Move Time Machine Backups to a New Volume

I used up all the room on my 160 GB Time Machine volume, so I picked up a new Western Digital hard drive  to increase my backup capacity. How do I transfer my existing Time Machine backup from the old, maxed-out disk to the new high capacity drive? I'm running Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard; the steps might be different for other versions of OS X. As it turns out, you can't just drag your old Time Machine backups to the new disk using a Finder copy. Time Machine creates all kinds of "hard links" to the files that aren't changed. If you just copy these files in the Finder, you'll create full copies of all the links, ballooning the size of your backup exponentially. Instead, you need to use a Block Copy operation. This requires that you completely erase the new drive as part of the copy procedure. Here's an overview of the steps I followed to transfer my Time Machine backups. Note that I use both "drives" and "volumes" to refer to logical disk drive volumes.
  1. Ensure that the system isn't trying to work with your Time Machine drives.
    • Turn off Time Machine & stop using the original drive for backups.
    • Tell Spotlight not to index your Time Machine drives.
  2. Perform a Block Copy of your original Time Machine database to the new drive.
  3. Tell Time Machine to use the new drive as the Time Machine backup drive.

It took me a while to get this to work, as I ran into some permissions issues. To start, I found this tip for Mac OS X 10.5: Move Time Machine backup to another drive, which recommended using a Disk Utility Restore to copy the data. Unfortunately, I get the message:
Could not restore - Operation not permitted
even with Time Machine turned off. It looked like the Mac was trying to access the new drive while I was doing the backup. So, I turned Time Machine off completely, using these steps:

 Deactivate Time Machine
  1. Open Time Machine Preferences.
  2. Turn Time Machine OFF using the slider switch.
  3. Click [Change Disk...].
  4. Select None.
  5. Click [Use for Backup]
These steps will prevent Time Machine from trying to access the drive at any time during the (potentially) lengthy period it requires to move your data. I also recommend turning of Spotlight indexing for the Time Machine drives (not a bad idea in general, because you really don't need to index the backups with both Time Machine & Spotlight).

Turn off Spotlight Indexing for your Time Machine drives
  1. Open Spotlight preferences (System Preferences > Spotlight).
  2. Select the Privacy tab.
  3. Add your Time Machine disks to the Prevent Spotlight from searching these locations list box using the Add (+) button in the lower left, or dragging the disk icon from the Finder to the list box.
[Antonio notes in the comments: Boot from the Leopard DVD so you can perform all of the following steps without having to make of the any adjustments to Spotlight described above.]

Block Copy the Time Machine Backups using Disk Utility Restore

I used the Disk Utility Restore feature to move my data. It failed the first few times because I neglected to erase the destination disk, to allow Disk Utility to use Block Copy mode. Here's how to do it:
  1. Open Disk Utility.
  2. Select the original Time Machine volume.
  3. Click the Restore tab.
  4. Drag the icon for the original Time Machine volume to the Source: field.
  5. Drag the icon to for the new Time Machine volume to the Destination: field.
  6. Click Erase destination -- this is important because it addresses the permissions issues that plagued me, and also allows Disk Utility to use a block copy mode.
  7. Click [Restore].
Note that you'll need to authenticate to perform these steps. The end result: it took about 7 and a half hours to restore 150 GB of data on my 2.4 G Hz MacBook Pro. More than half of this time was the verification pass. Also, the name of the source volume was applied to the destination, which was a little confusing. Now, it's time to point Time Machine at the new drive.
  1. Open Time Machine Preferences and authenticate, if required.
  2. Click [Choose Backup Disk...].
  3. Select the disk you prepared (I renamed it with a more descriptive name).
  4. Click Click [Use for Backup].
  5. Confirm the Time Machine slider is set ON.
I selected a folder that has had lots of changes, and opened the Time Machine "lost in space" interface: it's got backups for the last six months -- it looks like it worked.

