How to back up your Mac computer

Despite your best efforts, accidents happen, lose a MacBook, or see your Mac just die for no reason. You can take the sting out of any mishap if you have a backup.

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Much like flossing, backing up your Mac is a regular practice that is vital to your technological health. While many know it’s important, not many people think of doing it regularly.

Below is an explanation of when backups can be particularly helpful to you, as well as step-by-step instructions on how to back up your Mac and MacBook computers.

If you need to back up

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How to back up your Mac computer.

How to back up your Mac computer.
(Fox News)

Although ideally you back up your computer regularly. For the rest of us, there are some key moments to backing up your computer, such as:

  • Before updating software programs such as operating systems
  • Before your computer was infected with a virus or malware.

The reason for these key moments is that you can protect your data before you have to keep it. You may need to reformat your computer to get it working again. If something goes wrong, you have safely “hidden” a copy of your data via a backup.

Where do you back up your data: The cloud vs. external drive

Before I get into the ways of backing up your data, you need to have a place to store your data.

You have two ways here. The choice is pretty simple: in the cloud or on External drive. Store a backup in the cloud somewhere other than your physical possession or back it up to an external drive that you control. I lost confidence in storing something valuable and meaningful in someone else’s cloud a long time ago. I still use cloud storage, just not for what’s sensitive and really important. I assume anything you store in a cloud system is not private.

If you are considering these options, be sure to go to CyberGuy.com and search for “back up your devices” by clicking the magnifying glass at the top of my site.

How to back up your Mac

Already included in the latest Mac operating systems, Time Machine creates versions of your Mac: daily, weekly, monthly, etc.

How to back up with Time Machine

Time Machine saves all your settings, data, and apps from your Mac. And unlike most other backups, Time Machine only backs up changes you’ve made since the last time you ran it, making the process faster than backing up data traditionally. The benefit of versioned backups is that not only do they preserve your “stash” if something goes wrong with your Mac, but they also protect you from user error. If you accidentally delete or modify a file and need to restore the original or older version, you can do so.

Below is a step-by-step guide on using Time Machine to back up your Mac:

  • Connect your external drive containing the Time Machine backup to your Mac

Notes: Make sure the drive is properly formatted for the current Mac you are using. If you are planning to migrate your Mac’s data to another Mac device, make sure to format the drive that is compatible with the Mac you want to transfer the data to.

  • Open minded system settings in your dock

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Screenshot instructing you to enable the system settings widget.

Screenshot instructing you to enable the system settings widget.
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Screenshot instructing you to click on the time machine app.

Screenshot instructing you to click on the time machine app.
(Fox News)

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Screenshot for selecting the backup disk.

Screenshot for selecting the backup disk.
(Fox News)

  • A window opens with a list of external drives
  • Select the drive you want to use for your backup
  • click Use disk.

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Screenshot of instructions to choose external backup hard drive.

Screenshot of instructions to choose external backup hard drive.
(Fox News)

Please note that the initial Time Machine backup usually takes the longest.

How to restore your Mac

How to restore individual files or folders using Time Machine

  • Connect the drive containing your Time Machine backup to your Mac
  • Open the folder where the item to be restored is located (Example: Documents).
  • On the desktop, click the Time Machine icon in the menu bar
  • Choose Enter Time Machine

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Screenshot of how to enter Time Machine on an Apple computer.

Screenshot of how to enter Time Machine on an Apple computer.
(Fox News)

  • Another screen popup shows the timeline of your backups of that folder or file, which you can navigate chronologically using the arrows

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Screenshot of choices when backing up your Apple computer.

Screenshot of choices when backing up your Apple computer.
(Fox News)

  • When you find the version you want, click restore, and it should appear in its original position.

How to set up automatic backups with Time Machine

Below are step-by-step instructions for setting up automatic backups with Time Machine. As long as your external drive is connected to your Mac, it will back up hourly, daily, weekly, and monthly once you choose automatic backups with Time Machine. The backup will continue every time the external hard drive is connected to the Time Machine backup. It deletes the older backups when the external hard drive used for those backups runs out of space.

  • Connect your external drive containing the Time Machine backup to your Mac
  • Open minded system settings in your dock
  • click time Machine
  • Check the “Back up automatically” box

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Screenshot showing you how to automatically back up your computer.

Screenshot showing you how to automatically back up your computer.
(Fox News)

  • In the next window, select the external drive that you want to use for these automatic backups with Time Machine
  • click Use disk.

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Screenshot showing you how to choose which hard drive to use to back up your Apple computer.

Screenshot showing you how to choose which hard drive to use to back up your Apple computer.
(Fox News)

How to restore your Time Machine backup using Migration Assistant

Migration Assistant is a program that comes standard with most macOS. It allows users to transfer user accounts, computer settings, apps and data from one Mac to another.

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Screenshot showing you how to select utilities.

Screenshot showing you how to select utilities.
(Fox News)

  • in the Utilities folder, click migration assistant

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Screenshot showing you how to select Migration Assistant.

Screenshot showing you how to select Migration Assistant.
(Fox News)

  • You may be prompted for your username and password. If so, enter both to continue
  • Choose From a Mac, a Time Machine backup, or a startup disk

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Screenshot showing you how to use Migration Assistant.

Screenshot showing you how to use Migration Assistant.
(Fox News)

  • Icons of available drives are displayed. Select the drive you used for the Time Machine backup
  • click Keep going

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Screenshot showing how to transfer your backup to your Mac.

Screenshot showing how to transfer your backup to your Mac.
(Fox News)

  • Select the information to be transferred (folders, files and/or user accounts)
  • click Keep going two transfers.

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Screenshot for transferring information to your Mac.

Screenshot for transferring information to your Mac.
(Fox News)

Please note that it may take several hours to complete.

While there are many paid backup services and programs out there, Windows and Mac both have easy-to-use programs and features built into their operating systems. Whichever method you choose to back up your computer, make sure you do it regularly, or at least before making any major changes to your system. If you use an external hard drive to store your backups, keep it in a safe place so you have a copy of your digital “life” no matter what.

Tell us: what is your backup strategy? Do you back up data regularly or was this article a good reminder to back up your data now?

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