How to Back Up Mac to External Hard Drive: A Comprehensive Guide

Welcome to our step-by-step guide on how to back up Mac to an external hard drive. Ensuring that you have a comprehensive backup of your files is crucial in this era where cyber-attacks and computer crashes are increasingly common. So, in this article, we’ll take you through 12 simple steps on how to backup your Mac to an external hard drive. Read on to find out more.


Step 1: Choose the Right External Hard Drive

Before you can begin the process of backing up your Mac, you need to ensure that you have the right external hard drive for the job. Look for a drive that’s compatible with Mac OS and one that has enough storage capacity to accommodate all your files. A typical rule of thumb when selecting a backup hard drive is to choose one with at least twice the storage capacity of your Mac’s hard drive.

Step 2: Connect Your External Hard Drive to Your Mac

Once you’ve chosen the right external hard drive, connect it to your Mac using a USB or Thunderbolt cable. If your Mac has a USB-C port, use an adapter that’s compatible with your external drive’s cable.

Step 3: Open Time Machine

Time Machine is the built-in backup feature on your Mac. You can access it by clicking on the Apple menu on your desktop, selecting “System Preferences,” and then clicking on “Time Machine.”

Step 4: Turn on Time Machine

On the Time Machine screen, turn on the slider button to enable Time Machine. This will allow your Mac to back up your data on the external hard drive.

Step 5: Select Your Backup Drive

Once you turn on Time Machine, your Mac will automatically detect the external hard drive that you’ve connected. Click on “Select Backup Disk” and pick the drive that you want to use for the backup process.

Step 6: Exclude Files or Folders

If there are any files or folders that you don’t want to be included in the backup, you can exclude them. To do this, click on the “Options” button and add the files or folders that you want to exclude from the backup.

Step 7: Begin the Backup Process

Once you’ve selected your backup drive and excluded any files you don’t want to be backed up, click on “Backup Now.” Your Mac will start the backup process, which may take a few hours, depending on the amount of data you have.

Step 8: Monitor the Backup Process

While the backup is running, you can monitor its progress by clicking on the Time Machine icon in the menu bar. You’ll see a progress bar that shows you how much of your data has been backed up.

Step 9: Eject Your External Drive

After the backup process is complete, make sure that you safely eject your external hard drive from your Mac. To do this, locate the drive on your desktop, right-click on it, and select “Eject.”

Step 10: Test Your Backup

Once you’ve ejected your external hard drive, test your backup by opening some of the files that you’ve backed up. Make sure that they open and that you can access them without any issues.

Step 11: Schedule Regular Backups

To ensure that your data is always backed up, schedule regular backups. You can do this by selecting “Back Up Automatically” on the Time Machine screen and setting the frequency at which you want your Mac to back up your data.

Step 12: Consider Other Backup Options

While backing up your Mac to an external hard drive is an excellent option, you should also consider other backup options such as cloud backups or using multiple external hard drives. This ensures that your data is backed up and secure in case of any unforeseen circumstances.


Backing up your Mac is a critical process that ensures that your data is safe and secure in case of any unforeseen circumstances. Time Machine is the perfect tool for backing up your Mac to an external hard drive, as it’s built-in, easy to use, and effective. By following the twelve simple steps that we’ve outlined above, you can ensure that your data is always backed up and secure.

Tips and Tricks

Tip 1: Keep Multiple Backups

Backing up your data to one external hard drive is good, but having multiple backups is even better. This ensures that your data is secure in case of any catastrophes or mishaps.

Tip 2: Test Your Backups Regularly

It’s essential to ensure that your backups are working correctly by testing them regularly. This ensures that you can access your data in case of an emergency.

Tip 3: Use a Surge Protector

Electricity surges can damage your external hard drive. To protect it, use a surge protector when connecting it to your computer.

Tip 4: Encrypt Your Backups

Encrypting your backups ensures that your data is secure, even if your external hard drive is stolen.

Tip 5: Label Your External Hard Drive

Labeling your external hard drive can make it easy for you to locate it and differentiate it from other drives you may have.

Tip 6: Back Up Before Upgrades

Before upgrading your Mac’s operating system, it’s essential to back up your data to ensure that you don’t lose any important files.

Tip 7: Keep Your External Hard Drive Safe

Protect your external hard drive by avoiding dropping it or exposing it to extreme temperatures.

Tip 8: Use Time Capsule for Wireless Backups

If you prefer wireless backups, Time Capsule is a great solution. It’s also designed to work with Time Machine, making the backup process seamless.

Tip 9: Back Up Your Music Manually

Music files that have been added from CDs need to be backed up manually as they are not always included in Time Machine’s backup process.

Tip 10: Automate Your Backups

Automating your backups ensures that you don’t forget to back up your data regularly. You can set Time Machine to back up your data automatically and regularly.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Backing Up Mac to External Hard Drive


1. Recover lost data: By having a backup stored on an external hard drive, users can recover any lost data due to accidental deletion or system failure.

2. Easy and convenient: An external hard drive provides an easy and convenient way to back up important files and documents without the need for an internet connection or cloud storage subscription.

3. Customizable backup options: Users can customize backup options to suit their needs, such as selecting specific folders or scheduling automatic backups.

4. Protection against theft or loss: External hard drives can be stored in a safe and secure location, offering protection against theft or loss of sensitive data.

