Probably most of us have read where someone else has had a drive or machine fail and the first question asked was, “Do you have a backup?” So, we know that backups are important, but what, exactly, is a backup and is it one-size-fits-all with only one solution? Do I need special hardware, or software to make a backup? What should I back up? How do I do that? All of those are questions that folks who are new to the idea of making backups ask, so it’s not unusual for you to have those questions, either. This series of blog articles is intended to provide enough information for you to make a backup strategy and then implement it.
Let’s start with a definition: in simple terms a backup is a way of protecting yourself from the loss of personal files if (or when) your computer has a problem and you can no longer get to those files as you had before. The issue that is causing the files to be “missing” might be that the storage drive, either HD or SSD, has failed, or it could be that the main logic board has failed, or that the graphics display chip has failed. No matter the reason, the net effect is that you don’t have access to those files anymore. And to get them back, you need a backup. You need copies of those files that are NOT on the impacted drive, or the impacted Mac, so that when you can, you can put them back where you want them. No backup? Those files are gone, forever.
Are all backups the same? No. There are multiple ways to backup data. This post discusses what a backup might be. As we progress to more details on backups, you can then decide what kind of backup you might need for your files. There is no one right answer. But there is a right answer for you.
First, a backup makes copies of at least some, if not all, of your own files so that if something disastrous happens, you can get them back. Examples of these critical documents might be your family photos, or critical business documents, or whatever you treasure and don’t want to lose. And making that copy gives you a place from which those files can be restored.
Second, a backup might also back up some or all of the system files that customize your system the way you want it to look. That backup might include third-party applications you have installed, configuration files and preference lists (plists) that track how you have the software configured, bookmarks, registrations, etc.
Third, a backup might backup EVERYTHING on the drive and possibly make that backup bootable so that if the internal drive fails, you can immediately be back running by booting from the backup drive and just continuing as if nothing had happened while you wait for the replacement internal drive to be ordered and arrive to be installed. Or to get you finished with that critical project before you hand your computer over to a technician to replace the storage for you.
Next time we’ll start the discussion of what kind of backup you should think about making. There are a few factors that can make it easier for you to put together that strategy. But for now, if you have NO backup, please at least make a copy of the important files and put them on something other than the drive in the Mac. Anything is definitely better than nothing.