Time Machine backups

This is something I’ve wondered about for years and, since there seems to be plenty of people here with good computer experience, I figure I’d see what answers I might get.

I’ve always used Time Machine backups - always with an Apple Time Capsule, in case that is a factor.

And, over time, I can always expect at some point that I’ll get a popup that says there is a problem and that it has to create a new backup - losing all the incremental stuff! So, kinda serious.

Plus, I think every time this has happened, I’ll continue to get problems until I erase the drive in Time Capsule and just start over. Which is what I’m doing right now. Hopefully it will complete successfully as it has in the past.

But what’s the deal with Time Machine? I mean, obviously it is a critical thing, yet from what I’ve seen, this problem is not exactly rare! Yet it has been going on for many years.

Fortunately, I’m not totally dependent on it, though it is my only backup that lets me go back to earlier versions (almost never needed, fortunately). I also do a backup to an external drive and also to BackBlaze. And much of my stuff is also in Apple’s iCloud.

But to me it is just stunning that Apple’s backup isn’t far more solid that this!

I spent a lot of time on this issue a year or two ago.

It appears the issue can go much deeper than you suspect and I agree that they should have addressed these cases, whether common or edge, due to the critical nature of the service.

In my case, Time Machine over time would keep doing what you described. In the end, after multiple conversations with lots of people at Apple, I confirmed the only way to get lasting improvement in the problem was to back up my data only (not the entire computer like Time Machine standardly does), wipe my entire computer, reinstall the operating system and the re-install all the apps and data again. For me, this was a massive task and a massive time suck.

I was told that even a tiny little error somewhere in the operating system that collected over time could cause this Time Machine issue.

It did solve the problem and I haven’t had a single Time Machine problem since, but I would guess that Apple, with its resources, should be able devise the systems to self-correct any of these “errors” that limit Time Machine, rather than making the user do what I had to do.


Interesting. I ran into a host of problems last night, right after the brand new backup was done. And maybe not out of the woods yet!

First, since the time capsule drive for Time Machine was named “data”, I decide I wanted to change it. Because I have other “data” related names and wanted to make it more obvious which was which.

So I already had an external drive named “Main Data”, which is where my photos and iTunes stuff is instead of on my Mac Mini’s drive. And I have “Data Backup” which is a copy of that. So I renamed “data” to be “TC Data” (for “time capsule data”).

A little later, I get a popup from BackBlaze saying I was running low on storage - a problem I had previously and there is a long thread here about it. But this time I had plenty of storage on the internal SSD (well over 200 GB!). A short time later I get a popup about mail problems and running out of room on my “home” folder or something like that. Tried restarting mail, but that didn’t help.

Eventually I just decided to shutdown and start up again in hopes that would work. Well, first it wasn’t able to close all the apps, so I had to force quit. Then when I tried to shutdown again, the screen went dark, but I had the little spinning color wheel that just kept going. Finally gave up and held the power button down until it shut off. Waited 30 seconds and restarted. Seemed fine at that point.

However, before finishing for the night, I shut down again so my backup schedule wouldn’t run, just in case there was something corrupted - didn’t want to ruin the backup. Might do the same thing tonight.

So this morning I start it up, seems fine, but I do get a message saying it had to restart because of a problem. Not sure what that referred to since it didn’t restart. Could have referred to when I forced it to power down, but since I had started it again last night after that, I shouldn’t get that message for this bootup! So that’s still a mystery.

Then a little while ago, I saw that the last Time Machine backup was late last night - the one that started from scratch. So it hadn’t backed up anything in a lot of hours!

Looked at the Time machine prefs and the disk still said “data” rather than “TC data”!

More checking showed that on the list of backup disks, it had both names! So I selected “TC Data” and it asked if I wanted to use both it and “data” or just “TC Data”. Chose the latter. Said it would “transfer” the info and that seemed to go quickly. Now it only shows “TC Data” as an option. No idea what the heck is going on - that is, why “data” showed before after I did the name change.

Not sure how to tell Time Machine not to back up the OS stuff, but I think I may just let it be as is for now anyway since it should make transferring to a new computer easier in the future. Would be nice if Apple had two services - one for “everything” but maybe set up an option in iCloud for keeping some old versions of data files.

You need to use more creative names.

Instead of Main Data use something like Picasso or Bethoven
Instead of Data Backup use something like Milli Vanilli
Instead of TC Data use something like To Be or Not To Be

Just poking fun if you didn’t realize lol

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When I corrected the problem (via the annoying work around I had to use above), I connected a external hard drive to the computer and manually copied all my folders that had data in it (documents, my pictures, etc) to the ext drive. Note, I did not copy any applications or the operating system itself. It was painstaking and I spent a lot of time because I didn’t want to miss anything.

Then I completely wiped the entire computer including the operating system. I then reinstalled a fresh copy of the latest operating system. Downloaded my applications from the internet and copied my data back over from the ext hard drive.

