Data Backup and Recovery for Mac Users

Data Backup and Recovery for Mac Users

The Backup Dilemma: A Tale of Two MacBooks

As I sat in my living room, staring at the gleaming new MacBook Pro I had just unboxed, a sense of excitement and trepidation washed over me. You see, my friend Sarah had entrusted me with her beloved 2020 iMac 27, and the task of transferring all her precious data onto this shiny new machine.

Sarah had recently moved to a new city, leaving her trusty iMac behind. She had asked me to back up the data, wipe the machine, and then sell it on her behalf. Simple enough, right? Oh, how I wish it were that straightforward.

The Time Machine Tango

I began my backup odyssey by connecting a Seagate FireCuda 2TB Solid State Hybrid Drive to the iMac. Determined to ensure a seamless transfer, I opted for the Time Machine approach, a tried and true method for Mac users [1]. However, as I soon discovered, the path to data backup nirvana was fraught with unexpected twists and turns.

When I tried to open the Time Machine backup on Sarah’s older MacBook Air, the drive didn’t even mount. It was as if the backup was speaking a language the poor MacBook couldn’t understand. “Surely, this can’t be that difficult,” I thought to myself, as I tried a different approach.

The Permissions Predicament

Next, I reformatted the external drive to Mac Journaled Extended, hoping to bridge the compatibility gap. This time, the older MacBook could see the drive, but the user files were locked and appeared empty [2]. Cursing under my breath, I realized I had stumbled into the treacherous realm of file permissions.

“How could two Macs, using the same operating system, have such trouble communicating?” I wondered, as I frantically searched for a solution. It dawned on me that the issue wasn’t the Macs themselves, but the way macOS handles user identities and file ownership.

The Ownership Odyssey

Determined to crack the code, I tried a different tack – formatting the drive as FAT and manually copying the user directories one by one. This seemed to work, but alas, the copy process would invariably fail, leaving me with a partial backup and no clue as to what had been successfully transferred [3].

It was at this point that I realized the true nature of the challenge I had undertaken. The file permissions and ownership conundrum was the key to unlocking this data backup puzzle. I needed to find a way to ensure that the backup could be accessed by anyone, regardless of their user account on the Mac.

The Cloning Compromise

As I pondered my next move, a lightbulb moment struck. “What if I could just clone the entire drive?” I thought to myself. This would bypass the permissions issues and give me a complete, bootable backup that could be easily accessed on any Mac [4].

Armed with this newfound revelation, I set out to investigate the world of drive cloning. After some research, I discovered that I could use the macOS Recovery Mode and the built-in Disk Utility to create a full, bit-for-bit copy of the iMac’s internal drive [5]. This approach not only preserved the file structure and permissions, but also allowed me to create a backup that could be booted directly on any compatible Mac.

The Sharing Solution

With the cloned backup in hand, I breathed a sigh of relief. Now, all I had to do was figure out how to get this data into Sarah’s hands. After all, the whole point of this exercise was to ensure that she could easily access her files, regardless of the device she was using.

I decided to take a page from the “export” playbook, rather than a traditional “backup” [6]. By creating a single, self-contained archive of the data, I could ensure that Sarah could access her files on any device, whether it be a Mac, PC, or even a mobile device.

Using the Terminal, I carefully crafted a command that would package the entire user directory into a compressed tar file [7]. This not only streamlined the transfer process but also made it easy for Sarah to unpack and access her data, no matter what platform she was using.

The Triumphant Reunion

As I handed over the external drive containing the cloned backup and the compressed user data archive, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of accomplishment. I had traversed the treacherous terrain of Mac data backup and emerged victorious, armed with a solution that would allow Sarah to seamlessly access her files, no matter where she was or what device she was using.

Sarah’s eyes lit up with joy as she received the drive, and I could tell that the weight of her data woes had been lifted from her shoulders. “You’re a lifesaver!” she exclaimed, as she pulled me into a grateful hug.

In the end, the journey to backup and recover Sarah’s data had been a rollercoaster of challenges and discoveries. But through it all, I had learned valuable lessons about the intricacies of Mac data management and the importance of finding creative solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems.

As I waved goodbye to Sarah, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride in my newfound expertise. Who knows, maybe I’ll even start my own computer repair service one day – after all, I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve when it comes to Mac data backup and recovery!


[1] Stack Exchange network. (n.d.). How can I backup just user data to an external drive that anyone can read? Retrieved from

[2] Apple Discussions. (2022, April 11). Unable to restore TimeMachine backup, “this user’s data doesn’t need to be transferred”. Retrieved from

[3] Apple Stack Exchange. (n.d.). Entire users folder is missing when booted into recovery mode. Retrieved from

[4] Postman Community. (n.d.). Need to know the local path of a collection saved in Postman. Retrieved from

[5] Spiceworks Community. (n.d.). Server files copying instead of moving (Mac). Retrieved from

[6] Jamf Community. (n.d.). Jamf and restore of Time Machine backup. Retrieved from

[7] Spiceworks Community. (n.d.). Mac user having issues saving and opening files connected to Windows SMB shares. Retrieved from

[8] Affinity Forum. (n.d.). Recovering Affinity Designer assets from Time Machine backup. Retrieved from



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