Backup Solutions for OS X | January 19, 2005

At Message we’ve always been very diligent with our backups. We run Retrospect Backup on our server every night. Originally backing up to CD, we now backup to one of two external hard drives which we alternate daily. This means that if one drive fails we only ever lose a days work.

Unfortunately my home backup up routine is far more sporadic, involving burning key files to disk every few months when I remember. This is really bad and I definitely need to implement some kind of cheap and easy home backup solution. Any solution would need to be automatic as I’d forget otherwise. As well as restoring individual files, it would also need to provide me with an easy way of restoring all my files, prefs etc. in the event of a complete system failure.

So I’d be interested to know what backup systems you use for your home or small business, and what backup solutions you’d recommend.

Posted at January 19, 2005 9:10 AM


Karen said on January 19, 2005 9:20 AM

Andy, I would recommend a second hard disk - either internal or external - as the best backup solution. I use this along with Chronosync ( ) to backup my home directory across to the second drive nightly. You can leave it to run in the background and therefore it gets done - when I used CDs to burn the information I often didn’t bother backing up.

aj said on January 19, 2005 9:33 AM

Chronosync is good.

I use .Mac Backup 2.0 from Apple. I can select files to backup, it can burn them to DVD and split large archives between several discs. It comes pre-set to save preferences and settings from the system, your user Library, etc.

Plus you can use it with .Mac to back things up online — at the very least you can iSync important contacts!

Mark Boulton said on January 19, 2005 9:46 AM

Like you Andy, my home backup system leaves a lot to be desired. I used Retrospect in the past, but i’m also looking for alternatives. Hopefully this post will provide me with some answers too!

Rogier said on January 19, 2005 9:53 AM

I used to back-up to cd’s once every two months or so. I was just too lazy to burn those damn cd’s every week.

Until some time ago, a buddy of mine lost his complete HD after a crash. That’s when I realized something had te be done.

So now I’ve got a Maxtor 250 gb external HD with a one-touch-backup-button, which triggers Retrospect. And I must say: I’m very impressed by it.

(I now back-up every day, just because it only takes me less than a second to push the back-up button.)

Drew said on January 19, 2005 10:28 AM

Just this month I got myself a half-terabyte FireWire 800 drive for backups. My Powerbook’s drive is 80GB, so I created three partitions on the FW drive:

  1. 80GB for weekday backups
  2. 80GB for a weekend backup
  3. the rest for whatever

I then use Carbon Copy Cloner to make an identical, bootable clone of my disk to the correct partition. If my Powerbook were to fail or get stolen or destroyed, I could use any other Mac to boot off the FW drive into a recent version of ‘my machine’.

Jake Grimley said on January 19, 2005 10:32 AM

Big Cheap External Hardrive and Rsync.

Tip: put the backup script ON the backup drive and call it nightly via cron. This avoids you accidentally backing up onto your own computer if the drive has failed to mount for some reason. Rsync is also magic for backing up remote webservers as — for example — if 24 bytes have changed in a 1GB log file, you will only transfer that 24 bytes. A bit of hackery is required, but well worth an afternoon’s tinkering.

OS X also has a special version of rsync that preserves resource forks etc..

Al Abut said on January 19, 2005 11:25 AM

Drew: do you test out the backup once in a while to make sure it’s bootable from another Mac? I’d be interested to hear if you have any hiccups in keeping copies of the applications themselves, in particular.

Mike Piontek said on January 19, 2005 11:47 AM

I definitely recommend Carbon Copy Cloner. It’s a great app that’s completely free (well worth donating for though). I can’t say much for my backup habits however. I have a single external hard drive. I clone the majority of my drive to it (minus the unimportant bits). I do this…. uh, whenever I think about it. Like… once a month maybe.

On the bright side, I also use my iPod and/or iBook to work on current projects elsewhere, so I always have that additional copy of current really important things. I clone my whole user library to those as well, so that’s an extra copy (or two) of all my contacts, email, hours, calendar, etc. And my server is hosted elsewhere, with a copy of most sites I’ve ever done as well as all my current projects (since I put works in progress online for clients to view).

So I don’t think my haphazard backup scheme is too terrible… Even if I lost my whole main drive I’d be able to recover most things. I really should get a second external drive though, and start running regular backups. I think ideally I’d use one drive for daily backups and one for weekly backups… Or something like that. Alternating daily has a positive side, but what if something important gets deleted and you don’t realize until three days later? Having a week-old backup around seems like a good idea.

Rob McMichael said on January 19, 2005 11:49 AM

There seem to be a lot of interesting ideas here. I normally just copy my document dir across when I remember which isn’t ideal.

