It is commonly accepted that any files stored on a personal external hard drive should also be backed up elsewhere (in at least one other drive/location) since external drives can and do fail and having >=2 copies greatly reduces the chances of important data being lost.

Is the same measure necessary for important files stored in iCloud?

Knowing that any large company's 'cloud' storage would likely be much better and safer than someone's personal external hard drive helps, but are they still susceptible to failure? Do files get backed up within iCloud, that is, are there multiple copies of the files in iCloud in case any one of Apple's datacenters gets destroyed?

The basic question I am trying to answer is: is storing important files in iCloud enough, or should the extra precaution of storing important files elsewhere (e.g. google drive, an external hard disk, etc) also be taken?

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    Also note that iCloud doesn't protect from accidental deletion, something I have been known to do from (ahem...) time to time... Commented Jul 25, 2020 at 14:03
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    @SteveChambers yep, this is why people say a syncing service is not a backup. Commented Jul 25, 2020 at 22:45
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    It never hurts to have an extra copy of your important data.
    – iBug
    Commented Jul 26, 2020 at 7:34
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    @stevec: The main point is that for the purposes of backups, it is irrelevant. If you want to "back up" files, then it is irrelevant whether iCloud has backups or not, because iCloud is a synchronization service, not a backup service, and thus cannot be used for backups anyway. (Not directly, at least. You can, of course, use a backup tool, and then store the output of that tool on iCloud.) Commented Jul 26, 2020 at 8:10
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    There is another fundamental assumption in this question that I like to call out, which is that the only thing you have to worry about is whether Apple will accidentally lose your data. However, there is lots of precedent for cloud storage providers intentionally removing your data (or at least your access to it). For example, if you were to enter the iPhone app business, and Apple decided your app violated policies; or if your account became associated with a reported-stolen credit card; or if Apple mistakenly believed one of these things -- you might find your Apple account to be no more. Commented Jul 26, 2020 at 10:25

4 Answers 4


The new paradigm is…

"Any data which is stored in fewer than three distinct locations ought to be considered temporary."

Late Edit:
Don't use a sync solution as a backup.
iCloud is not primarily a backup solution, it is a sync solution. It will come back to bite you hard if you accidentally delete a file from one device… the helpful sync service will then dutifully delete it from every device.

For 'distinct locations', personally, I use 4, in degrees of 'distance'.

  1. My Mac, which has not only my Mac data but also my iDevice backups.
  2. Time Machine, containing all of 1.

1 & 2 are both in the same building, so if the house burns down, I need another location, off-site.

  1. iCloud, containing only a subset of 1 & 2 [primarily iPhone backups, just because they happen automatically] which is not enough to recover everything in case of disaster.

  2. Backblaze [other offsite backup structures are available] which has copies of everything in 1, 2, & 3 above.

I also have my boot drive cloned, for rapid recovery in case of drive failure, but that is also in the house, so classes as part of 1 & 2.

I consider iCloud to contain my keychain in case of catastrophe. I don't consider it as any kind of 'storage', per se. I don't trust it with my photos or my music, for instance, I have all that data stored in 1, the Mac. I consider my Mac to be the primary location for all my data. It has 13TB of storage & nearly 20 years of unbroken historical data.

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    This is a very common setup - very excellent choices in vendors. Do you recommend anything for your boot drive cloning or is Disk Utility / asr / scripts enough for you?
    – bmike
    Commented Jul 25, 2020 at 13:50
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    I've always used Carbon Copy Cloner - just because it was the first one I discovered many years ago & has never let me down yet. I don't script it, I just do a manual clone of 'since last time' whenever I remember. If I did have a failure, anything missing would be on Time Machine &/or Backblaze, so I don't worry too much, it's just a fast 'get out of jail free' card for a single drive catastrophe.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Jul 25, 2020 at 13:51
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    This is precisely what we use it for - speed to recovery - not the primary source. We’re about 50/50 on SD / CCC - neither has really disappointed us ever so whichever starts, sticks for us as well.
    – bmike
    Commented Jul 25, 2020 at 14:32
  • I store important files* (not full Mac backups) in iCloud, Dropbox, Google Drive, and rotating TimeMachine backup disks both at home & at the office for full macOS restores. I figure that if BOTH TimeMachine back drives get destroyed in the same event, (they're separated by about 10 miles,) I have far more problems to worry about than recovering my data.:-) *irreplaceable scanned documents like wills, leases, birth certificates, tax records, etc.)
    – IconDaemon
    Commented Jul 26, 2020 at 1:42
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    @EricDuminil - I've had many Time Machine fails. It seems to be fine for rescuing the odd file or two, but for restore or migration, nada. See apple.stackexchange.com/questions/392734/… which I've still not solved.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Jul 26, 2020 at 17:46

iCloud is not a backup. It is a synchronization service.

