Written by Nick Heer.

iCloud, Backups, and Time Machine — Oh My

A couple of links related to iCloud and backups today. First, Adam Engst of TidBits:

I had no idea that Apple deleted iCloud backups after 180 days, and a quick poll in the TidBITS Slack channel showed that it wasn’t common knowledge among other TidBITS staffers and contributing editors.


On the one hand, it makes some sense that Apple would want to delete device backups — which can be quite large — that no one is ever going to want to use again. With hundreds of millions of devices backing up to iCloud, the storage requirements boggle the mind.

But on the other, what was Apple thinking?!? Deleting a user’s one and only backup, particularly without clear documentation in the user interface and express warning of the pending deletion, is simply unacceptable.

This is clearly an edge case — how many people attempt to restore from six month old backups? — but edge cases must be accounted for. The bare minimum would be an emailed notice to the user.

Erica Sadun: (Update: Sadun has pulled this post .)

Let me tell you a little bit about my backup paranoia. I use Carbon Copy Cloner for daily local backups. I use Backblaze to store offsite. Both are terrific products. I love them and depend on them and they saved me when, in January, my Mac mini’s fusion hard drive failed big time.


I started paying for iCloud in December in order to better support my children’s photography habits, using a family plan. With all that space, I had the brilliant idea (not) of moving my writing work over to iCloud documents, so I could access the information from a variety of machines and devices.

That worked great until I accidentally overwrite my entire Xcode workshop file and discovered that Time Machine Does Not Backup iCloud and it had not been long enough after a day of writing for CCC and Backblaze to capture the file to their backup, as they will reliably do during the night.

I kind of get why it would be redundant to create local backups of documents hosted in iCloud, but redundancy is almost always preferable in the context of backups. Perhaps there is a technical reason,1 but it is a silently-added wrinkle in what is supposed to be a seamless integration.

(Update: On further testing, it appears that some but not all iCloud Drive data is backed up with Time Machine.)


I suspect my Twitterbase is way more likely to take advantage of things like Time Machine’s version control features than the average population. Only about 10% of respondents said they even bother with version control. Translate that now to the macVerse and I wouldn’t be hugely surprised, honestly, if Apple deprecated Time Machine soon, especially with the huge iCloud oversight.

I sincerely hope this never happens. On principle, some form of computer backups should be integrated at the system level for every operating system. I still think it makes no sense that Apple has not tried to compete with Backblaze — not that I am eager to dump Backblaze or anything, but it seems so obvious to me that users ought to be able to back up all of their devices to iCloud.

  1. There is no good reason for why I think this, but I have a hard time trusting the way iCloud Drive works in MacOS. Everything is stored within ~/Library/Mobile Documents/, which is a directory — according to the file command — but does not behave like one. You can ls it, but you cannot open it as a directory in Finder; it just goes to the iCloud Drive item in Finder’s sidebar.

    You can also navigate its internal structure by command line, but the directories for each app display as empty in the Finder. App directories are invisible at the top-level iCloud Drive view.

    I fully recognize that this is an irrational mistrust, and my shame compels me to admit it only in footnote form. ↩︎