So, you want to learn how to back up your Chromebook.
Well, you’ve come to the right place.
In this tutorial, you’ll probably learn everything you’ve ever wanted to know about backing up your Chromebook.
This guide covers everything from why you should make a backup, what files you should you back up, and how to make a backup of your Chromebook.
So, without further delay, let’s go ahead and protect your files the smart way- by making a solid backup (and I’ve got plenty of reasons to…back that up).
Last updated: 1/20/20. This tutorial has been updated for accuracy. As of 2020, it’s still working.
Why you should back up your Chromebook
Chromebooks by nature are already pretty secure machines.
They’re fast, simple, and automatically update with the latest security features, bug updates, and new features.
There’s really not much you can do with a Chromebook that’ll make it vulnerable to data loss unless it’s because of your own accord.
Since Chrome OS (the operating system that runs your Chromebook) is nearly bulletproof, it’s very hard to lose any of your files. It’s nearly impossible to get hacked, exploited, or otherwise get your data wiped by a third-party.
In fact, Chromebooks are so well-designed that they don’t even need any antivirus software.
You couldn’t even install any in the first place because Chrome OS doesn’t take third-party software installations.
These are just some reasons why your data is pretty safe on a Chromebook.
As with any other electronic device such as you phone, USB drives, SD cards, laptops, and external hard drives, you should back them up. Make backups of backups. Any paranoid security nut like me would understand!
Chrome is near-bulletproof (but not completely bulletproof)
But no computer device is perfect.
Even with all this software protection from Chrome OS, it’s still vulnerable to attack in more ways than you’d expect.
This is why you need to always have a copy of your most important data offloaded onto an external device.
Java exploits, poorly-coded apps, and rogue apps
As a recent example, there was a huge java exploit in Chrome that allowed attackers entry.
And another example (that still occurs today) is the whole exploitation of rogue Chrome apps and extensions.
These apps are made to look like a legitimate app that you’d download, but once you do, it has a hidden backdoor where the developer can spy, track, and monitor your personal activity and information.
Sometimes apps and extensions also don’t get updated and they run very outdated code that’s insecure because the developer has abandoned the app and it hasn’t been updated in a while.
This can also lead to hacks, exploits, and other nasties if your Chromebook gets compromised.
Backing up is a good idea when you want to enable Developer Mode
Another reason why you may want to back up your Chromebook is that you want to try something new on it and play around.
Whether this is installing Linux, forcing the Play Store update, or even just trying out new Chrome OS features that are still in the Beta Channel (like Night Mode), you’ll have to enable Developer Mode.
And for anyone who’s done this process before, you already know that once you enable Dev Mode, there’s no going back.
All of your personal data gets deleted and there’s no way to recover it without making a backup. So this is just another reason to back up your important stuff so you’ll always have it handy.
Other reasons why you should back up your Chromebook
And there are also a ton of other reasons of why you would back to back up your Chromebook:
- Having a spare copy of your stuff in case you lose your Chromebook (or if it gets stolen)
- Prevent losing your data in case your Chromebook crashes or malfunctions
- Prevent losing all your data because your Chromebook gets dropped, damaged, or even short-circuited with a water spill
- Freeing up space on your Chromebook’s hard drive by transferring files to external storage
- Saving the most important documents, images, videos, or other data just in case something happens
Backing up your data is good practice (just like changing your passwords every so often). And as you can see, I’m a big advocate of- hence the rambling.
I’m glad you’ve decided to take the initiative and protect your files!
Let’s move on to the actual process next.
Are you ready?
How to make a Chromebook backup
Okay, so now we’ll actually get into the process of backing up your data on your Chromebook.
First thing’s first, you’ll need to decide on how you want to back up your stuff.
There are a few different options to do this depending on what you have available to you right now.
In a nutshell, there are two ways you can back up your files on your Chromebook:
- Using a cloud provider (Google Drive, Dropbox, etc.)
- Using an external storage device (external hard drive, flash drive, SD card, etc.)
Depending on what you have available to you and what your Chromebook is capable of (more on this later), you can back up your files to either one (or even both if you’re really paranoid).
A cloud provider saves all your stuff in the cloud.
