How to back up your data from the cloud

Backing up online emails, contacts and calendars

There are so many options when it comes to storing your data in the cloud, you could almost do away with local drives. iCloud, Google Drive, OneDrive, Evernote, Flickr, WordPress, Hotmail – the list goes on.

But what would happen if one of these services went offline? How much data would you lose? All your photos and emails? Months of work in an online office suite?

If you think this is melodramatic, then consider this less extreme scenario: a glitch on your line cuts off your broadband. Would you be able to carry on working, or would you be cut off from your files until your service came back?

We’ll show you how to make a backup of some key cloud services that, unlike Dropbox and iCloud Drive’ don’t automatically replicate themselves on your Mac or Windows PC.

How to back up your data from the cloud


Download emails from your Gmail account by first pointing your browser at and logging in with the relevant Gmail account (this also works if you’re managing your email using a personal domain hosted on Google servers using its Apps service).

Scroll down the “My account” page until you see “Control your content”. Click on it, then select “Create Archive” under where it says “Download data”.

Select the data types you want to download – if you just want to download your email, click ‘Select none’ and then click the switch beside Mail. Click Next, pick a format and choose whether you want to be emailed a link to the archive or have it saved to Google Drive.

Compiling a mail database can take from several hours to several days, depending on how many messages it contains. You’ll be notified when it’s ready. Yahoo Mail, and Hotmail users can’t download messages directly this way, but there is a workaround you can perform using OS X’s native Mail application, or a desktop Email client such as Outlook or Thunderbird.

The trick is to first download the messages in the usual way and then archive them manually. Fire up Mail and pick Add Account from the Mail menu.

Select ‘Other’ from the account type options and enter your address and password. Mail will automatically detect the rest of the settings, after which you can allow it to download the complete archive of your mail from the server.

You can now copy the email messages to a secure folder on your Mac by selecting them and dragging them out of the message list pane of the Mail app.


You can export your address book via Google using its takeout service (see Email, above right) using the vCard format. This is an industry standard that you can import into the OS X Contacts app and sync to iOS.

If you’re using or Hotmail, click the grid icon on the banner at the top of the screen and pick People from the menu. Microsoft prefers CSV format (comma separated values). Select the contacts you want to export (or just select nothing to export them all) and pick ‘Export for and other services’ from the Manage menu.

From Yahoo pick the Contacts icon immediately below the Yahoo Mail logo. Tick the boxes beside the particular details you want to save, then click the Actions menu, pick Export and choose a format (we’d recommend vCard Single File) and finally click Export Now.


Many of us rely on our calendars, which is why we’re glad you can export it from Google – browse to, select Calendar as the download, then click Next. Leave the download format as ‘Zip’ and opt to be emailed when the file’s ready.

To export your (Outlook and Hotmail) calendar, log into, click the Share link and pick the calendar you want to export. Ignore the address box, and click ‘Get a link’, followed by the first ‘Create’ button, below ‘Show event details’. Copy the import option link.

To import the calendar into the OS X Calendar, click File > New Calendar Subscription inside the OS X app, then paste in the address you copied, but change the leading webcals bit to https’ and change the Location dropdown to ‘My Mac’ to store it locally.

Backing up online photos

One of our favourite iCloud features is Photo Stream, which allows us to sync shots from our iPhone and iPad back to iPhoto and Aperture on the Mac. But what if you don’t want to use those apps to back them up?

OS X stores a copy of your Photo Stream in a deep folder on your Mac, which you can add to the Finder sidebar so that you can easily access its contents outside of any apps and, optionally, back them up by dragging a copy of its contents into another folder or onto an external drive.

Find your images

To find the Photo Stream cache, go the Finder and hold the Option/Alt key while clicking Go, then click Library. (You can now let go of the Option key – but if you don’t hold it down to begin with, Library won’t appear in the Go menu.)

Now navigate through the folders to /Library/ApplicationSupport/iLifeAssetManagement/assets/sub.

When you get there, you’ll see a screen full of folders. These folders contain a local copy of the contents of your Photo Stream. Rather than opening each one in turn, press Command+F to start a new search. Click ‘sub’ on the new toolbar that appears at the top of the window so you can restrict the results to just files that appear in the current folder.