Carbon Copy Cloner

I took a close look at the comments on the tip Move Time Machine backup to another drive and it looks like Carbon Copy Cloner (CCC) is another option. Since the Disk Utility approach didn't work the first few times, I also tried using CCC to copy the data via block mode. Here's what I did in Carbon Copy Cloner 3.1.2
  1. Selected the old Time Machine volume as the Source Disk.
  2. Selected the new Time Machine volume as the Target Disk.
  3. For Cloning options:, select Backup everything,
  4. Check Delete itmes that don't exist on the source (this is required to use block-copy mode, which is recommended). Note that this also erased today's Time Machine backup from the new volume, but that's not a problem.
  5. Click [Clone].
Now it's time to do something else, as this process is going to take quite a while. In fact, it didn't work at all: I checked the CCC Log and everything was failing, and CCC was using rsync to move the data, not block mode. So, I canceled, and instead used Disk Utility with the Erase destination option, as described above.

Super Duper

[Update] Super Duper is another disk copy tool for the Mac, and is now my favorite choice for Time Machine transfers. To use Super Duper to move your Time Machine database to a new volume:

  1. Turn off Time Machine (as described above) to avoid permissions issues. Note that SuperDuper will automatically turn off SpotLight and turn in back on, if required.
  2. Start Super Duper.
  3. Select the Time Machine volume you want to Copy from and the new volume you want to copy to.
  4. Select using Backup - all files
  5. Review the What's going to happen? text for details on what Super Duper is about to do.
  6. Click [Copy Now] and authenticate if required.
  7. Click [Copy] to confirm this is what you want to do.
Note that this process will erase the destination or target volume. Also note how Super Duper tells you exactly what it's going to do before it does it, and what it's doing as it works away. I really like this program.

Use Your New Time Machine Volume

Now that your Time Machine database is on a new volume, you need to tell Time Machine to use it.

  1. Open System Preferences > Time Machine
  2. Click the lock in the lower left corner to make changes, and authenticate.
  3. Click [Change Disk...]
  4. Select the new Time Machine disk.
  5. Click [Use for Backup]
This will turn Time Machine back on.

Other Resources


paulnojustpaul said…
Excellent post, thanks Neil!

I used your steps twice in the last few weeks shuffling my Time Machine backup to different locations, the Disk Utility process worked flawlessly.


Neil Johnson said…

I'm glad these steps helped you out! I certainly spent enough time trying to figure this out, and I really appreciate hearing that I might have saved you from going down some of the dead ends that I stumbled through.

Since it's inevitable that your Time Machine volume will fill up at some time, no matter how big it is, I was quite surprised at the lack of documentation on Apple's part, especially since the solution involved their invaluable Disk Utility program.

But, I can't complain, since Time Machine has saved me from data loss disaster more often than I care to admit!
DaviCon said…
Thank you so much for this post. After spending a day trying different tactics of my own, I found this through a Google search. Worked like a charm! Why didn't I think of that?!
cordyceps said…
Thank you Neil.
This was the post I'd been looking for over the last 2 months. I had a 750MB drive split with a time machine partition and another I was using to transfer data with window machines. I was losing my earliest back ups as TM was the same size of the iMac HDD which defeats the purpose. The crucial piece of information that i didn't understand was to embiggen the timemachine partition it had to be the first partition (which it wasn't). Once I undestood this, how to copy became new crutial step which your post beautifly explains using the build in features of Leopard.

It took 5hrs to move the 300GB backup from one volume to the other on the same external drive.

I was nervous when it started backing up to the new partition, even though your post was reassuring, I feared it would make a entire new copy When I saw field for previous backups was recorded as:(_ _ _ _ _) was it ignoring them?

The new back up took less than 3 minutes. It worked! It was indeed a continuation. I now have all of the drive for TM barring one 20GB partition to put images of the start up disks.

I wonder if a 300gb original HDD really will fill a 1 TB of changes if its not used as a video scratch disk for example. I thought changes are stored as some kind of links rather than files, like the way picasa stores photo alterations.
Antonio said…
Rather than going through the hassle of totally deactivating TM, just do the fail-safe route and boot up from a Leopard DVD, then run Disk Utility from there.
Frank said…
Excellent post!

I naively tried a Finder copy, then searched the web. I got a few answers, but then your post cleared it up by explaining the UNIX hard link issue, and answered other questions to boot.