If you’re still not familiar with cloud storage, it’s basically a server owned by a company that you can save your stuff to and you can access anywhere in the world with an Internet connection. Popular cloud provider
If you want to protect your privacy online from people snooping on you, consider browsing the web using a VPN.
These are networks that reroute your online activities so that you’re virtually untraceable.
They protect you from a whole host of prying eyes like hackers, ad agencies, government agencies, and even allow you to get around web censorship.
If you’re interested, I wrote an extensive guide covering a few of my favorites and most trusty ones.
You can check out a list of the best free VPNs for Chromebooks to protect your privacy online.
File types supported by Chrome OS
Chrome OS supports all the major file types that you’ll come across in everyday use.
You can safely back up pretty much anything you can save to your Chromebook’s hard disk. This includes:
- Images (.JPG, .PNG, .GIF, .TIFF, .BMP, .WEBP)
- Videos (.3GP, .AVI, .MOV, .MP4, .M4V, .M4A, .MP3, .OGV, .OGM, .OGG, .OGA, .WEBM, .WAV)
- Compressed files (.ZIP, .RAR, .TAR,. TAR.GZ, .TAR.BZ2)
- Text files (.TXT, .PDF)
- Microsoft Office files (.DOC, .DOCX, .XLS, . XLSX, .PPT. , PPTX)
You can also play many common video formats as well- even straight from the external storage connected to your Chromebook (more on how to do this later):
- Video codecs (THEORA, VP8, MPEG4, DIVX, XVID, H264)
- Audio codecs (AAC, AMR-NB)
Chrome OS also supports the cross-platform FAT16, FAT 32, exFAT, and Windows NTFS with full write and read mode support. It also can read Mac HFS, but it can’t write to it.
If you want to run a CD or DVD via USB on your Chromebook, it has limited support. But it can read ISO9660 and UDF file systems that these disc formats usually have.
As for digital cameras and music players, it can also support MTP protocol as well.
exFAT is your best bet if you plan to format your external drive. It’s the default and automatic option that Chrome OS will format as (more on this later).
How to back up your Chromebook
Okay, so now let’s get to the good stuff.
This is where you’ll actually learn the steps to make a complete backup of your Chromebook’s hard drive.
This section is divided into two parts, depending on what you’re going to use to make the backup.
- The first part covers backing up your data to an external storage device, such as an external hard drive, SD card, or a thumb drive (flash drive).
- The second part covers backing up your stuff using a cloud provider, like Google Drive.
The more familiar method is probably using an external hard drive, flash drive, or SD card. A lot of people still don’t trust using the cloud to back up their stuff, so this is the preferable method.
If you don’t have an external hard drive, you may want to invest in one. They’re very affordable and will save you hours of headache and frustration later should something happen to your Chromebook.
You can check out some of the best external hard drives for Chromebooks if you fancy.
You can freely choose the section that applies to you, or even backup to both if you’re extremely paranoid (like I am).
Backing up your data to an external storage device
If you want to save your stuff to external storage, this is the right place.
Go ahead and grab your storage device. Let’s get started.
Here’s how to back up your data to an external storage device:
Step 1: Power on your Chromebook
If your Chromebook is off, turn it on and log in to the desktop.
Step 2: Connect your external storage device to your Chromebook
If you have an external hard drive or a flash drive/thumb drive:
Go ahead and plug in the USB connector to any of your Chromebook’s USB ports.
It doesn’t matter which one- they should all work just fine.
If you have a USB 3.0 port on your laptop, it’s preferable to use that instead of USB 2.0 for faster speeds. Even better is if you have a USB-C port. Use that for maximum speeds.
If you have an SD card:
Slip in your SD card to the SD card reader.
From my experience, these cards are pretty delicate and easy to corrupt. Slip it in carefully to the card slot on your Chromebook.
It should fit nearly all the way inside the laptop, with only a bare minimum sticking out. This is good to shield it from possible damage.
After you’ve connected a compatible storage device to your Chromebook, you should get a toast notification in the bottom-right corner that reads “Removable device detected.”
If you see this notification, you’re good to go.
Chromebook not detecting your external drive?
If not, try removing the storage device and reinserting it again- perhaps to a different port if possible. Also be sure it’s a Chromebook-compatible external drive.
Okay, so now that you’ve got your external storage connected to your Chromebook, let’s move on to the next step!
