Apple's moves point to a future with no bootable backups, says developer

Posted:
in Current Mac Hardware
The ability to boot from an external drive on an Apple Silicon Mac may not be an option for much longer, with the creation and use of the drives apparently being phased out by Apple, according to developers of backup tools.




For some users, the ability to create a bootable drive for their Mac gives them a safety net, in case the main drive on the Mac breaks or encounters a problem. It is a backup technique that can get users back up and running very quickly, but the option may not be available for much longer with Apple's transition to Apple Silicon.

Mike Bombich, the founder of Bombich Software behind Carbon Copy Cloner, wrote in a May 19 blog post that the company will continue to make bootable backups for both Intel and Apple Silicon Macs, and will "continue to support that functionality as long as macOS supports it."

However, with changes in the way a Mac functions with the introduction of Apple Silicon, the ability to use external booting could be limited, in part due to Apple's design decisions.

The first problem is with macOS Big Sur, as Apple made it so macOS resides on a "cryptographically sealed Signed System Volume," which could only be copied by Apple Software Restore. While CCC has experience with ASR, the tool was deemed to be imperfect, with it failing "with no explanation" and operating in a "very one-dimensional" way.

The second snag was Apple Fabric, a storage system that uses per-file encryption keys. However, ASR didn't work for months until the release of macOS 11.3 restored it, but even then kernel panics ensued when cloning back to the original internal storage.

In December, Bombich spoke to Apple about ASR's reliability and was informed that Apple was working to resolve the problem. During the call, Apple's engineers also said that copying macOS system files was "not something that would be supportable in the future."

"Many of us in the Mac community could see that this was the direction Apple was moving, and now we finally have confirmation," writes Bombich. "Especially since the introduction of APFS, Apple has been moving towards a lockdown of macOS system files, sacrificing some convenience for increased security."

Spotting a change in a Product Security document in February, Bombich points out that it mentions the boot process in Apple Silicon Macs is always facilitated by a volume on the internal storage. The lightweight operating system on that volume evaluates the integrity of the boot assets and authenticates the operating system on that external device before booting from it.

"In theory, it means that Apple Silicon Macs cannot boot at all if the internal storage fails," he states. Experts within Apple "unambiguously confirmed" to Bombich that you cannot boot an Apple Silicon Mac from external boot drives if the internal storage is dead.

Bombich advises there needs to be changes to end user recovery plans to no longer rely on external boot devices. In the case of CCC, it won't provide the option to "make it bootable" by default when users are using macOS Big Sur.

While CCC won't drop the ability to copy the System folder, the tool is "going to continue to offer it with a best effort' approach." Meanwhile, for non-bootable data restoration, CCC's backups do still work with the macOS Migration Assistant, available when booting up a new Mac for the first time.

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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 36
    mwhitemwhite Posts: 287member
    CCC gets a 10 out of 5 on my ratings, I have restored my data on many occasions and I am really happy with version 6....
    edited May 2021 williamlondonflyingdpbakerzdosendewmelam92103ravnorodomfastasleepwatto_cobraelijahg
  • Reply 2 of 36
    AniMillAniMill Posts: 98member
    I just can’t see a future where an external boot-disc does not exist…or don’t want too. I just did a complete rebuild of my iMac Pro to clean it up. I first did a CCC of the internal boot SSD, making another SSD externally bootable. This was critical to keeping my workflow viable, in case the wipe/rebuild failed. The complete macOS Big Sur reinstall from the Mac Recovery went smoothly, only one minor glitch. But if I hadn’t solved that glitch, I’d been hosed for a while. CCC is one macOS’s most critical applications.
    flyingdpdoozydozenmwhitebdbismuthlam92103dysamoriawatto_cobraelijahg
  • Reply 3 of 36
    sdw2001sdw2001 Posts: 17,913member
    AniMill said:
    I just can’t see a future where an external boot-disc does not exist…or don’t want too. I just did a complete rebuild of my iMac Pro to clean it up. I first did a CCC of the internal boot SSD, making another SSD externally bootable. This was critical to keeping my workflow viable, in case the wipe/rebuild failed. The complete macOS Big Sur reinstall from the Mac Recovery went smoothly, only one minor glitch. But if I hadn’t solved that glitch, I’d been hosed for a while. CCC is one macOS’s most critical applications.
    I've done similar tithings with my MBPs.  But I haven't always used CCC.  I rebuilt the drive for my old 2009 MBP recently.  I just saved all my data to an external drive, did a clean install of the OS, and migrated my data back.  Granted, it wasn't my main computer. But with most things on the cloud now, I'm not sure a drive being bootable is all that important.  It's much easier to have cloud and redundant data backup in my view, get the drive fixed or replaced, then go from there.  Many people have backup devices and can access their workflow from anywhere.  
    lkruppAniMillFileMakerFellerwatto_cobradocno42
  • Reply 4 of 36
    AppleishAppleish Posts: 500member
    Uh, I haven't 'needed' to boot from an external drive in a couple of years, but this makes me nervous. So rather than fix a simple problem myself in minutes, I have to go to the monkeys reading from a script bar... I mean 'Genius Bar' when an appointment is available in several days?
    edited May 2021 lam92103dysamoriawatto_cobraelijahg
  • Reply 5 of 36
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 6,957member
    Sounds a bit silly to me. 