Also being a poor student I don’t want to shell out on expencive hard/software to do it for me. So to my delight I say automator on the apple site (a new feature of Tiger). Using this nice app I should be able to tell it to copy the directories across I want when I want :)

Jason Santa Maria said on January 19, 2005 12:15 PM

My cheap backup solution: set an alarm in iCal for every Friday. “Hey Jason! Backup your mail, contacts, calendars, and recent client work to your iPod. While you’re at it, backup all of your MT entries too”. Viola!

Tim Swan said on January 19, 2005 12:55 PM

I use Carbon Copy Cloner to make a complete copy of my disk to an external hard drive on an automatic schedule.

I also use DejaVu to make an automatic backup of my Projects folder to a smaller external hard drive on a daily basis, because that’s the folder that changes most on a daily basis and it would really, really hurt if I lost it.

The nice things about both of these is that they’re both automatic, my projects backup is redundant, there’s no disk swapping, and the backups are just plain directories rather than Retrospects master file PITA. Easy and cheap if you have any spare drives lying around.

Kevin LaCoste said on January 19, 2005 2:14 PM

I see lots of good comments here regarding Carbon Copy Cloner. I used to use this too. It’s a pretty decent solution. I recently decided to start using “SuperDuper!” to do my backups though. It seems to have eliminated the occasional errors that I would see with CCC. Things like icons not showing up on the cloned drive or the odd permissions error here and there. Probably minor things but I’ve never seen anything funny while using SuperDuper. I also like that it sees frequent updates for things like AppleScript support.

One thing worth mentioning is that, if you can, do a full backup of your disk. If you do lose your drive you’ll appreciate how much easier it is to have the full thing working and ready for you to use. Personally, I’d rather not have to reinstall and then rebuild from a user folder. If you lose your data at crunch time you can just run off the backup if absolutely necessary.

Travholt said on January 19, 2005 2:29 PM

What a great and timely post!

Does anyone know how Synk: compares to CCC, SuperDuper etc. for backup purposes? I’ve bought an external FW hard drive but haven’t gotten around to setting it up yet. The trouble is I need/want to back up two Macs connected via IP over FW. At least I think it’s more complicated than backing up a single computer. I want to hook up the FW drive to one of the computers and schedule full backups to run for both Macs.

Dave Foy said on January 19, 2005 3:13 PM

I wake up in the night sweating about back ups!

It’s not cheap but we happily use .Mac backup. Backs up all my calendar, contacts, mail, plus everything else I need to back up on my machine. Plus the ease of being able to use iSync to sync up across different machines (we use 3 different Macs that we need to keep in sync) makes the cost per year for a .mac account more than worth it I think.

Still have to manually back up photos and music to DVD occasionally (though the iPod is still happily taking all the music I can throw at it at the moment!)

Colin Barnes said on January 19, 2005 3:28 PM

I’m giving another Vote to the Maxtor ‘one-touch’ and Retrospec solution. I paid under £100 for a 120Gb solution, and I back up my system directory and user directory nightly, it only takes a short while, and seeing as I leave my mac on overnight, I don’t need to worry about it.

The other thing I do occasionaly is write some important files to a DVD-RW (websites, graphics and the like).

Nathan said on January 19, 2005 4:16 PM

I use Impression ( )

I use it to backup to my iPod currently, but this only allows me to backup my documents folder (which has everything in it, literally). I like to use CCC but I don’t have a big enough hard drive lying around somewhere yet. I am planning on getting either a new Firewire HD or a even a new mac wihtin the next year or so.

.mac Backup sucks.

nick said on January 19, 2005 4:40 PM

PsyncX is another good backup util. free too.

runs automated backups, multiples if you want, just specify which dir and the destinations.

I run that a couple times per month.
Need to use CCC to have a bootable version JUST IN CASE…

Kuan said on January 19, 2005 4:51 PM

Carbon Copy Cloner is the way to go. I had a crash a few days ago but no sweat. I run CCC in the background every night. It creates a bootable version of your harddrive so EVERYTHING is saved. You can even hook it up to a firewire drive. So you can restore yours or another machine from a firewire drive. Bootable is ideal as its the whole system with all the settings.

Highly reccommended.

Justin Perkins said on January 19, 2005 5:01 PM

My system leaves a lot to be desired as well, I have a networked drive which in which I just backup the entire /users/ directory. I have a DVD burner on the networked drive so I can backup that from time-to-time as well. While the backup to the networked drive is automated, I’m still working on my robotic arm to insert a blank DVD to backup my network drive.

Mats Persson said on January 19, 2005 5:49 PM

I am using Synk and it is doing daily backups to both an old B&W G3 on the local network and my iPod 40GB when it’s connected.

Synk is by far the best solution out there and it’s cheap as well. You can run AppleScripts / Shell scripts both before and after each execution, and you can schedule the backups as well.

