How To Backup Your Mac Intelligently

How To Backup Your Mac Intelligently

Last week Jon wrote about the horrifying experience everyone eventually has to deal with – data loss. His wife’s hard drive failed – and without a current backup to rely upon – he went through two data recovery companies and two thousand dollars to retrieve 80 gigs of home movies, pictures, and a career’s worth of graphic design files.

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Jon’s lucky. He got his data back. My sister wasn’t so fortunate. I got a frantic phone call from her last night (which is why I’m writing this post). She kept a shortcut to her pictures folder on her desktop and somehow managed to delete the real folder when she dragged it to the trash. What did she lose? Over three thousand pictures she had taken from her senior year in highschool and first year at college. Gone.

I’m a paranoid person when it comes to backing up my files, but it took a hard drive crash of my own to make me realize how important backing up can be. Since then, I’ve gotten very good at making sure my data is secure. The setup I’m about to describe works for me. It’s based on how I prioritize my data and on the budget I’m willing to spend to keep everything safe. It’s not perfect for everyone, so take what I say with a grain of salt – an example of where to start and what’s possible.

All of my data falls into six categories.

  • Email
  • My Home folder (pictures, documents, application preferences, etc)
  • My iTunes library
  • My Movies folder
  • Websites I’ve built (both personal and professional)
  • Applications

I segregate my data this way based on how frequently I back up each and the method I use to do it.


Keeping my email safe is by far the easiest to do. I have two accounts that I check. My GMail (personal) and my Sitening work email.

The philosophy behind Google’s email service is that they give you so much space, there’s never a need to throw anything away. I try my best to take advantage of that. I switched to GMail in May of 2004, two years ago, and every email I’ve received or sent is at my fingertips on any computer with a quick Google search.

But what if Google crashed? I can’t leave my mail in one place. Luckily, Google allows POP access to GMail which means I can save it onto my local machine very easily. Using these simple setup instructions, Apple Mail keeps a backup copy of all my mail.

As for my Sitening email, the solution is even simpler. We host our website at TextDrive which means we get IMAP email access. IMAP lets me keep an always-in-sync copy of my mailbox on my machine and on their server. If either should crash, I can restore one from the other. Simple.

My Home Folder

The beauty of OS X’s Unix-based design is that each user gets their own Home folder where all of their data is (should be) stored. In theory, you could make a complete backup of your Home folder each night and be set. Some people do that. However, for me, that just isn’t practical. I’ve got too much data.

Here’s how my Home folder breaks down:

  • Documents folder: (600mb) Contains my financial files, lots of ebooks, my resume, all the papers I wrote in college, back-up files from previous jobs, etc.
  • Library: (600mb) This is where OSX programs store your preferences (specifically in ~/Library/Application Support and ~/Library/Preferences).
  • Movies: (12GB) Home videos and movies and TV shows I’ve downloaded.
  • Pictures: (4GB) All of my digital photos and lots of old family pictures I scanned.
  • Music: (25GB) A large portion of my music library.

Add that up and you get 42GB of data!

So what do I do?

In the corner of my home office I’ve setup my old Dell desktop to be a simple file server. I replaced its aging hard drive with a new 20GB that I’ve installed Ubuntu Linux on. Separated from the OS is a second 120GB hard drive which I use for storing my backups. The drive is shared to all the computers in my house (five at this point). Total cost? $150 for the two hard drives, $0 for the operating system, and I’m not counting the cost of the computer since everyone seems to have an old machine laying around now-a-days.

Next, I add Shirt Pocket Software‘s SuperDuper! to the mix. It’s a fantastic little OSX app that does intelligent backups. For $27, it will scan any folder(s) you tell it to and do either a full backup or just backup the files that have changed since last time. Best of all, it lets me ignore certain files that I don’t want to include.

I’ve told it to back up my entire Home folder except for my Movies and Music folders (we’ll get to them later). Each day when I come home, I set my laptop on my desk, launch SuperDuper and go start dinner. Five minutes later (thanks to it’s smart backup system) my entire Home folder is backed up onto my file server.

Movies Folder

With 12GB of movies on my laptop, how do I decide what to backup? Easy. I burn my home videos to DVD twice. (Store one copy at home, the other at work, or with a family member, or even a safety deposit box at the bank). The rest of the movies? The TV shows? Who cares. There’s no reason to keep around month old episodes of Lost or 24. The same goes for any movies I’ve downloaded. If they get lost (no pun intended) it’s no big deal. (Obvisouly some people make take issue with this point. But like I said, this is my backup solution.)

iTunes Library

Backing up my iTunes library took a large initial investment of time. I made sure that all of my files were tagged with the correct album, artist, and song title information and then told iTunes to burn the entire library to data DVDs…twice. My 25GB collection spanned 6 DVDs. (I could have used larger, dual-layer discs but those are too expensive.) Once the backup was finished, I stored one set of discs at home, the other went to my parent’s house.