5. Offline access: Users can access their backup files even when offline or without an internet connection, making it useful for traveling or working in areas with limited internet connectivity.

6. Cost-effective: External hard drives can be relatively inexpensive compared to cloud storage subscriptions, making it a cost-effective option for those on a budget.

7. Improved performance: Backing up files to an external hard drive can improve system performance by freeing up space on the computer’s internal hard drive.

8. Multiple backups: Users can create multiple backups on different external hard drives to ensure that their data is secure and easily accessible.

9. Independence from service providers: Users do not have to rely on a third-party service provider to back up their data, giving them more control over their data security.

10. Compatibility with multiple devices: External hard drives can be used with multiple devices, allowing users to backup and access their data from different machines.


1. External hard drive failure: External hard drives have the potential to fail and render the backup useless if not regularly checked and maintained.

2. Limited storage space: External hard drives have limited storage space, which may not be sufficient for users with a large amount of data to backup.

3. Risk of damage or loss: External hard drives can be physically damaged or lost, which may compromise the security of the backup and data.

4. Vulnerable to malware: External hard drives connected to a computer can be vulnerable to malware infections, which can also infect the backup data.

5. No remote access: Users cannot access their backup files remotely, making it less convenient for those who need to access their data while outside of their physical location.

6. Time-consuming: Backing up large amounts of data to an external hard drive can be a time-consuming process and may require regular maintenance.

7. Inconvenient physical storage: External hard drives require a physical storage location, which may be inconvenient for those with limited space or who frequently travel.

8. No automatic offsite backup: External hard drives must be manually transported to an offsite location for extra security, which may be inconvenient for some users.

9. Limited access: External hard drives may not be accessible to clients or colleagues who need to access the data, making it less convenient for collaborative work.

10. No guarantee of security: Although external hard drives can provide greater security than cloud storage, there is no guarantee that the data is completely secure from theft or unauthorized access.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

1. What is an external hard drive?

An external hard drive is a portable device that can be connected to your computer to expand the storage capacity, backup files, and transfer data.

2. Why do I need to back up my Mac?

Backing up your Mac ensures that your important files and data are safe in case of any unforeseen events like data corruption, hardware failure, theft, and so on.

3. What are the different ways to back up my Mac?

You can back up your Mac using Time Machine, iCloud, or an external hard drive.

4. How do I connect an external hard drive to my Mac?

You can connect the external hard drive to your Mac using a USB cable, Thunderbolt cable, or Firewire cable.

5. What is the best external hard drive to use for backing up a Mac?

There are several brands and models of external hard drives available in the market. Look for one that has a large storage capacity, is compatible with your Mac operating system, and has good reviews from users.

6. How do I format my external hard drive to work with my Mac?

To format the external hard drive for Mac, go to Disk Utility from Applications > Utilities > Disk Utility, select the external hard drive, choose Erase, select the format as Mac OS Extended (Journaled), and click Erase.

7. What is Time Machine and how do I use it to back up my Mac?

Time Machine is built-in backup software in Mac that automatically backs up your entire Mac and keeps hourly, daily, and weekly backups. To use Time Machine, plug in your external hard drive, go to System Preferences > Time Machine, turn on Time Machine, select the external hard drive as the backup disk, and click on Back Up Now.

8. Can I use my external hard drive for both Time Machine backup and personal storage?

Yes, you can partition your external hard drive to use one partition for Time Machine backup and the other partition for personal storage.

9. How often should I back up my Mac?

You should back up your Mac regularly, preferably daily or weekly, depending on your usage and importance of data.

10. How long does it take to back up a Mac to an external hard drive?

The time taken to back up your Mac depends on the size of data and the speed of the external hard drive. It can range from a few minutes to several hours.

11. Can I encrypt my Time Machine backup to secure it from unauthorized access?

Yes, you can encrypt your Time Machine backup using FileVault encryption from System Preferences > Security & Privacy > FileVault. However, make sure you remember the password as it is required to access the backup data.

12. How do I restore my Mac from a Time Machine backup?

To restore your Mac from a Time Machine backup, connect the external hard drive, restart your Mac, and hold down the Option key to access the Startup Manager. Select the Time Machine backup disk, and follow the instructions to restore your Mac to the desired state.

13. Can I use an external hard drive to transfer data from one Mac to another?

Yes, you can use an external hard drive to transfer data from one Mac to another by backing up the data from the first Mac, connecting the external hard drive to the second Mac, and restoring the data to the second Mac using Time Machine or manual transfer.

How to Back Up Mac to External Hard Drive

If you are a Mac user, it is important to have a backup of all your data to avoid losing important files and documents. The best way to do this is by backing up your Mac to an external hard drive. In this article, we will discuss how to back up your Mac to an external hard drive in a few simple steps.


Backing up your Mac to an external hard drive is an important step to ensure that your data is safe in case of a system failure or other serious issues. By following the steps outlined in this article, you can easily create a backup of your important files and documents on your Mac. Don’t wait until it’s too late; start backing up your Mac today!


Thank you for taking the time to read this article on how to back up your Mac to an external hard drive. We hope you found the information useful and that you are now able to create backups of all your important files and documents. Remember, it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your data, so start backing up your Mac today and enjoy the peace of mind knowing that your information is safe and secure!