File backup (Students) - Mac Flash or External Drive Backup

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This page contains information on File Backup for a Mac to an external device such as a Hard Drive or Flash Drive. For other backup resources see File backup.

Connecting and Finding the device

To back up to an external hard drive or flash drive first connect the drive to your computer, using your USB. After connecting the drive and letting it mount the device will appear on your desk top as an icon.

Like this. Icon mac ext drive.png (But not necessarily named "windows".... usually named for the brand of the external drive)

You can also find it in the Finder. It may or may not be named. In a Mac you can view and use devices that have been formatted either for a PC or a Mac.

WARNING! If you are prompted by your Mac to use Time Machine, do not use it. Click on "cancel."

See Time Machine (Mac) for more information.

Preparing your Workspace & Finding Your Files for Backup

Mac Finder Window

In the Mac operating system, folders have already been created for simpler organization.

Open a Finder Window to show the contents that you want to back up. On your WSU Mac you will find all your important files in your Home Directory. The Finder Icon looks like a little house and is named with your User Logon ID. Inside your Home Directory are the following folders:

  • Documents-all of your files are likely there
  • Downloads
  • Pictures-all your pictures should be there
  • Music-all your music (iTunes and more) should be there
  • Sites-any web sites you created will be there
  • Desktop-anything on your desktop is there
  • Library
  • Applications
  • Public

The files you will want to backup will be inside of the folders shown in BOLD. You will not need to backup anything else.

NOTE: You can position the two Finder Windows to be side by side for dragging, but only one Finder Window can be active or in-front at a time.

Use the procedures described below copying between your Mac and your External Drive or Flash Drive.

Backup Procedures for External & Flash Drives

  1. Select the file/folder you want to copy.You can select whole folders or single files.
  2. Drag the icon to your external device.
  3. Alternatively you can right-mouse click on the item and select "COPY"; then click on the window of your external device; right-mouse click and select "PASTE."

Need to format the External Hard Drive?

If you cannot drop files onto your external hard drive it may be because it needs to be formatted. If you are sure that this is the case and you need to format your external hard drive you need to follow these instructions:


  • Plug in the external hard drive
  • Go to the SPOTLIGHT
  • Type in "disk utility"
  • Click on your external hard drive
  • Click on the erase tab
    • Choose ExFAT or FAT32 format - title it whatever you want
  • Click on erase
  • Are you sure? Yes
  • Your hard drive will now be formatted for use on both Mac and PC.

Tips and Tricks

There are some useful keyboard shortcuts during this process.

  • Command+A = Selects all items
  • Command+Left-Click = Selects items one by one in the window as you point and click on them.

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