That solves the inital backup problem. The trick is to continue backing up new music as you aquire it so you don’t have to do a huge multi-disc backup each time.

To do this, I created a smart playlist in iTunes called “New Music” .

This creates and up-to-date list of all the music I’ve added to iTunes since I last backed up. When the playlist reaches 4.7GB (the size of a DVD) I burn a copy and reset the smart playlist’s date to today. It’s an elegant solution that works really, really well.


Building websites is how I make my living. It’s vital that everything I produce is backed up and in some form of version control.

Every website I build is stored in SVN (on my local computer, and also on a remote server we use at Sitening) so I can roll-back to any previous version of any file at any time.

For an extra layer of protection I schedule SuperDuper! to make a backup of my websites each time I do the Home folder backup mentioned above.


Finally, what to do about all of the applications I use.

I thought about this problem for a while and realized that backing all of them up is not something I want to do. That’s way too much data – especially considering how often new versions are released.

I started looking at exactly what was irreplacable. Very little it turns out. Most of the programs I use are small and can be re-downloaded at any time from company’s website. For example, TextMate, SuperDuper!, Transmit, NetNewsWire, Firefox, etc. The important thing is that I have my registration number handy for each one. All those codes are, of course, stored in my email which is already backed up. Sweet.

As for the larger applications like Photoshop and Office, well, I just have to bite the bullet and makes copies of their install discs and store them someplace safe.

Still, backing up my applications isn’t quite finished. In the horrible event that I have to recreate my system from scratch, there’s no way I’ll remember all of the little programs I use on a less than daily basis. I need a way to keep track of what’s installed on my machine.

To keep track of this I wrote a small shell script that runs once a week.

ls -l /Applications /Applications/Utilities > myapps.txt
mail -s "List of Programs on Tyler's Laptop" < myapps.txt

This prints out a list of all the programs on my machine and emails it to myself. Now, if my system were to crash, I have a complete list of what to download along with the registration codes in my email.

The End

Like I said at the beginning, this is my backup solution. It’s far from ideal (I’m always tweaking things), but it works for me. From talking with friends and other computer people, I’ve realized that everyone’s needs are different. The important thing is to make sure you find a solution that works for you, and stick with it.

Jon Henshaw
Co-Founder and President

Jon is the Co-founder and President of Raven Internet Marketing Tools.

Jon is the Co-founder and President of Raven Internet Marketing Tools.

  • Katie

    This is a great idea for backing up iTunes music! I recently lost a bunch of it that I *thought* I had on my iPod – I think I will implement this system now. Thanks.

  • Chris Johnston

    Nice little article. It contains a lot of very good suggestions. I particularly like how you went about backing up your iTunes music. However, I have one question that you did not cover. Can SuperDuper automatically mount network drives or do you have to do this manually before running the backup software? I have been trying to find a way to backup my wife’s iMac each night, but have not been able to get past how to mount the network drive. None of the programs seem to be able to do this and I have yet to find an easy way of permanently mounting the Samba drive.

  • Tyler Hall

    I’m glad you two found the article useful :)

    Chris, yep, there’s two ways to go about it.

    1) You can set OS X to automatically mount the share at login so it’s always available. To do this, connect to the server then open up System Preferences -> Accounts -> Login Items and drag the mounted server into the window. That will add it to your list of programs to start when you login.

    More info here:

    2) SuperDuper can be set to run any shell script before and after the backup starts/stops. You could have it a run a script that mounts the share prior to starting the backup, and then disconnects when it’s finished.

    Here’s a link showing how to mount a share from the command line:

  • Dave Nanian

    Nice article, Tyler!

    Actually, Tyler & Chris, SuperDuper! will automatically mount a network volume before it starts a backup, as long as the authentication credentials for that drive are stored in the keychain.

    Use the “Disk Image…” choice in the destination pop-up with the network drive mounted to set things up. Once the first backup is done, you can save or schedule what you’ve got, and we’ll automatically mount the network drive, then the image, back up and unmount the image, all automatically. (We don’t unmount the intermediate network volume, though.)

    Hope that helps.

  • Tyler Hall

    Even better! :)

  • Paulo

    Man, nice text. Thanks for you taking the time to write it.


  • anonymous

    Just an FYI:

    ~/Library/Application Support is not where your preferences are normally kept. That folder is is for just what it says, application support files, some of which are preferences.

    ~/Library/Preferences is where the majority of preferences are kept.

  • Tyler Hall

    “~/Library/Preferences is where the majority of preferences are kept.”

