Data loss is a constant threat to our technology-heavy lives. Hard drives are unreliable, mobile devices get lost, children destroy laptops: it’s a rough world out there for your data. You need to protect your files with a reliable backup system that reproduces your data both locally and remotely. You can start creating your own backup strategy with these five free backup applications for macOS.
macOS, like all major operating systems, comes with a built-in backup utility. Unlike other built-in backup offerings, Time Machine is actually extremely useful. Plug in a hard drive, set Time Machine to go, and everything else is done for you. It integrates well with macOS’ installation process, allowing you to easily recover your computer on a new hard drive. You can also restore lost or deleted files.
However, Time Machine isn’t perfect. The user doesn’t have any control over how or when backups happen. You also can’t expand the scope of backups. You can remove targets from backups, but you can’t add anything. The interface for Time Machine also isn’t great, requiring this buggy animation that makes searching or looking at old backups difficult. Bottom line: Time Machine is a great first line of defense for simple backup and non-essential files, but it’s hardly a professional-grade backup tool.
SuperDuper is primarily a disk-cloning application. But that makes it a superb backup tool for power users. Cloning your startup disk should be a regular part of any complete backup process. SuperDuper has a paid tier, but you can access the primary functionality of the app for free – forever.
Within the free tier, you can back up and restore full disks, but you have to start from scratch each time. You also can’t schedule applications in the free tier, nor can you test potential backup utilities to make sure everything will work correctly.
Intego Backup Assistant
LaCie, the well known stylish hard drive manufacturer, also makes data management tools that, in defiance of the norm, aren’t bad. Their Intego Backup Assistant is free and offers a surprisingly wide variety of tools. It includes one-way backup with built-in scheduling and support for incremental backups. You can also synchronize two folder locations to create synced archives. It’s just about as powerful as Carbon Copy Cloner, which is unfortunately no longer available for free. If your backup process is hurting from that change, Intego is an excellent replacement.
FreeFileSync is built to sync the contents of specific folders from one place to another. It makes backing up specific files and folders extremely easy, offering a very detailed backup utility that can individually select files for backup. The program also offers two-way synchronization, updating both folders to match one another. This detail is powerful and useful, but it makes the program less well-suited to full drive backup.
For something like that, you might be more interested in one of the holistic backup tools for macOS. The user interface might be a little ugly, but the application reliably handles sync conflicts, letting the user decide what files to overwrite to avoid unintentional data loss.
Like Time Machine, rsync is a pre-installed utility you can use to backup your Mac. It’s a Terminal command that works a lot like FreeFileSync, detecting differences between two folders and automatically synchronizing each location. As a Terminal command, it does require a little practice to use correctly. But if you feel comfortable issuing Terminal commands, rsync provides significant free backup power for your Mac.
There are three parts to a rsync command: the flags, the source directory and the target directory:
rsync [FLAGS] [SOURCE] [TARGET]
The source and target directories should be fully qualified directory paths, meaning they start at the root of the disk. You can drag any folder into Terminal from Finder to get the fully qualified path inserted at the current cursor position.
As far as flags go, the primary ones are a, r, v, and z.
- a: archive mode, which maintains symbolic links, permissions and ownership are copied.
- r: recursive mode: copy all directories and sub-directories. Contained in the a flag.
- v: verbose, which gives live logs as the sync progresses
- z: compresses the data during the transfer and uncompresses when it arrives at the source. Good for remote sources to save bandwidth, but not necessary for local to local backup.
As a canonical example, consider the following:
rsync -av /Users/foo/Documents /Users/foo/Backup
The world of free backup is less populated than it once was. However, two core applications, Time Machine and SuperDuper, can work together to create an excellent backup system that will protect you from many kinds of data loss. Just add a cloud backup service like Backblaze or Carbonite. Then you’ll have a robust backup system to keep your Mac’s files safe.