options.
  5. Select the apps you want to create backups, such as adding Desktop and Documents Folders to the iCloud. Then click Done,
  6. Check the boxes next to the apps that you want to sync to iCloud like Photos, Contacts, Reminders, etc.
  7. Click Merge or OK if asked for confirmation.
  8. Wait for the iCloud to back up selected files.

back up Mac using iCloud

Apple provides 5GB of iCloud storage for free to use. For more space, you need to pay for it. And except for iCloud, you can also choose other cloud storage services, including Dropbox, One Drive, and Google Drive to store files. Similar to iCloud, it needs to register an account to sign in, then you can upload or drag files/folders into it. After that, you can access the backups from another device.

Back up Mac with third-party software

There are some excellent applications exclusively for creating backups for Mac. Just like Time Machine, such back software for Mac makes a local backup of your Mac to an external hard drive. But it features more practical functions than Time Machine:

  • Clone the entire Mac hard drive and create a bootable disk. It helps when your MacBook Pro won't boot from internal hard drive
  • Schedule your custom backup plan. You can set the app to back up your Mac every week, every month, etc.
  • Choose what type of files you want to back up – for example, just music or certain applications. 
  • Smart updates. It only backs up the changed files compared with the last time.

Most of the backup software for Mac needs to purchase a license or make a monthly subscription. SuperDuper, Carbon Copy Cloner, ChronoSync, and Backblaze are most recommended by Mac users. You can choose the best backup software for Mac according to your own case.

Bonus Tips for backing up your Mac

Have you heard of the 3-2-1 strategy of backup? It means you should have at least three total copies of your data, two of which are local but on different mediums, and at least one copy off-site. This good rule of thumb has been applied by quite a few personal or business users.

For example, if there is a valuable document on the Mac, the original file is the first copy. And you back up the Mac including this document with Time Machine, thus you create the second copy of the data. In addition, you also use iCloud to back up this document, then you have the third copy stored in a remote server - an off-site copy. You always have access to this crucial document even if the Mac is unexpectedly lost, stolen, damaged, and so forth.

It should go without saying how incredibly important to back up the Mac if you keep crucial files there and can't afford a disaster of data loss. And you need to create backups for Mac regularly, use different mediums, and store them in different places. Therefore, you can choose another backup method alongside Time Machine to keep your data safe.