    Updated the post to reflect that. Thanks.

  • Dave Price

    I’m going to try your iTunes backup idea to my iPhoto library. Thanks.

  • Tyler Hall

    You left out the obvious choice. Microsoft (MSN).

  • Pete

    I see you burn two of each DVD, which is *great*, even me the backup paranoia only began doing that just in the past year. However, do remember that burned DVDs do not have a long shelf life; they may last as little as 5 years when not stored in ideal conditions. I recommend you continue doing the double-burning thing, meanwhile add another HD to your Ubuntu box to back up your media library there as well. Sure you can always re-download music and TV shows, but if you can avoid it at a cost of another HD (relatively cheap nowadays), why not?

    Overall, despite being a mainly Windows user, I find this article extremely helpful and it has given me some great ideas on how I should tweak my own backup plan. Thanks!

  • Tyler Hall

    Yup, many of these ideas can be carried over to the Windows world. There are similar programs as SuperDuper! and the iTunes backup trick works there as well.

    You’re right to bring up the issue of DVD shelf life. I don’t know that there’s any good solution to the problem other than keeping multiple hard drive backups of your data in different locations.

  • BigZaphod

    Super Duper! is awesome. I highly recommend it.

  • Squidfishes

    You could also try iFolder, which basically synchronizes all your files between whatever computers you have. PC, Linux, Mac, whatever.

  • Daniel Drucker

    You might want to try backing up all your data to Amazon S3 via Jungle Disk. Fifteen cents a gigabyte.

  • Brant Stevens

    ls -l /Applications /Applications/Utilities | mail -s “List of Programs on Tyler’s Laptop”

    Would make it a bit more efficient.

  • uiop

    You should check out the *free* software called iBackup. I use it as my staple backup solution.

  • neuralgia

    I have a super easy solution. I have an external drive at work and an external drive at home. I plugin and use Dantz Retrospect to duplicate my drive. I try to update at work when I go out to lunch or a long meeting (3x a week) and at home I just run it at night before I go to sleep. (7x a week). I have never lost more than a days work using this system. Hard drives are so cheap I can always have at least 1 complete backup. When I upgrade laptops I upgrade the drive size of the externals to match and repurpose the older drives for extra storage, extra backups, etc.

    For extra email peace of mind, just forward copies of messages as they come in to a gmail, yahoo, etc GB or larger account and there will be a fresh copy of every email waiting for you should something like your laptop, home and office all burning down at once.

  • Chimpy

    Note that ~/Library/Application Support/Address Book is the location of your Address Book data file (at least under 10.4.x).

  • ShamylZakariya

    About six or seven months ago I bit the bullet and bought an external HD for my powerbook — 250 Gb, and bought SuperDuper and started a daily bootable backup. I figured, it couldn’t hurt to be safe.

    Well, fast forward to march, when my powerbook’s mobo blew, and took the HD with it. It was on applecare, and was fixed for free. It took all of an hour to image the new hard drive, and I was back up with only 1 day’s work lost.

    I can’t argue enough for a good backup.

    On a side note, I was at the apple store and saw a college student weeping and pleading with a genius to recover her work off her blown iBook. This stuff happens.

  • j$

    solid tips, all be it…a little on the OCD side.

  • dan

    Sincerely thank you for taking the time to write this.

    Here’s an option for iTunes that I use:

    I have a 40GB travel hard drive that I take back and forth to work. It is powered through the FireWire cable so I can leave a cable set up at home and one at work and only care the drive.

    Once every couple of months I copy my entire iTunes library (let it copy over night) and transfer it to my Mac at work. This way I don’t have to take my iPod to work and I have an off-site backup. Plus we share our iTunes libraries at work.

    I am definitely going to implement your smart folder technique for better tracking of when to bother backing up.

    Just another option to add to the mix.

    Thanks again.

  • Michael

    Nice article. I bought an external hard drive which is nice to backup everything. drives are pretty cheep now.

    I found a quirk in iTunes when trying to backup to DVD. Turns out if the sone or file name has certain charactors like ! ? &, iTunes will not burn the DVD. If I remove the offending songs it works fine. My problem is I have an unknown number of songs with special charactors and now Podcasts are full of them.

    Does anyone know how to get around this quirk?

  • Rob

    Check out Chronosync as well. Does a lot of what SuperDuper does, but can also do 2-way syncs. Best of all, you can configure it to archive x versions of files that were deleted or changed for y number of days. Handy feature for recovering a document you found out that you screwed up 3 backups ago. It also has the ability to automatically mount/dismount drives, schedule backups, etc… Only $30.

    I like SuperDuper for it’s advanced filtering of folders. I thought that it only did full drives, so this was interesting info.

