Skip to main content

Back Up and Restore - Apple macOS

How to back up and restore files on your Mac using an external hard drive or the cloud.

Introduction

This step-by-step guide shows you how to back up and restore files on your Apple Mac device.

This guide includes screenshots of macOS 12.0 Monterey but the steps are similar for other versions of macOS which is the operating system used by Apple computers such as iMacs and MacBooks.

Within macOS, you can back up your files to an external storage device through Time Machine, or synchronise some of your files (messages, photos etc.) using iCloud. There are also third party cloud backup services that can be used with macOS.

Backups

Our devices are home to all of our important data. But if that device is compromised, damaged, lost or stolen, your data may be lost. Whether it’s hardware failure, theft, natural disaster or your device being infected with a virus, recovering data can be expensive or impossible.

That’s why it’s so important to regularly back up data to the cloud or an external storage device, like a hard drive.

A backup is a digital copy of your most important information.

When backing up data, copies of your files (e.g. photos, documents, videos, etc.) are saved to an external storage device or to an online server like the cloud.

Having a backup means you can restore your files if something goes wrong. It is a precautionary measure so that your data is accessible in case something happens to your computer. We recommend backing up your files regularly.

Tip: Check your backups regularly so that you are familiar with the recovery process, and ensure your backups are working properly.

Back up macOS with Time Machine

Time Machine is a program for macOS that allows you to back up your Mac to external storage, such as a portable hard disk or Network Attached Storage (NAS) device. It will back up your whole system and all files and data and allow you to restore your Mac to a previous point in time.

Follow the steps below to back up using Time Machine.

Time Machine will erase the contents of the drive that you choose and use the entire disk for storing your Time Machine backups. You should use a drive that is new, or that you know has no data that you might need or would like to keep.

Step 1

Connect your backup storage device to your Mac, then click the Apple logo in the top left corner and select System Preferences.

Back up and restore Apple macOS steps

Step 2

Select Time Machine.

Back up and restore Apple macOS steps

Step 3

If you want your future backups to happen automatically, check the box marked Back Up Automatically then click Select Backup Disk.

Back up and restore Apple macOS steps

Step 4

Select the drive you want to use, check Encrypt backups and select Use Disk

Encrypting your backups will protect your data with a password. If someone else plugs in your backup disk, they won’t be able to access your data without the password.

Back up and restore Apple macOS steps

Step 5

If your drive needs to be formatted for use with macOS this popup will appear. Read it carefully and if there is nothing on the drive you wish to keep select Erase.

Back up and restore Apple macOS steps

Step 6

A pop up window will appear asking you to enter an encryption password. This will keep your backup files secure.

If you forget this encryption password, you will not be able to access your backup. Choose a password that is strong, unique and memorable, such as a passphrase. Consider storing your encryption password in a password manager. For more information on passphrases and password managers visit cyber.gov.au.

This screen will show what backup device is being used and your first backup will begin momentarily.

Back up and restore Apple macOS steps

Step 7

When the backup is complete, you may want to remove your backup storage device. This way if your Mac is infected by malware or ransomware it will not spread to your backup files. You should then store your hard drive(s) in a secure location.

If you enabled the Back Up Automatically option, Time Machine will automatically back up macOS next time you connect your storage device.

Back up and restore Apple macOS steps

Step 8

If you would prefer to keep your backup drive connected, you should consider regularly creating a second backup of your device and keeping it disconnected and in a safe location. This will allow you to restore your data even if something goes wrong with your main backup, for example if it is damaged or affected by ransomware.

To backup to another storage device hold the Option Key on your keyboard, click the Time Machine icon in the Menu Bar and select Choose Other Backup Disks. (If there is no Time Machine icon in the Menu Bar please see steps 1-4 of the next section to add it to the Menu Bar.)

Back up and restore Apple macOS steps

Restore macOS with Time Machine

If you need to restore macOS or your files, you can do this with a Time Machine backup.

Restoring macOS and files with Time Machine and Migration Assistant

You might want to restore macOS if you are moving to a new device, or are recovering from a cyber security incident such as malware. You can use a program called Migration Assistant to restore your entire Mac to an earlier point in time, including files, apps and everything in your user account.

You can restore macOS and your files by following the Migration Assistant steps on Apple’s website. If you are recovering from a cyber security incident and are unsure if your Mac is still infected, you should follow the steps to also reinstall macOS before connecting your backup storage device.

Restoring files with Time Machine

You can also restore files to an earlier version using Time Machine. If your Mac is clean of malware, you might consider this option.

These steps will show you how to restore files from your Time Machine backup.

Step 1

Plug the backup drive into your machine and click the Apple logo in the top left corner and select System Preferences.

Back up and restore Apple macOS steps

Step 2

Select Time Machine.

Back up and restore Apple macOS steps

Step 3

Select Show Time Machine in menu bar.

Back up and restore Apple macOS steps

Step 4

Click Time Machine in the menu bar and select Enter Time Machine.

Back up and restore Apple macOS steps

Step 5

Select the restoration point and click Restore. You may be prompted to enter your encryption password.

Your system will now be restored to the restoration point you have chosen. This may take some time. For more information on backing up and restoring macOS visit Apple’s website.

Back up and restore Apple macOS steps

Back up macOS to the cloud

You can also back up your Mac to the cloud. If you want to use the cloud instead of, or alongside, Time Machine we recommend finding a cloud backup service that backs up your files automatically and keeps older versions of your files.

If something goes wrong with your Mac, this cloud backup will allow you to restore your files to another device or to a previous point in time.

Sync macOS with iCloud

Apple provides cloud storage with iCloud, which can sync your iCloud Drive, Photos and other data to your Apple ID which can then be accessed across your devices.

iCloud may not provide previous versions of files like a cloud backup service or Time Machine would, which means you could lose your data after a cyber security incident such as ransomware.

It also will not back up all of your files – unlike Time Machine backups.

When signing into your Apple ID on a Mac, your iCloud Drive and Photos will automatically be synchronised. If you want to change what files are synchronised follow these steps.

Step 1

Click the Apple logo in the top left corner and select System Preferences.

Back up and restore Apple macOS steps

Step 2

Select Apple ID.

Back up and restore Apple macOS steps

Step 3

Select the items you wish to sync with iCloud.

Back up and restore Apple macOS steps

If your Mac is lost, stolen or damaged, the files you selected to sync to iCloud will be automatically restored when you sign into your Apple ID on another device.

However, if the files you synchronise with iCloud are encrypted or corrupted by ransomware or malware you may not be able to recover them. A dedicated cloud backup service that keeps an older version of your files will let you restore files if they are encrypted. We recommend using a dedicated cloud backup service or Time Machine to help recover files after a cyber security incident.

We recommend turning on multi-factor authentication for your Apple ID and iCloud account to help protect your files being accessed by cybercriminals.

 

Was this information helpful?
Was this information helpful?

Thanks for your feedback!

 
Optional

Tell us why this information was helpful and we’ll work on making more pages like it