Backing up your Mac is an important part of keeping your system safe and secure. While many of us never end up needing the backups, it is always better to have them and not need them than it is to need them and not have them. Time Machine makes this process quite easy so there’s no reason not to do it.
As easy as it is, many often wonder whether or not Time Machine backs up everything on your Mac. Especially when it is able to quickly back up your system every day or even every hour. The short answer is:
Yes, it does back up everything on your Mac, at least everything you need. But it does not backup system files and applications.
My name is Eric and as a software engineer, I know how important system backups can be. Not only do they allow us to restore our systems when there is an issue, but they also give us the confidence to make changes to our systems knowing that we can restore their previous state.
Simply having backups is not all you need, you also need to know that everything on your system is backed up. Keep reading below if you would like to hear more about what Time Machine backs up and why some may be skeptical of whether or not everything is backed up.
What is Time Machine?
Time Machine is a backup utility that comes with your macOS. It allows you to backup the data on your Mac’s hard drive. The backed-up data can be used to restore your system in the case of hard drive failure, data corruption, accidental deletion, or any other event that may cause you to lose data.
Backups can be done manually or scheduled on a regular basis. If scheduled, they can be done, monthly, weekly, daily, or even hourly if you would like. Backups can be stored on an external drive or even a partitioned drive of your system’s hard drive.
Restoration from the backups can be done as a whole if you want to restore your entire system to a specific point in time or individual files or groups of files can be restored if needed. The Time Machine utility allows you to pick the backup that you wish to restore.
As you can see, Time Machine is fairly flexible and it is also straightforward to use. This makes it easy to ensure your data is protected in case of loss or corruption.
What Does Time Machine Backup?
The great thing about Time Machine is that by default, it is set up to backup everything on your Mac once it has been enabled. Whether it’s documents, photos, source code, configuration files, or almost anything else, it will get backed up as long as it is on your hard drive.
There is one exception and you can also exclude things if you would like, and we will discuss those in the upcoming sections of this article, but for the majority of users, you can count on the fact that Time Machine will back up everything you need. You don’t need to manually select what gets backed up, it will be done by default when you enable Time Machine to do backups.
How Can It Backup Everything So Quickly?
You’ll notice that the initial backup may take quite a bit of time. There may be a large amount of data that it needs to copy. Subsequent backups will go fairly quickly though and this often makes people question whether or not Time Machine really is backing up everything.
No need to worry, everything is still backed up, it’s just that Time Machine does not need to copy every file for every backup. It uses an incremental backup method in which each backup after the original backup, only needs to backup, or copy the files that have changed since the last backup.
For files that have not changed, Time Machine only needs to create a link to that file in the previous backup copy. This method saves space and makes the process go much quicker, allowing you to do frequent backups (as frequent as hourly) without much overhead and providing granularity and flexibility to restoring your system or specific files for a specific time.
One Thing Time Machine Does not Backup
As far as most users are concerned, Time Machine backs up everything, but there is one thing that is not backed up and this is stated by Apple Support. It does not back up system files and apps installed during macOS installation.
Another thing that may not be backed up are files and folders that you choose to exclude from the backup process. If you have files that for some reason you do not need to back up or do not want to backup, you can add them to the exclusion list and they will not be part of the backup.
The Down Side to Backing up Everything
Backing up everything on your Mac is almost always recommended. You want to make sure your data is not lost in case of a hardware failure or accidental deletion but there can be a downside to backing up everything. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it but it is something you should be aware of.
When you back up everything, you could possibly back up bad or corrupted files. If the files you back up have a virus or malware, they will still be there if you use those files or those versions of the files that have a virus or malware, and restoring your system will not fix your problem.
If you are trying to restore your system due to a data corruption issue, you will need to try to restore it to a point in time that is before the corruption took place. You will need to remember when the issue started happening and then restore from a point before that.
This can often be difficult and may require multiple restorations before you figure out which one is clean and without corruption but as long as you have frequent backups that go back to before the issue started you should be ok.
Below are a few questions that are often asked when discussing whether or not Time Machine backs up everything on your Mac.
Do I have to back up everything?
No, you definitely do not have to back up everything. As mentioned above, you can add files and folders to the exclusion list and this will prevent them from being backed up.
Where are my backups stored?
The location of your backups is configurable in Time Machine and when you set up the backup process, it will ask you where you want them to go. You can use an external drive or other external media. Although it is recommended you use an external drive, you can create a backup partition on your hard drive and use that, just keep in mind if your hard drive fails, you may lose the backup partition along with your main partition.
How much space do I need for my backups?
The space you need depends on how much data you have on your hard drive. You will need at least as much space as you are using on your hard drive plus extra since the backup will grow as you make changes and add new files to your system.
As we have discussed above, Time Machine does backup everything you need from your Mac. There are some files from your macOS installation that do not get backed up, but those can be recovered from a new macOS Installation. It is also possible to exclude files and folders from the backup.
I hope the information above has helped you learn about Time Machine backups and what gets backed up. As usual, let me know if you have any questions or comments. I would love to hear from you!