Frequently Asked Questions About Time Machine

Time Machine is the part of macOS that allows you to easily back up your Mac to an external or networked hard drive. Here are some of the most asked questions about Time Machine, such as what size hard drive do you need, can you exclude files from the backup, and how do you restore files from the backup.

Comments: 67 Responses to “Frequently Asked Questions About Time Machine”

    Jan Wille
    6 months ago

    I use 2 drives (Time Capsule + La Cie) for Time Machine backup. Logically I guess both drives shall contain the same. However, if I want to restore a file, how do I choose the one or the other drive when I start Time Machine?

    Stephen bamforth
    6 months ago

    Mistakenly deleted a backup cant empty trash any suggestions please

    Russ Tolman
    6 months ago

    Great info on TM. I currently use three TM drives in separate enclosures. I have one of those TM backups that is store off site. I had a hd enclosure firmware problem that wiped out both of my on site TM’s my third off site saved my life. I update that off site TM once a month; unless I have something really important. I am very careful about my backup routine. Thanks again for all you help.

    Mr. Luigi
    6 months ago

    1.I have a older Time Capsule (the flat pancake version) that still works fine. But now that I have a Netgear Orbi mesh router, I have it packed away in a box doing nothing. Can I repurpose it as a Time Machine backup drive without using is old n-router?
    2. I’d love t see you create an instructional video on how to connect an external drive to a router (like my Netgear Orbi) and use that as a whole house network Time Machine backup drive for our many Apple computers (desktops and laptops).

    6 months ago

    Jan: So you have the two drives connected at the same time? Usually, you have only one connected at a time (one at work, one at home or something like that). I’m not sure what will happen when you try to restore. Try it and see.

    6 months ago

    Stephen: It sounds like you made the mistake of trying to directly edit the Time Machine drive, by moving the backup to the trash? Your best bet may be to just erase the drive and start Time Machine backup from scratch. Be careful.

    6 months ago

    Mr. Luigi: You may be able to figure it out with experimentation, but I’m not sure it is worth it. Drives are cheap and that is an old one, right? As for a tutorial on networked drives — there are too many different brands each with their own setup tools and software. One on that specific router would only be useful for the few with that router.

    Larry
    6 months ago

    You mentioned that you can connect an external drive to your router which would allow network back-ups without having to plug into a laptop each time. Is there any concern about security or privacy with this set-up (my internet provider furnished me with an AT&T router).

    I currently connect an external drive to my MacBook Pro 2x per week and place the drive in a secure location during non-back-up times. It works fine, but your way would be much efficient all around.

    Thanks again

    6 months ago

    Larry: So the concern would be that your ISP would be spying on you and looking at your backups? But if that was the case, then wouldn’t they also be spying on your computer directly and your Internet usage? I’m not sure what the additional danger would be by doing your backups on your local network.

    Dimitris
    6 months ago

    Good morning Gary. You said. “You should only use your backup drive for ΤΜ backups.”
    What you said it is correct. But also you can create a partition on a disk so to use it only for TM backups. I’m doing it over 7 years now on my two 4TB USB 3.0 external drives without any problem. Really nice video! Keep going the excellent work!

    6 months ago

    Dimitris: So you are partitioning your external drive and using on partition for a Time Machine backup, and the other for something else? This is a very bad idea for three reasons. First, how are the things on the other partition being backed up? If they are being backed up to the same Time Machine backup, then the original and the backup are on the same drive, making the backup kinda useless. The drive fails and you lose both copies. Second, you are now using the drive for two things, so shortening the drive’s life as it is used more. Third, you have less space for your Time Machine backup so it will not be able to save as much of a history. My point is that drives are cheap. Your data is valuable. Use the 4TB drive just for Time Machine and get another drive for whatever else you need.

    Ron Housley
    6 months ago

    I have created a redundant Time Machine backup on my Synology NAS, by following Synology’s directions to create a special user for the Time Machine — and it all amounts to creating a Sparcebundle disk image within which to stash the Time Machine for my MacBookAir. It all works just great, but for only a few months and then I get the message that Time Machine needs to start all over from scratch, trashing all the version copies that have amassed along the way – creating a brand new backup

    Dimitris
    6 months ago

    I have 2 external disks, 4TB each. I have one partition about 400GB on each. My system is only 70 GB. It’s not necessary to use 4TB and keep a TM history for the whole year. It is meaningless to make a restore 4 or 5 months back. For what reason? The other data on my external disks is only movies, music and some pics. Personally I don’t backup these files. It’s not necessary. I have no problem with my 2 WD disks all these years. You never know. :)

    Dimitris
    6 months ago

    After all, the TM doesn’t work perfectly! It is not so trustful as it is expected to be or as Apple says. It has too many problems. Everybody knows that. Personally I use Mac for over a decade and I have seen a lot. Making a clone it is a better idea some times or using a program like CCC.

