Every computer user should keep a regular backup. From accidentally deleted files to failing hard drives to natural disaster, there are too many things that can go wrong to simply rely on luck. Here are the best ways to back up your Mac.
There are a lot of ways to ensure your files don’t get lost, and almost all of them involve keeping a copy of your files somewhere else. Even better is keeping one copy somewhere handy for problems like lost files or failing equipment and another copy somewhere offsite. We’ll go over the best backup methods for macOS users in specific, though many of these services will work for Windows.
Back Up Your Whole Drive to the Cloud
Backing up your whole drive to the cloud is the most accessible form of backup. It doesn’t require any extra hardware—just an account with an online provider—and will back everything up automatically, so you don’t have to worry about losing files. The initial backup can take some time, especially if you have an Internet connection with a slow upload speed (and you have to watch those ISP data caps). But, the process is usually dead simple.
There are many different providers offering plans, but we’ll pick out two good ones here.
Backblaze: No Nonsense Backups
Backblaze integrates very well with macOS, more so than most other backup services out there (of which there are plenty). There’s not even an app to manage, as it will install to a preferences pane in your settings. It’s incredibly easy to set up and manage even for the inexperienced user.
They offer “unlimited” storage for $5 a month, which for personal users backing up their computer will always be enough.
Arq: A DIY Cloud Backup
If you’d rather manage your storage yourself, you can use Arq to back up automatically to Amazon S3 or other storage providers (even Backblaze’s B2 Storage). You can certainly do it manually, but Arq does a really good job of managing the annoying parts for you.
Back Up to an External Hard Drive
If you don’t trust the cloud or want to transfer files quickly between computers, investing in an external hard drive and backing up your whole drive to it is probably ideal for you. We actually recommend combining this method with an online backup to cover your bases. It’s quick and easy to restore files from your external hard drive and you have the cloud backup as a…well…backup in case something happens to your external drive.
You’ll probably want a hard drive at least twice the size of your main hard drive, and you can find large 4 TB external drives for around $100.
Here are the apps we recommend for backing up you Mac to an external drive.
Time Machine: Built Into macOS
While you can certainly just drag your files over to an external hard drive, it’s better to use an app to do it automatically. On macOS, nothing beats the simplicity of Apple’s built-in Time Machine.
In addition to backing up your files automatically, every time you change a file, Time Machine stores those changes on your external drive. You can browse backward in time and view old versions of files, or restore files you’ve deleted. You can read our guide to setting up Time Machine on your Mac to get started.
Carbon Copy Cloner: An Upgrade to Time Machine
While Time Machine certainly wins for simplicity and compatibility, occasionally you’ll want more features. Carbon Copy Cloner offers bootable backups, support for RAID configurations, and a powerful scheduling system to manage when your backups will take place.
Store Specific Documents in the Cloud
If you’ve only got a few documents you need to keep backed up and don’t want to waste space backing up your entire drive, you can keep your important documents in cloud storage. Since you’re not usually storing hundreds of gigabytes, these services are all free (though they all have “pro” options with more storage).
One thing to keep in mind is that cloud syncing isn’t technically the same as backing up. Yes, you’ll have your documents stored in a separate location, but changes you make to a file on your computer (like deleting the file) also happen everywhere that file is synced. So, they don’t offer much protection against things like accidentally deleting your files unless the service you use keeps old versions of files around.
That said, if you suffer something like a crashed hard drive or stolen laptop, you can at least count on being able to download your documents. Here are some of our favorite services.
iCloud Drive: 5 GB Free
iCloud Drive is a new addition to the iCloud suite and will store your Desktop and Documents folders in the cloud, downloading them when you need them and actually saving you some space in the process. It comes with 5 GB free but you need to understand that this space is shared with other iCloud functions and your other Apple devices (like your iPhone and iPad), making it fill up rather quickly. You can read our guide on iCloud Optimized Storage to set it up, or disable it altogether if your iCloud Drive is full.
Google Drive: 15 GB Free
Google Drive offers the most storage out of all the free options listed here. It comes with their great office suite as well and integrates nicely with Gmail and other Google services. They also have a sync tool for backing up a specific folder automatically, so you don’t have to upload your files through the web interface. This storage is shared with Gmail, but unless you have tens of thousands of emails, it probably won’t make a dent.
Dropbox: 2 GB Free
Dropbox is designed with shared storage and business applications in mind. It does come with a small amount of free storage, and can automatically sync, but its focus is more on work-centric uses.
OneDrive: 5 GB Free
A Microsoft recommendation for your Mac? Depending on your situation, OneDrive might work well for you. You get 5 GB of free space and their macOS app works well. More to the point, if you’re already an Office 365 subscriber, you have a full one terabyte of OneDrive space included in your subscription.
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