  • Jeff

    Just thought I’d mention thtat your sister can likely recover her photos with a program such as DataRescue II from Prosoft Engineering. You shouldnn’t have a problem “undeleting” those files. Considering that only the reference to them was earased, and not the files themselves.

  • mintdog

    This is tedious and hard for someone else to do should something happen to YOU and YOUR data. I think that it’s better to use Carbon Copy Cloner to make a bootable replica of your hard disk on an external source. CCC is good because it does incremental backups as well.

  • Stu

    Synk does a pretty good job of backing up too. The best thing about Synk is that it can make bootable backups of your drive. Every day I back up my computer to a hard drive that I can boot from if I have to. It also archives old data, so I can go back and get a file in the form it was a month ago.

    This setup does require a dedicated hard drive for backup, but it’ll be worth it if my hard drive crashes again.

  • Peter

    I use rsync, no fancy UI or disk images, but it works well generally.

  • vega

    Tape backup is by far the most stable media. We in the audio industry usually use that combined with DVD’s and hard drives. It’s gotten faster and bigger. Best used when you accumalate a lot of material and backup at once.

  • Matt

    I second rsync…It only transfers the differences in files and when used with the hard-link option is hands down the best back up solution available.
    I’ve been using it to make snapshot style backups at work of 30GB of data on a 120GB usb drive and it works great.

  • David Cochran

    These are cool strategies, several of which I’ll use for specific purposes.

    But for everyday efficiency’s sake I second neuralgia’s and mintdog’s recommendations:

    1. Carbon Copy Cloner to sync my entire hard drive
    2. external hard drive at home
    3. external hard drive at work


    1. Syncing takes care of the whole hard drive in an hour or two (or less).
    2. one simple process, very little thinking
    3. I always have EVERYTHING in three places (laptop, home, work).
    4. If the laptop crashes, the backup is bootable. I can simply copy it straight to the new or refurbished machine and have everything fully functional, just like I left it — no reinstalling and updating(!) the OS and all of those software packages, no re-creating users and passwords, etc., etc.

  • AC

    Thanks for posting this :-)

    Any advice on how to share an Ubuntu computer on a Mac network? I’m running Kubuntu on a WiFi-enabled laptop with Samba, but can’t get any of the other three Macs on my network to show up on it :-(

  • Greg

    I’d have to say that it’s pretty crazy to only backup portions of your drive rather than the entire thing. The extra cost incurred to buy a duplicate drive is easily made up for by the savings in re-configuration time in re-installing apps, etc. And with a piecemeal approach, you -know- you’re going to forget something. Back up your entire drive and you won’t have to worry about it.

  • Kevin

    How do you keep your Subversion repos synced? I have been using Subversion for about a year now and the only way I can keep my two repos (webhost and my MacBook) synced is with a lame nightly cron job that dumps the repo. It is clumsy and error prone, neither are acceptable for a backup strategy.

  • ljun

    I like LifeBoat …. best interface out of all of the backup GUI programs on the Mac. I find Super Duper unintuitive, particularly when you want to start excluding folders/files.

  • Makepeace

    Why the erase? I am recently ‘back on Mac’ (guess that makes me a switcher, huh? Back in 1995 I ran a program similar to SuperDuper to keep a copy of my stuff on an external hard disk – I had it in ‘ShutDown Items’ (does that still exist?) so every time I left the office it copied all the changes across and then switched off.
    However I set it to copy across all changed files but not to delete off the external disk when files were deleted, and I notice you are maintaining a mirror. Every so often I would need a file that had been deleted and in that case would just go and copy it back from the external disk…
    This is still not a true backup solution, but provides more security than a straight mirror (since a mirror will mirror your mistakes :-)

    Secondly – Tyler you are using Subversion (which rocks!). In our office we are increasingly using Subversion for all our file server and backup needs. We are even using it to backup the software and databases from our live internet servers daily – because it diffs the files and sends only the diffs the bandwidth use is modest, while we can checkout the latest version of the database at any time and again receive only the diffs since the last checkout – plus we can recreate the database state for any day in history as needed. Subversion makes other backup strategies look risky, if you have the disk space.

  • gregory

    why not just use it will “sync” any folder on any computer via network or internet (pc, mac or cross-platform). I use it to backup “iphoto” & “itunes” (among other things).

    the uses for the application are endless, so check it out. microsoft just recently aquired foldershare so don’t hold that against them. 😉 actually, it was a pay-service before microsoft bought them, now it’s FREE.

  • dn

    I’ve used Retrospect since it was called Diskfit around 1987. It used to be owned by Dantz; now it’s owned by EMC;

    I simply select the entire drive and back it up to a La Cie external Firewire or USB 2.0 HD.

    Works beautifully.

