Set up a rock-solid backup strategy so that you can restore quickly and completely, no matter what catastrophe arises.

Take Control of
Backing Up Your Mac

Fourth Edition
Joe Kissell

Joe Kissell provides the advice you need to create a Mac backup strategy that protects your data and enables quick recovery. He compares backup software, services, and media to help you make the best choices. You’ll learn to set up, test, and maintain backups, plus how to restore files after a calamity!

All Take Control books are delivered in three ebook formats—PDF, EPUB, and Mobipocket (Kindle)—and can be read on nearly any device.


Creating and maintaining a solid backup plan is essential to anyone who uses a Mac, in order to prevent the loss of important data if disaster strikes—whether through hardware or software failure, theft, human error, or other mishap. In Take Control of Backing Up Your Mac, Fourth Edition, tech expert Joe Kissell explains how to 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. His advice is equally useful to those who have never had a backup system and those whose backup systems are in need of an update.

The fourth edition, a major rewrite, fully delves into the new challenges presented by Big Sur and Monterey, M-series Macs, and the ever-changing landscape of Mac backup hardware, software, and cloud services. It features entirely rethought advice about bootable (and non-bootable) duplicates, backup media, and disk formats, as well as changes in Time Machine and the weird world of APFS snapshots.

This book covers macOS 10.14 Mojave through macOS 12 Monterey.

Using this book, 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 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. You’ll learn about key features to look for in a backup app and find tips on using several popular tools. You’ll also discover the pros and cons of cloud backup services, and get help choosing the right one. (An online appendix covers dozens of apps and services.)
  • Shop for hardware: Depending on your needs and goals, you may need one or more external SSDs or hard drives, 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 SSDs or hard drives, RAIDs, NAS devices, or other options.
  • 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—for some users—bootable or non-bootable (data-only) clones. And, you’ll learn about strategies for keeping extra backups offsite.
  • Operate Time Machine: If you choose Time Machine for versioned backups, you’ll learn how to back up and restore individual files, app-specific data (such as contacts), and even an entire disk. You’ll also discover why and how to encrypt Time Machine backups, how APFS snapshots work (inside and outside Time Machine), and what to do if Time Machine misbehaves.
  • 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.
Joe Kissell

About Joe Kissell

Take Control publisher Joe Kissell has written more than 60 books about technology, including many popular Take Control books. He formerly wrote for publications such as Macworld, Wirecutter, and TidBITS. He lives in San Diego with his wife, his two children, and his cat.

What’s New in Version 4.1

Version 4.1 updates this book to cover changes in macOS 12 Monterey and revisions to Carbon Copy Cloner and SuperDuper!. The most significant changes are:

  • Revised the sidebar “The Evolving Status of Bootable Duplicates”
  • Clarified how Fusion drives appear in System Information; see the sidebar “What Kind of Storage Does Your Mac Use?”
  • Mentioned Disk Utility’s new snapshot capabilities in “APFS Snapshots”
  • Added observations about Cubbit Cell and backups in the sidebar “Cubbit’s Hybrid Online Storage”
  • Added a note about case-sensitive APFS in “Decide How to Format Your Partitions”
  • Included a note about ExFAT volumes in “Exclude Files from Time Machine”
  • Revised much of the chapter “Create and Use a Duplicate,” especially “Create a Bootable Duplicate in Big Sur or Later” and “Update a Bootable Duplicate in Big Sur or Later,” to cover changes in Monterey and backup apps

What Was New in the Fourth Edition

Of the numerous editions of the several different titles I’ve written about Mac backups, I’m pretty sure this was the biggest revision yet. I brought the text up to date with macOS 10.15 Catalina, macOS 11 Big Sur, and the new M-series Macs (based on Apple silicon) and made hundreds of other changes, including:

  • Revised my basic strategy, to make bootable duplicates optional; see, for example, “Understand Joe’s Basic Backup Strategy” and especially “Why Create Bootable Duplicates (or Not)?,” which goes into all the details
  • Revised my advice about partitioning disks, largely because of the importance of using SSDs as boot drives (discussed in several spots throughout the book); see “Why Use Multiple Partitions (or Not)?”
  • In the “Reassess Your Backup Strategy” chapter, added a long list of “What’s New in Mac Backups“ and extensively updated the “Factors to Reevaluate”
  • In the “Choose Local or Network Backups” chapter, added a sidebar “So Long, Bootable Duplicates over a Network” and updated “Local vs. Network Backups: Joe’s Recommendations”
  • Completely revised the discussion of Snapshots to explain the various uses of the term and, most important, APFS Snapshots
  • Added material on Carbon Copy Cloner to the list of apps that can be used for versioned backups
  • Thoroughly revamped the “Choose Backup Hardware” chapter, with all new advice in “Choose Hard Drives, SSDs, or Both” and “Decide How Many Drives to Buy,” plus a lot of new and revised information on RAIDs in “Consider RAIDs and RAID-Like Tech” and a greatly revised sidebar “USB 3.x, USB4, USB-C, and Thunderbolt 3 & 4”
  • In the “Prepare Your Backup Drive” chapter, gave new guidance on how to “Choose the Right Partition Map Scheme,” “Decide How Many Partitions and Volumes to Make,” and “Decide How to Format Your Partitions,” plus updated instructions in “Configure Your Drive”
  • Made extensive changes in the “Configure and Use Time Machine” chapter, including a revised sidebar on Local Snapshots, numerous mentions throughout of APFS-related differences, a new topic on how to “Restore an External Disk with Time Machine,” and completely new instructions for how to “Delete Files from a Time Machine Backup” and “Migrate to a Larger Time Machine Disk”
  • In the “Use Other Versioned Backup Software” chapter, added “Carbon Copy Cloner Tips” and revised the tips for several other apps
  • Completely overhauled the chapter “Create and Use a Duplicate,” which now covers new things you need to know about Big Sur, M-series Macs, and how to “Create a Data-Only Duplicate”
  • Updated the information on various online backup options in “Self-Contained Cloud Backup Services” and “BYOS (Bring Your Own Software) Internet Backups”
  • In the “What to Do When Disaster Strikes” chapter, revised the “Use Your Bootable Duplicate” instructions and added a long sidebar called “A Word About Ransomware” as well as details on how to “Restore a Disk from a Data-Only Duplicate”
  • In the “Consider Special Backup Needs” chapter, updated the discussion of “Cataloging Software” for photos and the section “Back Up Data from the Cloud” to reflect current options
  • Read Me First
    • Updates and More
    • ​Basics
    • What’s New in Version 4.1
    • What Was New in the Fourth Edition
  • Introduction
  • Quick Start
  • Plan a Backup Strategy
    • Understand Joe’s Basic Backup Strategy
    • Why Create Versioned Backups?
    • Why Create Bootable Duplicates (or Not)?
    • Why Use External Storage?
    • Why Use Multiple Partitions (or Not)?
    • Why Automate Backups?
    • Why Keep Multiple Backups?
    • Why Store Backups Offsite?
    • Can Cloud Sync Simplify Backups?
    • Can You Reduce Your Backup Footprint?
  • Reassess Your Backup Strategy
    • What’s New in Mac Backups
    • Factors to Reevaluate
  • Choose Local or Network Backups
    • Local Backups
    • Network Backups
    • Local vs. Network Backups: Joe’s Recommendations
  • Choose Backup Software
    • Decide Whether Time Machine Is Best for You
    • Explore Versioned Backup Features
    • Choose Another Versioned Backup App
    • Choose a Bootable Duplicate App
  • Choose Backup Hardware
    • Choose Hard Drives, SSDs, or Both
    • Decide on Capacity
    • Decide on a Storage Configuration
    • Hardware You Should Probably Avoid
  • Prepare Your Backup Drive
    • Choose the Right Partition Map Scheme
    • Decide How Many Partitions and Volumes to Make
    • Decide How to Format Your Partitions
    • Configure Your Drive
  • Configure and Use Time Machine
    • Time Machine Basics
    • Choose a Destination
    • Exclude Files from Time Machine
    • Restore Data with Time Machine
    • Delete Files from a Time Machine Backup
    • Encrypt Your Time Machine Backup
    • Use a Mac as a Time Machine Server
    • Use a Single Backup Disk with Multiple Macs
    • Use Power Nap
    • Manage Your Time Machine Schedule
    • Migrate to a Larger Time Machine Disk
    • Avoid or Solve Time Machine Problems
  • Use Other Versioned Backup Software
    • Arq Tips
    • Carbon Copy Cloner Tips
    • ChronoSync Tips
    • QRecall Tips
    • Retrospect Tips
    • Test Your Versioned Backup
  • Create and Use a Duplicate
    • Give the Destination Volume a Unique Name
    • Create a Duplicate in Mojave or Catalina
    • Create a Bootable Duplicate in Big Sur or Later
    • Test Your Bootable Duplicate
    • Create a Data-Only Duplicate
  • Store an Extra Backup Offsite
    • Use an Extra Hard Drive or SSD
    • Use a Cloud Backup Service
  • What to Do When Disaster Strikes
    • Restore Individual Files
    • Use Your Bootable Duplicate
    • Restore a Disk from a Bootable Duplicate
    • Restore a Disk from a Data-Only Duplicate
  • Manage Your Media
    • What to Do When Your Disks Fill Up
    • Consider Long-Term Archive Storage
  • Consider Special Backup Needs
    • Back Up Digital Photos
    • Deal with Huge Volumes of Data
    • Back Up a NAS
    • Back Up Data from the Cloud
    • Back Up While on the Road
    • Back Up an iOS or iPadOS Device
    • Back Up Windows Files and Volumes
  • About This Book
    • Ebook Extras
    • About the Author and Publisher
    • Credits
  • Also by Joe Kissell
  • Copyright and Fine Print

