Time Machine replacement?

Since Time Machine has become such a bummer, can anyone suggest an app which does the same thing - over WiFi would be best, but to a local external drive, not to the cloud.

ARQ, which has been mentioned a lot in this mailing list, allows for backups on selected folders of ‘attached disks’.

I am a fan of QRecall:


If you are willing to play around with the shell and write a brief script, rsync can be made to replace TM and of course it’s free and included with every macOS. A bit geeky, but solid and free. It’s what I’ve used on one of my Linux boxes at work to “emulate” TM.

I love Chronosync, there’s a TidBITS discount too - TidBITS Member Benefits - TidBITS

It’s extremely customisable, utterly reliable and steadily updated, a great app. I use it to keep several sets of drives identical. Of course the ability of Time Machine to haul through older versions of your document is not part of that, but I have a pretty rigorous naming and file management system which means that significant versions always live on.

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I use CarbonCopyCloner backing up to the RAID on my iMac file server and to my Mac mini media server…every 24 hours for each but offset by 12 hours…although you can set whatever intervals you like. If you’ve got another Mac running…CCc or SuperDuper will do the trick easily…although if you want to back up less than the full drive SD is harder to configure and the author wasn’t interested when I suggested making it easier to back up just selected folders. I clone our laptop drives every couple of weeks and /Users every 12 hours now.

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How good is rsync (the special version included with macOS) these days about handling Apple-proprietary metadata? I remember trying it some years ago and, while it seemed okay for restoring the occasional lost file, system-level restores required a lot of manual post-restore tweaking which made it not very useful for me.

<ot> For Linux, have you looked into Cronopete or Dèjá Dup?</ot>

Thanks for the suggestions so far, and I’ll wait a bit before I decide, in case a few more come. I’ve looked into what’s been mentioned, and so far Arq seems to be what I’d be most comfortable with, though I might try QRecall, as well. I’m not comfortable playing with shell scripts, because I know there’s too much I don’t know. I make SuperDuper clones regularly, but it’s looking into the past which sometimes comes in handy, but it has to be easy. I want to back up only to a local external drive. Though it’s often advised to use the cloud, as well, I don’t like the idea of my data (patient-related, highly confidential) “up there somewhere”, possibly available to someone somehow sometimes.

To be honest I so far have never had to restore an entire Mac from an rsync backup (or TM for that matter). It’s always been either directly from a Mac or from a clone (used to use DiskUtility for that, these days usually SuperDuper).

I have however restored many files and folder of all sorts from rsync backups and never encountered any real trouble. The crucial flag on macOS appears to be -E. To “emulate” TM I usually end up using -aE.

According to the man page for rsync on my Mac (running 10.12 Sierra), there are two Apple-specific additions to the command:

$ man rsync
-E, --extended-attributes
       Apple specific option to copy extended attributes, resource forks,  and
       ACLs.  Requires at least Mac OS X 10.4 or suitably patched rsync.

       Apple  specific  option  to enable filesystem caching of rsync file i/o
       Otherwise fcntl(F_NOCACHE) is used to limit memory growth.

I would expect the metadata to transfer properly as long as you use the -E option.

But I would only consider using rsync for backing up documents and such. Trying to make a bootable copy of a system disk is far more complicated than just transferring the files. Especially with recent versions of macOS like Catalina, where there is a lot of tricky APFS file system work going on in addition to the files themselves.

I personally think it is worth every penny to buy a program like Carbon Copy Cloner for this purpose. Leave the really ugly work to the experts who have already solved the problem and who are willing and able to do the work necessary to keep updating the procedures every time Apple changes something.

I would definitely recommend ChronoSync (also part of Setapp) or Arq.

You could even use Carbon Copy Cloner with the “Safety Net” feature enabled.

Yes, rsync is free. So is vi. But no one should have to be subjected to either of them in 2020.¹

If you’re absolutely broke and cannot afford any of the apps that I’ve mentioned, then, yes, rsync is probably the tool to try. Just be aware that rsync makes it remarkably easy to delete files, and there’s no ‘undo’ … so there are only two kinds of people in the world:

  1. People who have accidentally deleted files with rsync

  2. People who have never used rsync

¹ if you already know vi and rsync that’s great. But encouraging people to learn them in 2020 is like teaching people how to maintain a Model A – it’s of very limited usefulness and there are better options out there. Don’t be that guy.

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Is Time Machine a hassle with Catalina or something? I find it great for several Macs on Mojave. I particularly like the ability to have several backups running on different hard/SSD drives. Time Machine automatically alternates between them.
I do a Carbon Copy backup from time to time - particularly before an OS “upgrade”.
And following Tidbits advice I do try a restore of files from once in a while and so far have not encountered problems.

No, not in my experience.

I have been using a dual-drive Time Machine configuration on Catalina since Catalina left beta. I have restored from Time Machine many times to repair user errors. I recommend use of Time Machine as the minimum backup configuration for all my clients.

A dual-drive configuration has been used through several OS X and macOS versions. The major Catalina change is difficulty in gathering SMART data from USB-connected drives because of Apple’s changes in kext loading.

I have little clear memory or hard data, but I’ve used TM since it was first introduced 13 years ago, with backups going to a 2TB Time Capsule since they came out, which backs up 2 Macs. I don’t need it often, but it sometimes came in handy. (My weekly SuperDuper clones are my most reliable backups, and they’re never failed, so I’m protected against major catastrophe.) While never 100% reliable, it was reasonably so until about 2 years ago. Then, two or three times since (the last time was 2 months ago), it decided to rewrite its contents and begin anew (data corruption, probably. Before allowing it to go on and do it, I tried to repair it with TechTool Pro to no avail), so I lost 2 years’ of backups the first time, less afterwards. I was unhappy, but tolerated it until I recently found that under Catalina (or maybe just coincidentally since Catalina) it no longer backs up mail, apparently because that’s backed up in iCloud - something I don’t understand the reason for and don’t like; I want it backed up locally, plus apparently getting it back from the cloud server isn’t too straightforward. So now I’ve decided to ditch it and switch.

I think the Time Capsule, and the fact that you’re backing up over the network, is a weak link for Time Machine. If network backup is key, I’d look at something like Retrospect that provides true client/server architecture (which Time Machine doesn’t).

Or just use Time Machine with an external hard drive that’s connected directly to the Mac in question.

The other question, if you’re really replacing Time Machine, is if the alternative in question provides versioning. I’m not sure if everything that’s been mentioned here does.

CCC does for sure, can’t recall about SD as I don’t use it much.

FYI - Arq does.

CCC does, if “Safety Net” is enabled and space allows.

SuperDuper does not.

I am also someone who uses Arq for this. For backing up hourly to a local drive, I connect to an external drive on an always-running Mac Mini in my basement using SFTP from a MacBook Air and an iMac (as well as backing up files to the cloud.) It works great for me.

I have simple needs. All I want from TM is a copy of a file I think I need today but may have thrown away some time in the past; plus my emails, present and past. I’ve never needed all the versions of a document, but I wouldn’t object. The TM doesn’t need to be bootable, nor do I need to be able to restore my Mac from it, because I believe I can do that from my clones. And TM via WiFi is pretty important, because I work in various rooms here, as does my wife, and we don’t want to think about plugging a drive in which resides somewhere.

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