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How to make bootable backups with Carbon Copy Cloner

Carbon Copy ClonerRegular backups are a good practice to prevent data loss. You should always have a backup copy of your precious data. Hard drive failures are mostly unpredictable, and portable computers are more likely to be physically lost or stolen. Because of the low cost of hard drives, not having a back up plan is just being lazy. Today’s tip is Carbon Copy Cloner, a free app (donations accepted) that creates a bootable backup copy of your disk.
Update 2012: Carbon Copy Cloner is no longer free. But it’s better then ever, an excellent backup solution that saves a lot of time and headaches.

How it’s different from a Time Machine backup.

Time machine is the built-in backup utility that is part of the Mac OS X operating system, from 10.5 and onwards. This is very easy to set up, and it’s the minimum backup you should be doing. Time Machine creates a backup copy of your files, and keeps different versions of your files so you can “go back in time”. But it does not make a bootable backup. If you were to upgrade your internal hard drive, you would have to reinstall the operating system and later use Migration Assistant to copy over your old applications and documents over from the external Time Machine backup.

Carbon Copy Cloner uses a different approach for backups; it literally clones the contents of your internal disk onto an external hard drive. (Or you may split your external disk into multiple partitions, and clone to one of those, so you can use the other partition for general purpose file storage).

The advantage of this approach is that your back up is bootable. Meaning you may connect your external disk to the computer, hold down the Option key after hitting the power button, and selecting to start the computer from the external disk. If you were upgrading your internal hard drive for an example, you would be able to boot from the external disk, and clone it back to your brand new internal one. This would save you a lot of time, and will make sure the your applications, settings, and documents are unchanged.

How to use it.

  1. Download it here, drag the app your to the applications folder.
  2. Your external disk needs to be formatted as Mac OS Extended (Journaled), if it already is, skip to step 4.
  3. Open Disk Utility, and select your external disk from the list on the left. Under the Erase tab you can select the file system for your disk. Select Mac OS Extended (Journaled). Click Erase to apply the new file system. Warning, this will obviously delete the contents of your disk. If there are existing files you don’t want to lose, move them to anther disk. Alternatively you may want to split your external disk into multiple partitions, you can do this from under the Partitions tab. Make sure the partitions you intend to use with Carbon Copy Cloner is at least as big as your internal disk.Erase in disk utility.
  4. Now that your disk is ready fire up Carbon Copy Cloner.
  5. You will see drop down menu on the left for your Source disk, and one on the right for your Target disk. Select to clone your internal disk to the external one, and you’re ready to clone.Carbon Copy Cloner menu.
  6. You will be asked for your user password because the app needs access to copy your system files. The initial back may take some time, but later backups will only copy the changes you’ve made, thus only taking a few minutes.
  7. Done. Now you have a bootable backup of your system disk!

Bonus: You may choose to automate this backup task. Once you’ve selected your settings and ran you initial backup, click on the Save Task button in Carbon Copy Cloner.