How to back up your data from the cloud

On the next line down, make sure the first drop-down menu is set to ‘Kind’ and the second one is set to ‘Image’. You’ll now see a window full of pictures, rather than lots of folders. Click the Save button at the end of the Search line (where you clicked ‘sub’ to restrict the search criteria above), give the result a logical name such as ‘Photo Stream’, and make sure the box beside Add To Sidebar is ticked.

Now click Save. The Photo Stream link will immediately appear at the bottom of the Favourites section of your Finder window sidebar. Now, anytime you want to access an image you’ve shot on your iPhone from the Mac, you can get to it directly without first importing it through iPhoto or Aperture. You can also, as we mentioned, quickly and easily drag a copy of each one onto an external drive for an immediate backup.

Retrieve from Flickr If you upload your photos to Flickr, you can download them again by logging into your account, clicking on the photo you want to retrieve and then clicking the Download link immediately below the picture (on the far-right of the screen, within the black background).

If you need to download several images at once, better turn to Bulkr to automate the process. Once it’s installed, click ‘Connect to Flickr’ followed by Authorize, then enter your username and password in the browser window that pops up.

How to back up your data from the cloud

Click Sign in, followed by ‘OK, I’ll authorize it’. Return to Bulkr and click the ‘Backup your photostream’ button to download your images. You can download up to 50 images at a time without paying for an upgrade.

Download your Facebook photos

How to back up your data from the cloud

1. Go to settings

Log into your account and point your browser at This opens the regular settings screen from which you can change the way your account works and tweak your privacy settings.

How to back up your data from the cloud

2. Download copies

Click the ‘Download a copy’ link at the bottom of the page, followed by Start My Archive. Facebook will then gather all your assets and send a link to your email address when they’re ready to be downloaded.

How to back up your data from the cloud

3. Email updates

When you receive the email, click the link to return to Facebook, click the Download Archive button and re-enter your password. The archive will download and your pictures are stored inside the Photos folder within it.

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Got a lot of videos? iOS and apps such as iMovie let you upload them to YouTube and other sharing sites. Not only does this make it easy to show them off, it also means you have a second copy online that you can download if you lose the originals.

You’ll find your YouTube uploads through My Channel in the YouTube site sidebar, but the quickest way to download them is through the Video Manager. Find this by logging in and pointing your browser at

The video manager displays a list of your uploads, with thumbnails representing each video and an Edit button beside them giving access to more extensive controls. Click the down-pointing arrow on the end of the Edit button to access the download options and pick ‘Download MP4’ from the menu that appears to download a backup copy to your Mac or Windows PC.

How to back up your data from the cloud

You can download each video up to five times a day but, to stop the service getting clogged up, you’re limited to downloading two an hour. Be aware, though, if you’ve added one of YouTube’s pre-approved audio tracks since uploading it, you won’t be able to download it at all.

Vimeo also allows all of its users – even those on free accounts – to download MP4 versions of their videos. To do this, log into your Vimeo account and then visit the main page of the movie in question (the page on which the general public views it, rather than its entry in your Vimeo dashboard).

You’ll find a Download link, below the playback window. Paying to upgrade to a Vimeo Plus or Pro account allows you to access the original uncompressed upload, which will be more suited to editing if you later need to re-cut it.

Back up online Office documents

You have two options if you’re a Google Drive user: one for periodic downloads, which you’ll need to remember to do every so often if you don’t want to risk losing any data; and one for automatic downloads.

To manually download files, either use Google Takeout (see our Email section) or log in at the Google Drive website and select the files you want to retrieve (hold Command while clicking to select several non-contiguous files, or hold Shift to select several that sit side by side in the list), then click the ‘More actions’ button (the vertical dots on the toolbar above the file listing) and pick Download.

How to back up your data from the cloud

Get Google Drive contents

To automatically mirror the contents of Google Drive on your Mac, download InSync. It costs $15 per Google account, but there’s a 15-day free trial before you have to start paying.

Once you’ve fed it your Google account details, it sets about downloading each of your documents to your Mac or Windows PC, placing them in a Google Drive folder inside your local user folder. You can drag this into the Finder sidebar to make it easier to find later.