If you’re having trouble getting it to connect to your laptop, or if it’s not recognizing your drive, see this guide on connecting USB drives or SD cards to your Chromebook.
Step 3: Launch the Files app to manage your stuff
Next, we’ll launch the Files app.
This is pretty much your Chromebook’s file manager and lets you view everything you have saved to your hard disk.
You can also view and create custom folders, files, and directories from here.
And you can also access your Downloads folder which contains all the images, videos, and other files you’ve downloaded online- hence the name.
You can access the Files app in multiple ways:
- Press the Launcher key on your keyboard (magnifying glass) and then find the FIles app from the list of apps in the Launcher. Click on it to align it.
- Click on the Launcher icon in the bottom-left corner and find the Files app, then click on it to launch it.
- Open the app Launcher and search for “files” in the search box, find it, and then click on it.
- Click on the notification you just received when you connected your external storage to access the Files app. (Your notifications are condensed into the bell icon next to your account picture.)
Okay, so now that you have the Files app open on your desktop, you can start the backup process.
Step 4: Begin the backup
Find your connected external storage device in the menu on the left-hand side.
This is where you’ll transfer all your files to in order to back them up.
Find the images, videos, and other files you want to back up. If you haven’t created any custom directories or folders, they’ll likely all be in your Downloads folder.
You can access the Downloads folder and start transferring your files to your external storage by clicking on them and dragging and dropping them to device’s name on the left-hand menu.
If you want to make a new folder inside your backup drive, you can easily right-click inside the drive and select “New Folder” (or you can press “CTRL + E”) to create a new folder.
Step 5: Safely remove hardware
Anyone who’s owned a Windows computer knows about this already.
You’ll want to safely remove your external hard drive, SD card, or thumb flash from your Chromebook when you’re done making the backup.
If you don’t, you could risk corrupting your files saved on your storage device, which means the next time you try to access them, they could be inaccessible and broken. This would mean everything you just did was in vain!
So be sure to remove your peripherals the proper way.
Here’s how to safely remove an SD card, external hard drive, or flash drive (thumb drive) from your Chromebook:
- Find the drive’s name in the left-hand menu in the Files app.
- Look for the eject icon to the right of it.
- Click on the icon and then click on “Eject device” to eject it.
You can now safely unplug your storage device.
Tip: You can also just press “CTRL + SHIFT + E” to quickly eject any connected peripherals.
Note: If you unplug the drive without ejecting it, you’ll get a warning message notification. Be sure to not do this because it can easily cause data loss and corruption.
Backing up with Google Drive
If you decide to join the cloud bandwagon, congrats.
Google Drive is Google’s cloud service that’s available for free. You can save your stuff on their servers at no charge and access it with no limits. You just have a limited storage capacity unless you upgrade to a paid plan.
You’ll find that it’s a lot more convenient than using a traditional physical storage medium to back up your stuff.
Using the cloud provides many benefits over using traditional external drives:
- Access your backups from anywhere in the world
- Your data won’t be lost due to a corrupted or damaged drive (external drives have a usage limit before they start malfunctioning and breaking down)
- Your backups are stored securely and can’t be accessed without a password (unlike many unencrypted external storage drives)
- You can’t lose or misplace your storage drive
- A lot of cloud backup providers offer free storage
And those are just some of the benefits of using a cloud provider.
You have free cloud storage from Google
In fact, Google wants to push their cloud service onto you.
When you purchase a new Chromebook, you get extra storage space for free for a period of time.
Specifically, you get 100GB for 2 years. That’s a $47 value- for free.
Chromebooks aren’t made to store everything you could possibly want to store on it.
You’re supposed to store only the important stuff (homework, classwork, projects, slideshows, spreadsheets, documents, etc.) that you need quick access to.
Everything else is supposed to be stored in their cloud services- Google Drive.
Of course, that’s just their marketing plan in order to get you to sign up for more space once you use up the free storage (that’s also probably why they give you some free space at first).
But not everyone is comfortable using Google Drive, and a lot of people don’t even know what it is or even understand how it works.
How to back up your Chromebook with Google Drive
However, if you’re comfortable giving it a shot or you’re familiar with it, then, by all means, you should back up your stuff to it.