    6 months ago

    Ron: Sounds like the NAS isn’t up to the task, that’s my guess.

    6 months ago

    Dimitris: It is meaningless to make a restore from 4 or 5 months back … until you need to. Is it so far-fetched to think of an example? Say you are doing your taxes one year and that document from 11 months ago is missing. Or you get a request from a “client” (supposing you do such work) requesting something from 2 years ago and find you cleared out that folder a year back?
    Time Machine doesn’t work perfectly and never will as long as hard drives don’t work perfectly either. Clones have the same issues, and more. Delete a file by accident and then update your clone and you’ll delete that file from the clone too.

    Dimitris
    6 months ago

    It depends on kind of use. There are differences between a home use and a business use of a Mac. Definitely, you can not trust TM for keeping backups for over a year. It’s a very bad idea and completely wrong. Every year Apple changes the macOS with many updates. Who can guaranty that everything will work just fine? Nobody! This is because even the macOS isn’t perfect. If you have extremely important documents like tax documents as you mention above, it is a very good idea to keep hard copies…

    Dimitris
    6 months ago

    …somewhere and don’t rely only on technology. I can write too many things about Time Machine backups, clones or simple copies on disks, USB flashs, cloud services, about macOS problems, etc. TM is a good solution to keep backups but the most important thing on this is that nobody says that one disk for backups is equal to nothing. TM is a long story and never ends. Use it but don’t trust it!

    Don Palmer
    6 months ago

    My new Seagate backup is indeed on the exclude list. I need details on how to remove it. On the “exclude” pop-up, the “-” box does not respond. The “+” box sends me to Applications. Need help. Thank you.

    6 months ago

    Don: Select it in that list, then click the – button.

    Dimitris
    6 months ago

    Don: Also, you can use the tmutil command but you need root privileges. Open Terminal and type: sudo tmutil removeexclusion -pv /Volumes/volume_name. (volume_name = the name of your volume). The easiest way is to type the command, sudo tmutil removeexclusion -pv, open a Finders window and drag&drop the volume. Hit Return, give your password and hit Return again.

    Paul O Davis, Ph.D.
    6 months ago

    What is the cause of the sparsebundle error(s) that seemingly occur with annoying regularity- resulting in having to expunge the old backup and start over?

    6 months ago

    Paul: I haven’t heard of that. Perhaps an issue with your disk?

    Ian Nicoll
    6 months ago

    Hi Gary, can you comment on Pros and Cons of SuperDuper vs Time Machine? I currently have an old external drive that is now too small and so need to change this and am wondering if I should stick with SuperDuper or move to Time Machine when I upgrade. Thanks

    Ian Nicoll
    6 months ago

    Thanks Gary. I’ve just watched the video and most informative. Guess I’ll be moving to Time Machine!

    Jerry
    6 months ago

    Gary. If you have two (or more) drives connected to the Mac Time Machine will alternate backups between the two (or more) drives. This gives, I feel, protection against a Time Machine drive failure

    Robert
    6 months ago

    Hi Garry, great video. I just wondered about Time Machine encryption. I formatted an external disc using Disc Utility encryption, because if I use Time Machine to encrypt it take a very long time to back up, is what I have done correct?
    Thank you,
    Robert

    6 months ago

    Robert: Does it work? It is certainly not the way I would have done it. I use Time Machine encryption. It shouldn’t slow things down by a noticeable amount. Not sure what the consequences are of the way you are doing it.

    Robert
    6 months ago

    Hi Garry, it does work, I have a 2011 MacBook Pro 1TB ssd and use 1 TB WD external drive, when I first set up using Time Machine encryption it too a very long time to back up even after the second back, do you know roughly how long it should take to back up?
    Thank you,
    Robert

    6 months ago

    Robert: How long an initial backup takes depends on the amount of data on your drive (size and number of files), the speed of the drive, the speed of the backup drive, and the speed of the connection between them. Also the condition of the backup drive plays a big part.

