Back up advise needed


macrumors 6502
Original poster
Mar 13, 2004
Need some advise on doing a back up as I’m looking on reformatting my Mac mini.
I have done back ups in the past but never really had to test it out in a real scenario of restoring them & hope I never have to.
What it is mainly that’s concerning me is doing the back ups of my photos & music and one day maybe needing to open them & then needing certain software just to open the because they were saved as a iTunes or Apple photos format & it not being possible for me.

In the past I have just backed up the from copying the photos library folder or iTunes library folder but like I say I’m not sure if this sufficient as in a total 100% true back up where I could open the photos or music folder on any system (ie/ windows or even open them in a different photo viewer, music player etc)
So what I am basically asking is how to back up all my photos & all my music onto a separate external hard drive without having to go through the long winded process of copy & paste each album or folders etc or the library folders like I have done in the past.....but also not just copying a photos app folder or iTunes playlist folder, backing them up so they can be opened with any app more less.
I apologise if I seem a bit unclear in my explanation
I just wana make true back ups of these to my external hard drive so I can put it away somewhere safe so I have always got them backed up.

Any advise would be so appreciated.


macrumors 68040
Jan 26, 2014
Horsens, Denmark
Your explanation was perfectly clear, matey :)

Dragging the library folders over is perfectly adequate. Whilst you'd be prone to losing organisation information like custom albums, playlists whatnot, the "pure file" is inside there to be opened with any software supporting the file format. And Apple's libraries just take whatever they are given unless it's an incompatible format. Give it a JPEG and it stores it as a JPEG. Anything shot on an iPhone could potentially be stored in Photos as an HEIF file, which may not be compatible with just any software, but it's existed long enough that you'd probably be able to find something that could open it. Reverse-engineered if need be. Music in iTunes is AAC if bought from the iTunes Store, which is commonly readable by music players.
You should be fine :)


macrumors 65816
Jul 30, 2009
If you want your reformatted Mac to look exactly like the existing one, apps, settings and all, Time Machine is the way to go...or disk clones.

If all you want to retain are photos and media, the iTunes folder contains everything, including the database, album artwork, and media files. However, if you don't have iTunes set to organize your library, or if you store media on external drives, it gets far more complicated. The root iTunes folder contains several additional folders, including iTunes media. The DB is in the root iTunes folder. Just copy the whole thing to the external drive and everything should be retained. If it is not already consolidated, do that before you do the backup, that will copy everything to the folder designated in the iTunes Preferences.

As for Photos, it may help to understand how macOS handles files. Let's say you have photos in ~/Pictures, and you import them into the Photos app. The original file is kept in ~/Pictures, and a copy is placed in the ~/Pictures/Photos Library.photoslibrary file. That is, unless you have changed the default location of the library. Also, there is a setting to Copy items to the Photos Library which is enabled by default and is required to sync photos with iCloud.

So, if all ~/Pictures/ photos are in the library, just copy the .photoslibrary file. If not, copy the entire ~/Pictures folder to the eternal drive.

You will be prompted to create a new library, or open an existing library on first launch of these apps. So, once the fresh install is complete, copy the contents of the ~/Pictures and ~/iTunes folders back to the boot drive. I say contents because the root folders will already exist on a fresh install, so the root /Pictures and /iTunes will already be in place, clear out anything in these folders on the boot drive, then copy everything under the root folders on the external drive into the root folders on the boot drive. Then, launch the apps and select the old .photoslibrary and iTunes Library.itl and everything should be in order.

Alternately, if iCloud photos is enabled, and all photos are in the cloud, you can restore from that. It takes a long time to re-download everything, but it works if the external drive isn't large enough for backing it up.


macrumors 6502a
Sep 16, 2017
I would not recommend selective backups (ie; just photos and music), unless you feel certain that you know of all that you need on your machine, and precisely where it exists. And keep in mind that, no matter how careful you are, there may be data you forget until after it's gone.

So, with that in mind, I'd recommend an entire disk clone for backup. Then you can confidently restore what you need, and have the option to always go back to the entire disk if the need arises.

Carbon Copy Cloner is fast, and can make a bootable copy of your drive to any external disk. Using it will give you the flexibility of booting up to your old drive at any time, in order to review it, or if something appears to be missing on your newly formatted machine - and you would like to go back for reference.

Time Machine will backup your entire drive, but will be much slower than CCC, and less flexible.


macrumors P6
Feb 20, 2009
1. Get an external hard drive that's big enough to hold all your stuff.
2. Get either CarbonCopyCloner or SuperDuper. Both are FREE to download and use for 30 days.
3. Use either CCC or SD to create a cloned backup of your internal drive on the external drive.
4. You can now boot to INTERNET RECOVERY (NOT the "recovery partition) by booting and holding down "command-OPTION-R". It will take a while to load and if you're using wifi you'll need your wifi password.
5. When the utilities screen appears, open disk utility and ERASE the internal drive. MAKE SURE that if there is a little popup menu in the upper-left corner, that you chose "show all devices", then pick the topmost line that represents the PHYSICAL hard drive inside the Mac
6. Choose "Mac OS extended with journaling enabled, GUID partition format"
7. Once the drive is erased, quit Disk Utility and open the OS installer
8. Use the installer to re-install the OS. Be aware that the computer will reboot once or twice, and that this is going to take time. BE PATIENT.
9. When done, you'll see the setup screen. Re-connect the cloned backup if it's disconnected.
10. At the appropriate moment, setup assistant will ask if you wish to migrate from another drive. YES, YOU DO.
11. Point setup assistant at the external backup and give it time to "digest" things. Again, BE PATIENT.
12. I suggest you accept all setup assistant's choices and just "let 'er go".
13. When done, you should see the login screen, just as it appeared before.


macrumors 65816
Jul 30, 2009
I believe OP is wanting a fresh start. I have never used CCC or SD to restore. Do these offer more options than the built in Migration Assistant? Can you restore some apps, but exclude others? Can you selectively choose settings to restore?

I ask this as much for myself because over the years, older apps like Adobe have become unsupported but removal has been less than complete as I still get some remnants. So at some point, I either have to start fresh and reinstall apps, some of which I may or may not still have license keys for, or which may have hit limits on numbers of devices. So, a tool that would allow me to select which apps to migrate would be nice.