We all have these moments that remain crystal clear even 10 years later. I had a pretty loud cheese grater Mac. I still leave my computers always on. One morning I came into my office and there was this terrible silence. The motherboard of the computer had died.

The result of the failure wasn't too bad - except the cost for the new motherboard - because I had a good backup strategy. I only had to pop the main hard drive into an external enclosure and was able to continue working.

So a backup - actually, multiple backups - are essential for every Mac user. Joe Kissells book "Take Control of Backing Up Your Mac" is a good introduction. The book is now in version 4.3. Joe is a knowledgable Mac user and his advice is always practical. The book is from Take Control Books and costs 14.99$.

If I don't want to read the whole book there is a quickstart of 2 pages. The topics of the quickstart link to the chapters of the book. This makes it easy to access the relevant information.

Content of selected Chapters

Plan a Backup Strategy

If a user doesn't have an existing backup strategy then "Plan a Backup Strategy" is essential reading. The newer the version of macOS the more security features there are. From T2 chip to multiple partitions to sealed partitions: all features have consequences for backups. All these features are discussed in detail and what they mean for backups.

For instance, in former times a bootable backup was considered to be necessary. As result of the new security features the bootable backup has become less important.

Reassess Your Backup Strategy

If a user has an existing backup strategy then "Reassess Your Backup Strategy" is the chapter to read. Just because something has worked in the past it doesn't mean that it's up to date. Especially disasters are good for changing something. Again the security features are discussed and what they mean for backups.

Choose Backup Software

In "Choose Backup Software" Joe first discusses if TimeMachine is a good fit. As all software TimeMachine has benefits and drawbacks which Joe discusses in detail.

Software can change quickly. What was a good software a year ago can be abandonware a year later. Therefore, Joe gives a really detailed list of features for possible backup software. With the list users can easily evaluate if a backup software is the desired fit for their needs.

Only a couple of apps are mentioned in some detail like Arq, Carbon Copy Cloner or Retrospect. I was totally astonished that Retrospect still is alive.

Configure and Use Time Machine

TimeMachine looks like a one-click solution. But as with every software there are additional features. Data can be excluded from TimeMachine. Joe shows how to restore data with TimeMachine.

Create and Use a Duplicate

In "Create and Use a Duplicate" Joe shows how to make a bootable duplicate of the main hard drive of a computer. What was simple some years ago is now a more complex task.

Store an Extra Backup Offsite

Offsite backup is the topic of "Store an Extra Backup Offsite" using Arq, Acronis or BackBlaze. I have used multiple cloud backup software. All have benefits and drawbacks - same as with every software. I remember installing BackBlaze. After seeing that I wasn't able to back up my applications or the system folder I immediately deleted BackBlaze. I decide what I back up and not the software.

What to Do When Disaster Strikes

There are 2 types of disasters: a file is missing or the computer isn't working at all.

The smallest "disaster" is when single files are missing. If it's a PhD thesis that is missing it might be a major disaster. Joe shows how to restore individual file.

Next, the bootable duplicate can be used to fix some problems on the main hard disk or simple restore all data on the disk. Some years ago a security update made my iMac not start. I simple restored everything from TimeMachine.

Consider Special Backup Needs

As developer I have files where I may need to access the entire history of a file. Other users may have other special needs:

  • lots of photos
  • lots of large files
  • files in the cloud
  • users on the road
  • iPhones or iPads
  • Windows files on a Mac

Mail Archiver has large files, for instance. Backing those up isn't much fun.


Joe Kissell's book is very thorough. If you want learn about backups in 5 minutes then "Take Control of Backing Up Your Mac (4.3)" might be intimidating. However, we all have so many important files. The knowledge that a backup could have prevented a disaster usually comes AFTER the disaster. Therefore, using the quickstart to find the important parts for each user is a good idea. I don't need a NAS so I can safely skip the chapter. Creating a bootable backup also isn't interesting to me anymore.

Every user has different needs. The book gives the users questions so that users can develop a strategy on their own. If someone decides that TimeMachine is enough then that's good (until the first disaster).

My iMac is backed up hourly because I don't want to lose any code of Mail Archiver. My laptop doesn't need much protection because it's used mostly for reading and surfing the internet. Therefore, the laptop is backed up only twice a day. If a backup is missed because the computer is sleeping it's not a big deal.

I use TimeMachine AND Carbon Copy Cloner AND Acronis because I had computer AND software failures before. I have used Arq (terrible software) and Crashplan (bad support) before starting with Acronis. I have used all my three current apps to restore files. For developing software I have extra software. Currently, I can say that my backup strategy works for me.

What is different for your situation?

One topic that is missing from the book is verification that a backup really was done. When a Hackintosh I had some years ago didn't start I was super pissed that the newest Arq backup was 9 days old. Since then I get an email for every finished backup. Even for Carbon Copy Cloner.

Joe starts his book that his reason for having a backup was a lost email:

"The first time I thought seriously about backups was right after I lost a valuable, irreplaceable piece of data—an email message sent to me by a celebrity—as the result of a disk crash."

But with email being such an important part of everyone's life it's a bit of a pity that the special needs section doesn't have more information about email. There are only some recommendations for backing up cloud data. Restoring the email folder from Mail or importing mbox files to create a lot of duplicates aren't good ideas. Of course, I'm biased.