Stupid question: iCloud = Backup, right?

If I’ve got iCloud activated everything in the iCloud drive, including the Documents folder, is backed up continuously to the iCloud cloud? That’s what iCloud is, right?

I get that this shouldn’t be my ONLY backup — I should use Time Machine and some form of offsite and/or cloud backup, and probably SuperDuper too. But iCloud can be part of the backup regime, right?

I told you this was going to be a stupid question. I was right about that, wasn’t I?

I am using it as my only Backup solution. I was using Arq and B2 for some time, but iCloud proved to be good and enough for files.

That being mentioned, as a developer my code is also backed up in Git repos.

Cloud sync should never be viewed as a backup. It’s not, it’s your working copy. Anything you do gets replicated everywhere. Especially mistakes.

Backups are distinct. You can have a cloud backup, but it’s not what iCloud, Dropbox and so on are designed to be if they’re your live copies of files.


To reemphasize:

  1. If you make a massive editing error in an important document, that error will be replicated to iCloud, so now they are both corrupted!

  2. If you accidentally delete a file, it will be deleted in iCloud too, so now the file is really gone!

  3. Without real backups, either of the above conditions is now permanent!


You need to check this box in iCloud preferences:

and turn this one off. (It’s poorly worded – what it means is when the box is not checked then everything in iCloud drive is also stored on the Mac.)


I think you’re quite right, I would not consider this a backup in the strictest terms, though it’s worth having in-place to supplement your “real” backup processes. The more redundancy you can build in the better.

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The Apple iCloud backup you have for iPads and iPhones provides a very good backup of virtually everything on your device. There isn’t, however, an equivalent for MacOS.


There’s no such thing as a stupid question, Mitch, especially since I’d like clarification as well. That’s how we learn.


IMHO any true backup provides some level of versioning. Any file that gets changed gets a new version on the backup so you can go back in time to get to the last good copy. I pay extra to get 12 months of versions with BackBlaze instead of the default 30 days. While I love the convenience of iCloud I don’t consider it part of my backup plan.

All good and correct advice: Sync IS NOT backup!

Sync can be your first line of defense, if you use a sync service that retains versions. That way, if you accidentally change or delete a file, you can use the sync service’s mechanism for restoring deleted files and/or older versions to recover. Dropbox supports this (I don’t know how well as I don’t use Dropbox) as does SynologyDrive (which I do use). I am not aware the iCloud supports this for files, however, and so I do not see iCloud as providing any type of “backup.”

Sync can also assist in a backup plan. For example, I store virtually any file of importance in one of my folders that are synchronized using SynologyDrive, and as a result there is a copy on my MBAir, Mini, and on the Synology itself. This helps with backup in two ways. First, if I lose my MBAir (or my Mini dies), I can easily replace that computer and connect to SynologyDrive and all my files will sync down from the Synology. Secondly, because everything on my MBAir is also on the Synology and the Mini, I can use a backup strategy on the mini (in my case, ARQ) to back up these files. As a result, any file I create or change on the Air is also quickly replicated to the mini and then backed up by ARQ there, so I only run ARQ on the mini.

Note that I am NOT relying on SynologyDrive as the backup mechanism (other than for the ability to restore deleted or changed versions) but rather as a way of ensuring that everything in in sync and therefore available TO BE BACKED UP by the mini.

(And yes, the Synology also uses its HyperBackup system to send a copy of its data to the cloud as well. I also use SynologyDrive to keep a sync’d copy of anything on the Synology that is NOT part of my active working files on a external drive connected to the mini, so that I have a local up to date copy and a cloud copy, plus the copy on the Synology as well. And I also do a daily clone of the mini (which as my photo library which is NOT sync to the Air) to both the external drive and to the Synology and it is backed up to the cloud via ARQ).


Having stuff in iCloud is really good for a particular type of failure - one machine suddenly stopping working.

So let’s say you’re at the beach, and you have your MacBook with you. The tide comes in, and waterlogs the whole thing. Your data in iCloud can all be re-downloaded on the next MacBook you buy, and all is well.

Or you leave your iPad on the roof of your car, and drive off. When you get back to it, the iPad has been run over by a few cars and is destroyed. iCloud to the rescue!

But as others have mentioned, if you delete a file accidentally, or if you get hit with ransomware or something, iCloud just provides you with a synced copy of your bad/nonexistent data.

So it’s good to have, but definitely not a “backup” in any meaningful sense.


So, to clarify my thoughts after reading these great posts:

iCloud is sync not backup. It ensures your files are stored in multiple locations, hence protecting you from a certain kind of disaster (typically hardware failure). Nice, and simple.

Backup needs the two or more copies to be independent of one another once the duplication has been made. One example is making duplicate on a separate disk and storing it away, another example is continuous backup with versioning. Much more robust.

Clearly, that was a good question,

You can add to this that one copy needs to be offsite.
The rule of thumb of good backups is 3-2-1:

  • 3 copies beyond the working one
  • using 2 different media at least
  • and 1 is offsite.

Backblaze and these kinds of services elegantly solve having « one different kind of media » which is « offsite ». Since it’s one copy taken care of, and Time Machine should be used, that leaves having a simple drive cloning routine of some kind which SuperDuper or Carbon Copy Cloner can take care of.

Good point. I’d use Apple Notes if it could be restored without rolling everything back to a previous date. But without a good way to back it up I have to pass.

Apple notes on iCloud are stored on your Mac in ~/Library/Containers/
As long as that folder is being backed up you should be able to recover old notes.

Worth tossing the extra $2/month at Backblaze (if you use it) for the longer file retention (and thus versioning going back that far).


That is correct. I did a couple of test restores a while back to verify everything would work. As I recall I had to restore two folders but I’m without a Mac these days and can’t verify that. However, the problem is not being able to restore at all. It’s that you have to restore all your notes to a previous version or none at all.

Suppose I have an important note that was lost 6 weeks ago. If I restored a six week old backup I would lose everything added or changed since then. So to restore that one note I would need to set up a new account on my Mac, restore the AN files from six weeks ago into that account, then export that one note, and import it into AN in my regular account. No thank you.

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Very interesting discussion. Thanks to everyone for commenting — and don’t stop.

I rarely need versioning and when I do, Time Machine provides it nicely.

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