3D Apple iCloud logo on blue and violet surface
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Time Machine makes it easy to back up your irreplaceable Mac files to an external drive or networked computer, but what about backing up to iCloud? If you pay for additional cloud storage, you probably want to make use of it.

The hard truth: Apple doesn’t let you store Time Machine backups in iCloud, even if you have space.

So what’s the problem, Apple?

Time Machine Is a Local Backup Solution

Time Machine is designed as a local backup solution since it backs up every single file on your Mac. Backups are made incrementally, with only new and modified files being copied with each backup. Time Machine then creates a “snapshot” of your Mac as it appeared at that time.

You can use this backup to restore your Mac in its entirety, whether you had a hardware failure or need to replace your entire Mac. You can migrate from one Mac to another with nothing but a Time Machine backup if you want. You can connect your Time Machine drive and look for individual files if you need to.

Time Machine in macOS Big Sur

By comparison, iCloud Drive is Apple’s cloud storage and file syncing service. It works a lot like Dropbox or OneDrive in that it’s used to mirror and synchronize files between devices. Restoring every file on your Mac from an iCloud backup would be limited by the speed of your internet connection.

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Even if you have a fast internet connection, Apple still won’t let you point your Time Machine backup at iCloud Drive. This is in stark contrast to how iCloud Backup works on iPhones and iPads, where the device is backed up in its entirety (albeit without instanced snapshots or file-level access).

iCloud Already Backs Up Photos, Documents, and Desktop

Fortunately, iCloud already backs up your most important data, provided that you have enough space to do so. You can do this via iCloud Settings under System Preferences > Apple ID. Toggle “Photos” on to back up your media and click “Options” next to iCloud Drive. Then, enable Documents and Desktop backup, too.

iCloud Preferences in Big Sur
Apple

iCloud Photos stores all of your photos and videos in the cloud, allowing you to reclaim disk space on your devices by keeping local optimized versions instead. Full-size images and videos are downloaded as needed, while everything remains safely backed up in the cloud.

Desktop and Documents syncing is another useful feature that makes your Mac desktop and personal files available over iCloud. You can access these files from other devices, including iPhones and iPads, or you can log in at iCloud.com and get what you need via a web browser (even on Windows).

Create Online Backups Anyway

Using iCloud Photos and file syncing is useful, but it shouldn’t be your only safeguard. You could, of course, manually copy and paste files into iCloud if you want, but there are better ways of keeping things safe.

We recommend local backups via Time Machine and online backups using services like Backblaze and IDrive for ultimate peace of mind.

Tim Brookes Tim Brookes
Tim Brookes is a technology writer with more than a decade of experience. He's invested in the Apple ecosystem, with experience covering Macs, iPhones, and iPads for publications like Zapier and MakeUseOf.
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