It’s free, secure, and offers instant access to your stuff no matter where you are.
Here’s how to back up your Chromebook with Google Drive:
Step 1: Launch the Files app
This is self-explanatory.
You can find the Files app in your Launcher by clicking on the Launcher icon at the bottom-left or pressing the Launcher key on your keyboard (magnifying glass).
Step 2: Connect your Google Account to Google Drive
In the Files app, you’ll see Google Drive at the top of the left-hand menu. Click on it and connect your account.
You’ll be done in just a few seconds. Just follow the on-screen prompts.
Step 3: Start uploading your files to Google Drive
You can now drag and drop whatever files you want to save to Google Drive.
They’ll be uploaded as you drag them into the virtual drive. Bigger files will take more time, but you don’t have to wait as there’s a file queue that’ll automatically upload your files as you constantly drag and drop them.
You can also upload multiple files at the same time.
See the keyboard shortcuts section above for easier ways to back up lots of files.
Step 4: Enable automatic backup to Google Drive
You can have files automatically saved to your Drive account for convenience.
Simply right-click on the Google Drive menu entry and enable automatic backup. That’s it.
You’ve done it.
You’re now backing up your stuff to a cloud provider.
Accessing your Google Drive backups
You can access your stuff on any device that supports Google Drive.
The following devices support Google Drive:
- And many more
You can log in to your Google Drive account on any of those devices and access your files anywhere on the planet as long as you have access to the Internet.
Pretty cool, huh?
If you don’t want to use Google Drive, there are tons of other alternatives. A popular one is Dropbox.
Backing up files without leaving a copy on your Chromebook
If you want to transfer your files over to your storage device but don’t want to leave a copy on your Chromebook after you’ve transferred them, try doing this:
Select all of the files you want to transfer to your external storage using any other methods above.
Then, you can start choosing the files you want to transfer over:
- Hit “CTRL + X” after you’ve selected them.
- Navigate to your external storage directory from the left-hand menu.
- Hit “CTRL + V” once you’re in.
This will transfer all the files you’ve selected from your Chromebook to your external hard drive, thumb drive, or SD card, and also delete them from your Chromebook after the transfer is complete.
This will free up space on your Chromebook (which in turn may help it run faster).
Go ahead and transfer all your files that you want to back up.
This could take anywhere from a few seconds to a few hours depending on how many files you transfer, the file sizes, and your USB connection speed.
Accessing your files from your external hard drive, thumb drive, or SD card
This works pretty much the same way as transferring your files. It’s easy.
Here’s how to access an external hard drive, thumb drive, or SD card on your Chromebook:
Step 1: Connect the external storage to your Chromebook
This is self-explanatory. Just connect it to the proper port on your laptop.
Be sure you’re logged in to your Google Account.
Step 2: Launch the Files app
You can use the Launcher key, Launcher icon, or simply click on the notification that pops up when your external storage is detected to launch the Files app. The Files app is a newer features in Chrome OS and will show you everything you have saved on your Chromebook.
This is perfect if you’re paranoid that you may have forgotten something tucked away somewhere. You can get a glance at everything you’ve ever downloaded onto your laptop in one place!
Step 3: Access your external storage
In the left-hand menu of the Files app, you’ll see your storage device show up under the “Downloads” folder.
Simply click on it and you’ll enter it.
If you just want to view a file that’s saved on your external storage but don’t want to transfer it, you can simply just double-click on it and your Chromebook will open it for you.
This works for files like pictures, videos, music, PDFs, documents, spreadsheets, slideshows, and more.
There’s no need to transfer them over just to access them.
Chrome OS has the tools to open many of these files, like the built-in native image viewer for images. You can even edit images straight from the image viewer!
If you want to transfer files from your storage to your Chromebook, the process is the same as before. Simply drag and drop the files you want to transfer over.
If you get stuck, see the previous section for a detailed tutorial, keyboard shortcuts, and tips.
Step 4: Eject the drive safely
When you’re done accessing your storage drive, you’ll need to safely eject the drive.
Simply click on the eject button located to the right of your drive’s name in the left-hand menu in the Files app.
This will let you eject the drive safely to prevent data loss and corruption.
After it’s ejected, you can safely remove it from your Chromebook.
