Problem with a Time Machine backup drive

iMac Pro, Ventura latest version.

I have a 4TB TM drive (WD MyBook Desktop USB 3.0), in use for about 15 months. A few days ago, I wanted to restore something. If I go to “Browse Time Machine backups…”, TM starts, the list of backups on the right of the screen appears, but there’s nothing visible below the heading February; moving the mouse to February moves the whole list up and down but nothing appears below that heading; and clicking on any controls results in the spinning “wait” cursor, indefinitely.

I ran Disk First Aid, which took more than 48 hours (288 snapshots, each exhaustively analysed) but reported no errors.

Any suggestions? I suppose I could just abandon all my old backups, reformat and start again.

Which is pretty much what I have to do with most all Time Machine backups. Great when it works, though.

Not sure it will help in your case, but when I had something similar a few years ago, AppleCare gave me this workaround:

  1. Open Time Machine preferences from the Time Machine menu in the menu bar, or click Apple menu > System Preferences > Time Machine.

  2. If a backup is in progress, wait until it has finished.

  3. In Time Machine Preferences, uncheck Back Up Automatically (to prevent a backup from occurring while you are restoring files).

  4. Open a Finder window and in the sidebar under Locations, select Time Machine, and on the right, double-click the Data folder and then double-click the .backupbundle disk image to mount and display it as Time Machine Backups under Locations.

  5. Click Time Machine Backups, navigate to the date and folder or file you want to restore and copy it to your computer.

  6. In the Finder window under Locations, click the button to the right of Time Machine Backups to dismount the disk image.

  7. In Time Machine Preferences, recheck Back Up Automatically.

This is why I use a CCC roll your own to a remote destination for my laptop backups. TM consistently and randomly fails for unknown reasons on 2 laptops backing up to 2 separate Macs via wifi…I’ve been doing macOS since the 1980s and was a long time consultant up in the DC area before we hit the road in our RV. Backups setup identically on 2 different M1 laptops to an M1 Studio and a 2012 Intel mini. Not a permissions problem, but they just randomly fail.

CCC OTOH…works perfectly and backs up to a folder instead of a .dmg file. ’Nuf said.

I do keep TM enabled on the laptops to a disk that is never connected so it does the hourly backups to the internal drive in case I need something back immediately…and the two remote Macs get done every 3 days alternating.

In addition to my previous suggestion, I could be wrong, but I seem to recall that there is a way of accessing Time Machine backups via the Finder (instead of Browse Time Machine Backups).

Maybe someone more knowledgeable can chime in?

Just double-click your Time Machine volume from the Finder. Assuming your TM volume is based on APFS (what all modern versions of macOS set up), you will see a separate “drive” icon representing each snapshot:

Locate one corresponding to the date/time you care about and double-click on it to open it. You will see each backed-up volume. You can then browse from there to locate the files you care about. Open it to view the contents (snapshot files are all read-only) or copy it to a writable storage device if you need to make changes.

Thanks, all. I know about opening the TM volume in Finder and restoring individual or multiple files, and that’s what I resorted to doing. The TM volume looks just fine in Finder, with loads of backup snapshots visible, and I can drill down and copy from them. It’s just rather curious that in the actual, snazzy Time Machine interface (I do miss those animated stars!) malfunctions in such a curious way.

Looks as if I should explore CCC. I’m about to buy a new Mac - can a CCC backup be used as a source for Migration Assistant (as a TM backup can)?

It’s a regular Finder readable volume…essentially a copy of the Data sub volume so it’s got all the user account into, homes, and apps…so no reason it shouldn’t be just fine for MA.

I have used both TM and CCC backup drives as MA drives - both work.

Yes, you can. I’ve been using CCC backups as the source for Migration Assistant whenever I’ve moved to a new Mac. My usual procedure is to update a CCC backup just before I start the installation on a new machine.

Just for the sake of completeness, SuperDuper’s been my cloning app for years. The clones on most HDDs aren’t bootable, but they are from a fast SSD.

Time Machine is a great tool, but only when it works… Recently I had Mac Pro lose it’s hard drive… No worries, I’ve been faithfully backing up daily to an external drive with time machine… I could look at, go into the time machine back up and everything looked fine… But when I went to restore to a new hard drive, I was told that my time machine backup was corrupted and after several attempts and a few more trips to the “geniuses” at the Apple Store, they determined that it was beyond much hope unless I wanted to spend thousands of dollars to recover the data. Something they mentioned took me as strange, as they said that it sometimes happens when time machine backs up when the system is asleep… Backing up every hour, there are times my machine is asleep… If it’s an issue, Apple should not be trying to back up during those times automatically…

After that mess, I’m not relying on Carbon Copy Cloner for any system rebuilds in the future, it’s only running once a day, but I’ve never had an issue recovering from one of their back ups

What macOS version and was the Time Machine disk formatted with HFS+ or APFS?

HFS+ formatted disks used by Time Machine in older macOS releases are known to be brittle and problematic. APFS formatted disks used by Time Machine in Monterey and later are much more reliable and robust - even if they are HDDs and not SSDs.

There is very little reason to use HFS+ with TM. TM onto APFS is clearly superior. Some folks like to suggest sticking to HFS+ for HDDs, but IMHO for TM that’s bogus advice.

The main penalty you’d face using APFS on a HDD does not come onto play when you’re just backing up snapshots to a disk with TM, as long as you don’t back up so much that it has to start to thin older snapshots. At that point the deficiencies of HDDs would start to show under APFS. But if you instead just back up to the APFS HDD until it reaches 80-90% ot the disk’s capacity and then switch to a new disk instead of letting TM start thinning, your HDD will be just fine, regardless of APFS. But what you gain in terms of letting TM run in its modern APFS mode is definitely worth it. Bottom line, don’t let a HDD hold you off from running TM to APFS.

Here’s some good background on why exactly TM to APFS is so much better.

1 Like

it was Ventura and it was formatted APFS

This is exactly why we have International Verify Your Backups Day. Trust but verify.