Ways to back up Your Mac Operating System and Hard Drive

The family photo album has transformed over the past two decades; nowadays, you are more likely to find important photographs of your life on social media and USB flash drives/external drives than you are in old-fashioned photo albums. This is why having multiple avenues for data backup and recovery are so important; a few simple steps can ensure that a hard drive failure or system crash won’t wipe out years of precious photographs, videos, files, and documents. In this article, we’ll go over some common ways to back up your mac operating system and hard drive. 

Hard Drive: Use Time Machine 

Macs have a built-in application called Time Machine, which is an incredibly useful backup tool designed to periodically save copies of all your system files, applications, and important media files. It is a widely used and reliable method of data protection, as it creates hourly backups for the past 24 hours, daily backups for the past month, and weekly backups for all previous months. 

With that being said, you’ll need an external hard drive or USB flash drive that fits your purposes. For loads of high-resolution pictures and large files, you’ll almost assuredly need a terabyte external hard drive or larger. Aim for an external hard drive that is 3 to 4 times the size as the drive in your computer. This will allow for multiple backups; in the event of an accidentally deleted file, you can immediately reset the system back an hour as long as Time Machine was running in the background. In the event of a total hardware or software failure, a Time Machine backup will keep all of your files safe. 

Important Files: Carry a USB Flash Drive 

This is a common trick used by bloggers and other travelling professionals that want a minimalist approach. Instead of carrying a large external hard drive wherever they go, these professionals bring multiple 64GB flash drives for different purposes. For example, one blogger had three different flash drives for his photographs, blog writings, and videos. He simultaneously saved all of the files to their respective flash drives while saving the files to his larger laptop drive. In the event of a hard drive failure on the laptop, the flash drives would have all of the files that were important for his line of work. This works great for travel bloggers and other people on-the-go who do not always have access to a WiFi network for cloud backups. 

Note: For all of your USB flash drive needs, my friends over at USB Memory Direct are worth checking out.  

Backup Your Mac OSX

An important note: when we talk about backing up the OSX, we mean the mac operating itself and all the necessary system files to run the operating software. Creating a bootable installer for OSX will not restore all of your important files (photographs, videos, documents, etc.) in the event of a system crash. That is what the above two steps are for. 

To begin, you’ll want to download a macOS installer from the Apple app store (macOS Mojave, macOS High Sierra, etc.). When the installer downloads and opens, you’ll want to close it immediately and find the solitary “install” file for your operating system of choice. 

  1. Once the installer is downloaded and you locate the install file, insert a flash drive into the mac that has at least a 12GB capacity. 
  2. Go the utilities folder (which is located inside the applications folder) and open Terminal. 
  3. For the following commands, the installer should still be in your applications folder. These commands also assume that your USB flash drive is named MyVolume. If it has a name other than MyVolume, replace it with the correct name for your USB flash drive. 
  4. Here are the following commands for the most recent mac operating systems: 
  • Mojave: sudo /Applications/Install\ macOS\ Mojave.app/Contents/Resources/createinstallmedia –volume /Volumes/MyVolume
  • High Sierra: sudo /Applications/Install\ macOS\ High\ Sierra.app/Contents/Resources/createinstallmedia –volume /Volumes/MyVolume
  • Sierra: sudo /Applications/Install\ macOS\ Sierra.app/Contents/Resources/createinstallmedia –volume /Volumes/MyVolume –applicationpath /Applications/Install\ macOS\ Sierra.app
  • El Capitan: sudo /Applications/Install\ OS\ X\ El\ Capitan.app/Contents/Resources/createinstallmedia –volume /Volumes/MyVolume –applicationpath /Applications/Install\ OS\ X\ El\ Capitan.app
  1. After you enter the command into terminal, press return, enter the administrator password when prompted, and then press return again (no characters will be shown when you enter your password into Terminal).
  2. A prompt will appear. Press Y on the keyboard to confirm and erase the volume. Press return and the bootable installer will be created. 
  3. When Terminal is finished with the process, the volume (your USB flash drive) will have the same name as the installer that was downloaded from the app store. Quit terminal and eject the volume. 

So, now you have a bootable installer on your flash drive that can be used in the event of a system crash. How do you use it? 

The Bootable Installer 

You’ll want to connect the flash drive and open the Startup Disk preferences or Startup manager. Select the new volume as the startup disk, then boot the system from that volume. Keep in mind that a bootable installer does require an internet connection to receive model-specific firmware updates. Finally, select “install macOS” which is found in the utilities window. Follow the instructions presented on the screen. 

Closing Thoughts

There you have it! External hard drives and USB flash drives offer a safe way to back up your important digital files and operating system software. These gadgets are great if you prefer to have a physical back up of your work, operating system, and important files.