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.
What’s New in Version 4.3
Almost immediately after the publication of version 4.2, questions began appearing in my inbox about changes in the behavior of Time Machine in Monterey, especially when configured to run as a server. It appears Apple made some changes in macOS 12 Monterey that I hadn’t noticed, some of which likely didn’t manifest themselves until version 12.3 or 12.4. I’ve spent considerable time doing further research and experiments, which have led me to revise my advice a bit. Most significantly:
- In “Decide How to Format Your Partitions,” I removed the suggestion to stick with the Mac OS Extended file system for Macs functioning as Time Machine servers in Big Sur or later.
- I revised “Restore Your Startup Volume Using Time Machine” and “Restore Files Without Time Machine” to offer more reliable advice for working with Time Machine over a local network.
- For some users running Monterey, there may be a shortcut to deleting unwanted Time Machine snapshots; I explain this in “Delete Files from a Time Machine Backup.”
- I rewrote the bulk of “Use a Mac as a Time Machine Server,” which now covers the use of this feature in Monterey up through at least version 12.4. I also note that this setup is fiddly and that despite my best efforts and yours, it might not work reliably.
- In “Use a Single Backup Disk with Multiple Macs,” I now explicitly advise against moving a Time Machine drive between local and network connections, as APFS makes such switching infeasible.
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.
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
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.