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Can't copy time machine folder

3834 Views 18 Replies Latest reply: Mar 29, 2013 3:26 AM by ignominy RSS
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leonel junior Level 1 Level 1 (0 points)
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Apr 19, 2012 3:07 PM



I had to format the hd where I have time machine, so I copy the tm folder to a new folder in other external hard drive.


Now that I format the 1st external hd I trying to copy the tm folder to the root of the formated hd, but after a long wait I get a message saying that there is enought space...


How can solve thia ?


How can I copy that big folder faster, is there any other way ?




iMac, Mac OS X (10.7.2)
  • Pondini Level 8 Level 8 (38,710 points)
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    Apr 21, 2012 5:21 PM (in response to leonel junior)

    You should be able to copy that whole folder via the Finder (except on Leopard), but if you try to copy multiple folders inside the Backups.backupdb folder, what you copy will be many times the size of the original, because of the structure of the backups, all linked together.


    If there's still a problem, the backups may be damaged -- you can't copy corrupted backups successfullly.  Try repairing the drive they're on, per #6 in Using Disk Utility.



    Having the Backups.backupdb folder inside another folder might be the problem -- I've never tried that.  If all else fails, can you move it to the top level of the drive, then copy it?

  • Pondini Level 8 Level 8 (38,710 points)
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    Apr 22, 2012 8:09 AM (in response to leonel junior)

    leonel junior wrote:

    . . .

    Finder don't let me move the folder only copy...

    Why not?  What message do you get?  



    I tried touse migration assistant, but lion can't recognize time machine, maybe because is inside another folder.


  • Pondini Level 8 Level 8 (38,710 points)
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    Apr 22, 2012 9:54 AM (in response to leonel junior)

    I've been doing a bit of experimentation -- sorry to say, it looks like you're out of luck.  


    I can explain what is happening, but am not entirely sure why.


    It's the result of the rather unusual structure of Time Machine backups.   The first backup copies everything.  On all subsequent backups, only the items that changed are copied.  But "hard links" are made to the items that did not change, so each backup appears to be a full one.  See Hard Links in How Time Machine works its Magic for a better explanation.


    Ordinarily when you copy the Backups.backupdb folder, those "hard links" are copied correctly -- there's still only one copy of the unchanged files, but multiple hard links to them.


    Once the Backups.backupdb folder is moved from the top level of the drive (apparently), the copy doesn't work properly -- instead of copying the hard links, the actual files are copied.  So if there are 3 backups, all containing hard links to the same unchanged version of a file, the file will be copied 3 times instead of once.  Since few files change from one backup to the next, there will be lots of these, and the copied folder will be many times the size of the original.


    That always happened on Leopard, but the Finder was rewritten effective with Snow Leopard so it wouldn't do that.  Apparently it only works properly now if the Backups.backupdb folder is at the top level of the drive, not inside another folder.



    So, your best bet is to let Time Machine start fresh on the reformatted drive.  Keep the old backups as long as you think you may need them.  You won't be able to restore from them via Time Machine, but you will be able to copy selected items from them via the Finder (but you may have permissions problems with them).  If space is a problem, you can delete some of the individual date-stamped backup folders.

  • Pondini Level 8 Level 8 (38,710 points)
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    Apr 22, 2012 2:25 PM (in response to leonel junior)

    leonel junior wrote:


    Pathfinder save my day!

    I just move the TM folder on it with no problems and in seconds, just need to authenticate with my user password and "voilá"!




    At this time and, after restart I get the bellow window, I'm not sure what to do, can you tell me please ?

    It seems to be looking for some sort of installer.  Look in the menubar (there may be an app name there).


    If you can't tell, you may have to click the Cancel button and see what doesn't work.



    I should like to ask you (in your opinion) witch is the best device you recommend to use for Time Machine, Time Capsule ? a normal external hd ?

    That varies depending on your circumstances and what kind of Mac you have.  For a desktop Mac, an external HD connected directly to the Mac is many times faster, and more reliable, than backing-up over a network. 


    For a laptop, however, a Time Capsule (or shared drive on another Mac on the same network) is much slower, but far more convenient.  Very frequently connecting and disconnecting an external risks damage to the ports and plugs, too.

  • Pondini Level 8 Level 8 (38,710 points)
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    Apr 22, 2012 3:30 PM (in response to leonel junior)

    Most any good-quality drive will work fine.  Whether it comes formatted for a Mac or a PC, erase and format it yourself (among other things, to get rid of the junk apps many makers put on them).


    Drives from OWC Sales get good reviews, as does their service.  I bought one of these a few months ago: They have a 3-year warranty, too.


    You'll find folks who hate one brand (especially Western Digital and LaCie), but others who swear by them.  It's a bit like auto preferences -- some love Chevys, some love Fords, some swear by Hondas, etc., mostly because they had a particularly good or bad experience with one, perhaps years ago.

  • Pondini Level 8 Level 8 (38,710 points)
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    Apr 22, 2012 4:12 PM (in response to leonel junior)

    leonel junior wrote:


    I can't find OWC in Portugal...

    Ah, you didn't mention where you were. 


    I was thinking on WD My Book Studio (, what do you think ?

    Probably ok.  Just be sure to erase it first.  Also check reviews and search here.  Some WDs have been reported to have problems with Time Machine -- apparently their internal sleep (or "spin-down") feature doesn't wake up quickly enough, and OSX thinks it's disconnected. 


    I don't know how widespread that is, or whether it applies to that model, of course.


    And WD's reputation for customer service isn't all that good, either.


    Whatever you buy, be sure the seller has a decent warranty and return policy.

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