    I schedule it for daily or weekly. Occasionally, it stops working on a schedule, but it’s easy to run the script manually.

    I know many people whose drives have failed, and Retrospect’s backup enabled PERFECT restoration of all data.

  • Jeff

    I hold SuperDuper in awe each time I use it. Because… it’s so easy to use, I actually use it.
    I don’t have the patience for all the well thought out stuff you’ve described though. As a few have mentioned, I have two back-up hard drives and clone my mac onto each. One is kept at my office, one at home. Once a week I swap them.
    I sleep like a baby.
    Best computer related money I’ve spent in 20 years.
    p.s. Don’t worry about DVD’s being readable after 5 years. We’ll be onto some new, incompatible storage media by then. You can bet your tape/Zip/SCSI/floppy on it.

  • jake

    If you are already capable of using unix shell scripts, why not just use rsync to synchronize your folders with folders on the ubuntu server? It won’t require much data transfer time, since it will only add new files and update changed files. This is what I use to deploy changes to websites on remote servers. The other nice thing is that you can save money on the backup software. You can also schedule your script to run with cron.

    Just a thought…

  • Dick

    My tragedy, when a hard drive failed, was not in the fact that data wasn’t recovered but, rather, that it was in thousands of files, the only ones which I can recognise are those with the .jpg suffix. It seems that every tiny file that might be related to “one of my files” is in a category separate to “my file.” Thus, for instance, a FileMaker data file or an AppleWorks file is nowhere to be seen. The $900 fee to “recover” data from that hard drive has, so far, been a futile exercise. Needless to say, I now back up! Comments, such as are to be found here, are helpful and much appreciated.

  • mieke

    Like David Cochran above, we use external drives as well. Once the HD space on our machines (yes, backing up 4-6 boxes) got too big for the tape drive(s), we switched to external USB/FireWire*. The most flexible and expandable way is to buy an external HD enclosure. Then, buy whatever IDE drive is the cheapest per Gig at the time. Make partitions the size of the ones you want to back up, and off you go. Run out of space? Just get an new regular IDE harddisk, and plug it into the enclosure.
    Very simple, and very flexible.

    *note that, in order to be able to boot off these, YMMV between USB and firewire.

  • Andrew

    You guys that are talking about rsync, might want to check out their StoreGrid product is pretty nice, and uses librsync.. I have been using StoreGrid for about two months now, and haven’t had to worry about a backup since.. (backing up to a unix file server, with raid 5, and a few hot spares)


  • Lee

    Interesting reading, but I have to comment on some things he says:

    – Using Gmail is a great way to reduce the chances of loosing email due to a crash. He seems to think that there is a reasonable chance that Gmail will “crash”, which I disagree with (of course it’s possible, but just as likely at GW Bush’s approval rating getting back above 50%). Sure, one of the thousands of computer that make up their network may crash, but my understanding of their network says that it was built with such redundancy, that it would take hundreds of computers, across numerous data centers, to crash simultaneously. This seems much less likely to me than anyone’s PC crashing.
    – Using the IMAP protocol for email is a good idea, always. But it does NOT mean that your computer has an “always-in-sync copy” of email on your computer. IMAP allows your computer to READ the contents of the your mailbox stored on the server. Try unplugging your computer’s Interrnet connection, then trying to read email through an IMAP connection. It’s just as likely to work out as gas prices going down below $2/gallon.
    If either should crash, you will NOT be able to restore it from the other. But any ISP or email provider worth paying for, should have several layers of redundancy in place, including daily and/or offsite data backups.

    His plan seems to be pretty good. I don’t disagree with his method, and honestly, there is no one correct way to do this. There are definitely wrong ways, like not doing it at all, but it comes down to what works best for you personally.

    Here’s an outline of my methods. I have an external HD, and I use iBackup to copy all data from my Apple to the harddrive weekly. If I add something to the computer during the week that is extremely valuable, I’ll do a back up then too. iBackup allows you to choose anything from the computer to copy, including music, movies, websites, personal documents, applications, OS preferences and application preferences. iBackup is a free program.
    Before running iBackup, I run MacJanitor to clean up temp files and other things that don’t need to be backed up. MacJanitor has several preset routines to choose from, or you can create your own. Before each weekly backup, I choose to run the ‘weekly’ routine. There is also a ‘daily’ and ‘monthly’.
    I keep 4-5 backed up increments on the exterrnal HD, and once a month, I burn the most recent backup to a DVD. I keep the DVD in my fire/water proof safe until I replace it with the next one in a month. I dispose of the old DVD backup by cutting it up in to a dozen pieces before throwing it away.

    I don’t run a business from home, but if I did I’d have a more multi-tiered routine. I just have alot of data that, to me, is irreplaceable.

