Time Machine is easily one of the best features of OS X, and if you don’t use it, you really really really should. Computers are replaceable, personal data is not. That said, this article isn’t to convert the unconverted. Rather, this is for those already using Time Machine.
Remember, The more space Time Machine has free, the longer it can keep back up records It may seem crazy to have a year’s worth of backups until you’re chasing down a PDF you may have deleted anywhere from yesterday to last May.
Tip #1 - Disabling backups of space-wasting folders
Clicking options will reveal a simple interface that allows exclude folders from being backed up.
By default Time Machine backs up EVERYTHING when there are a few folders that should be disabled by default. To disable a folder, simply locate it and drag it onto the “Exclude these items from backups” window. If you’re like myself, you may have many drives to exclude.
Backing up your downloads folder is a data waste. For most people, the downloads folder the equivalent to the wild west, and you’re apt to constantly decompress zips, nab massive DMGs and delete files from it. Even a deleted file will occupy space on Time Machine until all the snapshots that contain the deleted file are removed from TIme Machine itself.
Its best to exclude it.
I’ve created a quick and dirty list of recommended files to block Time Machine. You’ll need access to your ~/Library. Pro tip: When you see ~/ (the tilda represents your user folder, this is common short hand for your user folder)
By default Lion and Mountain Lion hide the user Library folder, in all previous versions of OS X, this was accessible by the user. Punch in the following terminal command to unhide it. Its also not a bad idea to leave it unhidden as you may need access to it in the future when cleaning out OS X.
chflags nohidden ~/Library/
Recommended folders to disable (for all users)
- ~/Library/Caches - (Cache files are prone to change)
- ~/Music/iTunes/Mobile Applications - (These can be redownloaded from iTunes or your iPad/iPhone/iPod and are constantly updated)
- ~/Library/Application Support/Steam/SteamApp - (This will not back up games using the Steam Service. Games are subject to frequent updates and any games can be redownloaded from the steam service. Many games use Steam cloud to back up game saves).
- ~/Documents/Parallels - VMs in the past have been notoriously bad for Time Machine, VMware includes Time Machine functionality. So does Parallels. Follow their instructions if you’d like Time Machine to back up them.
- ~/Applications (Parallels)~
- ~/Dropbox - Dropbox is already in the cloud, no reason to back it up
- ~/Public (Optional: Depends on your network usage habits)
- /Incompatible Software (This will be in the root of your computer after an OS upgrade).
Pro Tip: This isn’t the end-all, be-all of Time Machine lists, this is just a good starting point. You can ignore any or all of my suggestions :)
Tip #2 - Deleting useless backups
If you find that you’ve been backing up for eternity your iTunes Movie collection or some media dump folder, you may want to delete the record.
Locate the folder in question in your finder, then click the time machine icon your dock. This will take you to the folder in Time Machine. In the time machine folder, right click the folder and select Delete All backups. This may take some time depending on the size and frequency of the backups
Pro Tip: This the nuclear option on Time Machine, when you Delete All Backups, you are erasing any previous record of the file. However, if you do not ignore the folder, the folder will still be backed up in its current state.
Tip #3 - Utilities
As you’ve probably noticed, time machine doesn’t provide much in the way of options. Fortunately there’s a fair amount of good Time Machine utilities.
Here’s a few I’ve highlighted. Please note, there are plenty of Time Machine related utilities besides these… MacUpdate.com is a fantastic place to find Mac utilities of all types.
Time Machine Editor - change the back up interval updates (instead of one hour) (free)
BackupLoupe - Allows you see individual file records, including revisions, when a file was deleted from records and so forth. Only $5 and handy. A must for Time Machine junkies.
Tedium - Allows multi-time machine backups and management. OS X 10.8 has some of its functionality
Tip #4 - Multiple HDs
10.8 added support for multiple Time Machines. Multiple HDs do not work in a manner that you may expect, backups alternate on the hour between drives. The data is neither split between drives nor do the drives backup only portions/locations (Time Machine #1 backs up the boot drive, Time Machine #2 backs up the secondary drive). Essentially you’ll have two independent Time Machines, not double the space. If you’re looking to for the ability to control your time Machine backups, check out tediumapp.com.
For the average user needs, its a little overkill. When selecting a back up drive, go big as your wallet can afford. While you can back up a larger drive with a smaller drive (assuming you’re not using all your free space) a good rule is always bigger. As of writing this, a Seagate Backup Plus 4 TB USB 3.0 runs about $130 on Amazon. A drive doesn’t need to be dedicated just to backups, you can partition (split) your Hard Drive into two separate volumes, a Time Machine and Additional Storage.
Tip #5 - Using a networked drive (that isn’t a time capsule)
Many routers come with USB ports that allow connection of external HDs. However, Time Machine is semi-restricted. You cannot back up to anything outside of an HFS+ disk and it doesn’t play nicely with non-Time Capsules. However with a bit of terminal fun you can use your own NAS storage device. You will want to start with stephenmorley’s guide here based on levelofindirection.com. Read the first and check out the second.
You’ll need to first enable non-(officially)supported drives and then follow up with creating the sparse bundle manually. After that its smooth sailing.
Tip #6 - Show Time Capsule on Desktop/Finder Windows
By default, owners of the Time Capsules may notice they no longer see the Time Capsule when its mounted. Simply go to your Finder Preferences and check your “Show Connected Servers” and “Show Connected Drives” and you’ll see the Time Machine as before.
Tip #7 - Encrypt your backups
- Open Time Machine preferences.
- Click Select Disk or Add or Remove Backup Disk (if you have multiple backup disks).
- Select your backup disk, then click Remove Disk.
- Now set up the disk again as an encrypted backup disk. For instructions, see:
Choose a backup disk and set encryption options