How Important Is Backing Up Now?

For years, we were told to backup, backup, backup. I stopped listening to a tech podcast when one of the hosts admitted they don’t backup their computer. How am I suppose to listen to a tech expert who doesn’t backup their system? I harangued friends about backing up. I screamed at colleagues on the importance of backing up.

However, since IOS 13 and Catalina, even your Desktop is now being automatically backed up with iCloud.

The issue of backups struck me last few times I bought a new Apple device. I signed in with my Apple ID, and suddenly everything on my old device, documents, files, and preferences, is on my new device — only a few open source development apps wasn’t ported over with my new Mac. Took me an hour to get those loaded up.

There are a few things where a backup can help — older versions of a file or a deleted file. I use TimeMachine and it’s been helpful in that one regard, but I’m not 100% sure if that one feature is worth the $80 for a secondary disk drive.

With everything on line all the time, is it still important for everyone to still use a third party on line service to back up their devices?

I would posit that the answer depends upon how important your data is to you. I personally don’t trust iCloud (based on bad experiences and outages, perhaps these problems are all solved, but perhaps not), especially not as a sole provider of backups.

I subscribe to (and luckily have not had to utilize) Backblaze, and have my own rotating set of externals using SuperDuper and Chronosync (overkill, perhaps, but helps me sleep at night), and also a TimeMachine disk which I don’t really depend upon, but which has saved me from an accidentally deleted file once or twice.

I might be too much of a digital pack rat to use iCloud as a sole backup- even Backblaze took a long time to run the first time (30 years of business and personal data adds up). For someone like my parents, iCloud could be enough though, they mostly have a bunch of text documents to back up, and photos that are already in iCloud. Maybe that’s the key consideration: how much data is one relying on iCloud to store?

Another consideration, how reliable is one’s online provider? I’m on a fast connection at the moment, but for years I had a pokey connection, and couldn’t get faster speeds unless I moved. In the US at least, there are plenty of areas with slow internet connections.

The macOS Desktop and Documents syncing takes care of only what’s in those two folders. Conceivably, your Pictures folder holds only your Photos library, your Mail store should be online, and if you use Dropbox or Google Drive, they’re synced, but there are certainly plenty of other folders in your account that aren’t being backed up.

Not everything is online all the time. I don’t trust iCloud (or Dropbox for that matter). Putting all your eggs in one basket has always been a recipe for disaster. I will continue to back up in several different ways, most of it offline because I like to stay in control. I’m glad if fewer people do so though. Puts me at a competitive advantage. :wink:

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Do you run a business? Do you have family and travel photos you can never retake
again? Do you have tax records or other data that you can’t recreate or easily obtain if you were to lose everything?

It all depends on your situation and how you use your devices and computers.

For someone like Adam, constant backups are a must. For me they are more important than most people, but my business is such I can probably get by without daily clones of my drives. I do use cloud backups, however, because something like a house fire could put me out of business if I lost everything.

For the average Joe and Jane, I’m not so sure they’re that important any more. You’re right that iCloud and Dropbox and other services automatically back things up (to an extent) and most people wouldn’t lose everything.

I generally advise friends and family to make sure they have enough iCloud space to back up their phones – mainly for their photos, which they don’t want to lose. For some, whose photos are really important, I recommend downloading their pictures to an external drive or also backing them up with a cloud service, just in case.

A far bigger problem I’ve encountered for regular people is them not knowing the passwords for devices or accounts so when a family member dies or has a stroke, no one can access their data. In that situation, even if the data isn’t technically gone, it’s still just as lost.

Exactly…this is why I have 1Password. My wife uses Password Wallet but we each have each other’s master password in our vault. In addition…I have a folder on DropBox that our son has access to…there are several documents in there with names like 911, We got run over by the bus and similar…no passwords in the documents but he has both a paper in his safe with all the passwords he actually needs to get in, directions for how to get to our master 1PW and PW files, and he has a vault on our 1PW Family Plan with all the passwords he actually needs. One thing he doesn’t have…just thought about it…is a way to get around 2FA on DropBox (which is where my 1PW file lives)…I have a set of one time keys that I printed out safely stored away…I need to give him several of them just in case.

