Losing your files can be a terrifying idea. If you find out that your Mac suddenly won’t turn on, how to save your data before it’s gone for good is probably the first place your mind will go. But don’t lose hope yet—while recovering your data on a Mac that won’t boot may be difficult, it is not impossible.
Walk through the steps below to learn how to back up the data from your Mac to an external hard drive, even if OS X won’t boot.
Back Up Your Files Regularly
Please remember that each case is individual and there is the possibility that this method of recovery does not work for you.
The only way to make sure your files are truly secure is to back them up regularly, and before problems like this occur. Your data is important, so taking the time to do this procedure periodically will save you from substantial loss should an irreparable accident take place.
Back Up Your Data Before You Reboot Your Mac
Most start-up related issues with Mac’s can be fixed. However, keep in mind that during these processes, there is a chance that your data is lost. This is why it is important to back up your data to an external hard drive before you attempt to fix the issue.
The way to do this is to take a ‘system image.’ This image uses OS X’s Disk Utility to run a backup operation which includes a copy of your system settings, files, programs and other data. You may then move this system image to an external hard drive, where your data will be safe while you fix any start up issues.
How to Back Up Your Mac
(Note that the following procedure is done on an OS X El Capitan interface, and that earlier OS X versions may vary slightly.)
The first step is to get your hands on an external hard drive. Make sure that there is enough spare disk space on the drive to store all your backup data, then connect the hard drive to your Mac.
The second step is to put your Mac into Recovery Mode. To do this, follow the instructions below.
(Note that if you are unable to enter Recovery Mode, your issue is likely a hardware issue rather than a startup issue.)
You are now in OS X Disk Utility, which will allow you to take the system image mentioned above. The third step is to follow these instructions within Disk Utility to take the image.
- On the screen that appears, select name of the Disk you are backing up. This will be the Disk from your Mac, and might be named ‘Macintosh HD.’
- Follow this path:
Select File > New Image > Image from ‘Macintosh HD’ or ‘[insert the name of your Disk here]’
- At this stage, you may change the Disk’s name, if you choose, under Save As.
If you are backing up your data periodically, it might be a good idea to include the date, so as to know when the recovery had taken place and up to what point data was included in it, as well as to keep track of your backups.
- In the Where bar, select the name of your external hard drive, which should appear if the hard drive is connected to your Mac.
- Under Format, choose compressed.
- Press Save.
- This will begin the backup process. Sit tight; this part might take a while.
When the backup process is completed, your Mac will notify you.
Your files will now be backed up on your external hard drive, and you are free to solve your start up issues without fear of losing your data in the process.
Moving Your Files to A New Mac
If you choose to buy a new Mac, you will be able to take the data saved on your external hard drive and put it on your new computer. One way of doing this is to use Migration Assistant or Mountain Lion, programs which are designed to help move data from one Mac to another.
Keep Backing Up Your Files
Remember that even when your Mac is working flawlessly, it is never a bad idea to back up your files. If you set up a plan to back up your system regularly, you will never have to worry about losing your files if disaster strikes.
You might also consider online storage like iCloud or GoogleDrive.