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Time Machine (Apple software)

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Title: Time Machine (Apple software)  
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Subject: OS X, AirPort, History of OS X, Macworld/iWorld, Apple Filing Protocol, AirPort Extreme, System Preferences, OpenSolaris, Versioning file system, Mac OS X Leopard
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Time Machine (Apple software)

Time Machine
Developer(s) Apple Inc.
Initial release October 26, 2007 (2007-10-26)
Stable release 1.2 / July 20, 2011
Operating system Type Backup software
License Proprietary
Website Time Machine

Time Machine is a backup utility developed by Apple. It is included with OS X and was introduced with the 10.5 "Leopard" release of Mac OS X. The software is designed to work with the Time Capsule as well as other internal or external drives.


Time Machine creates incremental backups of files that can be restored at a later date.[1] It allows the user to restore the whole system or specific files from the Recovery HD or the OS X Install DVD. It works within iWork, iLife, and several other compatible programs, making it possible to restore individual objects (e.g., photos, contacts, calendar events) without leaving the application. According to an Apple support statement:

"Time Machine is a backup utility, not an archival utility, it is not intended as offline storage. Time Machine captures the most recent state of your data on your disk. As snapshots age, they are prioritized progressively lower compared to your more recent ones."[2]

For backups to a network drive, Time Machine allows the user to back up Apple Macintosh computers through Apple's AirPort networking, and supports backing up to certain network attached storage devices or servers, depending on the version of Time Machine. Earlier versions worked with a wide variety of NAS servers, but later versions require the server to support a recent version of Apple's Apple Filing Protocol (AFP), and Time Machine no longer works with servers using the Server Message Block (SMB) protocol typical for Windows servers. Some of the legacy support can be re-enabled by using hand-tuned configuration options, accessed through the Terminal. Apple's Time Capsule acts as a network storage device specifically for Time Machine backups, allowing both wired and wireless backups to the Time Capsule's internal hard drive. Time Machine may alternatively be used with any external or internal volume.

Time Machine saves hourly backups for the past 24 hours, daily backups for the past month, and weekly backups for everything older than a month until the volume runs out of space. At that point, Time Machine deletes the oldest weekly backup.

User interface

Time Machine's user interface when retrieving a file uses Apple's Core Animation API. Upon its launch, Time Machine "floats" the active Finder or application window from the user's desktop to a backdrop depicting a galaxy and star field. Behind the current active window are stacked windows, with each window representing a snapshot of how that folder or application looked on the given date and time in the past. When toggling through the previous snapshots, the stacked windows extend backwards, giving the impression of flying through a "time tunnel." While paging through these "windows from the past," a previous version of the data (or presently deleted data) may be retrieved.

How it works

Time Machine creates a folder on the designated Time Machine volume that's named the current date and time. It then copies all locally attached drives (except for files and directories that it has specifically been told not to copy, including the Time Machine volume itself) to the folder. Every hour thereafter, it creates a new folder on the remote drive using the same naming scheme. However, instead of making another complete copy of the primary hard drive, Time Machine instead only backs up files that have changed and creates hard links to files that already exist on the remote drive. A user can browse these "versions" of the primary drive and see each file as if it were right where it was left.[3]

Some other backup utilities save "deltas" for file changes, much like version control systems. Such an approach permits more frequent backups of minor changes, but can often complicate the interaction with the backup volume. By contrast, it's possible to manually browse a Time Machine backup volume without using the Time Machine interface; the software's use of hard links makes each backup session appear to the user like a full backup, rather than an incremental or "delta" backup.

Time Machine appears to create multiple hard links to unmodified directories. Multiple linking of directories is quite different from conventional UNIX.

Apple system events record when each directory is modified on the hard drive. This means that instead of examining every file's modification date when it is activated, Time Machine only needs to scan the directories that changed for files to copy (the remainder being hard-linked). This differs from the approach taken by similar backup utilities rsync and FlyBack, which examine modification dates of all files during backup.

Time Machine is also available in the Leopard, Snow Leopard, and Lion installation process. One of the features in the Migration Assistant interface is to re-install the contents of a Time Machine backup. In other words, a hard drive can be restored from a Time Machine backup in the event of a catastrophic crash.

OS X Mountain Lion introduced the ability to use multiple volumes simultaneously for Time Machine operations. When the user specifies more than one volume to use, OS X rotates among the desired volumes each time it does a backup. [4]


Time Machine places strict requirements on the backup storage medium. The only officially supported configurations are:

  • A hard drive or partition connected directly to the computer, either internally or by a bus like USB or FireWire, and formatted as journaled HFS+.[5]
  • A folder on a journaled HFS+ file system shared by another Mac on the same network running at least Leopard.[6]
  • A drive shared by an Apple Time Capsule on the same network.

On a Time Capsule, the backup data is stored in an HFS+ disk image and accessed via Apple Filing Protocol. Although it is not officially supported, users and manufacturers have configured Linux servers and network-attached storage systems to serve Time Machine-enabled Macs.[7][8][9][10][11][12]

See also


External links

  • Time Machine support page at
  • Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard: the Ars Technica review — Ars Technica
  • tym - rsync based bash script
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