How to Back Up MacBook and MacBook Pro

A few easy ways to avoid losing important files

What to Know

  • Time Machine: Connect external drive > Apple menu > System Preferences > Time Machine > Select Disk > pick external drive.
  • iCloud: Sign into your Apple ID > Apple menu > System Preferences > Apple ID > iCloud > iCloud Drive > Options.
  • We recommend making two backups—one local and one in the cloud—for maximum safety.

This article explains a couple of different ways to backup your MacBook's hard drive. The article applies to all versions of the MacBook and MacBook Pro.

How Do I Back Up My MacBook Pro?

There are two kinds of backups you can choose from: local or cloud. Local backups are made to an external hard drive physically attached to your Mac. Cloud backups are made using a service that stores your data in the cloud.

Local backups are usually quicker to make (since you don't have to upload data to the cloud) and require a hard drive with enough free space to store your data. If you need to restore from your backup, a local option is usually faster. Cloud backups often require a subscription fee and can be slower if you have a lot of data to upload.

We recommend you use local and cloud backups at the same time. Why? If your local backup gets destroyed, say in a house fire or natural disaster, or the hard drive fails, having a cloud backup gives you a second layer of protection.

How Do I Transfer Everything From My MacBook Pro to an External Hard Drive?

The easiest way to create a local backup of your MacBook data is to use Time Machine, Apple's backup software included with macOS. There are plenty of other backup programs, but the basics of using them are roughly the same. To backup your MacBook data using Time Machine, follow these steps:

  1. Get an external hard drive with more storage capacity than the size of the hard drive you want to back up. Connect it to your Mac.

  2. Go to the Apple menu > System Preferences.

    Apple menu with System Preferences selected
  3. Select Time Machine.

    Time Machine icon highlighted in Mac System Preferences
  4. Click Select Disk and select your external hard drive. The backup will begin automatically.

    An external disk in Mac Time Machine
  5. We recommend checking the box next to Show Time Machine in menu bar. That adds an icon for Time Machine in the top right corner of the screen. Click it and then click Back Up Now to start a backup whenever you want.

    Show Time Machine in menu bar checkbox and back up now in Mac menu

If you keep the hard drive connected to your Mac, Time Machine does all the work for you: It automatically backs up your hard drive every hour. It also manages your backups: it keeps hourly backups for one day, daily backups for a month, and then weekly backups for as long as you have storage space. If you run out of room, it automatically deletes the oldest backups.

How to Backup MacBook Using iCloud

Like there are many programs to make local backups, there are many services for cloud backup. Each service offers different features, benefits, drawbacks, and pricing.

For some people, the best option will be the one built into the macOS: iCloud. Apple offers iCloud Drive to back up your MacBook data to the cloud and keep your documents synced across devices. It means you can have up-to-date copies of your files on any device signed into your iCloud account, including iPhones and iPads.

Follow these steps to back MacBook to iCloud:

  1. Make sure your MacBook is connected to the Internet and you're signed into iCloud.

  2. Go to Apple menu > System Preferences.

    Apple menu with System Preferences selected
  3. Click Apple ID > iCloud.

    Apple ID in the Mac System Preferences window
  4. Check the box next to each program you want to back up. Make sure iCloud Drive is checked and select Options to choose your iCloud Drive settings.

     iCloud Drive checkbox and Options in Apple ID menu
  5. Check the box next to each type of data you want to backup to iCloud Drive. The most important is Desktop and Documents Folders. With this enabled, any files on your desktop or stored in your Documents folder will be automatically backed up. Finally, select Done and close the Apple ID window. Backups will occur automatically.

    Desktop and Documents Folders.and Done in the Apple ID options

There are significant drawbacks to using iCloud for backup. First off, for many data types, you have to use Apple's pre-installed apps. If you prefer other apps, iCloud can't back them up. Secondly, iCloud doesn't back up every file on your computers—such as programs, settings, and preferences—which many people prefer. So, while iCloud is great for syncing data across devices and can be a good backup for some people, you should understand the limitations.

Backup and Sync Selected Kinds of Data Using iCloud

Even if you don't want to backup all of your data to iCloud, you can still backup selected data. Even better, that data can be synced to all of your Apple devices.

To do this, go to the Apple menu > System Preferences > Apple ID > iCloud and check the box next to the types of data you want to back up (Contacts, Calendars, Notes, etc.). Use the same settings on all of your Apple devices, and they'll stay in sync every time you make a change. You can access that data from, too.

  • How do I restore my Mac from a Time Machine backup?

    Restart your Mac and hold down Command+R while it boots up. When the Utilities menu appears, select Restore from Time Machine Backup.

  • How do I know when Time Machine is finished backing up?

    To monitor Time Machine's progress, go to Apple menu > System Preferences > Time Machine. If there are no backups in progress, you should see the time for your last and next scheduled backups. Otherwise, you'll see a progress bar showing how far along it is.

  • Can I close my Mac while it's backing up?

    Yes. If you close your computer during the middle of a backup, the backup will resume where it let off the next time you boot up.

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