Whenever you create a new document on Google Drive, InSync will copy it across and translate it into Microsoft Office file formats, compatible with Pages, Keynote and Numbers. This allows you to edit them locally – not just on Google Drive.

If you use Office 365 and save your files to OneDrive, sign in, hover over any document you want to download and a tickbox will appear in its top-right corner.

Tick the box, then click the Download link. If you’ve selected several files they’ll be bundled together into a Zip and dropped into your Downloads folder.

Online notebooks

With Evernote your notes are automatically downloaded to the local client. So long as you keep this up to date, you can use it to export notes in HTML or XML by navigating to the note you want to export, right-clicking it, selecting Export Note and choosing your preferred file format (HTML if you want to be able to read the note yourself; XML if you just want a machine-readable backup).

How to back up your data from the cloud

It’s more complicated if you use Microsoft OneNote. Windows users can back up their notebooks from the File menu; it’s not possible on OS X. The simplest solution is to export your OneNote notes as PDFs by picking ‘Save as PDF’ from the File menu.

How to back up cloud data

If you do still want to grab a copy of the original data, it’s cached on your Mac as it passes from the server to OneNote, at the following location: /library/Containers/ Support/Microsoft User Data/OneNote/15.0/OneNoteOfflineCache_Files/ ( denotes your user folder).

The files are hidden, so if you haven’t set OS X to show hidden files, launch Terminal (in Utilities) and type:

defaults write AppleShowAllFiles YES

Hit Return on the keyboard, right-click the Finder on the Dock and hit ‘Refresh’.

Backing up your websites and blogs

Professional bloggers might prefer to back up their blog database manually (and this will be the only option if your blog platform doesn’t have an export option or back-up plugin).

The most commonly used blogging database is MySQL, and your host will have sent you details of how to access it, often through your hosting account control panel and often using phpMyAdmin.

How to back up your data from the cloud

Refer back to your welcome email, because it differs from host to host. Click to export Log in, then click the name of the database used by your blog in the sidebar. In most cases, there will be only one entry here.

This displays a list of all of the tables of data that underpin your site. You can now click Check All at the bottom of the table, then select Export from the With Selected menu.

Leave the options on the following page at their defaults and then click Go to download the backup.

How to back up your data from the cloud

To import it later, click on the name of the database in the sidebar, click the Import tab and navigate to the file you’ve just downloaded. Click Go to reinstate its contents.

Blog export

Handily, WordPress has export options built into its core settings. If you’re running a self-hosted blog on web space you’ve paid for, hover over Tools in the sidebar and pick Export from the menu.

Select the type of content you want to export (or leave it set to All Content) and then click Download Export File. The result is a WordPress-specific XML file that you can then import into another Word Press installation as desired.

The process is the same with blogs hosted at, except for the addition of an intermediate step immediately after clicking Export where you’ll need to choose whether to opt for the free or paid-for service. Pick ‘Export (free)’ and follow the steps above.

Automate the tedium

Of course, backing up your self-hosted WordPress blog manually is tedious and relies on you remembering to do it yourself. You could set yourself a Calendar reminder, but even better, we’d steer you towards automating the process using BackWPup. Sign up for (or log into) a Dropbox account, then log into your WordPress blog, hover over Plugins in the sidebar and click Add New.

Search the plug-ins library for backwpup, then install and activate it from the list of results. This creates a new BackWPup entry in the sidebar. Hover over this and click Add New Job, give the job a name (such as ‘Weekly backup’) and click inside the tickbox next to Backup to Dropbox further down the first screen.

Back up your data from the cloud

Specify when the backup should run on the Schedule tab (we recommend ‘with WordPress cron’) and tell it what it should back up on the DB Backup and Files tabs. Finally, click the ‘To: Dropbox’ tab and authorise the plug-in to write to your Dropbox cloud storage (this shouldn’t need you to supply further details if you logged into Dropbox before you downloaded the plug-in).

To back up a Tumblr blog, use the Tumblr2WordPress tool. Enter your username (the first word in your blog’s address), choose HTML as the export format, leave everything else at default, and click Export.

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