I'm going to try SuperDuper.
Geordie said…
Great post but no matter what I tried, I could not get this to work on OS X 10.5.6 when trying to move from my 250GB LaCie disk to a 1 TB Iomega disk. The files copied across but OS X could not verify the disk afterward and Get Info stated that my 1TB disk was only a 250GB disk!

Eventually used Super Duper and this worked perfectly.
Francis Dalaudier said…
Very useful. I got full success with OSX 10.5.6 by simply following the steps you gave. Except that I partitioned my new disk before the block copy step. Previously I asked to Apple (Apple Care) but got no answer. Even worse... they suggested to copy the Backups.backupdb through the finder. I hope they will automate this possibility in future versions of Time Machine.
Jeff said…
I'm trying to move a TM backup to the hard disk on another machine but unable to drag the c: drive from the left column in Disk Utility to the 'destination'. It just won't let me move it there. The TM drive is listed as source but I'm stuck there. Any thoughts?
Neil Johnson said…

I assume that you mean your boot volume when you said you dragged your "c:" drive to the Destination field in Disk Utility. If that is the case, Disk Utility is looking after your best interests! You don't want to use your boot volume as your Time Machine backup (at the very least, this will ERASE YOUR BOOT VOLUME, which you most certainly don't want to do). Instead, invest in an external USB or Firewire drive -- you can get a terabyte these days for just over $100, and that should do the trick!

Ideally, you will use a dedicated drive for your Time Machine backup, and it should also be physically separate from your boot volume, meaning an external or separate internal disk drive.
Paul Wright said…
Hi I really want to give this a go as my time capsule is almost full and want to move my iMac backup to a new 1TB drive. I have tried to follow the instructions but can't drag my time capsule into the source (I am guessing that this is because it is appearing as a shared drive) how do i get the time capsule to be the source? I have tried doing it by dragging the disk icon of the backup file that Time Machine mounts, which then copies as files rather than as a sparse bundle which means that Time Machine doesn't recognise the copy and is unable to continue backing up to it or restore from it. How do i get it to copy as a sparse bundle from Time Machine? Thanks for your help.
Neil Johnson said…
@Paul Wright - from your post, it sounds like you've encrypted your Time Machine volume using Apple's built-in encryption, since you mentioned the sparseimage file. I'd suggest unencrypting the Time Machine volume first to see if that works, but frankly, that's just a guess.

I've had lots of problems trying to do low-level file management with the sparseimage file, and I know it won't work the way you want it to if you are booting from the CD, since your files are only unencrypted when you log in, which doesn't happen if you boot from a CD or DVD.
Anonymous said…
Well, I saw your post as the first result in Google when I typed in my search ...

I'm glad I found it, too, because I wasn't having any luck doing it myself. Thanks a bunch!
Hi Neil

I just got a 1TB StudioBook myself and selected it for Time Machine. The database have been working perfect the first couple of days so I decided to remove it from my USB port and mount it as an Airdisk in my closet with my Airport Extreme. But now Time Machine doesn't recognize my database!
Apparently it thinks it's a new disk or something but it's not.
Any workaround this without block copying to another disk and then back to the AirDisk.
I was hoping I didn't have to move my entire Time Machine content over wifi :)

Thanks - good post!
Adam said…
Alright, this is all good news because it is exactly what I did... except for turning off TM while doing the restore. The upside may be that my TM volume is usually on my wireless network while acting as the time capsule, but I hard wired it for the transfer so it would be faster. That said, the restore went great, and it even recognizes the new drive, and backs up to it... but when I 'enter time machine' it only has today... not the full time frame that the original TM drive has. Did I do something wrong?
Please tell me I am ok... I don't want another 4 hour file transfer!

Neil Johnson said…
@Jakob & Adam,

I haven't used Time Machine over Wifi as you are doing, so I'm not sure what kind of issues that might raise. I don't think it's specifically using AirPort or WiFi that might cause any issues, but instead the fact that you are mounting the volume as a network share instead of a local disk. This may explain, Jakob, why your Mac sees the disk as a new device (since it's seeing it through AFP, not as a local volume) and may also explain why Adam is seeing unusual behavior with his Time Machine history. My suggested fix is to transfer the data over the network (WiFi) because then you'll be mounting the disk in the same manner as Time Machine will access it in the future.