Another nice thing, is the Archive functionality, where Synk keeps a copy of changed, deleted files from your source folder in an archive folder in the destination folder.

I spent some time looking for a good solution, and this is as good a solution as I would want and/or need. Give it a try.

Mike D. said on January 19, 2005 7:00 PM

I used to use Retrospect but didn’t like how complicated the recovery process was. Now I kick it old school:

1. Connect $120 160 GB LaCie hard drive to Powerbook via Firewire.

2. Drag Powerbook hard drive icon to LaCie hard drive icon.

3. Repeat every month or two.

Doesn’t get any easier than that.

Richard Earney said on January 19, 2005 7:44 PM

Another way to approach it (esp if you have a G5) is have 2 drives and Raid 5 (backup) them - that way if one goes down the other should be OK.

But don’t get the LaCie Big and Extreme Disks and do this as they are already Raid 0 (striping) and have a tendency to go t*its up (technical term).

gb said on January 20, 2005 4:57 AM

I use a combination of Deja Vu and an external Firewire 800 drive. Deja Vu runs about 25 bucks, i think, or you can get it free with Toast (which is what I did)… so backups to CD or DVD are also available. It’s easy, and I have it running different backups on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. I don’t need to be backing up certain things every day, or at all (no real reason to back up, say, an application).

Drew said on January 20, 2005 10:24 AM

Al Abut: Yeah, I check my backups are bootable each time a reboot my Powerbook, which is usually at least once a month.

Adam Bardsley said on January 20, 2005 10:55 AM

We use BackupPC (which actually does macs fine as well) It uses rsync and various other tools to have nice incrmental backups and you can restore individual files from browser if you need. It can be set to take hourly incrementals or every few hours which dont use much abndwidth and means you can go back to that design you liked a while ago.

It needs a network and another machine but if you have one handy (or need an excuse for a mac mini) then it’s a perfect option

Jordan Brock said on January 20, 2005 1:28 PM


Not too sure if there’s a Mac version of the software, but I use iBackup on my PC. Backs up 4Gb of stuff at night to a server in the US. Seems to work pretty seamlessly for me. $15 a month, and I don’t even have to think about it, which is always the best.

Al Abut said on January 21, 2005 10:29 AM

Drew: thanks, you’ve just completely sold me on using your setup. Bootability has been the main hump to my setting up a backup routine, data alone isn’t enough.

Andy: thanks for starting this thread. Not sure what you’ll go with in the end, I’d like to hear, but an external drive (perhaps networked, maybe just Firewire) and CCC looks like the best bet for my needs.

Andy Budd said on January 23, 2005 11:56 AM

Wow, loads of great info here. In fact a little too much info for me to take in.

I quite like the Maxtor ‘one-touch’ with Retrospect idea, especially if you can get a 120GB drive for £100. However it doesn’t sound like you can make a bootable and it’s not very portable. Also it would be nice to have a disk that doesn’t require a separate power source.

Carbon Copy Cloner and a portable external firewire drive seem like a popular choice and is probably the one I’ll go with. However until I can afford to buy myself an external drive I’m probably going to use Chronosync to sync/backup to my girlfriends iBook. It doesn’t have much space available but at least I’ll be able to sync important stuff like contacts, emails and documents.

Robert Andrews said on August 19, 2005 12:47 PM

hello folks :)

readin thru this i keep readin “get a hard drive” what if someone doesn’t have the extra money at the moment. what is the best program to use inorder to burn on writable dvd’s with 4 gigs of space. and say that all ya wanna do is drop some garage band, .band files on to it.



thanks in advance!

Joe said on September 21, 2005 3:36 AM

Sounds like Robert just needs to burn his .band files to a DVD in Finder.

I use Deja Vu to backup all of my images, music, movies, mail, etc. to a SnapServer in my basement. It’s an old school NAS (network attached storage) device with 2 80GB hard drives in it. Works pretty well but Deja Vu is somewhat limited and it’s not free (unless you purchased Toast Titanium).

I still think I’ll start doing whole system backups, though (which Deja Vu can’t do). I have a Mac mini which boots from a firewire drive (for performance reasons) so I think I’ll back up that drive to the internal hard drive and do the opposite of everyone else here — if my primary FIREWIRE drive fails, I can use the INTERNAL backup drive until I replace the firewire drive.

Brady J. Frey said on October 18, 2005 4:36 AM

Hate to drudge up an old post — we use QuicKeys to backup to another drive. QuicKeys is basically an easy scripting application for none scripters — you can set it to record what you’re doing and remember it, or tell it specific commands. I have it set to backup the 14th and 28th of each month. I use some applescripting to auto mount an external drive right when it’s needed, but you can just leave the drive in and set it to a date/time.