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Backing Up Your Mac: A Joe On Tech Guide
Develop a bulletproof strategy for backing up your Mac that will enable you to recover your data easily when disaster strikes.
Joe Kissell has been writing about Mac backups since 2004. In this latest title, he explains the three components of a solid backup strategy and helps you figure out the best way to adapt that strategy to your needs. You’ll learn the hows and whys of backing up your Mac, understand the benefits and limitations of Time Machine (as well as alternatives to it), and discover how elements like bootable clones and cloud storage may factor into your overall setup. You’ll also discover how to deal with unusual backup needs and restore your data in an emergency. This book covers 10.9 Mavericks and 10.10 Yosemite.
This 202-page ebook is designed to help you jump right to the information you need, so you can get started with your backups without having to read the whole thing first. You’ll learn how to:
Design (or update) the ideal backup system. If you’re starting from scratch, you’ll find all the information necessary to assemble a reliable and easy-to-use backup system. If you’re updating an existing system, you’ll learn about what’s new in hardware, software, and online services that might affect the way you back up your Mac in the future.
Choose backup software. Apple’s Time Machine, built into OS X, is both free and easy to use. But it’s not the best choice for everyone, and even if you do use Time Machine, you’ll certainly want to supplement it with other tools too. You’ll learn about the key features to look for when considering backup apps and find tips on using several popular tools. You’ll also discover the pros and cons of using cloud backup services, and get help choosing the right one. (An online appendix covers nearly 100 apps and services.)
Shop for hardware. For most users, hard drives make an excellent backup destination, but the range of options (sizes, interfaces, speeds, and more) can be bewildering. Joe helps you find the best backup hardware, whether it’s individual hard drives, RAIDs, Drobo storage devices, Time Capsules, or NAS devices.
Operate Time Machine. For readers who choose to use Time Machine, the book explains all its ins and outs. You’ll learn how to back up and restore individual files, application-specific data (such as contacts), and even an entire disk. You’ll also discover why and how to encrypt Time Machine backups and what to do if Time Machine misbehaves.
Make and maintain backups. Once you’ve selected hardware and software, you’ll need to know how to make your first backup, set up your backups to run unattended, and test them regularly to make sure they’re working as they should. This includes both versioned backups (which contain old file versions and deleted files) and bootable clones. And, you’ll learn about strategies for keeping extra backups offsite.
Deal with unusual backup needs. If you deal with exceptionally large files (such as audio and video files), spend a lot of time on the road away from your usual backup hardware, run Windows on your Mac, or rely on cloud services to store essential data, you’ll want to take extra (or different) steps to make sure everything is safely backed up.
Manage your media. What happens when a backup drive fills up, or becomes so old that you worry about its future reliability? What if you want to archive older files for posterity, but not necessarily maintain them as part of your daily backups? Joe explains how to deal with media management tasks such as these.
Recover lost data. Backing up data can be easy, but restoring it is often more challenging. When you discover that data is missing (whether due to a disk error, theft, or a simple mistake), you need to know the exact steps needed to recover it and get back to work as soon as possible.
iPad & Kindle
About the Author
Joe Kissell has written many books about the Mac, including many popular Take Control ebooks. He's also a contributing editor of TidBITS and a senior contributor to Macworld, and previously spent 10 years in the Mac software industry.
Table of Contents
Read Me First
The data on every Mac should be backed up to protect against theft, hardware failure, user error, and other catastrophes. This book helps you design a sensible backup strategy, choose and configure the best backup hardware and software for your needs, and understand how to make your backups as painless as possible.
The first time I thought seriously about backups was right after I lost a valuable, irreplaceable piece of data—an email message sent to me by a celebrity—as the result of a disk crash. That was almost 20 years ago, and ever since, I’ve practiced and preached diligent Mac backups. After all, Macs may be fantastic computers, but they’re still subject to electronic and mechanical failure, theft, human error, and many other problems that could cause anyone to lose data.
My first book about Mac backups was published in 2004. Back then, I found that many readers still needed convincing that hard drives were better for backups than CDs, that backups ought to run without manual intervention, and even that backups were worth the bother in the first place. When Apple introduced Time Machine as a built-in backup feature in Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard in 2007, backups became easier to perform and harder to ignore. Although Time Machine isn’t the only way (or even, necessarily, the best way) to back up your Mac, it has done more to popularize the concept of Mac backups than anything that came before it, and it set a new standard for usability.
If you don’t back up your Mac at all—or if you do so only haphazardly—this book will help you over the initial hump of getting started with a solid backup plan. Having great backups no longer requires lots of money, time, or technical expertise. You can be up and running in a couple of hours, after which things will run mostly on their own, and the only time you’ll have to think about your backups is when it comes time to restore lost data—something you won’t have to fear anymore.
On the other hand, if you already have a backup system, it might be time for you to update it. Technology changes rapidly, and you could find that a different approach (or newer hardware, software, or cloud services) will serve your current needs better.
This book explains how to develop a solid backup strategy, what your hardware and software choices are, how to set everything up, what pitfalls you may encounter, and how to restore your data if disaster strikes. Rather than explore every alternative, I guide you gently but firmly into a fairly narrow set of options that should yield excellent results for the vast majority of Mac users.