    Apple doesn’t allow users to boot from an external drive. 

    Also Apple – no sign of a decent backup system. 
    lam92103GeorgeBMacwatto_cobraelijahg
  • Reply 6 of 36
    HyperealityHypereality Posts: 58unconfirmed, member
    I feel my love affair with Apple is ending. I love the fact I can boot from a super fast SSD, it made it easy to cross grade from my MacBook to an M1 Mac mini as I can still boot the laptop drive from an older iMac I’ve kept. The loss of target display mode on that iMac was significant too. There is a progressive loss of convenience happening here. 
    lam92103dysamoriatimetravelNov51955elijahg
  • Reply 7 of 36
    muaddibmuaddib Posts: 80member
    Booting from a Thunderbolt SSD enclosure is an important way to avoid the SSD prices Apple charges. I guess they are trying to stifle this option. 
    dysamoriaelijahg
  • Reply 8 of 36
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 10,176member
    Rayz2016 said:
    Sounds a bit silly to me. 

    Apple doesn’t allow users to boot from an external drive. 

    Also Apple – no sign of a decent backup system. 
    Time Machine is wonderful backup solution that can and does restore systems reliably. I know because I have used it. Define a decent back up system. And as Mike Bombich said, Apple engineers have confirmed in unambiguous terms  that M1 Macs will not boot from an external source if the internal storage is dead.

    So we are left with the question of what to do. Do we change with the times and adapt to new ways of protecting and saving our data or do we dig in our heels and announce we’re freezing our system in time and never upgrade again. I fully expect a mini deluge of rage over this with proclamations of quitting the platform. We already have rage over X86 IntelWindows not booting on an M1. That’s a given when Apple up and changes things. We get so stuck on how things have always worked and expect to continue to work the same way. Apple has decided to break with the past to move forward. We’ll see if the market votes with its pocketbook. I suspect more Macs will be sold than ever before.
    welshdogdysamoriaiqatedoFileMakerFellerwatto_cobradocno42
  • Reply 9 of 36
    welshdogwelshdog Posts: 1,843member
    lkrupp said:

    We get so stuck on how things have always worked and expect to continue to work the same way. Apple has decided to break with the past to move forward. We’ll see if the market votes with its pocketbook. I suspect more Macs will be sold than ever before.
    Agreed. I have made many clones and restores over the decades, but if that is no longer necessary or is becoming insecure, then I'll move forward with what is available. I'll probably start doing more frequent time machine backups and might get a NAS or something similar to make those TM backups convenient.
    FileMakerFellerwatto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 36
    bakerzdosenbakerzdosen Posts: 161member
    This feels like one of those "out of touch with the user base" decisions Apple has made in the past.

    The fact that you can buy a Mac and still use it years (like, a decade) later has always been one of the Mac's hallmarks.

    Now, if 5 years down the road my internal storage dies AND Apple gives me a cost-effective and quick way to fix it, I'm actually OK with this decsion. But if the storage dies and I'm just out of luck because the Mac is now an appliance, well, this is a real problem for me.
    lam92103dysamoriatimetravelNov51955alterbentzionwatto_cobraelijahg
  • Reply 11 of 36
    night9hawknight9hawk Posts: 101member
    welshdog said:
    lkrupp said:

