1. Computer Skills

Use Carbon Copy Cloner To Make An Exact Copy Of Your Hard-Disk

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Read Time: 6 min

Though Time Machine is a very useful and simple to use backup utility, it is sound practice to not put all your digital eggs into one basket. Further, when you upgrade your hard drive, cloning the old drive makes for a completely seamless transition to the new one. All of your passwords, apps, files, etc. will be right where you expect them to be.

I’d like to show you how to use the Shareware (uncrippled, unlimited demo) program Carbon Copy Cloner to back up your files. Using Carbon Copy Cloner is a little more involved than Time Machine but the benefit of making an exact, bootable duplicate is well worth the extra effort.

Evolving Media In The Digital Age

As computers have gained an increased role in our lives, the need for safely storing digital memories has grown to be more important than ever. Unlike tangible objects like photographs, letters and postcards, a hard-drive full of digital 0’s and 1’s is easily deleted or just lost track of, as technology improves over time. For instance, I still have a drawer full of floppy disks formatted for the Amiga, despite not owning that computer for years. Though it’s not impossible to get my data off them, it’s a headache and so I’ve put it off indefinitely. This probably won’t be the case with Mac OS X as it’s a far more widespread Operating System but is still worth pondering how future-proof your backup system will be in years to come.

A Two-Step Process

There’s a lot to consider when backing up your data and the best approach will depend upon your needs. Though more standard backup utilities like Time Machine are great in their own right, it is a good idea to keep an exact duplicate of your hard-drive. This way, every single file and system preference will be stored on your external hard-drive exactly as it was copied, with the added ability of being able to boot from this disk image should disaster strike and your hard-drive be lost, stolen or destroyed.

However, making the actual backup is only the first step needed to secure your data, as an external hard-drive could easily be physically damaged by fire, earthquake or flood. Ideally, you’ll be storing an archival copy of the backup at another secure location, such as an office safe or trusted family member's house - this need not be done each day, but a monthly routine is recommended. If this is not practical, then at the very least consider an off-site cloud based backup of 'worst case scenario' files, such as your most treasured photos, passwords and important information. Apple’s upcoming iCloud service will soon revolutionise the way we think of online data storage, but until then, there’s Dropbox.

Follow the guide over at our sister site Web.AppStorm to get started with Dropbox.

Preparing The Target Disk

Preparing The Target DiskPreparing The Target DiskPreparing The Target Disk
Preparing The Target Disk

First off, we're going to need somewhere to back up to, so plug in an external hard-drive and fire up "Disk Utility" on your Mac. Now partition your external hard-drive (The "Target Disk") so that you have a partition with enough space to accommodate your Mac's main hard-drive (The "Source Disk"), with a few gigabytes left over for good measure. As you can see, I've labelled mine CCC - short for Carbon Copy Cloner - and inserted the date. Make sure you format your drive as "Mac OS Extended (Journaled)".

Tip: It is very much recommended to back up to an external hard-drive rather than a secondary internal one as this can be physically moved away from your Mac

Getting Started With Carbon Copy Cloner

Installing Carbon Copy Cloner
Installing Carbon Copy Cloner

Head over to Bombich to grab a free copy of Carbon Copy Cloner and go through the simple installation process. Once installed, we can begin making our first backup, so launch the program.

Carbon Copy Cloner's Main Interface
Carbon Copy Cloner's Main Interface

As you can see, CCC's interface is quite simple and straight forward. It is extremely important to make sure the correct "Source Disk" and "Target Disk" have been selected. So, for "Source Disk" we're going to need to select our Mac's hard-drive and in the "Target Disk" select the free partition previously made in Disk Utility. Finally, click the box titled "Delete items that don't exist on the source".

Take a moment to read through the information, especially under the heading "What is going to happen?"

Now click on "Clone" and you'll receive one more warning, as shown below. Assuming that everything is okay, go ahead and back up your hard-drive!

Carbon Copy Cloner - Final Warning Prompt
Carbon Copy Cloner - Final Warning Prompt

The backup process will take a while, depending on your hard-drive speed and whether it's a USB connection or Firewire. My MacBook Pro takes just over two hours to complete the backup process when using a USB 2.0 connection to a standard Western Digital 5400 RPM external hard-drive.

Booting From Your New Backup

Now that you've made a backup of your Mac's entire hard-drive, you can boot into it if desired. To do this, simply switch your Mac on with the external hard-drive connected and hold down the "Option" (or alt) key right after you powering on. You'll now see your Mac's usual hard-drive as a boot option, along with your newly made Carbon Copy Cloner partition. Select this and your Mac will boot just as normal, albeit significantly slower if you're running off USB.

Read The Manual

Carbon Copy Cloner's Help Documentation
Carbon Copy Cloner's Help Documentation

The process described above is only the most basic of backup options which Carbon Copy Cloner has to offer. The help documentation included with CCC under Help -> Carbon Copy Cloner Help is a very useful resource and gives clear instructions on how to implement incremental backups, how to schedule backups and more.

Beyond The Basics: Scheduling

Scheduling A Backup Task
Scheduling A Backup Task

Carbon Copy Cloner can make hourly, daily, weekly and monthly scheduled backups. To set-up a backup, begin the steps necessary to backup your drive as previously described, but instead of clicking "Clone" select "Save Task".

Now the "Schedule" box appears, as seen above. I've set my backup to happen once a week, late on Sunday night/Monday morning. This will only happen if my external hard-drive is inserted.

Tip: CCC can even be prompted to begin a backup on the insertion of an allotted external hard-drive.

Beyond The Basics: Restoring From Your CCC Backup

A worst-case scenario situation; your Mac's installation is ruined and many programs are corrupted. All attempts to fix the OS has failed.

You would begin by booting into your CCC backup as outlined above. Then, once your Mac is fully loaded, run Carbon Copy Cloner and choose your settings carefully. "Source Disk" should now be your CCC backup and "Target Disk" will be your Mac's main hard-drive. Go through the warnings again and read the text beneath “What is going to happen?” again.

This restore should take a lot less time than a backup, once the process is completed, reboot your Mac without the external drive reconnected (you may have to hold the "Option" key and select your Mac's hard-drive this first time).


We've still only covered a few aspects of what Carbon Copy Cloner can do and once you're confident with standard and scheduled backups, there's a lot more advanced features to get stuck into. No one backup process is perfect, but Carbon Copy Cloner can provide one aspect of your backup needs. If you find yourself using Carbon Copy Cloner a lot, consider donating some money toward (minimum $10) keeping this great software alive!

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