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: 47 Responses to “Frequently Asked Questions About Time Machine”

    Jan Wille
    1 week 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
    1 week ago

    Mistakenly deleted a backup cant empty trash any suggestions please

    Russ Tolman
    1 week 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
    1 week 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).

    1 week 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.

    1 week 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.

    1 week 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
    1 week 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

    1 week 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
    7 days 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 days 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 days 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 days 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 days 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 days ago

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

    6 days 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 days 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 days 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
    5 days 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.

    5 days ago

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

    Dimitris
    5 days 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.
    4 days 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?

    4 days ago

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

    Ian Nicoll
    4 days 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
    4 days ago

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

    Jerry
    4 days 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
    4 days 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

    4 days 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
    4 days 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

    4 days 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
    4 days 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
    4 days 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?

    4 days ago

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

    Bill
    4 days 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?

    4 days ago

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

    Robert
    4 days ago

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

    Dirk Nicholls
    3 days ago

    Can one Back-up an iPad please?

    3 days 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
    2 days 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

    2 days 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
    1 day 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?

    1 day 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
    23 hours 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.

    23 hours 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
    10 hours 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?

    8 hours 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.

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