    We get so stuck on how things have always worked and expect to continue to work the same way. Apple has decided to break with the past to move forward. We’ll see if the market votes with its pocketbook. I suspect more Macs will be sold than ever before.
    Agreed. I have made many clones and restores over the decades, but if that is no longer necessary or is becoming insecure, then I'll move forward with what is available. I'll probably start doing more frequent time machine backups and might get a NAS or something similar to make those TM backups convenient.
    To me the relevant question is what are they trying to solve/fix with these changes. Given their moves over the past few years it seems like this is part of their plans to Mac macOS/iOS/IPadOS a more secure place for users. It would be nice if they would explain it-maybe they’ll address it at WWDC next month.
    welshdogwatto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 36
    dewmedewme Posts: 4,545member
    I suspect Apple will bake a way to do a system restore into Apple Silicon that will work with iCloud and be available as a paid service. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 36
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 12,257member
    I'll believe it when I see it. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 36
    neilmneilm Posts: 961member
    muaddib said:
    Booting from a Thunderbolt SSD enclosure is an important way to avoid the SSD prices Apple charges. I guess they are trying to stifle this option. 
    You need to put your paranoia back in its box. The percentage of Mac users who buy and prep external backup TB drives must be beyond tiny — not even a tiny spec on Apple's horizon. (And I say that despite being one of them.)
    welshdogfastasleepwatto_cobraDetnator
  • Reply 15 of 36
    Here’s my thoughts, maybe MacOS will be backed up in iCloud, similarly to iOS and iPadOS. This would then allow for someone to wipe their Mac, and replace whatever parts and upon restore, restore items through iCloud. I can understand the lack of being able to make a bootable drive can make someone nervous, I myself have done my fair share of wipes, but as long as Apple has some kind of system to replace it, I think we’ll all be fine. 
    watto_cobraDetnator
  • Reply 16 of 36
    I personally don’t like how Apple are turning Mac OS into iOS. Compared to the former, the latter is a very, very primitive environment. It simply isn’t up to computer standards, which command much greater flexibility than that of a restrictive, complementary device aimed at casual users.

    Also, extra security means extra hurdles while carrying out simple tasks. Why take away handy features - some of which have been there for years - for the sake of that extra security, seeing as most users - bar one Craig Federighi - are perfectly content with how secure their Macs already are?
    edited May 2021
  • Reply 17 of 36
    t1-livet1-live Posts: 1member
    When my iMac drive crashed a while ago I was able boot from an external one and continue working without delay, loosing only 1 day's work, while waiting for the new internal drive to arrive. If Apple seriously takes away this option, then it might be time to consider the unthinkable: A Windows machine.
    muthuk_vanalingamtimetravelNov51955
  • Reply 18 of 36
    dysamoriadysamoria Posts: 3,430member
    I feel my love affair with Apple is ending. I love the fact I can boot from a super fast SSD, it made it easy to cross grade from my MacBook to an M1 Mac mini as I can still boot the laptop drive from an older iMac I’ve kept. The loss of target display mode on that iMac was significant too. There is a progressive loss of convenience happening here. 
    My love affair with Apple ended in 2013, starting with iOS 7. It marked a massive shift in apparent design intelligence AND showcased an unwillingness to test & debug software at Apple (on the Mac and iOS devices). I’ve stuck with them because their products and policies are less objectionable than the alternatives. I preferred when they were superior, not merely the lesser of evils.
    edited May 2021 muthuk_vanalingam[Deleted User]timetravelNov51955
  • Reply 19 of 36
    avon b7avon b7 Posts: 6,430member
    I imagine there will be an alternative and equivalent option to prevent downtime but if it includes the use of paid iCloud space, that will be the end in my case.

    There is no real and valid excuse for me not to have a local bootable backup available to me if I need it.

    Currently I depend on bootable drives as my Macs are old.

    I have daily drivers with software I need for daily things. Then there are the occasional times I need more up to date software that won't run ob those systems.

    I can manage this by simply booting off an external drive with the system/software I need.

    It might be old school but it works. 

    The same applies with bootable backups. If the installed drive fails I can be back up and running in no time.

    Time for an Apple NAS for Dummies and experts alike with Netboot and and failsafe Time Machine incorporated. 
    edited May 2021 muthuk_vanalingamFileMakerFeller
  • Reply 20 of 36
    fastasleepfastasleep Posts: 6,177member
    I feel like there's a lot of confusion here as to what is and isn't or won't be possible in the future. 

    Basically, you won't be able to clone the macOS system partition to a backup drive. But, does that matter when all of the meaningful data is on the user data partition now? 

    Can you create a bootable backup by installing macOS on an external disk and then using the user data partition to back up your data to? 

    The other main issue being that you can't boot from *any* drive if your internal storage fails, but my primary use for this was using my bootable backup in conjunction with another Mac entirely while my primary Mac was being serviced, so I could pick up work from where I left off more or less, without having to do a full Migration Assistant transfer. Seems like that will still be possible, assuming I can install the OS on an external drive and still backup to the user data partition. If that's not possible, I'm not sure it's spelled out here. Anyone know for sure?
    watto_cobra
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