I don’t know all of my wife’s passwords and she doesn’t know all of mine…but after 43 years we have few secrets from each other (although there are still a very few)…but I do know how to get into her vault (and vice versa) if needed.

I’ve tried to convince her to shift to 1PW but she’s change resistant. She thinks it’s unsafe to let 1PW type in the user id and password and would rather do it herself. I’ve explained to her that it does all the security jazz to make sure it’s the real website before putting the password in…but she’s not convinced.

I’ve been on macOS/OS X since OS X 10.0 came out. I’ve noticed that Finder no longer displays the Library directory, and that your $HOME directory is no longer a bookmarked location. The Photos folder contains my Photos database, but that’s backed up by iCloud as well as my iTunes database under Music. I’ve got nothing else in my Music folder and just a few stray gif is Photos. There is a Public folder with a Drop Box directory, but I don’t think I ever used that. I do have a bin, a Python, a Perl5, and a temp, but that’s due to my work. And, these could be moved under Documents.

Oh, there’s also a Dropbox directory too. (In fact, I discovered that you cannot backup to iCloud a folder called Dropbox. I discovered this when I moved everything I had in Dropbox to under Documents because I decided I no longer wanted to subscribe to Dropbox.)

I guess the question isn’t backup vs. not backing up, but how you backup. Dropbox introduced a way to backup without thinking about backing up. You put something into Dropbox and it’s backed up. iCloud is similar with the Documents folder and a whole slew of stuff that might not be in Documents (like preferences, music, photos, movies, etc.).

I think the Dropbox installer excludes the folder from Time Machine but you can delete it from the Exclusions under Options… in the Time Machine preferences.

By deleting it, it is then backed up (there were so many negatives of negatives, I wanted to make that clear).

Sync is not backup–it can be devastatingly fragile.

Say you have all of your stuff synced to six devices plus the copies that live in the cloud. That’s 7 copies of everything, so you’re covered. But then a not uncommon thing happens: a bug or ransomware attack in the cloud service or in software on a device, or a bad guy gets control of one of the devices. Everything is deleted for one or more apps and/or the central file storage, even on just one device. Because they’re all synced, within minutes it’s gone on every device connected to the network, which these days is probably all of them. Even if a device isn’t connected, there’s a good chance that you’ll connect it to try to figure out what’s going on.

This happened on a smallish scale with the first beta of Catalina and iOS 13. The beta OSes connected to a beta version of iCloud and it led to irrecoverable data loss for some people. Several of my users have lost large amounts of email because they accidentally deleted much of the mail in an imap account, which quickly propagated to all of their other computers. With no local backup and no server backup for most ‘free’ mail services, there was no way to recover any of it. I’m in the process of setting up a backup for someone’s Google Drive to a local hard drive, because many of the folders are used for collaborative projects and collaborators mess up and delete stuff they shouldn’t.

My preferred backup scheme: 3 different kinds of backup using different software because backup software also has bugs and might miss stuff, but different software will generally miss different stuff.

A versioned backup so you can recover files from the past. (Time Machine, Chronosync, or Carbon Copy Cloner)

A full backup of everything once a day that rotates off site periodically.  For most people it's best if it's bootable. (Chronosync or Carbon Copy Cloner)

Remote backup out of region.  (Backblaze, Arq, Retrospect, etc)

For iOS devices, I backup to iTunes and iMazing (for versioning), and those are backed up via the regular computer backups.

As backup drives age and get replaced, label them carefully and put them aside as archival copies for additional insurance, especially against ransomware.


