How to back up your Mac: A step-by-step guide

In this article, we will show you how to back up your MacBook to iCloud or an external hard drive using Time Machine. We will also go over what to do before backing a Mac up and share the top three backup software options. Let's go.

Why you may need to back up your Mac

We all love our Macs — they are powerful, secure, easy to use, and incredibly reliable machines. But even Macs sometimes fail, leaving you in a desperate search for a way to recover your data. Backups may save you the trouble. By backing up your data, you can make sure no photo, file, or video will get lost if your hard drive refuses to operate or even when the unthinkable happens and you lose your Mac.

Mac backup options

Here are some backup options described in this article:

How to prepare your Mac for a backup

Hard drives have finite space, and that space can run out quickly if you're continually backing up items that you don't need.

To ensure that your hard drive has enough room for all of the important stuff, you should use CleanMyMac X routinely to detect and instantly remove system files and folders hogging up space.

CleanMyMac X's Smart Scan feature scans your Mac for outdated cache files, incomplete downloads, trashed items, and other unneeded junk files to find the things that are safe to get rid of. And using it couldn't be easier:

  1. Download CleanMyMac X (for free).
  2. Launch the app and select Smart Scan.
  3. Hit Scan and wait while CleanMyMac performs scanning.
  4. Hit Run and watch in awe as your hard drive suddenly gains free space that you never thought was possible.

How to back up your Mac to an external hard drive with Time Machine

A local backup is the fastest way to backup your data. It involves moving your files over to an external hard drive. HDDs and SSDs have dropped greatly in price in recent years, so you should be able to pick one up relatively cheaply with a decent capacity. Local backup is a safe and reliable way to safeguard all of your important files, and it's really easy to do.

Mac's built-in Time Machine feature is the easiest way to perform a backup to an external hard drive. If the hard drive you've chosen isn't formatted as Time Machine requires, you'll need to format it to be fully compatible with macOS. This will remove everything from your backup disk, so you might want to transfer any files to a different device.

Step 1. Format your external hard drive

To start formatting, connect your external hard drive to your Mac with a USB or Thunderbolt. Once it's connected, follow the steps:

  1. Open Disk Utility (Finder > Applications > Utilities > Disc Utility).
  2. Select your hard drive under 'external' and click Erase. 
  3. Choose Format — the latest macOS versions use APFS by default; select this format for fast performance.
  4. Click Erase.

Now, your hard drive is ready for backup. 

Step 2. Back up your data with Time Machine

Here's how to back up your Mac with Time Machine:

  1. Go to System Preferences > Time Machine.
  2. Click Select Disk and choose your external hard drive.
  3. Select your hard drive and click Use Disk.

If you want to encrypt your data, click the "Encrypt backups" checkbox at the last step. You'll be prompted to create a backup password. Then, click Encrypt Disk, and Time Machine will begin backing up your data.  

Tip

If you've made big changes on your Mac and want Time Machine to back it up immediately, go to System Preferences > Time Machine. Check the box next to "Show Time Machine in the menu bar." Now click the menu bar icon and select Back Up Now to back up your Mac.

How to back up your Mac to iCloud

Local backups are quick and easy, but, like your Mac, physical hard drives are susceptible to failure and catastrophes like flood, fire, or burglary. Storing data in the cloud removes these risks, and it too is very straightforward, particularly in the case of iCloud.

Once iCloud is up and running, you no longer have to worry about losing any of your photos, music, mail, contacts, calendars, reminders, notes, or Safari data. iCloud gives you 5GB of free storage to get you started, with options to upgrade to as much as 2TB of storage space.

Before setting up iCloud to automatically backup your data, make sure you're running the latest macOS version. You can find this out by choosing About This Mac from the Apple menu and checking if an update is available.

Now, let's back up your data with iCloud:

  1. Go to System Preferences and click Apple ID.
  2. Select iCloud.
  3. Sign in with your Apple ID if you're prompted.
  4. Select iCloud Drive.

Now, all files in iCloud Drive will be automatically stored in iCloud. 

If you want to back up your Desktop and Documents folders to iCloud Drive, click Options next to iCloud Drive. Select Desktop & Documents Folders. These two folders will now appear in the iCloud section of your sidebar in Finder.

Make sure to check the boxes next to anything else you want to be stored in iCloud.

How to back up Mac with third-party software

If you are looking for an alternative backup solution, here are the top three affordable and secure apps to back up your data.

1. Backblaze

    Backblaze is a cloud backup tool that lets you back up an unlimited amount of files. It backs up your data automatically, but you can manually exclude files and folders you don't want to save. With Backblaze, you can set up scheduled backups and be sure your data is always safe.

    2. iDrive

    iDrive is another great backup software that works with multiple platforms and devices. iDrive syncs your files in real-time automatically recognizing the modified parts, so you don't need to back up the whole document once again. It also lets you recover your trashed files within 30 days ensuring you won't lose any important data.

    3. Get Backup Pro

    Get Backup Pro provides four different backup options: simple copy, clone, incremental, and versioned. This app syncs all your folders, schedules regular backups, and recovers your data to any Mac, even if Get Backup Pro is not installed on that machine.

    Have you already backed up your Mac? Don't put it off. System failure can happen at any time and for any number of reasons. We really don't want it to happen to you. Use a combination of local and cloud backups so that you're protected against every eventuality, and make the most of a tool like CleanMyMac X to ensure your hard drives never run out of space.

    Laptop with CleanMyMac
    CleanMyMac X

    Your Mac. As good as new.