Again Up Your Mac

There are precious photos and important documents on your Mac. Without a backup, if your hard drive fails or your Mac is lost, you could lose all of this data and more.

Mac connected to external backup drive

Do not take any risks. Follow the instructions below to back up your Mac using Time Machine, iCloud, or both.

How to use Time Machine to back up your Mac

Time Machine is the best way to keep your Mac safe. Since Time Machine is built into macOS, all you need is an external drive. If you don't already have one, you should seriously consider buying an external drive for Mac backups.

external drives mac

Most backup solutions save a single snapshot of your Mac from the last backup. Every time you back up your Mac, that snapshot is replaced with a new one.

In contrast, Time Machine saves countless snapshots of your Mac from weeks, months, and even years.

Time machine in Finder with timeline on the right of the screen

This means that you can restore your entire Mac – or a specific file on your Mac – to the state it was in at a specific point in time. With Time Machine, you can restore long-lost files, undo new changes to a document, or go back to a time when malware infected your Mac.

A Time Machine backup contains absolutely everything on your Mac: photos, documents, user settings, and third-party apps. Whenever you swap out your Mac, swap hard drive, or wipe clean, there is an easy way to restore a Time Machine backup and recover any lost data.

Step 1. Get an external drive to use with Time Machine

Time Machine backs up your Mac to an external drive. You can use USB, Thunderbolt, or FireWire to attach a drive to your Mac. However, you may need an adapter if your Mac doesn't have the correct ports.

Apple used to offer a product called Time Capsule that could be used to secure your Mac over Wi-Fi using Time Machine. Now you can only use Time Machine wirelessly with a NAS hard drive.

Since Time Machine stores multiple snapshots of your Mac, you should make sure that your external drive has about twice as much space, if not more, than your computer. Open that Apple Menu and go to About this Mac> Storage to see how much space your Mac has.

Learn about this Save Window with Time Machine Drive on Mac

In addition to Time Machine backups, you can also store other files on your external drive. However, Time Machine does not include these files in the backup.

Either way, it's a good idea to remove important files from your external drive before setting it up for use with Time Machine, as you may need to erase the drive to reformat it.

Step 2. Select your drive in the time machine settings

The first time you connect an external drive to your Mac, you should be asked if you want to use that drive with Time Machine. Decide Use as a backup disk to set this drive as the Time Machine destination.

Use the Disk for Time Machine prompt on the Mac

We recommend activating the option Encrypt backup disk. This protects your data in the event that someone else picks up your external drive. Create a password for your backup and don't lose it.

You cannot restore an encrypted backup if you forget the password.

If the prompt to use your connected drive doesn't appear automatically, open the Apple Menu and go to System Settings> Time Machine. Then click Choose disk and choose your drive from the available hard drives.

Time Machine will ask you to erase and reformat your external drive if it is in the wrong format. This will erase all of the data on your drive. So remove all important files first.

Step 3. Create automatic or manual time machine backups

After you select an external drive for backup, Time Machine automatically creates hourly backups whenever that drive is connected.

To start a new backup manually, click on time Machine Icon in the menu bar and select Secure now. If you can't see the Time Machine icon, go to System Settings> Time Machine and activate the Show Time Machine in the menu bar Possibility.

Backup Now option on the Mac menu bar

You can view the progress of your backup in Time Machine preferences or by clicking the Time Machine icon in the menu bar. The first backup can take several hours, but subsequent backups should be much faster.

Time Machine stores hourly backups for the past 24 hours, daily backups for the past week, weekly backups for the past month, and monthly backups for the past year.

When your external drive is full, Time Machine will delete the oldest backups to make more space.

click Enter Time Machine via the menu bar icon if you ever need to restore a Time Machine backup.

How to use iCloud to back up your Mac

The problem with a Time Machine backup is that you can easily lose your external drive and Mac at the same time due to fire or theft. In that case, you would lose all of your data and backup and have no way of recovering your files.

Fortunately, you can sync your Mac with iCloud to save data remotely too.

While it isn't possible to back up your Mac to iCloud – as you can with an iPhone or iPad – it is possible to sync documents from your Mac to the cloud. This securely stores them on Apple's servers, which are regularly backed up, so you can access them from anywhere in the world even if your Mac stops working.

iCloud content in the Safari browser

Syncing documents from your Mac to iCloud is not the same as backing up documents. There is still only one copy of each file. The only difference is that it's now stored in iCloud instead of your Mac.

Whenever you edit, delete, or create a new document on your Mac, those changes are synced with the files in iCloud. These changes will also be synced across other devices that you use with iCloud.

If you lose your Mac, all of your documents will be safe in iCloud. If you accidentally delete a document, iCloud gives you 30 days to restore it.

However, you can't use iCloud to go back in time and restore your Mac to an earlier state like you can with Time Machine. You also can't use iCloud to restore all of the data from your Mac – only your documents and data from iCloud-compatible apps will work with it.

Step 1. Enable iCloud sync for apps and documents

When you sync your Mac with iCloud, it syncs with other Apple devices using your Apple ID. This means that you can sync the same photos, contacts, calendars, reminders, notes, and other documents across all of your Apple devices.

Open the to turn on iCloud syncing Apple Menu and go to System Preferences> Apple ID. Choose iCloud Then, in the sidebar, check the box for each app that you want to sync with iCloud.

Apple ID iCloud system settings in macOS

Click to sync the documents on your Mac Options next to iCloud Drive and activate the Desktop and document folders Possibility. This will upload all the files from the Desktop and Documents folders on your Mac and sync them to iCloud so that they are available in the Files app from any other Apple device.

You can also use these options to sync email, system settings, and other compatible apps.

You may need to buy more iCloud storage if you don't have enough space to hold all of the documents on your Mac.

Step 2. Connect to Wi-Fi to sync your Mac with iCloud

After you've turned on iCloud syncing in System Preferences, your Mac will automatically sync with iCloud when you're connected to Wi-Fi. Open a new one to see the sync progress finder Window and look for a load circle next to it iCloud Drive in the sidebar.

iCloud Drive sync circle in Finder

If you need to edit files offline, you need to download them from iCloud first. To do this, click on Download Icon next to a document or folder in the Finder.

A cloud icon without an arrow means the document is currently syncing with iCloud.

Keep multiple backups of your Mac

To keep your data as safe as possible, consider making three separate copies of your Mac's data with two local copies and one external backup. This is known as the three-two-one method and it is the best protection against data loss.

Apple doesn't offer a third way to back up your Mac, but there are plenty of alternative services available instead. The best options include Carbon Copy Cloner for local backups or Backblaze for a cloud-based solution.

Mac backup solutions

8 Mac Time Machine Alternatives to Back Up Your Data

Time Machine comes with every Mac, is ready to use, and is a great way to back up your computer to an external hard drive. But there are many other options …

About the author

Dan Helyer
(148 articles published)

Dan writes tutorials and troubleshooting guides to help people get the most out of their technology. Before becoming a writer, he earned a BSc in audio technology, oversaw repairs at an Apple store, and even taught English in China.

More from Dan Helyer

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