How to Do Ad Hoc Backups of Your Calendar, Reminders and Contacts Data on Your Mac

I am not here to preach to you yet again about the importance of backups; by now, I think you’ll agree that if you work with important data and you don’t have a backup strategy in place, well…you deserve the pain of data loss! I know that sounds harsh and uncaring—and that it is, in fact, preaching—but it’s true.

I could go on and on about all this, but my face is already blue, so I won’t. There are tons of articles and tutorials—many right here on TMO—that cover this important matter quite adequately.

A good number of my clients and students are certainly aware of the importance of data backups as well as the risks they’re taking on when not doing them. Still, most don't have a complete, consistent and automated backup plan in place. However, on occasion, they will perform ad hoc backups of important files—assuming they know how to get to them (that’s another story). Alas, while their intentions are good, their actions are inadequate. The problem is that some data is rather elusive—hard to locate—and so never gets backed up.

By way of example, let’s look at the data that makes up the Calendar, Reminders and Contacts apps included with every Mac. Most users rely heavily on them to manage many aspect of their daily lives.

Three icons representing three archive files

Each of the apps discussed can create their own archive files

Being able to locate the actual data files that these apps feed off of is difficult to find for the typical Mac user. But never fear… it turns out that these apps do provide quick and easy ways to archive calendar events, reminders and contacts to discrete files that can be saved to any media you want.

Even if you do use Time Machine, iCloud syncing or other form of data backup or synchronization, you may want to periodically perform a one-off or emergency backup of this data. Let me show you how.

Next: Archiving Your Calendars and Reminders Data

Part 2 - Archiving Your Calendars and Reminders Data

Scenario 1: If you use Apple’s Calendar app, you can export your events and other calendar data into one Calendar Archive file. You can then take the resulting file and manually back it up to external storage. It’s important to note that if you also use the Reminders app on your Mac, your reminders data is included in the Calendar Archive file, since lists and reminders are incorporated into the overall calendaring function. 

The File menu in the Calendar app

You can export a Calendar Archive file via the File menu

In Calendar, go to File > Export > Calendar Archive. You will be prompted to name the archive file, which ends with a .icbu extension. This is an Apple-proprietary iCal Back Up file.

The suggested file name on an American english system will follow the format: “Calendars and Reminders mm.dd.yy,”. For me, this file name has everything I need to describe it perfectly, so I leave it be. You can save the .icbu file to any storage location you wish. Of course, the amount of time the Calendar takes to create the archive file will be directly proportional to how much data is dispersed throughout your various calendars and reminders databases, so let it do its thing!

By the way, the other option you find under File > Export is to have the calendar data exported to an .ics file. This is an iCalendar Exchange file - not to be confused with the old Apple iCal. This is a computer file format that is widely supported by many platforms and applications. It allows Internet users to transfer or share events, meeting requests and tasks to other Internet users.

Scenario 2: If you DO NOT use the Calendar app, but DO use Reminders, you can still archive your reminders data. While in Reminders, go to File > Export to create a “To Do.ics” file that you can move anywhere. I suggest you add a date to the file name.

Next: Archiving Your Contacts Data

Part 3 - Archiving Your Contacts Data

As for the Contacts app, the procedure for archiving its data is practically identical. Go to File > Export > Contacts Archive.

The File menu in the Contacts app

Each of the apps discussed can create their own archive files

You will be prompted to name the .abbu file. This is an Apple-proprietary Address Book Back Up file. On an American english system, the suggested file name will follow the format: “Contacts - mm-dd-yyyy.abbu” which you can modify if you wish, but don't change the extension.

As an aside, the other export option under File > Export in Contacts, is to export your individual or multiple contacts as a vCard or .vcf file. This is a Virtual Business Card file format used to transfer or exchange contacts data among many platforms and applications.

Next: Archiving is Half the Story – Learn How to Restore Your Data

Part 4 - Archiving is Half the Story – Learn How to Restore Your Data

If you are using iCloud services for synchronization of your Calendar, Reminders and Contacts data… congratulations! You may not necessarily need to run through the restore process described below, since restoring synchronized data from iCloud is pretty much painless and automatic. However if you choose to create these archives anyway as described above, it wouldn’t hurt to understand the manual restore process.

For the three apps in question, go to File > Import, and select their respective archive files that you saved following the procedures in the previous section. You will be warned about the danger of losing any existing data if you proceed, so be careful.

Restore warning dialog box in Calendar

Be careful to heed any warnings you are given when restoring data

The bottom line is this: you can run through data archiving and backup procedures all you want, but until you know how to restore the data, you’ll never feel 100% confident about the procedures involved. Practice restoring at least once so that the process won’t be foreign to you during those times of abject trepidation when you do lose data.

An effective exercise and confidence builder for you is to recreate the restore process in a temporary account on your Mac. Let’s take a look at how to go about doing this:

  • Once you create your archive files, save copies of them inside the Shared Folder - a special area for sharing files between accounts on your Mac. A quick way to get there from Finder is via Go > Go to Folder, then enter /Users/Shared in the “Go to the Folder:” dialog box.

The Shared folder

Any file placed within the Shared folder can be used by all the accounts on the Mac

For details on using the Shared folder, please read my article, “How to Use the Shared Folder in OS X” right here on TMO.

  • Create a new standard account on your Mac. You can give the new account a simple but meaningful name; “Test” would be a likely suggestion.
  • Log onto the new account. If and when prompted, do not enable iCloud for the account.
  • Once logged onto the new account, go to the Shared folder – again, via the Go menu, as previously described. Locate the archive files you placed there previously, and copy them to the desktop.
  • Finally, go into the apps in question, and via File > Import, select the appropriate archive files to restore your data into the new account.

Once you are satisfied that the restoration process worked, tuck the procedure safely into your memory banks and log off your test account. You can then delete the account from your Mac, but I recommend you keep it handy for any eventual system troubleshooting or testing.

In conclusion, data backup redundancy is very important. With all the malevolence and technical glitches that happen all over the Internet, you should never be without duplicate or even triplicate copies of your most valuable data. One or more of these, in turn, should be located off-site.

In showing you how to make quick ad hoc backups of your critical Calendar, Reminders and Contacts data, I hope to have also sparked within you a sense of urgency about the importance of maintaining your backups as well as understanding the necessary data restoration procedures.