Fix Common Problems with macOS Time Machine

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Time Machine is a great, convenient backup tool, but it doesn’t always work perfectly. Fortunately, the most common problems have relatively straight-forward solutions. Here are some fixes for common problems with macOS Time Machine.

Time Machine won’t back up

After updating to Sierra or High Sierra, some users find that Time Machine simply won’t back up. Fixing the problem requires an SMC reset and a PRAM reset.

SMC Reset

1. Shut down your Mac.

2. If you can remove the battery or disconnect the power cable, do that. Wait ten seconds before proceeding.

3. If you cannot disconnect the power, use a keystroke instead. After your Mac shuts down, press Shift + Control + Option on the left side of the built-in keyboard, then press the Power button at the same time. Hold these keys and the power button for ten seconds.

4. Plug the power cable back in or replace the battery if you removed it.

PRAM Reset

1. Turn on the computer.

2. Press and hold Command + Option + P + R. Continue holding the keys down until the computer restarts again and you hear the startup chime twice.

3. Continue booting as normal.

Drive is read-only

If your drive’s permissions have been damaged, you will often be prevented from writing to the disk. To address this problem, you can try to repair the problems with the disk. The simplest method requires diskutil in Terminal. Keep in mind that this can be a result of early problems with the disk itself. It might indicate that there’s a problem with the drive. You may need to consider replacing the drive if this problem appears more than once.

1. Open Terminal from “Applications/Utilities/” or type “Terminal” into Spotlight.

2. List the attached disks by typing diskutil list and pressing the Enter key.

3. Locate the partition used for Time Machine. Find the device and disk number, formatted like disk1s5, as in our example. Look for your disk by the name you’re familiar with in the middle column, under “Name.”

4. Verify the volume by typing diskutil verifyVolume [volume name]. In our example we would use diskutil verifyVolume /dev/disk1s5.

5. If you find any errors, run disktuil repairVolume [volume name]. If you continue to have problems with the drive, you can try erasing and reformatting it. And if that doesn’t work, it might be time to replace the hard drive or use a different hard drive for important backups.

Time Machine hangs on “Preparing Backup”

One of the most common bugs in Time Machine involves hanging on the beginning of the backup process.

If the Time Machine process is starting or appears to be lagging, open the Time Machine preference pane in System Preferences.

Look for the text underneath the Time Machine progress bar.

If the backup is progressing properly, it should show the number of items remaining to be processed. That number should be steadily, if slowly, increasing. If you don’t see that number increase over 30 minutes, you’ll need to take action.

Troubleshooting the Problem

1. Uncheck the box next to “Back Up Automatically” in the Time Machine preference window. This will disable Time Machine and stop any backup processes.

2. Make sure Spotlight is not indexing your backup by adding your Time Machine volume to the Privacy pane of the Spotlight preferences window in System Preferences.

3. Find and remove the “.inProgress” folder. You’ll find that folder in the “Backups.backupdb” folder on your Time Machine drive. It will have a name like 2018-05-04-175540.inProgress. When you find that folder, delete it.

4. Turn Time Machine back on. Time Machine should now be free to resume its backups.

Time Machine Uses Boot Disk Space

Time Machine makes backups even when your Time Machine drive isn’t connected to your computer. These are called local backups, and they’re stored on your primary hard drive. They can take up a huge amount of space on storage-starved laptops. If you’ve got a big “Other” or “Backups” section in your storage details, these might be the culprit. They’re actually a clever idea, providing access to previous versions of files even when your backup drive isn’t connected. But if you can’t spare the space, you can disable the service with the command below.

sudo tmutil disablelocal

That command will turn off local backups. You can turn them back on with the command below.

sudo tmutil enablelocal


Time Machine is extremely convenient, but it can be a troublesome backup tool. While it has become more reliable since its introduction, problems still occur. Time Machine shouldn’t be your only backup tool, but it is useful as part of your backup process.

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The Best Mac Backup Strategies You Should Use Today

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Kossi Adzo

Kossi Adzo is a technology enthusiast and digital strategist with a fervent passion for Apple products and the innovative technologies that orbit them. With a background in computer science and a decade of experience in app development and digital marketing, Kossi brings a wealth of knowledge and a unique perspective to the Apple Gazette team.

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