But honestly, this is all speculation on my part. Does anyone else have any experience working with Time Machine volumes over a network connection? If so, post your tips here to help out Jakob & Adam.

Adam said…
Thanks for the reply, even though it may not be what I wanted to hear :-). Backing up via wifi might take a long long time... but you are saying that the new drive SHOULD be just like the old one? That is, the timeline on the right of the screen when you "enter time machine" should go back as far as the original drive? IF that is the case, I guess I'll go back to the drawing board.

We'll see...
Neil Johnson said…

I don't know if this will work over WiFi. as I don't have any direct experience with using Disk Utility or Super Duper with Time Capsule. Also, since you are using Time Capsule to manage your backup disk, there's another layer of software involved which may prevent you from using the direct block copy method described above.

I'm afraid your question is outside the scope of this post, and my limited knowledge regarding Time Capsule. Let me know if you have any luck, or if you find a solution.
John S said…
I had the same problem as Goerdie, After ~18 hrs I received an error message "operation timed out" and my new 3TB drive showed up in disc utility as a 1 TB drive with 17 GB available space (ie the original space constraints of the 1 TB disk that I was backing up from). Do you have any idea as to what caused this problem? I will try Superduper and cross my fingers.
Anonymous said…
Hay, thanks so much for the Info. it was easy to follow and best of all it worked great. keep up the great work.

VG said…
I followed the steps with Carbon Copy Cloner and everything is fine. Thanks!
I moved about 350MB of backup from an external hard drive to a new larger one over FW800 without any problem.

Vincent G.
Anonymous said…
thank you, this helped me a lot!

the first time i tried the disk utility method, i got the spinning rainbow wheel of death, and applications started freezing. i restarted and tried again and it worked like a charm.

thanks for taking the time to post this! :)
Tim said…
Hi Neil

Fantastic post, thanks Neil!

Thanks for the commonsense approach to help Mac's users with the 'Time Machine' Backups to a New Volume.

I used the "Super Duper" approach from my 300GB EXT HDD to my 1TB HDD (though it took 6 hours 21/2 yrs of backups) it works a treat, TM sees all the files as if it has never been moved from 1 hard drive to another.

Keep up the good work!
Bless you
SamanthaJoHale said…
Hi Neil,
I just stumbled across this post and have a few questions. I have tried to move backups before and had no luck whatsoever. What you did sounds like it would work, but I have a minor issue. The drive that I want to move my backups to is a 930 GB with 850 GB already used. Do you know of any way of moving the backups without me having to erase the 930 GB?

SamanthaJoHale said…
Hi Neil,
I just stumbled across this post and hope that your approach will be able to save me tons of hassle. I have tried to move backups before and had no luck whatsoever. What you did sounds like it would work, but I have a minor issue. The drive that I want to move my backups to is a 930 GB with 850 GB already used. Do you know of any way of moving the backups without me having to erase the 930 GB?

Neil Johnson said…

I'm afraid that you really need to reformat your destination volume so you can use the Block Copy option to move the Time Machine archive. I tried several times to move the TM archive without Block Copy (and without erasing the drive) but it won't work.
adrienne1 said…
Here it is....perhaps the most computer illiterate to comment on your blog. I need some major direction. This is my story. We purchased a My Book along with our Mac in 2007. My husband thought he installed the mybook and completed an initial backup. He doesnt remember. Anyways, after years of use and thousands of PRICELESS photos/video, I must back this thing up properly!!! I pulled out the mybook, hooked it up to the computer, and the time machine backups pulled up. It attempts to backup but never makes progress. The little bar just sits in the same spot. It must be installed if it attempts to backup, correct? Next, how do i know if I even have enough space on the My book to back this thing up? Do you leave it plugged in at all times? How do I know all of our pics and documents are being saved. Elementary education, indeed. I need a "dummies" guide. Just help me back up my childrens pictures, please!!!!