Though I do trust iCloud, I agree with Simon in having multiple backups. I use iCloud mostly for photo backups and information I might need to get my hands on somewhere, sometime, anytime. I’ve got a few external drives for everything else; one big one for everything, one for personal, one for work related stuff.

How and where backups are stored is also important. We have the big ones in a waterproof, fireproof box, and the smaller ones in waterproof boxes.

That is not true of any of the Macs that I have running Dropbox. I might have been true in the past.

All of my important files are in Dropbox, which is sync’ed in full to my Mac mini server, my home Mac mini, and my iMac. (My MacBook Air doesn’t have space for it all, so it just syncs some files using the Smart Sync feature.)

My MacBook Air is backed up via:

  1. Backblaze
  2. Time Capsule
  3. Time Machine
  4. Daily Carbon Copy Cloner
  5. Weekly Carbon Copy Cloner
  6. Monthly Carbon Copy Cloner

Time Capsule runs whenever I am home. I connect the Time Machine drive usually in the evenings/overnight so it can update itself.

My Mac mini’s boot drive and external drives @ MacStadium are backed up via Backblaze. Its main drive is also backed up via Time Machine and Carbon Copy Cloner, updated daily.

Unfortunately my 2nd internal drive died, so currently Time Machine and CCC are two partitions on one drive, which is less-than-ideal, but the MacStadium folks won’t replace a dead hard drive like the MacMiniColo folks would (which is frustrating and annoying), so replacing the internal drive would mean sending it to OWC and having the entire machine offline for like a week while it was mailed off, fixed, and then mailed back.

My son’s ancient MacBook Air is not backed up because he doesn’t really have anything on it. It gets used mostly for YouTube and Google Docs.

My 2015 MacBook has an external drive attached for Time Machine and CCC, but it doesn’t really have anything unique on it, but I had

My home Mac mini is backed up to Backblaze and has a 2nd internal drive partitioned in half: one half is a daily CCC backup and the other is a weekly CCC. (The boot drive is a 500GB SSD, the other internal is a 1TB HD.)

Some may call this excessive. I consider it mostly sufficient.

This is a really important point. Sync looks like backup, and it can provide a way to recover data in some disaster scenarios, but it just isn’t the same.

A case in point.

I use paid Dropbox as a pivot point for my devices: iMac, MBPro, iPhone, and iPad. It runs across platforms, which is great when I need to venture into Windows territory.

At work I was running another iMac as a livestreaming platform, and used my personal Dropbox to transport graphics and feed 1Password for critical passwords. The Dropbox app on that work iMac was set to sync a subset of my folders.

When we went on livestreaming hiatus for a period of several months, the iMac sat idle. My own work life moved on.

In February a new video team need to be resourced, and I fired up the iMac, preparing it for their needs. In the course of discarding old folders and files, I managed to dump the Dropbox folder into the trash and emptied the trash.


Folders, files, my 1Password vault, synchronized to that machine, which was telling them I wanted all that data to go. And, all my other devices dutifully synchronized to that new reality.

I called support, who at the time could offer me a convoluted procedure involving my sync history, removing the Dropbox app from all devices, restoring the sync history at the server, then reinstalling Dropbox and signing in. Eventually, all was well, but it was one of those cold sweat moments and I wasn’t “whole” again until some time the next day.

Dropbox has since rolled out a “restore” function for its paid subscribers, which interestingly happened about a month after I had my moment. I’m sure it was a coincidence. :slight_smile:

I still have no confidence in iCloud being there when I need it (and as others have pointed out, it’s not a full backup). I tried the almost-free one year iDrive trial, and ended up not renewing it because it never did give me the complete backup it promised and kept complaining about vague errors that prevented it from doing so.

My desktop backs up to Time Machine, but again I’m never sure if something I want to pull back from the past will actually be there. Amusingly (?), every time I run Windows on VMWare Fusion, it fills up my TM drive partition so I know older stuff is being thrown out.