    Dimitris
    6 months ago

    Gary and Robert: Both ways are correct and work just the same! The first option from System Preferences, allows you to keep your old backups because you can retroactively encrypt your existing Time Machine backup. This can take a long time. Selecting the second option, from Disk Utility, you have to erase the disk first but it’s quickest than the first option!

    John
    6 months ago

    Gary, I use 2 external drives as backups which I alternately plug into my MacBook Pro. I didn’t realize you could use an external drive attached to a router as a Time Machine backup. So, could I plug one of my existing drives into the router, select that as a TM backup and have it pick up from where it left off, i.e., retain all the existing backups?

    6 months ago

    John: I’ve never tried it that way, so I’m not sure, sorry.

    Bill
    6 months ago

    You mentioned that Time Machine will back up an attached external hard drive. Will the information on an attached flash drive be backed up also?

    6 months ago

    Bill: As long as it is not on the exclusions list. Check there, and remove it from the exclusions.

    Robert
    6 months ago

    Hi Garry, ok thank you. Maybe I will try again and see what happens. Thank you.

    Dirk Nicholls
    6 months ago

    Can one Back-up an iPad please?

    6 months ago

    Dirk: You back up your iPad to either iCloud, or your Mac/PC. To check to make sure iCloud backups are on, go to Settings, click your Apple ID at the top of the left column, then iCloud, then iCloud Backup. To backup to your Mac/PC, connect your iPad, launch iTunes in the Mac/PC, select the iPad, and click the backup button.

    julie
    6 months ago

    Newbie & potentially dumb question: I have a 2017 MacBook with one usb-c port & I don’t want to have an external hard drive attached all the time. Could you direct me to a video that explains how to set up the hard drive on my network/router? hope I have explained myself clearly. TIA Julie

    6 months ago

    Julie: There are many different models of routers with different configurations and abilities and different ISPs. I don’t know which you have, so I can’t advise you. Even if i knew, I wouldn’t have that router so I wouldn’t be able to help. Check any documentation you may have, or call the tech support from the router or your ISP, if it is their box. Otherwise, you may need to get a local tech helper to come and set it up for you.

    Diana Alm
    6 months ago

    I have been using Time Machine backup on an external drive with other files. It’s now out of space so I bought a new 4GB drive. I had no trouble setting the first drive up. The new drive came with some extra software for Mac and PC. So I ran the Mac software first. Then I tried to set up Time machine as a new backup on the new drive. It wouldn’t do anything. Should I move the backup first to my computer (if it fits) and drag it to the new drive and continue on as if it’s the old drive?

    6 months ago

    Diana: No, don’t move the backup around like that. First, I don’t know what “extra software” came with the drive, but don’t use it. When you set it up as a Time Machine drive, it will erase the drive and format it correctly. Then don’t do anything else with that drive. Just let Time Machine manage the drive. Don’t put extra files there or mess with it. If that “extra software” has already messed up the drive and you haven’t even use it yet, then just use Disk Utility, erase the drive, and start a backup to this new drive from scratch.

    Jane M
    6 months ago

    Time Machine seems to very slow at times, for example it will say “Backing up: 63.4 MB of 256.1 MB; about 50 minutes remaining.” 50 mins sounds like a very long time to back up less than 200 MB. The 500 GB external drive is full so it will be dropping off the oldest data – is that maybe why? On my Mac (2013 iMac) I have about 225 GB. Thanks.

    6 months ago

    Jane: Probably cleaning out old data, yes. Could also be slowing down the backup because it recognizes you are using the computer and I will give you top priority and the backup low priority.

    Ron Housley
    6 months ago

    When I get a Time Machine warning: “You are backing up an encrypted disk to an unencrypted disk,” is that a call for action on my part? What are the implications of taking no action here?

    6 months ago

    Ron: It depends on how concerned you are about the security of your backup. You have FileVault turned on on your Mac (encrypted) to protect that data if the Mac is stolen. But if the Time Machine drive is stolen, then that data can be read. If that is a concern for you, then you should start a new Time Machine backup and this time set it to be encrypted.

    Jonathan
    6 months ago

    Hi Gary. I use 2 usb drives connected all the time to backup my 500gb SSD drive but I have a third external drive for iTunes. approx 850gb. it seems that TM backs up both Mac & iTunes drive which is perfect. But.. if I buy a new Mac and use Restore to setup, what happens about the external drive with iTunes on? should I connect during Restore? or will the system ‘see’ there is another drive, but not present until the full restore is complete and check back later? Thanks Great video – again :-)

    6 months ago

    Jonathan: You would use Migration Assistant, not a Time Machine restore, to set up your new Mac from your Time Machine backup. It will restore that user account and all the files in it (Documents, Desktop, etc). Since your external drive files aren’t in there, it won’t do anything with them. You should just connect it and point iTunes to it and you should be set.

