Time Machine Does Not Show Older Backups

MacOS 10.15.7 (Catalina).

My TM disk is full, and TM does not appear to be deleting old backups. This failure is apparently due to the fact that, when I select “Enter Time Machine,” TM displays backups for only the current day and the prior day, despite the fact that the Finder shows backup folders going back several months. This phenomenon has occurred twice. After the first occurrence, I erased the disk, TM did its thing, until the disk became full, and that was it. No more backups possible. Now the same (apparent) failure has occurred again.

I’ve read that it is a bad idea to delete TM backup folders in the Finder. Apple says that backups should be deleted within TM. But only the two most recent days show, so I’m out of luck. I can’t save everything before erasing again; I don’t have another storage device with sufficient capacity. My current TM disk is a Seagate external 1 TB, HFS+ formatted (APFS not available for TM with OS 10.15). Neither Disk Utility nor Drive DX report any problems.

Any feedback would be gratefully appreciated.

Are you sure about the APFS format not being available for 10.15?

According to the Seagate website: The Apple File System (APFS) formatting option in Disk Utility is only available in macOS 10.13 (High Sierra) and higher.


Unfortunately, it would still mean having to erase the drive.

Thank you Jim. Sorry, I wasn’t clear. APFS is certainly available as a format for 10.13 and greater. But, as far as I know, TM under 10.15 requires HFS+; it will not backup to an APFS volume (please someone correct me if I’m wrong).

BTW, I also use Carbon Copy Cloner for backing up, previously just run once a day. I’m an editor, and I often have to retrieve a file from a backup. Finding files is somewhat easier (for me) with TM compared with CCC. But now I’ve switched CCC to backup every hour (until I decide to erase the TM drive).

I’m not sure these two problems (disk full and two-day backup display) are related. I had the display problem but my TM disk was far from full.

When I called AppleCare, they said that Catalina (which uses APFS) changes the extension of the Time Machine Backups disk image (which uses HFS+) from .sparsebundle to .backupbundle, causing the Enter Time Machine graphic display to show only the current and previous day’s backups.

I have seen some say to change the extension back, but AppleCare said this could cause other problems.

Instead, they gave me the following easy workaround. (I added #3 and #7.)

  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.

I see David Brostoff responded. Sounds like his suggestion should do the trick.

Thank you, David. Indeed, in the past, I’ve used the workaround you describe. Basically, using the Finder to copy files. But I usually do not know which TM backup folder (i.e., which date) contains the file I’m looking for. It’s easier to use “Enter Time Machine” and step back in time in the graphic display. Also, Get Info and other options work on files as they are shown in the TM display, which makes finding files still easier.

So, essentially TM is broken as far as Catalina is concerned (and fixing it is off of Apple’s table). Because there is no telling when the TM display will quit being usable, I guess at some point I’ll erase the TM drive and use it to run daily CCC backups while my other drive runs hourly CCC backups.

I assume this is because you are backing up to a network volume.

Time Machine over HFS+ (on my Big Sur system and Catalina before it), when backing up to a locally-connected (USB, in my case) drive, doesn’t use a disk image of any kind. It just creates a root-level folder (Backups.backupdb), that contains everything.

If you use a network volume for your backup, then macOS creates a disk image to contain the backups. This is because network file systems like SMB don’t necessarily support all of the features required by Time Machine, so it uses a disk image formatted with an Apple file system (HFS+ or APFS), which it knows will be compatible.

Reading @refried’s original post, I don’t think he’s using a network volume for his backup, so I don’t think he will find a disk image of any kind on his TM disk.

Yes, a Time Capsule.

However, in my current setup (Monterey 12.3.1) I have Macintosh HD/Volumes/Time Machine Backups/Backups.backupd and no longer have the same two-day display problem.

Hello David C.

Yes, you are correct, I’m not using a network volume, but I understood what Mr. Brostoff was getting at in any case. I just navigate to Backups.backupdp/Howard’s Mac Mini (located on the external drive New Mini TM), which contains all the backup folders. Both times the Catalina two-day display problem arose immediately after TM failed to backup because of too little space (and I don’t understand why TM did not delete older backups to make space). Prior to the the space failures, the TM display showed everything it was supposed to show, going back about two months.

Many thanks.