So getting back to one of the OP’s original pondering, something has got to make backup worthwhile for you. Despite my experience from earlier this year, I agree that having everything online all the time changes the equation a bit, but I also know how shocked I was to see everything disappear in other places because of something I did in one place.

What I really want back is my DVC SCSI tape drive with Retrospect, which was slow but got the job done 20 years ago. That, or its modern equivalent, felt more reliable and complete to me than the rolling archive kept by Time Machine.

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Only back up the data you want to keep.


In my opinion, a multi-backup strategy is still crucial. Case in point: My late 2013 27" iMac started beach-balling. A reinstall of the OS and a restore from my TM backup fixed it…or so I thought. A month later, same thing. Trip to Apple Store, new SATA drive. While waiting, several restores of key files from my CrashPlan backup to my MacBook Air to keep working. Back from Apple, another TM restore. And another, and another. Back to Apple Store, “sorry…SSD is bad too, we missed it on the original diagnosis”. New SSD (at least it was no charge!), and another TM restore. Voila! Several months now of flawless performance. Key takeaway: Aside from the back-and-forth to the shop hassle, I experienced no data loss, or inability to keep working. Why? Because I had a multi-backup strategy that was reliable and comprehensive.


My Mac stuff automatically copies to iCloud and my Android copies to a Google online server. Since I never trusted any Apple online storage or backups, i back up things I want to keep to a network drive, [50GB], and a few other places. I do this every few days or so, manually. If your files don’t exist in at least 3 places, they don’t exist.

OTOH, I dropped my iPhone on the beach in Portugal in September, and it washed out to sea, likely to the big trench in the middle of the Atlantic ocean. iCloud had some of my photos, but my address book is sorely lacking. I’m still trying to figure out how to transfer phone numbers, emails and addresses from my Nokia N8. I may figure it out eventually, but am not in a big hurry to get it done.

Isn’t your address book backed up by iCloud? It is for me. If you have a Google account, it should be backed up to Google’s cloud.

Maybe it’s a bit too much to trust Apple, but last time I got a new iPhone, everything was on it once I signed into my Apple Account: all settings, documents, apps. The only thing not there was stuff in the Secure Enclave. I had to reenter my fingerprints and my credit cards. When I got a new Mac, everything was there except Dropbox and a few open source development apps. Those were easy enough to download. Oh, and Microsoft Office. That’s when I decided to drop office and use iWork.

I had backups, and time machine disks standing at the ready, but they weren’t needed. I have been backing up since the floppy days when I had stacks of floppies. I owned such dependable mediums as tape drives and Iomega’s Zip drive for backups. I was using remote backups over a 14k modem. Hours of fun!

However, my recent experience on replacing Apple hardware made me wonder why I bother. If the purpose of my backups is to reconstruct my system when it is replaced or lost, my backups had been benched.

There could be other reasons for backups: pulling off deleted or old versions of documents or restoring a system that has been attacked by ransomware. Dropbox and iCloud would do a too good a job of syncing and encrypt my cloud copies too. And if I had a business, I’d be backing up everything all the time. But, I can’t remember the last time I had to go to my remote backups for something I needed.

A backup saved me recently. I have a 2010 Mac Pro, and since it has 4 internal hard drive slots, I filled one specifically for backups. I had been doing weekly backups using Carbon Copy Cloner. Then one day my computer locked up while using other software and I did a hard restart. When I restarted, it started up from the backup and I couldn’t access the regular hard drive at all. I couldn’t access the crashed drive using any recovery software and I lost some email. Now I backup at the end of each day.

In distant memory, my only backup was an external disk attached to my MBP. Through some bizarre electrical storm nightmare, both internal and external disks were fried. I bought a recovery program and ran it for a day or two and gave up and paid a recovery company to whom I sent both int and ext disks and got almost everything back.
From that years forward, I became a belt & suspenders guy. Time Machine continuously; BackBlaze data (previously CrashPlan) continuously; full disk Super Duper weekly.

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