Image showing Time Machine settings in macOS

Even with high-quality devices like Apple’s MacBooks and iMacs, it’s important to back up. No device works as expected all the time and there are many scenarios outside of drive failure when a backup is crucial to have (upgrading, accidents, loss, or theft.) Follow along for how to back up your Mac.

My guess is that a much higher percentage of people would save their information if they put an automatic backup solution in place. Keep in mind, it’s best to have at least three copies of your important information (two backups in case one fails), but if you don’t have any backups right now, one is a start.

How to back up a Mac with Time Machine

One of the easiest ways to set up an automatic local backup (happening on a hard drive in your possession) is with the Time Machine software that’s built-in to macOS.

Once configured properly, your Mac will backup hourly for the past 24 hours, daily for the past month and will save a weekly backup for all previous months to an external hard drive or external SSD (solid state drive). You can use most any external hard drive, but it will need to be formatted for macOS if it didn’t come that way from the manufacturer.

If you don’t have an external hard drive or want to get another one, this 1TB (1,000GB) option by Seagate is great for $60. It’s plug and play ready, doesn’t need an external power source, and has a large enough capacity for most people (check how much storage you’re using by clicking in the top left  → About This Mac → Storage). They also offer 2 and 4TB options.

The only reasons your Time Machine automatic backups will stop is if you turn it off manually, eject/unplug your external hard drive, or turn off your computer. If you turn your machine off regularly or use a MacBook, your backups will continue automatically when you plug your external drive back in and your Mac is on.

The beautiful part about Time Machine is that it will keep backing up your new information even if your drive fills up, in which case it will delete the oldest backups. Here’s how to set up an automatic backup with Time Machine on your Mac with an external hard drive:


When you plug your external hard drive in for the first time, this dialog box will appear (external drives that don’t need a power source will power on automatically when plugged in, hard drives that use an external power source may have an on/off switch). Click Use as Backup Disk.


You’ll notice in the middle area of the Time Machine window that your backup will start automatically. The Back Up Automatically box will be checked by default.


You can also check the Show Time Machine in menu bar at the bottom of the Time Machine window to have quick access and control to Time Machines settings and info. You can choose to Back Up Now if you don’t want to wait for the next scheduled one to occur.

You may also notice if you are using a MacBook that the automatic backup may not start until you plug in your power adapter.


Once your backup has started you’ll see the details of your backup and a time estimate (take the estimate with a big grain of salt. This backup estimated 14-19 minutes, but it ended up actually taking two hours).


When your backup is complete you’ll see it in the Time Machine window as well in the menu bar. If you ever need to get back to Time Machine preferences and don’t have the menu bar option turned on you can find it by clicking top left of your Mac  → System Preferences → Time Machine.

How to back up a Mac with a cloud service

Automatic cloud backups for your Mac are usually a paid service. Crash Plan and Backblaze are two examples of reputable automatic cloud backup services for Mac (and other platforms as well). Both services have free trial options and costs starting at $5/month (there are other ways to do this, but are often more complex).

One of the biggest benefits of these services is once you get them going you don’t have to worry about them at all and if you experience any natural disasters or theft, all of your information is safe.

There isn’t a way to back up an entire Mac to iCloud in the same way that Time Machine or a service like Crash Plan does. However, a good amount of your information may likely be saved with iCloud. Navigate to System Preferences → iCloud to see what you are currently saving with iCloud and make any desired changes.

Image showing iCloud setting in macOS system preferences

Check out our how to guide for more helpful articled to get the most out of your Apple devices.

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About the Author

Michael Potuck

Michael is an editor for 9to5Mac. Since joining in 2016 he has written more than 3,000 articles including breaking news, reviews, and detailed comparisons and tutorials.