Home Security Data & Storage How to Create a Bulletproof Backup of Your Mac

How to Create a Bulletproof Backup of Your Mac

bulletproof backup

If you don’t have any backup of your Mac, then get one. Actually, you’d better get three backups. However, start off with one. We all know that backup is very important, but we still do not do it. Some are lazy, some do not know where and how to start. For the latter problem, we have the solution. We will tell you how to create a bulletproof backup for all the precious data on your Mac.

Step 1. Bootable backup also known as “clone”

Carbon Copy Cloner screenshot - bulletproof backup for Mac

Bootable backup is a substitute hard drive that can be used to start your Mac when the main hard drive crashes.

How to make a bootable backup

Making a bootable hard drive is very easy. You just need to purchase a second hard drive of the same capacity as the main one. Now, you have to attach this bootable hard drive, install and run the software SuperDuper, which is free or $28 with additional features. You can also use Carbon Copy Cloner, which is $40. Then just replicate step two from time to time.

Issues with bootable backups

Some problems may arise when you use bootable hard drives. For instance, if you fail to update the bootable hard drive regularly, then the new files may be lost if your main hard drive crashes. Ironically, if you update bootable hard drives too frequently, then you might be copying the problems in your main hard drive to the bootable one.

Secondly, sometimes you may have deleted some files from your main hard drive, and when the bootable one is updated, the files will be removed from the clone also. So the major problem people face with bootable hard drives is remembering to connect it to the main hard drive and update it.

How to use it when the need arises and how to make sure it works?

A good idea would be verifying your bootable hard drive every month to see if it is working. To verify, you have to restart the Mac with the bootable drive connected to it. When you restart your system, press and hold Option/Alt key during the time the system is starting. If done correctly, you will see a choice to select your bootable drive. Select the option and ensure that your system has started. If it starts up, you have verified your clone drive and now can restart the computer again in a similar way and select the main hard drive.

You want only one backup kind? Go for a bootable one

Bootable hard drives are useful and reliable if you choose to keep only one backup. However, we would suggest that a single type of backup is very risky and you should opt for more options side by side. At least you should own a clone as well as Time Machine simultaneously.

Step 2. Time Machine backup

Time Machine setup – bulletproof backup for Mac

Time Machine is a fitted backup solution offered by Apple. The main function of the Time Machine is to recover a file, which has been accidently deleted by you. It can also go back to an older version of the file if you want to discard the newly made changes.

Why is it useful?

Time Machine is perfect if you want to restore a file, which was deleted accidently, or if you want to undo changes, which you made, and go back to the previous version.

How does Time Machine work?

To use Time Machine as a backup, purchase a secondary hard drive, which is as big as your main hard drive, or ideally twice in size. The reason for a larger hard drive is that the more capacity it has, the more you will be able to reach your older data. When the secondary hard drive is connected, Mac will instantly question you if you want to utilize it as a Time Machine backup drive. By clicking on yes, you are letting the Mac do all the work.

Problems with Time Machine

The first problem is that for Time Machine to work, you need to have a secondary hard drive connected to it. Apple’s default settings allow Time Machine to run once in an hour. If in that hour you have made many changes, then it can take some time to back up. People complain that their computers get evidently slow when Time Machine is backing up data. However, Apple has improved this issue in the recent years. Also, you can ask Time Machine to skip as well as holdup a backup. However, doing that too often is risky also. Thirdly, the Time Machine will not backup your complete drive, neither can you restart from a Time Machine backup.

How to use Time Machine?

When you have Time Machine running for some time, go to any available file and folder and run the Time Machine app, which will show you earlier versions of that file or folder.

Step 3. The off-site backup

Crashplan Mac screenshot – bulletproof backup for Mac

More ideal than two backups are, of course, three backups. The third backup that you can use is called an “off-site backup,” which exists in a place besides where you keep your Mac.

Why do you need an off-site backup?

An off-site backup is ideal in the case of any theft as well as disaster such as fire, flood and so on. Moreover, if someone comes to rob your data at your home, they will steal the computer and all the secondary hard drives they catch lying close by. Similarly, if your home catches fire, your backup will be destroyed along with the original.

How to create an off-site backup?

The simplest way to make an off-site backup is signing up for an online backup service such as CrashPlan or Backblaze. They will charge a fee, but will routinely backup your hard drive as soon as you connect it to the Internet.

CrashPlan is slightly more reasonable than Backblaze. But Backblaze has the added benefit of backing up not just the main hard drive but also any other connected drives, except Time Machine. CrashPlan is sometimes criticized, as it is a Java app and not a Mac app and causes the computer to slow down considerably. However, now there are settings to decrease CPU use when the computer is being used actively.

