Back up your MacOS

Macos Writing

I lost some of my precious data and config files while migrating to new laptop which brings me to the importance of having a backup. I did a little research on the current options for MacOS and ended up with 3 reasonable solutions; Time Machine, Backblaze, or Borg.

With my current iCloud setup, only the Documents and Desktop folders are synced to iCloud which leaves out my code directory and dotfiles. I am not that worried about the code folder as everything is versioned at GitHub and I push quite frequently, on the other hand, loosing this directory would mean loosing around 12 GB of machine learning datasets I accumulated either for side projects or diploma thesis. This alone should be a big enough reason to start backing up the whole laptop, not to mention the valuable dotfiles. For those I used Mackup, tiny utility to backup and sync application settings using one of the many storage providers (Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud, etc.). Mackup works great, is maintained and stable, the issue is, it doesn’t understand custom config files unless you explicitly tell it to. Which I didn’t. So during the migration I lost all of my zsh configuration files (whole .config/zsh), and a few, less important files such as global gitignore. There are more flaws with Mackup from my point of view, it backs up whole application configuration folder including log files, lock files, and temporary files making the backup bloated. You also have to verify that indeed everything that you want it to backup is actually backed up or you might end up like me and loose part of your configuration because you had wrong assumptions about what will and what will not be backed up.

Time Machine can back up your MacOS device to external hard drive, other apple device, or NAS. That’s not a lot of options to choose from. On the other hand, Time Machine comes integrated with iOS devices and will always work just fine. In this case, the best option to me seems having a NAS at home and also backup the NAS itself to some cloud provider to follow the 3-2-1 rule of backups.

Backblaze is a cloud back up solution priced at $60 per year. Similarly to Time Machine it backs up your whole workstation. The backups are handled using native software, Backblze automatically encrypts all the files and has additional support for custom personal keys. At $60 it is significantly cheaper than buying NAS (given the sole purpose of the NAS would be to provide storage for the Time Machine backups). Backblaze seems like awesome solution if you want plug (read download) and play solution. There are also a few similar products you might want to consider: Arq priced at $49.99 a year but with limited feature set compared to Backblaze. IDrive at $52.12 a year but with limited storage size. Carbonite priced at $83.99, also with less features than Backblaze. And a few other options. Overall, based on the reviews features comparison, and pricing, Backblaze seems like the best option for easy backups.

Last but not least there’s Borg and restic. Both CLI tools/programs that can backup to countless storage providers. Both need to be told what to back up and where and neither runs automatically so you would have to solve that part yourself or find an existing solution, such as luispabon/borg-s3-home-backup. The costs are harder to calculate as they will depend on the amount of data you have, how often you will be backing up and the storage you would like to use. Anyway, they will be most likely lower than if you use one of the back up solution providers.

Overall, it comes up to how much effort are you willing to put into setting up the back ups (none - Backblaze or Time Machine, a lot - custom solution with restic), how much are you willing to pay (I don’t care as long as it works - Backblaze, I already have a NAS at home or want to buy one - Time Machine, I am willing to backup to external hard drive - Time Machine, the least amount possible - custom solution with restic), and how much you value your data (a lot - whatever backup suits you, not a lot yet - come back later).