How to Fix a Stuck Time Machine Backup


stuck-time-machine-backup-header

[Updated December 18, 2014]

Time Machine for OS X was first introduced all the way back in 2004 in OS X Leopard. Since then it’s become the best way to back up your Mac.

This doesn’t mean that Time Machine is perfect, far from it. There are some issues that can come up from time to time, most notably the “Preparing Backup” issue that seemingly locks up your Time Machine backups. If your Time Machine gets stuck on this step for more than 10 minutes when you backup regularly, something’s probably wrong.

Fear not, as there’s a fix for this that should get you backing up again in no time.

The Issue

If you notice your Time Machine drive running for far more time than you think a regular backup should take, open up Time Machine preferences (System Preferences > Time Machine.

stuck time machine backup system preferences

If something is wrong you’ll probably see this screen saying Preparing backup… If that’s the case follow the steps below.

time machine preferences

The first step is to click the X button next to the progress bar to cancel the current backup. This can be found in the Time Machine preferences window we just looked at.

stop time machine backup

You’ll know the backup stopped when the progress bar goes away and Preparing backup… disappears. Now that you’ve stopped the bad backup it’s time to fix the issue.

Remove inProgress File

Open up a Finder window and navigate to your Time Machine drive. There, find the Backups.backupd folder and open it up.

time machine finder

Here, you’ll see a list of all your most recent backups. There should be a file here that ends in .inProgress.

time machine inprogress file

Select this inProgress file and delete it. The file should only be about 3-5kb, so you’re not deleting a backup file, but instead a progress and change log of sorts. With the file gone you can finish up.

Restart

Click on the Apple logo in the upper left corner of your Menu Bar and choose Restart. Make sure your Time Machine drive is connected while the restart is happening.

Deleting this file and restarting with the Time Machine drive attached should force Spotlight to reindex the drive. This reindex should fix your hanging issues when trying to do a backup.

When Spotlight is done working its magic, there’s one last step.

Start a New Backup Manually

Your Time Machine probably runs every hour, which means you’ll have to wait to see if it worked, right? Not really. You can initiate a backup manually by clicking on the Time Machine icon in the Menu Bar and choosing Back Up Now.

time machine manual backup

Time Machine will still give you the Preparing backup… message but this time it should only last at most 5 minutes. IF you were successful you should see your backup start.

stuck-time-machine-backup-005

If you continue to have issues with Time Machine you may want to run Disk Utility on it to fix any drive issues.

Update: Some of the things that can cause a Time Machine back-up to stop functioning include the following:

  • The Time Machine drive was disconnected while it was performing a back-up. Any time you disconnect a drive, be sure to check the status of Time Machine first.
  • The external drive was unplugged from the computer without being ejected properly. Always eject all drives before unplugging them from the USB port.
  • The Mac was forced to restart while Time Machine was performing a back-up. Try to avoid this if possible.
  • A software update was installed while the back-up was taking place. Some updates overwrite important files, and if they are doing so while the back-up is happening, it cause the back-up files to become corrupt.

Try to avoid any of these incidences from occurring by always checking the status of Time Machine before shutting down or restarting. Doing so can avoid a lot of problem for the back-up system.


Brian Meyer

Brian is a technology nut who loves all things Apple. Along with tech blogging he owns and operates a website dedicated to Craft Beer knowledge and information: Craft Beer Academy. With a love of sharing information and finding the newest tech out there, he is a great source for interesting news and instruction.

11 Comments

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  1. Thanks very much. I had tried several other suggested solutions without success, but yours worked for me. Much appreciated!

    1. I know it’s been a long time since your post, but I have just experienced the same problem you had. The file says it’s 120Gb in size and will not delete. It isn’t that big of course but I can’t get rid of it no matter what I try. My trash can remains full! I tried reformatting the drive butDisk Utility can’t handle it. neither can ONXY or another Mac. :(. How did you fix your problem?

  2. Thank you very much for posting this solution. Worked like a charm when other suggestions did not.

  3. Good morning. I have been looking for a solution, and yours looked promising. However I am unable to find the Backups.backupd folder! >_<

    When I accessed the main Time Machine folder, I found the appropriate sparse bundle, and selected "show package contents." Once there, I found only 9 items listed, only one of which was a folder (called "bands"). I opened that folder and there were no sub-folders contained in it.

    Where did I miss it?

    Thanks so much-

    Stephen

  4. It’s a long time since this was originally posted but I hope someone can help.
    I have been trying for over a month now to come up with a solution . My Mac book pro (early 2011, running Sierra) won’t back up to a WD external drive. I reformated it after several attempts and still nothing , so thought would try my older time machine . Still either sticks on “preparing back up or follows through and sticks on 6kb of 120gb. I have tried everything on every forum. I even changed the method of attaching to my Mac and used an Ethernet cable ( in the correct sockets and still get either of the two above results . So the tried a different Ethernet cable “just in case “ with no better results . Now have a new time machine. 2tb . All connected fine yet still I am getting the above results. I have deleted the “ backup” file in time machine now several times and am just about ready to give up and go back to windows. Does any one have any suggestions I have not tried before I become bald please

    1. Why are you talking about Ethernet connections? If you’re using a NAS box then it needs to be connected through a router.

  5. I tried your solution today and finally my Apple MacBook Air was able to backup. The last time my Airport Time Capsule did a backup was in December 2017. Thanks for your
    great advise.

  6. Very much appreciated your fix for my stuck time machine: simply stop the backup, delete the in progress file, and restart with the external drive hooked up.