Joe Kissell talks Mac backups on MacVoices

Posted by Joe Kissell on May 13, 2021

For the eleventy-fifth time (or thereabouts), Joe Kissell joined Chuck Joiner on MacVoices to discuss Mac backups, this time focusing on Take Control of Backing Up Your Mac, Fourth Edition.

In part one, Joe goes into detail about issues involving bootable duplicates and M1 Macs.

In part two, Joe explores APFS snapshots, the differences between USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 SSDs, and more.

Joe Discusses the New Editions of His “Mac Fitness” Books

Posted by Joe Kissell on December 29, 2017

I joined Chuck Joiner on MacVoices (audio and video) to discuss the new editions of Take Control of Backing Up Your Mac, Take Control of Maintaining Your Mac, Take Control of Troubleshooting Your Mac, and Take Control of Speeding Up Your Mac—including their transition from Joe On Tech books back to the Take Control world:

MacVoices #17227: Joe Kissell Releases Four Take Control Titles Updated for High Sierra

Mavericks and Take Control of Backing Up Your Mac

Posted by Joe Kissell on February 24, 2014

Take Control of Backing Up Your Mac, 2nd Edition was published a few months before the release of OS X 10.9 Mavericks, and a number of people have asked whether the book is still up to date, or whether anything about Mavericks changes the backup story. The short answer is: The book is still fine. You can follow all the instructions in the book, even if you’re running Mavericks.

However, a few facts have changed that you may want to be aware of:

  • Mavericks and Time Machine: Although Time Machine in Mavericks functions almost identically to the way it did previously, the menu bar icon no longer spins when a backup is in progress; it only displays a tiny triangle below the point of the circular arrow—the subtlest indication that a backup is occurring. In addition, Time Machine no longer displays Time Capsule disks as mounted drives in the Finder during regular backups.
  • AirPort Disks: I say on pages 41, 43, and 73 that you can’t use Time Machine to back up your Mac to an AirPort Disk—that is, an external USB disk connected to an AirPort Extreme Base Station. But now you can, if, and only if, you have one of the new, tall, 802.11ac models of the AirPort Extreme released in June 2013 (shortly after the book was published). The older, flatter models still don’t support Time Machine. (However, all Time Capsule models, including the old flat ones and the new tall ones, do support Time Machine backups to an external USB disk.) You can read more about this in Adam Engst’s TidBITS article Use Time Machine with the 802.11ac AirPort Extreme Base Station.
  • James Pond: In several places in the book, I mention James Pond’s fabulous Apple OS X and Time Machine Tips site. The site is still there and remains a valuable resource, but James Pond died in September 2013 at the age of 70. I was very sorry to hear of this.
  • Backupify: This backup service, which I mention on p. 172, has changed its focus to be strictly business-oriented, and although it can still back up Gmail, it now supports only Google Apps accounts. The pricing structure has changed, as well.

I do have a (short) list of other topics I’d like to cover in more detail or clarify in some way in a future version of the book, but they aren’t specific to Mavericks and also not particularly urgent. Very tentatively, I imagine I might update the book to version 2.1 after the next version of OS X (10.10?) is released, presumably late in 2014—but we’ll have to see what changes Apple has in store for us and when.


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