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Drive-cloning utilities: The best Mac apps for making a bootable backup

Joe Kissell | Aug. 7, 2014
Good backups are essential for every Mac user. Tools such as Apple's Time Machine, included as part of OS X, make it easy to store multiple versions of every file from your computer on an external drive or an AirPort Time Capsule. And if you want the security of off-site backups without having to physically move drives around, an online backup provider such as CrashPlan is a good option.

Carbon Copy Cloner's conveniences

Although Carbon Copy Cloner lacks a Sandbox feature, it has four other unique capabilities that you may find even more helpful.

Recovery HD support When cloning a volume, Carbon Copy Cloner can duplicate the hidden Recovery HD partition that's created when you install OS X 10.7 Lion and later — this is the hidden partition that makes OS X Recovery possible. At first, I didn't see much point to this feature, because when I boot from a clone, I can use third-party disk utilities that may offer more features than the limited toolkit (Disk Utility and Terminal) I get when restarting into OS X Recovery. But having a Recovery HD partition on an external drive can come in handy. For example, if you want to encrypt the external drive using FileVault, that drive must have its own Recovery HD partition. In addition, if you ever need to erase (or replace) your internal drive and restore it from a clone, Carbon Copy Cloner enables you to restore the Recovery HD partition as part of the process; with SuperDuper, you'd have to run the OS X installer again to recreate that partition.

Archiving Versioned backups (such as those created by Time Machine and CrashPlan) normally are not bootable, and bootable clones normally contain only the most recent versions of your files. But Carbon Copy Cloner has a mode that attempts to give you the best of both worlds. When you use the "Preserve newer files, don't delete anything" option, Carbon Copy Cloner moves any items that have been deleted from the source volume, and older versions of items that have been changed, into a date-and-time-stamped subfolder of a new _CCC Archives folder at the top level of your destination drive. Those folders maintain the original drive hierarchy — so, for example, if a file was originally located in /Users/jk/Documents, it'll be found in /_CCC Archives/[date and time]/Users/jk/Documents afterward. Carbon Copy Cloner can also prune older files (beyond a size limit you set) when updating your backups. Although restoring files that were archived this way is much less convenient than in most backup programs, the feature does (to an extent) enable you to combine both backup techniques.

Network cloning SuperDuper can clone a drive to a disk image that's stored on a network server, but Carbon Copy Cloner can also clone a drive directly to an external drive connected to another Mac on your network. That means you could later hook up that drive to your Mac and boot from it, without having to restore anything first. The procedure to set this feature up is odd: You must first create an authentication-credentials package on the source Mac, manually copy that package to the destination Mac, and install it there (complete instructions are included in Carbon Copy Cloner's documentation). But once configured, it's as easy to clone your drive to a network volume as to a local volume.


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