Before we get started, I need to mention a few qualifications:
This book is primarily for people who need to back up either a single Mac or a small network—not for system administrators who need to back up dozens or hundreds of machines. As a result, I say little about the high-end equipment and enterprise-grade software used for backing up large networks.
I don’t cover command-line software such as
rsync. My goal is to make the process as simple as possible—ideally, without requiring you to know anything about Unix. So this book concerns itself solely with software that uses a graphical user interface (GUI).
*Although I provide basic guidance for performing backups with several popular apps, I can’t give you foolproof, step-by-step instructions for setting up every backup app you might use. But by the end of this book, you should have enough information to determine, with the help of your software’s documentation, the preferences and settings that will produce your desired outcome.
To make this book easier to read, I’ve included specific instructions only for OS X 10.9 Mavericks and 10.10 Yosemite. Although much of this material applies generally to Macs running older versions of OS X, I don’t spell out any differences. Also, although I don’t cover Windows extensively, do see Back Up Windows Files and Volumes, which discusses backing up Windows when it’s running on your Mac.
I’ve put certain information—including feature comparisons of Mac backup hardware and software—in Online Appendixes (alt.cc/ba).
For guidance about how to find your way through this book, continue on to the Quick Start on the next page.
First things first: most people do not need to read this entire book! There’s a lot of detail here for those who want it, but if your backup needs are unexceptional, you can skim much of this material. Even so, don’t skip Plan a Backup Strategy, which outlines the basics and helps you understand the hardware, software, and setup advice I give later.
For all readers, the following points should help you understand what I cover where, and which parts you’re most interested in.
If you don’t already have a backup system in place, start at the beginning, with the Plan a Backup Strategy chapter. You’ll soon Understand Joe’s Basic Backup Strategy, which revolves around three key components: versioned backups (containing multiple copies of files as they existed at various points in time), a bootable duplicate (a complete, bootable copy of your hard disk), and offsite storage (in case something wipes out your Mac and the backup media sitting right next to it).
If you’re already backing up your Mac (even if your strategy is based on recommendations from an earlier book of mine), read Reassess Your Backup Strategy to find out what’s new and which Factors to Reevaluate to determine whether any changes are in order.
Decide whether Time Machine is a good match for your needs, and if not, select a different app to perform versioned backups. Read Choose Backup Software for a feature overview, then pick an option noted in Explore Versioned Backup Software Features or consult the Online Appendixes at alt.cc/ba for details and sources.
Choose Backup Hardware—most likely a hard drive or two—to store your backups on (one of which may be inside an AirPort Time Capsule or similar device).
Prepare Your Hard Drive with the right number and type of partitions and volume formats for the types of backups you want to do.
If you’ve chosen to use Time Machine for versioned backups, read Configure and Use Time Machine. Otherwise, see Use Other Versioned Backup Software to learn how to configure a versioned backup and verify that you can retrieve stored files.
Make a bootable copy of your hard disk, schedule it for regular updates, and test it to make sure it works with the advice in Create and Use a Bootable Duplicate.
One way or another, Store an Extra Backup Offsite—either by physically moving backup media or by signing up for an online backup service.
If your disk dies, your Mac is stolen, or an important file goes missing, don’t panic; read What to Do When Disaster Strikes.
After months or years of backing up your Mac, you may run out of space on your backup disks, or you may become concerned about the long-term viability of your backup media. Discover what to do about this in Manage Your Media.
Find out how to deal with backup needs that don’t fit neatly into the duplicate or versioned categories in Consider Special Backup Needs. As appropriate, read Back Up Digital Photos, Deal with Huge Volumes of Data, Back Up a Small Network, Back Up While on the Road, and Back Up Windows Files and Volumes.
This book is based on an earlier title of mine called Take Control of Backing Up Your Mac, which was last updated in 2013 (and was itself based on previous titles going back as far as 2004). With the kind permission and cooperation of the folks at Take Control Ebooks, I’ve “adopted” that book and turned it into the one you’re now reading. The overall structure is nearly the same, but I’ve thoroughly updated the text so that it reflects the latest hardware, software, and online tools for backups, as well as my latest thinking about backup strategies. (And, of course, I’ve altered the look and feel of the book to reflect the Joe On Tech brand.)
If you’ve already read Take Control of Backing Up Your Mac, you can think of this new book as being equivalent to a new edition. In this book I made thousands of small changes (mainly to reflect the changes in OS X 10.9 Mavericks and 10.10 Yosemite), along with several larger ones:
Added a discussion about using cloud syncing services such as Dropbox to supplement backups and simplify restoration; see Can Cloud Sync Simplify Backups?
Rewrote What’s New in the World of Mac Backups to cover the latest hardware, software, and cloud developments
Added a new topic describing a feature some backup apps have: Bootable Duplicates with Versioning
Expanded and updated the discussion of hard drive interfaces in Choose an Interface (or Several) to cover USB 3.1 (and the USB-C connector), Thunderbolt 2, and my revised recommendations for which interfaces are best
Updated Decide Whether to Buy a Time Capsule to cover Apple’s newest, 802.11ac models
Updated the chapter Configure and Use Time Machine to account for numerous small changes in Time Machine
Discussed whether and when you should create Duplicates of Non-Boot Volumes
Included a new sidebar about Finding Recently Backed-Up Files after restoring a bootable duplicate
Reworked much of the chapter about special backup needs, especially the topics Back Up Digital Photos and Back Up Data from the Cloud
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