You already know you should back up your Mac regularly. You probably already do it. But is your backup strategy bomb-proof? Will it get you out of trouble after even the most unlikely of data-loss catastrophes?
In this article we outline the best tools available for the job. Some of the backup apps and services here make incremental backups, others allow you to clone your entire boot drive, and the third group stashes your data safely on the servers of specialist data backup companies.
They all have free trials or demo versions so you can try before you buy, but if you want to continue to use them, you'll have to either buy a licence or pay a subscription. When it comes to protecting your data, however, the prices here are more than worth it.
Preinstalled as part of Mac OS X/macOS Leopard and later
Time Machine is brilliant for incremental backups that allow you to recover data that has been accidentally deleted. It's also good for recovering from a crash that results in the loss of data, or even makes it necessary to re-install the OS on a new drive and start from scratch.
The problem with Time Machine, however, like any single-destination backup strategy, is that if your Time Machine drive is in the same location as your Mac, it's vulnerable to the same catastrophic events as your Mac.
If your office is flooded, you'll lose your Time Machine drive as well as your Mac. If there's a lightning strike and your Time Machine drive is plugged into a power socket at the time, there goes your backup.
You can mitigate against this to an extent by storing your Time Machine drive in a separate location from your Mac, but that costs you one of Time Machine's best assets: its convenience.
Better then to have a dual strategy - one that provides the convenience of Time Machine, but adds an extra layer of security. To do that, you need to make regular backups to a different destination, be it an external hard drive or a cloud storage service in addition to Time Machine backups.
Carbon Copy Cloner
Download now: Carbon Copy Cloner
If you've ever performed a clean install of macOS, or wiped your Mac's hard drive before selling it, chances are you'll have come across Carbon Copy Cloner. At its simplest, it allows you to make a clone of your Mac's boot disk. That makes it very useful if you need to copy every bit of data from your Mac before wiping it clean. It also allows you to boot from it if disaster strikes.
Carbon Copy Cloner can do more than that, however. You can use it to back up only the folders you specify and set that as a 'task'. Tasks can be scheduled so that they run at times you set; and when a task runs, only those files that have changed since the task was last run are modified. Tasks can also be edited at any time, and you can choose to receive email notifications when a task has run.
Tasks can also be chained so you can, for example, back up your Home folder to a local drive and then back it up again, this time to a network drive. And, if that's not enough, Carbon Copy Cloner can also execute a shell script before or after a task is run.
Download now: Shirt Pocket
SuperDuper! is the other tool commonly used to clone a Mac OS X disk. Like Carbon Copy Cloner, it can create a bootable copy of your startup disk if that's what you need. It can also copy any folder you specify to any destination you like. Helpfully, SuperDuper! comes with several pre-configured tasks that you can choose from a dropdown menu once you've specified the source and destination. It also tells you exactly what it's going to do before it starts, in a series of bullet-pointed notes, and explains what it's done afterwards.
One neat touch is that SuperDuper! offers to repair permissions before it clones your drive. This isn't an issue in El Capitan, where Apple claims repairing permissions is no longer necessary, but is very useful if you run an older version of OS X.
The feature that draws many users to SuperDuper! however, is sandboxing. This feature allows you to create a bootable copy of your Mac's startup drive to another disk, then boot from that disk and and update it with a new version of the OS. It then shares applications and other data with the original OS. This means you can test a new version of the OS without risking your main startup disk, and because data is shared, you work on the original application and document files and any changes are retained when you revert back to using the original startup disk.
ChronoSync is three tools in one. Like Carbon Copy Cloner and SuperDuper!, it can create a bootable clone of your startup disk or run scheduled backups of files and folders you specify.
The tool that gives ChronoSync its name, however, is one which performs bi-directional synchronisation between two locations. That means that if a file has been modified on either drive, that file will be updated on the other drive, regardless of which is your main, working drive and which is the backup.
