A good backup strategy is crucial for any computer user. And with built-in backup tools like Time Machine, macOS makes it easy to keep on top of basic backups. But the macOS ninjas out there do something even better than Time Machine: they use a bootable clone to recover their system from total annihilation at a moment’s notice.
A bootable clone, also called a bootable backup, is a backup that you can use to boot and run your computer. Is essentially an exact duplicate of your computer’s boot drive, capable of being “tagged in” for duty at the drop of a hat.
If somehow your hard drive gets trashed (either through physical death or software destruction) you can swap in a bootable backup to save the day. You can even use a bootable backup to run your own system off different Mac hardware, meaning you can carry a copy of your computer to a new location on a USB flash drive and continue working (sorta) seamlessly.
Finally, bootable backups have one more killer feature: you can pull individual files from the drive. You don’t need to restore the whole thing, or swap out your hard drive. You access the drive just like any other storage device and pick and choose which files you want to return to your system.
This makes a bootable clone an absolute must-have for a strong macOS backup strategy.
Get Carbon Copy Cloner
Before we can make a bootable clone, we’ll need to download some software. While there are a few different utilities that can accomplish making a bootable backup, Carbon Copy Cloner (CCC) is easy to use and has a long-term trial mode.
2. Locate and unpack the downloaded ZIP file in your Downloads folder.
3. Double-click the Carbon Copy Cloner app.
4. Click “Move to Applications Folder” when prompted.
Creating a Bootable Clone with Carbon Copy Cloner
After you’ve moved Carbon Copy Cloner to the Applications folder, the app will automatically open. You’ll see the main screen below.
1. Click on the “Source” panel and pick your boot drive. By default, it will be named “Macintosh HD.”
2. Click on the destination panel and pick the hard drive destination hard drive. In this case I’ve selected an external USB drive named “Southern Reach.”
You can use any hard drive that can connect to your computer, provided it is large enough to contain all the data from your boot drive. This hard drive will need to be in the macOS-standard HFS+ format. If you can, use a freshly formatted, empty drive.
3. With your source and destination set, you can click the Clone button in the lower right.
4. If this is the first time you’ve run Carbon Copy Cloner, you’ll need to install the Carbon Copy Cloner helper tool. Enter your administrator password and click the “Install Helper.”
5. Let the cloning commence! A blue bar at the top of the window will report on the bootable backup’s creation in real time.
6. When the clone is complete, you can close Carbon Copy Cloner. The application will ask if you want to save your current project. You can safely click “Don’t Save,” which deletes the backup task, not the data you just copied.
Scheduling Your Bootable Backup Task
1. Alternatively, you can also click “Save” to create a recurring task for your bootable backup. As long as you can keep the target drive connected to your computer, you can create a scheduled task that takes place in the background and keeps your drive up to date.
You can also choose “Save” from the file menu to save the backup task.
2. Then, click the “Schedule” box on the right of the screen.
3. Click the dropdown menu that says “Do not run this task on a schedule” to select the frequency you’d like the backup to occur at.
4. Finally, use the menu’s pop up options to select when and how you’d like the backup to take place. We recommend updating your bootable clone at least once a week during a time you’re not using your computer. The other options can be left at their default, especially if you’re not sure what they do.
Booting from Your Cloned Disk
Now that you’ve made your bootable backup, you can start your system from it. Make sure to test this out before you actually need the backup to be sure everything is working properly.
1. Connect your bootable backup to your computer.
2. Restart your Mac.
3. Press and hold the Option key while your Mac restarts to enter the boot disk selection prompt.
4. Select your bootable backup from the available options at the resulting menu.
If the data on your hard drive is important to your productivity, a bootable backup will save both your time and that data. If anything ever goes wrong with your computer’s hard drive, you’ll have a working “spare” ready to go at a moment’s notice.
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