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I want to backup all of the files on my Mac. That being said, I do NOT want to do a Time Machine style backup that includes my settings or anything like that. What should I do?

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    Are you using the terminal and chron with a copy command? Or just drag and drop onto an external disc?
    – Solar Mike
    Jun 14, 2020 at 20:24
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    I realize you may not want Time Machine, but I wanted to show how to bend it to do your bidding - there are many good reasons to use it and in some cases - good reasons not to, but for most I highly recommend it as the best option. Why would you avoid Time Machine since it’s widely documented and easy to implement.
    – bmike
    Jun 14, 2020 at 20:32
  • Good luck restoring Mail account configurations without a backup of those files. Safari bookmarks? Website logins? All the little settings to get the whole OS just the way you like it? "It's better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it."
    – benwiggy
    Jun 15, 2020 at 13:45

2 Answers 2

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If you want easy, connect a drive, set up Time Machine and forget about trying to micro manage settings. It just runs.

If you really need to invest in a selective backup, I would still recommend Time Machine and it will have a 120 second count down before it starts the first copy. Turn off Time Machine so you have time to go in and configure exclusions for Time Machine.

  1. Exclude System files and applications. (I always exclude those - not sure why that’s not the default other than people might not have good internet to download an installer if they need one.)
  2. Exclude /Library (since you want settings to not be backed up)
  3. Exclude ~/Library and any other folders in the home folder you wish to exclude

If you want to be thorough, show hidden files and also exclude /private - these two tips will help you quickly navigate in the open / select dialog:

This way you get all the benefits of Time Machine like snapshots, local backups, second-disk backups with rotations possible to multiple destinations (third disk or more destinations are supported) and you can carefully control exactly what folders get backed up.

Once your exclusions are set, don’t forget to turn on Time Machine and let it run for the first backup. But really, I recommend backing up everything and not worrying. You’ll save a little space and time once if you exclude System Files so that’s worth it if you decide to do other pruning.

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  • can I get a more descriptive answer? I'm a Windows user and am trying to help my sister
    – Antheloth
    Jun 14, 2020 at 21:08
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    Hi @Antheloth Why not just back everything up. That’s the easy path and if you’re not up to excluding files (I’ll add a link to the process), you should go for the sure thing and worry about pruning files later.
    – bmike
    Jun 14, 2020 at 21:17
  • I want to be able to retrieve the files without restoring the computer to a previous state
    – Antheloth
    Jun 15, 2020 at 4:43
  • You can always restore single files/folders at any time. Select a file or folder, then from the menu bar icon >Enter Time Machine, which will take you to the history of that folder.
    – Tetsujin
    Jun 15, 2020 at 7:40
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Other ways of saving an application will also probably write your current settings. You can use Carbon Copy Cloner, or Super Duper. You can also backup to iCloud by following the instructions here. If you just want to backup some folders or documents you can copy them to Dropbox, Google Drive, and other similar sites. You could also write everything on to iCloud or a large external drive. To use iCloud you'll probably have to pay to upgrade to 200 GB. But Time Machine is the best.

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  • I agree. I've got Carbon Copy Cloner because I heard/read that it could create image files. That had appeal because I have more Macs than I have HFS/APFS storage. I thought I could store an image file anywhere. Unfortunately, it's not that simple... it seems the folks at CCC recommend against image files as they don't always work.
    – Seamus
    Jun 16, 2020 at 5:04

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