How to Backup Your Mac

Illustration of someone holding a lock and a MacBook computer in front of her.

Backing up data is the best way to make sure that you will not lose it, whatever may happen to the device where you store the original data. Backing up data involves creating copies of your files and storing them on a hard drive, external storage device or cloud backup service. You have options when it comes to where you want to keep your backups.

Depending on your needs, you can choose to backup your entire hard drive or only specific files or folders on your device. It is also up to you to decide how often you want to backup your data. The more often you do it, the more secure your data is. The easiest way to do it is to set up automatic regular data backups.

The easiest way to backup files on your Mac is to use the built-in software that came with the operating system. There are third-party backup options that offer better data security, but those options are not free.

Backup with Time Machine

MacOS has a Time Machine feature that automatically backs up specific file folders to a device of your choice. To set it up, connect an external storage device to your Mac. After the device is connected, open Apple menu > System Preferences, then click Time Machine.

macOS Time Machine

After you click Select Backup Disk and choose an external storage device as a destination for backups, Time Machine begins backing up your files. You can continue using your Mac while the system works on the backup.

Selecting a backup disk on macOS Time Machine

If you select Back Up Automatically, the system will make periodic backups, often without you even noticing it. After the first backup (which will probably take a while), future backups will be faster, as Time Machine backs up only the files that changed since the previous backup.

Backup Automatically check box on macOS Time Machine

You can also use the Time Machine menu (the icon looks like a clock with two hands and an arrow running counterclockwise) in the menu bar to start a backup manually (choose Back Up Now), check the status of a backup or skip a backup in progress.

By default Time Machine backs up everything on your hard drive. To exclude specific folders from your backup, open Time Machine preferences and select Options. To exclude items from your backup, click the add (+) button, navigate to the item you want to remove and click Exclude. To stop excluding a folder from backups, select the folder and click the remove (-) button.

Selecting Options on macOS Time Machine

Excluding items from a backup on macOS Time Machine

Exclude button in the items selection window for macOS Time Machine

Backup with iCloud

All Apple devices have iCloud online storage service built into them. Using this service saves you the hassle of connecting an external data storage device to your Mac every time you want to backup your data. If you are signed in to iCloud, it automatically stores your photos, contacts, calendars, notes, and more.

To customize your iCloud settings, open Apple menu > System Preferences, then click Apple ID > iCloud. Here you can choose the apps – like Photos, Notes, and iCloud Drive – that you want to use with iCloud.

Apple ID on macOS System Preferences

iCloud option on Apple ID on macOS System Preferences

iCloud is designed to store your photos, contacts, calendars, notes and passwords. If you want to backup other types of files on iCloud, you can use iCloud Drive. iCloud Drive is Apple’s document-oriented cloud-based storage service. It allows you to safely store all kinds of documents in iCloud, keep them in sync and access them from all your computers (both Mac and Windows machines), iOS and iPadOS devices. iCloud Drive can automatically backup all the files in your desktop and documents folders.

In order to use iCloud Drive, you need to set it up first. To set it up on a Mac machine, choose Apple menu > System Preferences, click Apple ID, then select iCloud in the sidebar. Select iCloud Drive.

Checking iCloud Drive checkbox in iCloud settings

All iCloud users get 5GB of free online storage. This includes everything you store on iCloud and iCloud Drive. If you need more space for your backups, you will have to purchase an upgraded storage plan or go with a different backup option.

Backup with third-party apps

If you are not happy with backup options built into your Mac, you can always choose a third-party app such as Backblaze, Carbonite, Dropbox or Google Drive. When you shop for third-party backup software, make sure you trust it fully and understand how it handles your data. To set up a third-party backup app, follow the instructions that come with it.