Backup and Restore in Ulysses

Backup and Restore in UlyssesThere are two kinds of writers: those who know firsthand the agony of losing their hard-wrung words, and those who haven’t had that heart-stopping experience… yet.

Do you have a backup plan for your writing?

Some time ago I wrote a piece about how to backup your writing in Scrivener. But I’m writing in Ulysses these days, and it handles things a bit differently. So it’s high time I discussed what my backup strategy looks like now.

iCloud - Apple's cloud storage solution

If you’ve read any of my earlier posts about Ulysses you’ll know all of your writing is stored in one place — the Library. With your Library synced in iCloud you are unlikely to lose your work. If the hard drive on your MacBook fails, no dramas. Your words are synced regularly to Apple’s cloud storage, so you can still access them on your iPhone or iPad. And when your replacement hard drive is fitted, Ulysses will sync with iCloud and all your work will appear, just like magic.

But what if you decide you don’t like a change you’ve made and you want to revert to a previous version? Let’s say you accidentally delete a chapter. Or you have a moment of crushing self-doubt (you’re a writer, after all) and decide your manuscript is a slag heap of bombastic drivel and delete the whole thing! The deletion syncs to iCloud, and by the time you’ve come to your senses all your devices have updated and your words are gone. Vanished into the abyss of abandoned ones and zeroes.

Relax! All is not lost. Ulysses has you covered.

Automatic backups

Ulysses handles backups automatically. (My iPhone asked if I wanted to correct that to automagically. I was tempted.) The default setting is for Ulysses to keep hourly backups for the past 12 hours, daily backups for the past 7 days, and weekly backups for the past 6 months. You can also make a backup yourself at any time.

The beauty of this schedule is that the backups are stored on your local device or computer and not synced over iCloud. If you delete something from your Library it is also deleted in iCloud, but unless it was created entirely within the previous hour it’ll be safe and sound in the backups Ulysses has been making for you.

Restoring from backup on iPhone or iPad

So how do you restore your precious words from the life-saving backup? I’ll step through the process using the iPhone as an example. (You’ll notice the screenshots are all in Dark Mode because — as usual — I’m composing this blog post while Tiny One snoozes on me.)

As with many features in Ulysses, the backups are kept out of sight until you actually need them. To find them you need to navigate using breadcrumbs at the top of the screen, or by swiping from left to right, until you reach the root level of the Library. Hit Manage at the bottom right of the screen to reveal a link under the Library heading labelled Backup….Manage Backups Ulysses iOS

Browse Backups in Ulysses iOS
Browsing the available backups in Ulysses for iOS

The following screen has a warning strip at the top, showing that you are now in Backup territory, not in your main Library. It gives a list of the backups available on your device, as well as the option to Backup Now if you want to make a manual backup.

It’s important to remember that each of the backups in the list is a snapshot of your entire Library as it was at the time the backup was made. When you select a backup you can navigate around that version of your Library exactly as you normally would. The handy warning strip remains at the top of the screen to remind you where you are.

Your next move is to navigate through the backup snapshot of your Library until you find the document (or documents) you want to restore. You can highlight the material you want to recover using the Select option at the bottom of the screen, which in turn reveals the option to Restore to Inbox in your regular Library.

Restore From Backup Ulysses iOS
Select a file to restore from backup.

Bam! Just like that, your work is back in your Inbox where it can be synced to iCloud.

Restoring from backup on Mac

The process on a Mac is very similar. You start by going to the Ulysses Preferences panel and selecting the Backup tab. (You’ll notice that Ulysses sensibly sets the Backup Enabled option by default.)

Backup Preferences Panel Ulysses Mac
Backup Preferences panel in Ulysses for Mac.
Browsing available backups in Ulysses for Mac.
Browsing available backups in Ulysses for Mac.

From there you hit Browse Backups to see the selection of available snapshots of your Library. Again, the hazard-warning strip at the top lets you know

Once you’ve selected the backup version you want to explore, you can navigate the Library snapshot as usual and select any documents you’d like to recover.that you aren’t in your normal Library.


Backup Snapshot in Ulysses
Browsing a backup snapshot of your Library in Ulysses for Mac.

The context menu (right-click, ctrl-click, or two-finger tap on a trackpad) gives you the option to Restore to iCloud Inbox, similar to the iOS version.

Restore from backup to iCloud Inbox
Restore from backup to iCloud Inbox in Ulysses for Mac.

As soon as you restore something you are bounced back to your regular Library. But if you want to get back to your Library without restoring something it can actually be a tad confusing, mainly because of the way Ulysses hides the menu bar by default to minimise distraction.

Exiting Backups in Ulysses for Mac
Exiting backup mode in Ulysses for Mac.

It took me a moment to realise I had to reveal the menu bar (by hovering my cursor at the top of the screen) before I could see the familiar little red circle at the top left that lets you exit Backup mode and get back to your normal Library.  (But maybe that’s just me!)

Why restore to Inbox?

You might be wondering why recovered documents are restored to the Inbox rather than put back where you deleted them from. My guess is because the structure of your Library may have changed between when the backup was made and when you decide to restore the document. Entire groups could have been created, renamed or deleted. Rather than guess where your documents should be restored, Ulysses makes the safest choice and leaves it up to you to place your recovered documents where you want them.

What if disaster strikes?

But wait, you may be saying. You said the Ulysses backups are stored on your hard drive. What happens if you only write on your Mac and your hard drive fails moments after you ill-advisedly delete your whole manuscript? What then Mr Smartypants?

Well spotted. The iCloud sync will only save you if it’s up to date with the preferred version of your text, and the Ulysses backup will only save you if your hard drive is working. If you don’t have your Library synced to another device with its own Ulysses backups you could still be in trouble.

Lucky for you, Apple equips its Macs with Time Machine — an automated backup service that works in a similar way to the Ulysses backups, but for your whole Mac. For about a hundred dollars you can get a USB hard drive big enough to store backups of your whole computer.

Time Machine Backups for Mac
Time Machine, Apple’s backup solution for your entire Mac.

If the thought of shelling out for a backup drive seems like overkill, ask yourself how much your words are actually worth to you. More than a hundred bucks?

So there you have it. With a little planning and some very clever software you can sleep peacefully knowing your precious words are safe.

What’s your backup strategy?