  • Ayza

    I travel a lot and have a LOT of files on my computer. Is there anyone who know if you can burn just the latest files on a CD or DVD?

    I tried to burn a smart folder with a rule like: “from April 1 to today”. The folder lined up nicely but I couldn’t burn it nor back it up to my iPod since it only contained aliases.

  • paul

    I think a lot of people don’t understand how to backup. There are really 2 problems you have to address, maybe 3.

    1) HD crash. This is easy, just make a copy of your files.
    2) Something corrupts your files. This is harder to address. In order to prevent this from messing up stuff you really care about, like pictures of your kids, you need to set something up (like Retrospect) that does not overwrite changed files, but keeps them and any changed files. This causes some problems, like your backups getting bigger and bigger, but this is what you have to do in order to have your data truly safe. Let me give you an example. Let’s say you have a picture of your baby daughter somewhere in a folder. Now every night, you make a copy of your whole drive. Now, let’s say that some virus, or a speck of dust, or something has corrupted this file. Now the next time you make a copy of your drive, you will overwrite your stored copy of the picture with the messed up one, and that picture will be gone forever. This is why you need a backup method that does not overwrite changed files.

    3) Offsite storage. You really need to occasionaly take the data somewhere else. Probably the best way is to make an encrypted copy of the backup and store it in a different city.

    IF you do these three things you’ll have a pretty secure backup strategy. We used to joke around that “if you don’t have it in 3 places, you don’t have it.”

  • cameron aka desk003

    Lee: you are wrong. Open Then Mail>Preferences>Accounts>Advanced.

    “Keep Copies of Messages for Offline Viewing”

    You can then choose All messages and Attachments, just Messages, Only ones I have read, or none. :)

    Also, I do something like this but not really. Right now a lot of data isn’t backed up, because I’m straapped for $ and I have a ton of data. However, What I’m working up to is this:

    Right now I clone my 100gb ibook drive (which is damn near full) to an external FW HD about once a week.

    I’m working on getting a couple more HDs to do a RAID of my two FW 200GB drives (Both are full). I also have a 100GB mobile drive which is full, and most of that data is backed up onto one of the 200gb drives because thats more likely to fail then the ones that I never move.

    I started on the idea of an old PC w/ SuSE, but Network throughput is waayy too slow, so I went with buying a bridge board for my two 200gb drives, and hooking them via firewire.

    I plan on getting SoftRAID when I get the $$ for the new drives I want (a couple 320s, then I’ll move the data from one of the 200s to one of the 320s, mirror the other 200 to the then-empty one, and mirror the now partly full 320 to the empty 320.) and another bridge board.

    That’ll put my HD space (total, if there were no raid) at a bit over a terabyte. Wow.

  • Dylan

    Why don’t you just use rsync as a cronjob? Skip the shareware, and use software that’s a lot simpler to use once setup :)

  • Rish

    Why bother will all the files when you can copy the entire HD as a clone, and then do smart backups every day or week depending on your needs

  • Frederic Gaillard

    I have tried dozen of back up softs
    Super Dupper is only the most reliable one
    And Dave does real good hotline for OSX pb too


  • Dima

    For any backup needs, give Dobry Backuper a try:

    Dobry Backuper is a reliable and easy-to-use backup application, which offers most of the features of expensive backup software for a fraction of the price ($30).

    Dobry Backuper can archive any files, including hidden Unix files to any mounted device (i.e. a network volume, iDisk, an external drive or even iPod), or to a number of CDs and DVDs. The program offers several backup types – full, incremental or versioned, either with or without compression. The archives use a tar-compatible format, meaning data can be restored even without Dobry Backuper if needed. Operations can be scheduled so that backups are made when needed not requiring your attention.

    It’s enough to create and configure your backup only once, and the program will remember about it, automatically building and saving it regularly.

  • Kuahine

    Excellent article and discussion, Tyler and commenters. Thanks!

    You might also consider the issues discussed in these two articles:

    (BTW, I have no connection to any hardware manufacturers, software developers/authors/publishers, or blog writers. I’m merely an ordinary Mac user who needs to maintain backups of the highest integrity.)

  • Pierce

    Personally I find iMsafe ( really useful – it does incremental backups, it is easy to tell it exactly what to back up and when, it autoconnects to network volumes and it has a pretty nice, clear interface.

  • alpower

    I second the use of superduper – what I do is partition a network attached drive in two, then do alternate backups weekly onto each drive. If I delete a file before the backup, and backup, I then have a previous version of the backup on the other partition to hand if need be.

    Superduper allows you to make a drive bootable after backup, so that one can boot into it if need be!