I then used a new ext hard drive for my Time Machine (or wipe the old hard drive as you don’t want it to have previous copies of backups on it).

This was probably 12 months ago. I’ve not had a problem since and my Time Machine runs flawlessly and much faster.

Your mileage may vary, but after trying many things, this is the only solution Apple had left for me and it worked.

Be sure to use Picasso for your most fragmented drive


Yeah and he probably should stay away from names like Salvador or Dali

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neither of you has mentioned which os version you were on. Did dabigkahunu say in an earlier post that he was still pre-Catalina?
I’ve seen corrupted files in Time Machine before. Primarily in snapshots within the TM backup files themselves. There’s a messy way in TM to remove corrupted snapshots, but I can’t remember if it was prior to Catalina or not. But I think there are several things going on here, all to do with file corruption. First is in TM, and whether that’s created during theTM process or not, I don’t know. Since Catalina, I’ve seen Mail start up progressively more slowly and occasionally shut down slowly with the beach ball. Rebooting into Safe Mode and then rebooting often helps.
Sometimes I feel like doing a complete shutdown, power off and startup rather than just a reboot is more effective, but I have no real evidence for that. I understand booting into Safe Mode cleans cache files and likely some temp files. I suspect there are other things cleaned up too. Whether that fixes corrupt files or not, I don’t know. But after booting into Safe Mode, you might try running disk first aid on all the disks you think might be involved such as your TM disk(s), system disk, the disk with your system library and the disk with your user library. That might fix problems with disks appearing full when they shouldn’t be.
To me, the initial versions of Catalina were a mess but I think the most recent versions have cleaned much of that up. I speculate that Apple tried to save battery by doing something to transitions between dependent processes that may have introduced beach balls and a greater tendency to file corruption or corruption of data within files. I also think they messed with timing of comms processes which might be why it looks like Mail comms go more slowly and why some displays don’t update till a user action causes an interrupt.
Whatever’s going on, the solution of starting fresh with clean disks, while a pain and last resort, does seem to help.
Hope this ramble sparks some ideas.

I’m still on Mojave, for three reasons. One was that I figured I it might be better to avoid possibly running into a 32-bit app that I needed but wouldn’t run on Catalina. Second, I really didn’t see anything Catalina offered that really mattered to me. Third, when I started to consider upgrading, I started reading a lot of complaints about Catalina.

So now, so close to Big Sur, I figure I might as well just wait.

A reasonable suggestion, but with all the complaints about Apple’s lower software quality, it might be better to wait beyond the initial release. But then it wasn’t until about the .3 release of Catalina that it looked more reliable. So Apple’s recent software quality has made the decision of when to transition more difficult for simple users like me.
Catalina has been telling us what 32 bit SW needs updating. It might be wise to create a test partition with Catalina and have it check this so you can find out in advance and prepare.

I’ll be keeping my last bootable backup of Mojave on my new SSD before I upgrade. Not sure how long I’ll wait - though I certainly won’t upgrade the first day! Always wait at least that long for any update and then the next day I start looking for bug reports that are serious.

Well, ran into a disappointment with my SSD drive where I presently keep bootable backups of my Mac Mini, my prior iMac, and my 2008 MacBook (which has El Capitan).

I knew from quick tests that I couldn’t boot the MacBook backup on my Mini, but I could do it on my iMac. There are annoyances, like repeatedly saying I need to sign in or do passwords - I assume because of the different hardware. But my big annoyance was when I tried to use my app for making backups of movies I bought, to remove copy protection. Yeah, I have yet to actually need those backups, but I like to play it safe.

Well, as I’ve mentioned before, that app will only work properly on the MacBook so I assumed the issue was with the OS it was running under. But today was my first chance to actually try to back up a movie I just bought (Mulan, which is actually pretty good though a few dialogue things were not done well imo).

Ran the app, set it up to convert the movie, clicked “convert” - and got nothing! Eventually gave up and went back to the MacBook and ran it there and it worked fine. So I assume now that there is a hardware issue causing the problem. So I’m right back to needing that Macbook to last forever!

@dabigkahuna I have a suggestion for you. Over the summer, I discovered that Parallels allows you to run virtual machines of old Mac OS’s. I currently have Leopard, Yosemite, & High Sierra running simultaneously on a Mac Mini. It works great!

I’ve thought about that too, but I have no experience with it - though I think I read that a new version has a free option?

One of the problems of being kinda old is you get set in your ways and tend to avoid changes. And I’ve always been leery of adding more and more stuff on my system. But I am still considering it, especially if there is a free version.

VirtualBox is free. I used to be a diehard VMware Fusion fan, but being pressured to fork over $100 every time macOS was updated, got to me. Went VirtualBox, never looked back.

I have a OS X Mavericks just for running that “media backup” app. On their web site, they say their Mac version “is currently not compatible with macOS 10.13 or above.”