You should know that you can use CrashPlan to backup other computers like a friend or some relative’s without any extra charge.

Another great benefit of having the paid Crash Plan or Backblaze account is having the feature to copy any file using your iPod or iPhone from your account even if you are out of your home. Moreover, if you misplace your computer as well as backup, the companies will send a hard drive with your complete backup on it. They will charge a fee for it, but it can save you a lot of time from such a disaster.

Problems of off-site backup

The major problem of an off-site backup is that upload speeds, which is the speed your computer sends information to CrashPlan or Backblaze, are quite slow. However, a major reason for this is the dismal position of Internet in USA. Sometimes it can take weeks for your initial backup to be finished. However, after this long wait, the changes are quite small and quick.

How is it used?

To use CrashPlan or Backblaze, you need to simply create an account, download their app, install it and run it. The good thing is that both CrashPlan and Backblaze offer a free trial of a few weeks, which is great as the files take some time to upload. After this, you just have to leave your computer until the preliminary upload has finished.

The complete backup system

A bootable backup, Time Machine along with off-site backup gives you a complete backup system, which should hopefully protect you when the need arises. Note that we mention ‘when’ and not ‘if’ as every hard drive has to die.

This reliable backup system will keep you protected of all problems if you use every component appropriately. It can be difficult to remember to plug in a bootable backup and Time Machine, but it is very important that you do so. A good idea would be to plug them in at night and let them get updated while you asleep. Nighttime is also a good time to let your online backups be updated as well.

Room for a 4th layer of protection – Dropbox

We have already built a superior system with the three-layered backup, but we would advise one more layer, which is the easiest and free. It is called Dropbox.

We do not think any of you could have missed knowing about Dropbox, but if you have not heard then here is what you need to know: Dropbox is a folder on your system that syncs to the cloud aka Internet. Dropbox is mainly built for sync and not backup. People may argue that Dropbox is not backup, but we disagree.

Every time a file is saved on your Dropbox account when you are online, Dropbox will upload the file on its servers and the changes will be synced to the computer which linked to the same Dropbox account. Users can access their accounts at any time to revert any changes as well undo any files which been deleted in the past 30 days, which sounds similar to what Time Machine does. Dropbox gives only 2 GB for free, but you can easily extend your account to 5-6 GB, also for free. We would not suggest that you use it instead of Time Machine, but Dropbox has one major advantage that the Time Machine lacks: it runs full-time.

For instance, if you edited a new file at 1pm, and your computer exploded at 1:05pm, chances are that Time Machine did not catch the changes as it runs only one time in an hour. The bootable hard drive would also be useless as you update it every day or every other day. There are some chances of your off-site backup having it. But it depends on your backup being up-to-date before the file was created. However, if that file was saved on Dropbox and you were also online when editing the file, there are almost 100% chances that the file was updated on Dropbox.

No doubt, 2 GB is not too much space; you cannot save iTunes music and your photo gallery to it. But whenever you would work on some important file, just save it to Dropbox to ensure that you always have this file when all other backups fail.

Moreover, Dropbox is not the only choice you have, as there are many other cloud sync services available such as Google Drive, Box, iCloud, OneDrive, etc. Once again, we do not recommend that you use Dropbox instead of the three previously mentioned backup options, we recommend using Dropbox (or any other service) in addition to the other three.

Are two different hard drives required for the clone and Time Machine?

No, you do not need separate hard drives for both backups. However, remember that all hard drives come with a limited life including backup drives. Hence, when your Time Machine backup drive dies, your ability to undo/delete files as well as your historical information will be gone. So if you are using only one drive for both Time Machine and the clone which faces a hardware failure, you will be left to create the clone as well as the Time Machine backup once again.

Ideally, it is better to have two hard drives. But if you understand the trade-offs, dealing with one hard drive can be more convenient.

For instance, if your MacBook has a 500 GB drive, you can purchase a 2 TB external drive and use the option of Disk Utility to partition the drive into a cloning partition of 500 GB and one 1.5 TB drive dedicated for the Time Machine. The main benefit of this is convenience for every-day use as well as for traveling. Also, a bus-powered drive only has to be connected to a USB port on your Mac and not in any A/C power. Hence, it does not need another cord to go with it. Such drives are compact enough to fit in your laptop bags so it is easy to take with you wherever you go. SuperDuper can be set easily to run whenever the drive is connected and Time Machine will run immediately when its drive is recognized.

If you have only one drive, you can simply connect it at the end of the day, confirm that the cloning process starts and go to bed peacefully while the computer does the backing up. There is also an option to configure SuperDuper to run every day, as well as every “X” days at a specific time. Just set it to run automatically at midnight, and the app launching can be your cue to go to sleep!