  • Tyler Hall

    “what I do is partition a network attached drive in two, then do alternate backups weekly onto each drive. If I delete a file before the backup, and backup,”

    Aha! Now that’s a clever way to make sure your files don’t get corrupted during backup without having to maintain a ton of extra copies. Nice.

  • Jill

    tyler, do you have any experience with the laCie mini companion hard drive? I just bought it, and have installed it, but I have no idea how to backup my Powerbook hard drive on to the external one. any ideas?

  • Tyler Hall

    “Tyler, do you have any experience with the laCie mini companion hard drive? I just bought it, and have installed it, but I have no idea how to backup my Powerbook hard drive on to the external one. any ideas?”

    As long as what you bought is just a typical external harddrive, just about any Mac backup program will let you backup your files to it (or create an exact copy of your existing hard drive). Most of my experience is with SuperDuper! and ChronoSync. Both of them should work fine for you. Visit their websites for FAQ’s on how to set them up :)

  • Jeff

    I use Apple’s free Backup app with my .mac account. Its so easy to create different backup stratagies and for $99 bucks its well work it.

  • m


    in addition to my regular superduper! cloning routine, i’d like to be able to create an incremental backup system using gmail.

    i created a little automator action that “zips” any recently changed files that i have labeled “red.” typically my files are pretty small text files .tex/.cpp, etc. so the zips are plenty small for email. occasionally there might be a word document or something.

    i name the zip files by date so they can pile up in a folder for a while, but next i would like to email the zip to my gmail account.

    using still requires user interaction (yes?) to send the email.

    it seems sendmail/mail doesn’t like zip files.

    is there a simple command line utilty or a way to get to run in the background without intervention from me?

    it would be great if i could this going a few times a day and not have to think about these incremental back-ups.

    thanks much for any advice, tips, pointers.

  • FiL

    Following the impression I got of SuperDuper with this article. I purchased the software after having some unpleasant experiences with my PowerBook. First the Hard disk crashed and then after about 4 weeks the power book got stolen. In the first instance, I spent $900 to get at least my family photographs recovered. I backed up my photographs and whatever was recovered of the data on DVD, the power book got stolen. For the second, I am keeping my fingers cross about the likely hood of getting my PowerBook back in one piece. So, until that happens life still has to go on….

    Soon after I got SuperDuper I tried backing up my files as instructed… I wanted to burn my back up straight on to a DVD but that was not possible with this software. Would it be some way to carry through with what I was intending to do….


  • Tyler Hall

    “I wanted to burn my back up straight on to a DVD”

    When SuperDuper backs up your files, it creates a disk image (.dmg) file which you can then copy to a DVD by inserting a blank DVD and dragging the file onto it.

  • FiL

    It appears that SuperDuper does not make a back up disk image on the same drive that is being backed up. It does not allow it even in the case where only a few folders are being copied.

    This is a problem when I don’t have a set up such as the one explained in this article with a server drive or external hard disk. I am hoping that the next version of SuperDuper takes that into consideration. Or I will need to look for a backuping software which also burns a DVD at the end of the process. Until then, I will have to manually copy my files for back up as I have been doing.

  • m


    you are wrong. you can write to sparse image anywhere you want.

    if you have issues, email shirt-pocket-watch support. that is what you are paying for. their support is the best i have ever seen.

  • Renegade

    Tyler, how do you have your ubuntu server set up? Is it Ubuntu server? IT would be great if you could followup and post about your ubuntu server.

  • Tyler Hall


    I’m running Ubuntu 5.10 on a 1.2ghz Dell desktop with 256mb of RAM. The OS is installed on a 40gb drive and I’m using a second 120gb drive for storage. The box itself is sitting in a corner of my office out of the way – my only access to it is via SSH, FTP, etc. I picked the corner it’s in so I could drill a hole through the wall to run ethernet cable directly from my router in the hallway closet.

    My setup doesn’t have too much installed. It’s just the base system (no KDE or Gnome) with SSH, FTP, Samba, and PHP/mySQL (for a few cron jobs I run). I’ve setup the entire secondy drive as a Samba share.

    Any other specific questions?

  • Calno John (Kelly) Soule

    Very interesting.
    I expect to use this information for myself and provide the link to my MAC user friends. The trouble with using Apple Macintosh data and data storage systems in Apple’s habit of dropping good programmes without warning or recourse- entire volumes of hyper card data are inaccessible to newer Macs. Ditto for Appleworks and …

  • Robin

    There was some information in the article about the data recovery. Several times i have seen people loosing their data or throwing their hard disk just because they had no idea that the data in thier crashed hard disk can be recovered either by the usage of software or using a data recovery service companies like the Disk Doctors Labs Inc or the Drive savers where most of the data is recovered most of the times though the recovery success rates is not 100% percent but data is recovered most of the times in most of the cases.