    Richard T
    6 months ago

    I’ve used TM for a few years and only recently discovered that none of the desktop folders were backed up. I had folders for photos, music and movies, for example and all of them contain 0kb. What’s the problem that the things I most wanted backed up weren’t? How can I fix this?

    6 months ago

    Richard: What do you mean that “folders … contain 0KB”? Are you trying to look at the folders in the backup directly? They aren’t meant to be viewed that way. Try restoring a file from one of those locations and see what happens. (you get the option to restore and keep both the current versions and the old version so you don’t replace your current file).

    Jonathan
    6 months ago

    Thanks Gary

    Richard T
    6 months ago

    Thanks for the suggestion Gary. When I tried to restore the folder it wouldn’t let me, but came up with “The folder “Desktop” can’t be opened because you don’t have permission to see its contents.” On the folder was a red dot with a white dash in it like a wrong way sign on the road. The restore button was greyed out and wouldn’t do anything. Is it possible that this is happening because I hooked up my backups to a new computer?

    6 months ago

    Richard: So you are selecting your Desktop folder in a Finder window, then clicking on the Time Machine icon in the menu bar, then choosing Enter Time Machine. Then after Time Machine launches, you see a 🚫 symbol on that folder? Very strange. Not sure what you mean by that last sentence — hooked up in what way? Maybe time to visit the Genius Bar with this since it sounds like you’ve got something going on.

    Richard T
    6 months ago

    I agree it is strange. The process you described is exactly what I did. The symbol aside, why does it say I don’t have permission to see the contents of the folder? On my old mac I had 2 external hard drives for backups. I connected them to my new mac via usb. Sorry if my wording was confusing.

    6 months ago

    Richard: No idea. Hard to know without being there to diagnose.

    Richard T
    6 months ago

    Thanks for your time and expertise. Even though you didn’t give me the answer directly, sharing this problem with you did help me find the answer. When I changed computers I also changed my admin user name. By changing accounts to my old admin user name all my old backups were opened.

    Don Palmer
    5 months ago

    Last month, I replaced my old Seagate backup with a new 4 TB Seagate, and it is working great, but I notice on Time Machine Preferences, “Select Disk”, that even though I have only one backup disk, there is a second available disk that is labeled “Case Sensitive”, and even though it is not the selected disk, it appears to backing up as well. What’s the story? Thank you.

    5 months ago

    Don: Hard for me to say without seeing it.

    Lali
    4 months ago

    Hello Gary,
    I do not use my old macbook air very often. I used to backup the macbook air using Time Machine to 2 different drive external drive in an alternative schedule. Now I want to know Is their a way I can consolidate them into one drive? In other words will I be able to move all the Time Machine backups of one drive to another drive? If so how to do it?

    4 months ago

    Lali: I wouldn’t bother with that. Just start a new backup for the Air on the drive you want to use for both. Many people use a networked drive in exactly that way. Start the new backup and keep the old drive around for a while since it has over versions of the files. Then eventually you can get rid of or repurpose the old drive.

    Miles
    4 months ago

    Hi Gary,
    I have lots of video on two separate externals. I back them both up via TM (I use 2 TM drives for redundancy and they alternate). Problem is I’m running out of room on the TM drive. Is it possible to tell one TM drive to back up *one* of the externals, and the other TM drive to back up the *other*?

    4 months ago

    Miles: I can’t think of a way. One solution is to back up those externals another way (third-party app). Or, you could just get a larger TM drive, of course. You could also backup some of the older videos that you no longer need to modify to another drive, then exclude those folders from your TM backups.

    Miles
    4 months ago

    Oh good suggestion – thanks Gary!

    Lali
    4 months ago

    Hi Gary,
    I use a 2 TB external WD drive to manually backup my MacBook Pro on a monthly basic since I am not changing the data on my MacBook Pro often. When the 2 TB drive gets filled say in a year or so if I want to delete the oldest TM backup how to delete them? Will I be able to delete from oldest backup date?

    3 months ago

    Lali: You don’t delete anything. Time Machine will keep the latest version of everything and older versions as space permits. Just keep backing up and it will maintain itself, removing old items to make room.

    Lali
    3 months ago

    Hi Gary,
    Thanks for the suggestion, I will follow it
    L

Comments Closed.