For a more detailed process, I wrote a guide on safely ejecting your peripherals from your Chromebook.
How to sort files by type, size, date modified, and more on a Chromebook
You can sort your files view so you can easily see multiple files at once.
Chrome OS has a file sorter that makes it a lot easier to see what you’re working with.
Use the options at the top-right of the window so you can sort everything out:
- If you’re backing up images, it may be useful to sort everything into a grid of thumbnail previews.
- If you’re working with files, try sorting them into a list format.
- You can also sort by file name, file size, file type, and the last modification date.
- If you’re looking for a specific file, you can use the search function to find it. It searches for file names and file contents if contains text (such as a document, spreadsheet, or PDF).
Keyboard shortcuts to making backing up your files easier
If you have a lot of files you want to back up, there are a few keyboard shortcuts to make the process easier:
Selecting consecutive files in a list of files
- If you want to back up a few consecutive items in a list, hold “SHIFT” and click on the first item you want to transfer.
- Then click on the last item.
- This will highlight all items in between the two as well.
- Then you can drag and drop all of them at the same time and transfer them simultaneously.
Selecting specific files in a list of files
- If you want to back up a few select items scattered in a lit, hold “CTRL” and click on the individual items you want to transfer.
Selecting all files in a folder
- If you want to back up an entire folder, just hit “CTRL + A” to select everything. Then you can transfer the entire folder all at once.
Copying and pasting specific or all files in a folder
- If you’re tired of dragging and dropping, an easier way is to just select all the files you want to transfer (using any of the methods above), and then just hit “CTRL + C” and then enter your external storage device from the menu.
- Once you’re inside the device’s directory, hit “CTRL + V” to paste all of the files over. This will copy those selected files from your Chromebook’s hard disk and paste them into your external storage. You’ll then have two copies of each file you’ve selected.
How to check how much storage space is left on your external drive
You can easily check how much storage space is remaining on your external hard drive thumb drive, or SD card.
When it’s plugged in and connected, go to the Files apps and look at the top–right corner for a menu button. Click on it and you’ll see a drop-down list.
At the bottom, it’ll show how much space is left on your external drive.
This is useful for determining whether or not your drive has enough space for a big transfer.
Showing hidden files
Some files are hidden by default because they’re either system files or things you shouldn’t be messing with in the first place.
Other times they could be files that you’ve hidden yourself.
You can view hidden files on an external drive on your Chromebook easily:
- Plug in the external drive.
- Launch the Files app.
- Navigate the drive from the left-hand menu.
- Click on the menu button at the top-right corner.
- Tick the “Show hidden files” option.
This will enable all the hidden files and they’ll be showing up in the folder- if any should exist.
Connecting a CD drive or DVD drive to your Chromebook via USB
As you know, many modern laptop nowadays don’t have optical disc drives anymore.
In other words, they’re not equipped with the proper hardware to play music CDs and movie DVDs.
This format is quickly becoming obsolete.
But for those of us who grew up with this media, or have tons of data stored on this file medium (I know that feeling), what can we do to have our Chromebook recognize and run these CDs and DVDs?
Well, you can kind of make it work.
You’ll need a compatible external optical drive…and Linux
First, you’ll need a USB CD/DVD player.
The one I personally use is the LG 8X USB 2.0 Super Multi DVD Writer Drive (GP65NB60) and you check it on Amazon here.
Sadly, it’s not directly compatible with Chrome OS.
Chrome OS support for these external players is very limited and you may or may not get it working. It’s really hit or miss at this point.
The one I have doesn’t work directly with Chrome OS, but does with Linux.
In case you didn’t know, you can install Linux (which is basically another operating system) alongside your Chrome OS installation so you’ll have both running at the same time.
With Linux, you can do a lot more like installing Windows programs and applications that you wouldn’t be able to natively with Chrome OS.
You’ll have to install Linux to get this to work. I’ve written a complete tutorial on how to get Linux running on your Chromebook.
Go ahead and follow the tutorial. Then connect your USB external CD/DVD drive. Then use a media center to play or burn CDs/DVDs/CD-RWs/DVD-RWs.
(If you want a tutorial on how to play, burn, or rip CDs or DVDs on a Chromebook, let me know in the comment and I’ll write one up just for you!)