There is a fundamental difference between the two. When you accidentally delete a file, then

  • a backup makes sure that you can restore the file again, whereas
  • a synchronization service makes sure that you can never again restore the file because it synchronizes the deletion event everwhere.

As you can see, this makes the synchronization service in some sense the exact opposite of a backup.

The same applies to RAID, by the way.

  • “synchronization service...exact opposite of a backup” is an interesting way to look at it. I personally find both of these extremes stupid – pure backups cause an inscrutable mess of mismatching versions, and also often end up using vast unnecessary space for really obsolete files, whereas pure sync causes an inscrutable loss of overview which version I'm at. Proper VCS software handles both sync and backup concerns; I use Git for everything, with Git Annex for big files so I can easily see which file is where and decide if that's secure enough. Commented Jul 26, 2020 at 13:26
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    @leftaroundabout If your backup strategy results in a mess of mismatching versions you don't really have one :-) And I'm not sure how git can be the universal solution here, I don't see it working for full system backups, databases etc, it also doesn't automatically provide multi-device backups (as in having one working system and three independent backup stores).
    – nohillside
    Commented Jul 26, 2020 at 19:02
  • @nohillside well, it doesn't result in a mess, precisely because my backup strategy is to let git handle all of it! And yes, with git-annex this provides excellent support for multi-device backups. –Full-system backups and databases are another story, yes, but the former is arguably obsolete (use proper containerisation, setup scripts, robust package managers such as NixOS etc.) whereas a decent database will presumably have dedicated backup mechanisms built-in, no? Commented Jul 26, 2020 at 20:45
  • @leftaroundabout I'm looking into git-annex right now which I didn't know before, so thanks for the link. Not sure it works as a solution for the common user though, or in the context of the question on top :-)
    – nohillside
    Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 6:19
  • Remember - RAID is not a backup Commented Jul 30, 2020 at 9:24

Yes. I have one mac that I set to download originals - no optimizing space. This way I have a guaranteed local copy of my Music (formerly iTunes) Library and content, my Photos (formerly iPhoto) Library and content and all containers and app-data and files stored in iCloud.

I back these up to Time Machine. I have two drives that Time Machine backs up to - one that’s connected for 3 months and another that’s off-site. Each quarter, I disconnect the drive that’s online and swap it out with the off-site one that comes back and stays connected for the new quarter.

I limit my lossage to the new files only should I lose both iCloud and my home to a fire or accident.

I know some other people use SuperDuper or Carbon Copy Cloner or Arq but I haven’t needed these excellent tools for personal use (I use each of the above professionally and can vouch for how well engineered they are - spend money with one of them if you don’t trust Time Machine).

Here are my truths:

  • iCloud is not a backup I trust for irreplaceable items like photos, legal documents, important files.
  • RAID is not a backup for anything
  • I’m more likely to mess up than Apple is. I am primarily protecting me against myself losing control of my account or messing up.
  • I gladly outsource backup tools to the professionals (just like I outsource music syncing and photo syncing to Apple).

Every time the bill comes due, I have a drink and appreciate I’m not spending hours fixing my hacked together scripts to back up or sync. I’m then refreshed to earn more than enough money to pay someone to manage these tasks for me. The time I save is way more valuable than the cost of one time backup service or $13 a month to Apple for iCloud storage and music service.


While I don't want to labor the points already made, I do believe it should be called out that "accidental deletion" is not the only failure mode that can ruin your iCloud "backup" (i.e., sync). Other possible failures, due to iCloud sync'ing and not maintaining a fully "independent" (i.e., non-local), "distinct" (i.e., non-synchronized), "time-dated" (i.e., snapshot) copy of your data are:

  1. Ransomware will ruin your day: the iCloud "copy" will be encrypted along with your (local) data. Note that this can also be ruin a snapshot service if there is insufficient excess capacity to hold at least 2x the capacity of your data. Without sufficient excess capacity, encrypted data will overwrite old snapshots (indeed possibly all your snapshots).

  2. Multiple device synchronization can be a foul up: iCloud can and does have issues if a device has been offline for an extended period of time and is then re-introduced to synchronization. It can and does attempt to "add" the old data to the latest data. I've seen it, it isn't pretty.

Note: iCloud could be significantly improved if it would provide synchronization of a Time Machine backup-- especially if the Time Machine backup were made to separate, write-once ("WORM") media.

  • I guess the cheapest and quickest solution to that would be to rotate Time Machine drives? Commented Sep 14, 2020 at 0:36

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