Here’s how to back up your Mac securely using the built-in Time Machine or iCloud methods.
Your Mac is home to valuable photos and important documents. Without a backup, you could lose all of that data and more if your hard drive crashes or your Mac goes missing.
Don’t take the risk. Follow the instructions below to back up your Mac using Time Machine, iCloud, or both.
Time Machine is the best way to back up your Mac. As MacOS has Time Machine built in, you just need to use an external drive. If you don’t have one, you should seriously consider purchasing an external drive to save them from Macs.
Most backup solutions back up a single snapshot of your Mac from the last time you backed it up. Every time you back up your Mac, it replaces that snapshot with a new one.
In contrast, Time Machine keeps countless snapshots of your Mac from weeks, months, and even years.
This means that you can restore your entire Mac – or a particular file on your Mac – to what it was on a certain date. You can use Time Machine to recover long-lost files, undo new changes to a document, or revert to a time before your Mac was infected with malware.
A Time Machine backup includes absolutely everything on your Mac: photos, documents, user preferences, and third-party apps. Whether you’re replacing your Mac, swapping the hard drive, or cleaning it up, it’s easy to restore a Time Machine backup and get back all the data you’ve lost.
Step 1. Obtain an external drive to use with Time Machine
Time Machine creates a backup of your Mac on an external drive. You can use a USB, Thunderbolt, or FireWire port to connect a drive to your Mac, but you may need to use an adapter if your Mac doesn’t have the correct ports.
Apple once offered a product called Time Capsule, which allowed you to back up your Mac with Time Machine over Wi-Fi. But today your only option to use Time Machine wirelessly is a NAS drive.
Since Time Machine saves multiple snapshots of your Mac, it’s good to make sure that your external drive has about twice as much storage space as your computer, if not more. Open menu Apple and go to About This Mac> Storage for see how much storage your Mac has.
You can store other files in addition to Time Machine backups on your external drive. However, Time Machine does not include these files in the backup.
Either way, it’s a good idea to delete any 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 Time Machine preferences
When you connect an external drive to your Mac for the first time, you should see a prompt asking if you want to use that drive with Time Machine. Choose option Use as disk of backup to set this drive as the Time Machine destination.
We recommend that you activate the option of backup disk encryption. This helps keep your data secure in case someone else gets hold of your external drive. Create a password to use 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 does not appear automatically, open the menu Apple and go to System Preferences> Time Machine. Then click on Select a disc and choose your drive from the available discs.
Time Machine prompts you to erase and reformat your external hard drive if it is in the wrong format. This will erase all data on your drive, so be sure to delete any important files first.
Step 3. Create automatic or manual Time Machine backups
After selecting an external drive to use for backups, Time Machine automatically creates hourly backups whenever that drive is connected.
To start a new backup manually, click on the icon Time Machine in the menu bar and select Save now. If you can’t see the Time Machine icon, go to System Preferences> Time Machine and activate the option Display Time Machine in the menu bar.
You can check the progress of your backup in Time Machine preferences or by clicking the Time Machine icon in the menu bar. The first backup may take several hours, but subsequent backups should be much faster.
Time Machine keeps hourly backups for the last 24 hours, daily backups for the past week, weekly backups for the past month, and monthly backups for the past year.
When your external hard drive fills up, Time Machine deletes the oldest backups to create more space.
Click on Enter Time Machine in the menu bar if you need to restore a Time Machine backup.
The problem with a Time Machine backup is that you could easily lose your external drive and your Mac at the same time due to fire or theft. If this happened, you would lose all your data and backup, leaving you with no way to restore your files.
Fortunately, you can also sync your Mac with iCloud to store data remotely.
While it’s not possible to back up your Mac to iCloud – like you do with an iPhone or iPad – it is possible to sync documents from your Mac to the cloud. They are thus stored securely on Apple’s servers, which are regularly backed up, allowing you to consult them anywhere in the world, even if your Mac is no longer working.
To be clear, syncing documents from your Mac to iCloud isn’t the same as backing up them. There is always only one copy of each file; the only difference is that it’s now stored in iCloud rather than on your Mac.
Every time you edit, delete, or create a new document from your Mac, it syncs those changes with the files in iCloud. These changes are also synced with any other devices you use with iCloud.
If you lose your Mac, all of your documents remain safe in iCloud. And if you delete a document by mistake, iCloud gives you 30 days to get it back.
But you can’t use iCloud to time travel and revert your Mac to a previous state like you can with Time Machine. You also cannot use iCloud to restore all data on your Mac. Only your documents and data from iCloud-enabled apps work with it.
Step 1. Turn on iCloud Sync for apps and documents
When you sync your Mac with iCloud, it also syncs with any other Apple device that uses 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.
To turn on iCloud sync, open the menu Apple and go to System Preferences> Apple ID. Select iCloud in the sidebar, then select the checkbox for each app that you want to sync with iCloud.
To sync documents to your Mac, click Options beside the iCloud reader and activate the option Office and document files. This option downloads and syncs all files in the Desktop and Documents folders on your Mac to iCloud, making them available in the Files app of any other Apple device.
You can also sync email, system preferences, and other compatible apps from these options.
You may need to purchase more iCloud storage space if you don’t have enough room for all the documents on your Mac.
Step 2. Connect to Wi-Fi to sync your Mac with iCloud
After turning on iCloud sync in System Preferences, your Mac will automatically sync with iCloud whenever you’re connected to Wi-Fi. To see the sync progress, open a new window in the Finder and look for a loading circle next to iCloud Drive in the sidebar.
If you need to work on files offline, don’t forget to upload them to iCloud first. You can do this by clicking on the download at next to a document or folder in Finder.
A cloud icon without an arrow means the document is syncing with iCloud.
Keep multiple backups of your Mac
To keep your data as secure as possible, try to have three separate copies of your Mac’s data, with two local copies and one offsite backup. This is called the three-two-one method and it offers the best protection against data loss.
Apple doesn’t offer a third method 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.