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 two ebook formats—PDF and EPUB—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 recent versions of macOS, 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.

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 Saskatoon with his wife and their two sons.

What's New in Version 4.4.1

This very minor update adds a note about a Time Machine bug in Ventura; see "Restore Files and Folders in the Finder."

What Was New in Version 4.4

This update to the book covered changes in macOS 13 Ventura, corrected errors, and removed information that’s no longer relevant. The most significant changes were:

  • Updated references to System Preferences (and Preferences generally) to reflect the wording and other changes in Ventura
  • Included mention, where relevant, of Thunderbolt 4 in addition to Thunderbolt 3
  • Updated capacities and prices of various backup devices throughout the book
  • Added more detail about the use of NAS devices for backups in “Network Backups,” “Consider RAIDs and RAID-Like Tech,” and “Network Storage Devices”
  • Removed an incorrect statement that automatic hourly APFS snapshots on the startup volume are disabled whenever a local Time Machine drive is connected
  • Greatly revised the chapter “Configure and Use Time Machine” to describe the new Time Machine interface and features in Ventura
  • Removed all mentions of Drobo devices, which are no longer available (and which had significant reliability problems even when they were)
  • Updated the online appendixes with the latest information about backup apps and services, and added information on which apps support APFS snapshots

What Was New in Version 4.3

Apple made some changes in macOS 12 Monterey that I hadn’t noticed when I wrote version 4.2 of this book, some of which likely didn’t manifest themselves until macOS 12.3 or 12.4. For version 4.3, I spent considerable time doing further research and experiments, which 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.
  • Read Me First
    • Updates and More
    • ​Basics
    • Settings vs. Preferences
    • What’s New in Version 4.4.1
    • What Was New in Version 4.4
    • What Was New in Version 4.3
  • 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
    • Configure a Destination
    • Exclude Files from Time Machine
    • Manage Your Time Machine Schedule
    • Restore Data with Time Machine
    • Delete Files from a Time Machine Backup
    • Use a Mac as a Time Machine Server
    • Use a Single Backup Disk with Multiple Macs
    • Use Power Nap
    • 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.


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