Six Colors
Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

This Week's Sponsor

Unite 4 - Turn websites into apps on your Mac.

By Dan Moren

What I Use: Back it up

Everybody knows your data is only as safe as your copies of it. Backup is an essential part of not just your data security and integrity, but also your mental well-being—recovering from a catastrophic data loss is a hell of a stressful experience. So while everybody should back up their data in some fashion, and some fashion is definitely better than none, multiple backups aren’t just for the paranoid.

I employ several backup strategies across my devices to minimize the impact of data loss. I would love to say “prevent” data loss, but the truth is that no system is a hundred percent effective at providing that kind of safety net. The best you can do is implement a system with multiple redundancies that cover the most common eventualities and hope for the best.

From a low-level vantage point, there are a number of apps and built-in features that let me rest confident in the security of my individual files. For example, macOS has long offered versioning for apps that want to take advantage of it. If you screw up and delete a table in Numbers, for example, you can go to File > Revert To > Browse Versions… to see all your recent changes, and instantly pop back to the one you want. (Not all apps use this, obviously, though some—like BBEdit—offer robust auto-saving on their own.)

File backup is also a handy byproduct of using cloud storage, which has become increasingly prevalent and cheap, to be able to access your files anywhere. Using an app like Dropbox or a service like iCloud Drive automatically stores a copy of your files on those services, which means there’s a copy you can access from any device where you can log into your account. I store most of my most crucial files in Dropbox (which also provides versioning via their website) and have begun using iCloud Drive for specific types of documents, in addition to my music and photo libraries.

Beyond backing up specific files, having full device backups of your Macs and iOS devices can prove crucial in cases where you, say, drop your iPhone down a flight of stairs at the bottom of which is a pool of hydrochloric acid. (Let’s face it: it’s probably happened.) Apple provides an iCloud Backup service that makes it easy to dump the contents of your device into the cloud, but it also only offers by default a piddling amount of storage space that may or may not be sufficient for your entire iPhone or iPad. Your options are to pay a small amount to increase the limit, or, if you have a Mac (or PC), back up to iTunes. The downside to the latter approach is that if—heaven forbid—your computer is lost or damaged, you lose your backup data there. Unless that data is in turn backed up…but we’ll get to that in a moment.

When it comes to backing up my Macs, I use a combination of apps and services to keep backup copies of all my data. I’ve got three Macs: a MacBook Air, an iMac, and a Mac mini. On the iMac and the MacBook Air, I use Apple’s built-in Time Machine to back up to local drives (my MacBook Air actually backs up over the network to an internal drive on my iMac). Time Machine has its share of wonkiness, but it generally seems to work pretty well for me, and I fortunately haven’t had need to put it through the wringer. My Mac mini, meanwhile, backs up to a hard drive every night using Shirt Pocket’s SuperDuper!, which has the benefit of creating a bootable backup that I can use to start up my mini in case of a serious problem. It’s also handy when you need to replace a drive or upgrade to your own Fusion Drive.

But as good as the combination of cloud storage and local backups are, I also opt for one further piece of peace of mind by using the online backup service CrashPlan to back up my Mac mini—which itself is my local repository for critical data—to the cloud. I like CrashPlan a lot, and fortunately haven’t had a need to try and use it restore all my data. (Alternative solutions like Backblaze or Arq are great too—the important part is to have that offsite backup.) And, as an added benefit, it’s a great way to retrieve files from the cloud when you’re away from home.

Hopefully you’ll never need to put your backup strategy to the test, but having multiple backups that include an off-site copy will probably protect you from anything short of an extinction-level event. And hey, look on the bright side: in that case, you’ll probably have way bigger things to worry about.

[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Twitter at @dmoren or reach him by email at The latest novel in his Galactic Cold War series of sci-fi space adventures, The Nova Incident, is available now.]

Search Six Colors