Update: I wrote a guide on connecting an external CD/DVD drive to your Chromebook.
You may want to try using Linux if you’re intent on burning stuff to a CD or DVD to make backups on from your Chromebook. Linux may have some software program that allows burning via a USB optical disc. You can check out this guide on installing Linux if you’re interested.
This is a security feature and is one of the drawbacks of owning a Chromebook. But then again, it prevents malware and viruses from infecting your Chromebook.
If you happen to have an optical drive that works directly with Chrome OS
Simply plug this external player to your Chromebook via the USB port and your system should instantly recognize it.
Launch the Files app and navigate to the CD/DVD player.
It should allow you to browse the contents of the CD or DVD like if it were a folder directory.
You can play the music from the CD or watch the videos from the DVD, but that’s about it.
In other words, your Chromebook can read them but can’t write to them. You won’t be able to burn or rip music CDs on a Chromebook- you’ll only be able to play them or access the files on them.
As for DVD movies, you won’t be able to play copy-protected ones either. You’ll have to rip them first using a Windows or Mac computer (assuming what you’re doing is legal). Then you’ll be able to play them on your Chromebook.
If you plan to backup your files from your Chromebook to a CD or DVD, it won’t work.
Again, you can play the files on CDs or DVDs, but you can’t transfer files from your Chromebook to the disc.
This is because there’s no optical drive to burn the data to the disc in the first place (remember, we’re using a USB-connected external optical drive here. Not a built-in one. These USB disc players don’t usually have burn features, so that’s why it won’t work.
And even if you happen to have one that does, Chrome OS doesn’t have a “burn” feature programmed into the operating system. As far as Chrome OS goes, it doesn’t even know what “burning” a CD or DVD is. Sorry.
Note that if you’re trying to install software to your Chromebook from a CD, it won’t work. Chrome OS isn’t built to support third-party programs and applications whether you install them from a CD or from the Internet- it won’t work.
USB 2.0 vs. USB 3.0 vs. USB-C – which port should you be using?
Note that there are multiple generations of USB available on the market today.
The most common connectors are USB 2.0, USB 3.0, and USB-C.
USB 2.0 is the oldest and USB-C is the newest. USB 2.0 and 3.0 have the exact same connector type, whereas USB-C is pretty different. Also, USB 3.0 is the same as USB 2.0, but many times faster.
Depending on how old your Chromebook is and how old your storage device is, you may have different connections going on at the same time.
For example, your Chromebook may only have USB 2.0 ports, while your external hard drive has a USB 3.0 port. You can safely connect them together, but you just won’t get the extra 3.0 speed as your Chromebook only supports up to 2.0 speeds.
It essentially bottlenecks the connection speed.
In other words, your data transfer speeds are only as fast as the weakest link.
It also goes the other way around.
If your Chromebook has USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports while your flash drive has a USB 2.0 connector, you’ll only get the USB 2.0 speeds no matter which port you plug it in to.
This is useful in the case that you want to transfer a lot of files (or large files) and you want the best speeds.
If you have a USB 3.0 external hard drive, plug it in to the corresponding USB 3.0 port on your Chromebook for the fastest speeds- it makes no sense to use the USB 2.0 port on your laptop and slow down the file transfer.
Remember, USB 3.0 is backward compatible with USB 2.0. If you have 3.0 available, use it for faster data transfer. And yes, it makes that much of a difference (and saves you a ton of time).
Did you backup your Chromebook successfully?
Well, that’s about it.
You should now know (probably more) than you need to know about how to back up your Chromebook.
You now know how to make a backup, how to transfer files to your external storage drive, how to show hidden files, how to check storage space, and even a tidbit about USB 2.0 vs. USB 3.0 vs. USB-C ports.
Oh, and you learned about how to connect a CD or DVD drive to a Chromebook in order to get it to play CDs and DVDs.
If you want to learn more about using your laptop, you may like this post about how to master your Chromebook using these tips and tricks.
If you have any questions or feedback on how to improve this tutorial, just leave a comment and I’ll get back to you ASAP.
And if you’ve found this guide to be helpful, let me know as well =]! Consider telling a friend using the social links up top!
And if you really like this stuff, feel free to sign up for some email updates when awesome new posts roll out.
Thanks for reading.