ChronoSync allows you to create filters or 'rules' for synchronisation. These work in a similar way to smart searches in the Finder. You click a '+' to add a rule and then choose from filters and attributes. There are three different modes - simple, intermediate and advanced - that offer different levels complexity. And rules can be combined using Boolean operators.
If you have multiple Macs on a network, you can 'push' backups to a server - where each Mac has its own rules and schedules, or 'pull' them from client Macs, where the server sets the schedules. You can also configure backups over the internet for when you're on the road with your Mac, using a VPN or secure internet connection.
There's also a free iOS app that allows you to sync files between iPhone or iPad and your Mac.
Data Backup for Mac
Perhaps the simplest to use of the tools featured here, Data Backup is also the oldest - but don't write it off. It can create four different types of backups: clone; incremental; versioned; and simple copy. You decide which one to use when you create the backup 'set'. A set, a term that dates back to when
You decide which one to use when you create the backup 'set'. A set, a term that dates back to when tape was used as a backup medium is just a routine that specifies source, destination, type of backup and schedule.
By default, Data Backup provides two 'Quick Backup' options: All documents to CD/DVD or 'iPhoto and other Pictures' to CD/DVD. Things have moved on a bit since those were last updated, hence the use of CD and DVD as destinations.
You'll want to create your own backup set from scratch and specify your own source (or sources) and destination, which will probably be another hard drive or a USB stick, rather than a CD or DVD. At $35 it's not cheap, particular given the much more recently updated competition, but there's a free trial version that's worth a look if ease of use is a priority.
Price: Free as local backup; from $59.99/year for offsite backup service
Download now: Crashplan
Crashplan is an online backup service that allows you to install an app on your Mac and then back up whatever files and folders you specify to Crashplan's severs, a local disk, or both. You can also back up to another destination on your network.
An important feature of Crashplan is its ability to pause and restart backups. So, if, for example, you run out of space on a disk when doing a local backup, you can remove it, attach another and keep going. Perhaps more importantly, it also means that when you back up to
Perhaps more importantly, it also means that when you back up to Crashplan's servers - which can take several days in the first instance, depending on how much data you're backing up - it will pause and resume automatically when your Mac shuts down and restarts or your internet connection goes down.
Subsequent backups are incremental and can be run as frequently as every minute, if you choose. And you can create backup sets, so your most important data is backed up frequently, while less important files and folders are backed up less often.
Restoring data from a backup is as simple as clicking the Restore tab in the Crashplan app and choosing the files you want to restore.
Crashplan is free if you only use it for local backup. If you want to use Crashplan's servers, prices are from $59.99 per year for a single user.
Price: From $59.99 per year (free trial available)
Sign up now: Carbonite
While Carbonite is a popular option, Mac users have a limited feature set available to them. Only the Basic plan is compatible with macOS, and this is limited to backing up only the User folder, not the entire drive.
This needn't matter too much, as you should have a bootable backup locally. But there are other limitations too. It can't back up external drives, and files over 4GB must be backed up manually.
The storage available is unlimited, but the lack of Mac friendliness and other limitations make it difficult to recommend over Crashplan. David Fanning
Backblaze is another online backup service and works in a similar fashion to Crashplan. There are a few differences, however. Backblaze's app, for example, is a native OS X application, while Crashplan's is a Java app. If that's important to you, then Backblaze may be more suitable.
Also, while both services encrypt your data so that it's secure on their servers, Backblaze uses two-factor authentication - it sends you a code to your phone - which adds another layer of security.
Backblaze doesn't allow you to back-up to a local drive, however - you can only back up your data to its servers. And some users dislike its method of of restoring files, which requires you to log on to the Backblaze website and choose the files you want to restore.
It then sends you the files in a zip archive with the files in their original folder structure, which can make it time consuming to retrieve them. By contrast, in Crashplan files are restored from the app and restored directly to their original location.
Backblaze is cheaper for a single computer, at $50/year, but if you have three or more computers to back up, Crashplan's family plan, which costs $150 for up to 10 computers, is a better deal.