  • ad7am

    Thank You!

    BTW, here’s another solution for someone uneducated in Scripts like myself. To create a PDF list of apps, I used PrintWindow from SearchWare Solutions instead.

    Again, thanks!

  • Jon Moss

    Very useful – am havong trouble running the script for apps – what is the easiest way to do this? Can you use Automator?



  • BoBraxton

    My 117 (120?) GB LaCie came with SilverKeeper and that is what I have been using to backup 20 GB iPod and to restore after the iPod crashed two weeks ago. I read about and downloaded SuperDuper and the first thing it said was it would format (erase) my LaCie drive, which was not what I wanted. My practice is to maintain multiple backup sets in a sequence, since traditionally the backup has been only 2 GB and there is almost 100 GB free space still. The LaCie is firewire and is attached to iMac, which has iPod attached to it. New iPod is 100 GB hard drive.

  • N Morant

    for Applications, you can use ~/Applications for non Apple ones and /Applications for Apple ones, so they are not mixed. Valid if your are the only user on your system.

    For people using rsync, do not forget to use option -E to preserve resource fork.


  • bonos de bienvenida en lnea imagen casino vegas

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  • peter

    Thanks for the advice this is a wonderful resource i have over the course of the years started and stopped too many times to remember which as left my terabyte + of hard drive capacity scattered and i am never sure of what i have backed up or not is there a simple way to sift through all the hundreds of gigs of digital image files making cd or dvd of my files is much to time consuming not to mention, a typical days photo-shoot will leave me with 4-20 gigs of data i should not be storing all of it but after 20 years of shooting slides it is hard to throw it away

  • Tyler Hall


    The only solution that comes immediately to mind is using Apple’s Spotlight service. Spotlight is the “instant search” feature built into OS X. If you have OS X installed on all of your machines (and they’re all connected to your local network), you can use Spotlight to instantly search across all of them. It’s not an ideal solution, but it’s the only one I can think of at the moment.

  • Carlos

    Great read. Lots of great tips. Considering Silver keeper as my back up software.

  • Matias

    This is the best backup structure I have found. Congratulations! I’m using the same functions as you.
    I just want to make a little tweak. Instead of mailing the list of applications to myself I want SuperDuper! to run a shell script and save the .txt file inside the HDD and THEN start the Backup, so the file will be backed up.
    BUT! I don’t know how to create/write an applescript. Can anybody tell my how?

    The command is the same as Tyler Hall’s:
    ls -l /Applications /Applications/Utilities > myapps.txt

  • John

    Matias – You use Script Editor. Open a new window and type

    do shell script “ls -l /Applications /Applications/Utilities > myapps.txt”

    FWIW, this will create the myapps.txt file at the root of your drive. You might prefer:

    do shell script “ls -l /Applications /Applications/Utilities > ~/myapps.txt”

    Then, save the script where SuperDuper! wants it — I haven’t used the program, myself. That’s all there is to it.

  • J. B. Rainsberger

    Since you’re a TextDrive customer, you might have StrongSpace. Since my Subversion repositories are the lifeblood of my business, I back them up off site to my TextDrive account nightly. Highly recommended and easy.

  • alan

    ive noticed the best trick to a dead harddrive and no available backup whatsoever (because I was lazy) is to order the exact same hard drive board and replace it. so far its just cost me 98 dollars and my harddrive works again (at least to copy all the data off the unreliable disk and onto a new harddrive). this is the best CHEAP plan b solution (to drive savers that is) if your harddrive dies and have no backup whatsoever.

    Of course, just stop what you’re doing and send it directly to drive savers if you hear your harddrive making seriously messed up sounds.

  • santiago

    why not mention bookmarks?
    good article though

  • ryan

    now can you back up your keychain?
    i am planning to format and re -install my powerbook
    not sure i need to but i haven’t done it at all since i bought the machine new in 2005…

    what is the easiest way to do this.. ?

  • amin

    Im a new macbook user (osx 10.5) and was exploring how to backup efficiently when I came across your article. I like how you group your backups by category and it made me realize that I dont need to backup my programs (habit!). Like you say, new versions coming out all the time!

    Burning movies to dvd twice seems like too much work. HD space is cheap now and TB hard drives are more common.

    I think the most important thing is to create a full backup of your hd once you have everything on it the way you like…then incrementals for the stuff that may change (especially music and photos). Here a simple sync to an external drive would do.

    anyhow, i used to be a long time windows nut, but I have seen the light!

  • JohnnyBoyClub

    I personally use Dmailer ( ) because i can save all my data in a backup and store it online on their servers.
    If offers me trust and security in case of anything happens and my hdd dies i am able to recover files at any time.
    It also helps me when i format , the process don’t take that long as it was ussually taked.