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This is one thing every Mac owner should know how to do

There’s almost nothing worse than getting caught with a broken Mac and no backup of your data.


You don't want to be caught without a backup if your Mac crashes. 

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With the increasing number of cloud storage services such as Dropbox or Google Drive on hand, it's easy to get complacent when it comes to keeping your Mac backed up. But those storage services don't back up everything on your computer. For example, they won't remember the complicated Wi-Fi password at the local coffee shop, or the carefully crafted settings you've taken years to perfect.

For that reason, having a recent backup of your Mac -- be it a MacBook, Mac Mini or iMac -- is a good idea in case your computer crashes and you can't access its storage. Working from a backup is also an easy way to move your apps and data to a new Mac if you upgrade to a new machine. 

The best part? Apple includes an app in every Mac that will routinely create a total backup of your Mac. You don't have to do a thing after the initial setup process that takes just a few minutes. 

Below I'll walk you through using Time Machine, cover how to check what iCloud is keeping a backup of and for those who want some extra assurance, I'll show you how to back up your Music library.


Time Machine is where it's at. 

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Use Time Machine to back up your Mac

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Every Mac includes the Time Machine app that will routinely perform backups of your computer as long as it knows where to store that backup. In fact, when you connect an external hard drive or SSD to your Mac, you may see a prompt asking if you want to use the drive with Time Machine. 

When Time Machine is set up, it will create and store one backup every hour for the past 24 hours, daily backups for the past month and one backup a week for all previous months until it runs out of space. Once the backup drive is full, it will make room by deleting the oldest backups. 

You can find an external hard drive or SSD for relatively cheap, and we even have a handy guide to the best drives. As far as how big of a drive to get, the unwritten rule is 1.5 to 2 times the size of your Mac's hard drive. For example, if your Mac has 256GB of storage, you'll want a 512GB drive. 

The drive can either be connected directly to your Mac or to your network via an Apple Time Capsule, an external drive connected to an AirPort Extreme Base Station or another router with an available USB port.

Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

Once you have a drive, plug it into your Mac and wait for the prompt to use it with Time Machine. If your Mac forgets its manners and doesn't ask, you can select the drive for Time Machine to use by going to System Preferences > Time Machine and clicking the Select Disk button. 

If it's not properly formatted to work as a backup drive, Time Machine will ask if you want to format the drive. Doing so will erase anything on the drive, so make sure there's nothing on the drive you don't want to lose. 

When selecting your drive for Time Machine, you can also check a box to Encrypt backups, which will require a password when you go to restore your Mac from a Time Machine backup. Make sure the check box next to Back Up Automatically is checked. 

Click the Options button in Time Machine's panel in System Preferences and you can add items for Time Machine to exclude. Excluding items will speed up a Time Machine backup, but you can still use your Mac while it's getting backed up; Time Machines goes about its business in the background, though older Macs might feel a bit sluggish during the backup process.

There is also an option to Show Time Machine in menu bar. From the menu bar icon, you can keep an eye on the status of your backup, stop a backup and manually start a backup.

To restore your system or even a single file to a previous point in time, click the menu bar and choose Enter Time Machine. You'll see your previous Time Machine backups like cards in a rolodex; scroll through and find the one you want and click the Restore button.

Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

iCloud backs up some stuff, but not everything

Where Time Machine is a complete and total system backup, iCloud only stores some of your data. If you go to System Preferences > Internet Accounts > iCloud you can see a list of everything that's currently being synced and stored in your iCloud account. 

I suggest clicking the Options button next to iCloud Drive to see the files and folders that are stored in your account. It should include your Desktop and Documents folders, along with any apps you use that store data in iCloud Drive.


Organize your files before creating a backup so you don't leave anything behind. 

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Keep an extra backup of your Music library

If you've spent countless hours curating and crafting your personal music library from old CDs, you may want to create an extra backup. To be clear, Time Machine will include your music library in its routine backup runs, so this is an extra step that's completely optional. 

Before you start, make sure to consolidate your Music library. Open the Music app then click File in the menu bar, followed by Library > Organize Library and check the box next to Consolidate Library. This step will make sure every media file in your library is stored in the Media file that you're about to back up. If you skip this step, you risk leaving out files you have stored in different areas on your Mac. 

Once that process is done, open Finder and click the folder that has your username. Next, click Music and then Music again. There you'll find a file titled Music Library

Drag and drop that file to an external drive to create a copy. Depending on how big your music library is, it can take several hours to transfer.

Now that all of your data is safely backed up, take a few minutes to check out some features every Mac user needs to know about.  Did you know you can mirror your Mac's screen to an Apple TV? It's true. If you happen to ever lock yourself out of your Mac because you forgot your password, here's how to get back in.