Much thanks,

Layne said…
Hi Neil. I just stumbled upon your blog post. Thanks so much, btw. I am curious though how to move my Time Machine backup from one to another Time Machine?
Neil Johnson said…
@Layne, please see my original blog post for an excruciatingly detailed explanation of how to move your Time Machine backup to a new volume. The short answer: use Super Duper or Carbon Copy Cloner. See my post for details.
Neil Johnson said…
@Adrienne - I'm not sure why your Time Machine backup is stalling out. Try copying some of the files you want to back up via the Finder (i.e. drag and drop them onto your external MyBook). If there are problems with the drive, a standard file copy should cause them to appear.

Also, your Time Machine volume should have roughly twice the capacity of the drive you want to back up (or more). If your MyBook is the same size or smaller than the size of the files you need to back up, it's time to get a new external drive, which have certainly fallen in price since 2007. Since you don't have an existing Time Machine backup, you can start fresh with a new drive.
Anonymous said…
Thanks very much!! easy to follow instruction (am not a technology person) and it works... thanks
milesmeow said…
Great post Neil. I went through so many failed attempts to copy my TM files and finally SuperDuper did the trick. It's great that you documented your TM adventures and solutions for us.
Dustin LindenSmith said…
Awesome, awesome tutorial, Neil. Thanks a million for posting it. Will follow your blog now too, as a result. You should write documentation for, for Pete's sake. After reading this, the Disk Utility function is working great for moving Time Machine volumes; in my case in 2012, from a 1 TB external drive to a 3 TB external drive. Far cry from my first PC in 1985 that had a chart-topping 10 MB hard drive... :)
Zane said…
Neil, I used Disk Utility Restore as you suggested and when it started it said it would take 3 days, 19 hours to do the copy. Apparently this is true, as a little less than a day later, it's down to 2 days, 23 hours. This is to copy 160 gb. This comes down to about 500kb/sec. which doesn't sound TOO bad. But I have a couple of concerns. (1) that it may crash at some time during the process. What a waste of time, if so. (2) no backups performed for the 3 days, 19 hours. Will my machine be able to accept the new disk as its Time Machine backup? It seems to me that it would be easier to just stay with the smaller disk. I'm not at all sure that backups that old need to be kept. Any comments? Cheers, Zane
Neil Johnson said…
@Zane - I think you just need to let it chug away until the data's been trransferred. This is also why it's so important to turn Time Machine off before you start this process: you don't want Time Machine trying to update the backup while you are trying to make a copy of the backup. If you turn off ztine Machine, transfer the backup database, the turn TM back on and point it at your new drive, TM will pick up right where it left off.

Remember, in the worst case, you just stick with your original backup volume. This process doesn't destroy any data.
Anonymous said…
Dear Neil,
thank you so much for the post. II´ve been trying for days to copy my old data to a new hard drive. Your explanation is very good to understand. I´m very glad to find the blog. All the time I tried the transfer with the Finder Copy and it didn´t work. After searching the whole german language blog I finally found the answer in English. So thanks a lot for the posting.
Wade Cottingham said…
Thank you Neil, for the Super Duper recommendation. Tonight I began my first ever attempt to back up my Time Machine data to another drive, using Finder, and it started saying 'preparing to copy' for a very long time. Did not seem right. So, with a little research....I found a reference to this blog, and then immediately got Super Duper. Super Duper is working great! MUCH better than Finder.
Manuel Polonio said…
Hi Neal,

great post! I'm currently in process of rsyncing my old Macbook TimeMachine backup to a new unit, but from your experience it would be impossible to later mount this copied backup. I would anyway let it end and let you know how it went. If, as expected, it fails, I would try your Disk Utility approach, but I've got one extra question.
What do you mean by "Time Machine Volume": the sparsebundle file or the resulting volume from mounting the sparsebundle file?

Thanks in advance and best regards,
PS: my time machine back up is on a NAS and the rsync process and your later Disk utility approach would take days to end
Neil Johnson said…
Hey Manuel, I'd be interested to hear how things went for you, especially if you got rsync to work for you.

By "Time Machine Volume," I meant the mounted sparesebundle file (in your case). Since the sparsebundle file is actually an encrypted image of your volume, I don't think the steps I describe above would work if you tried to work with the sparsebundle directly. Interestingly, you might be able to move the sparsebundle file as a single unit without any problems, although I haven't tested it and I could see some potential problems with any indexes that use absolute path data. Again, I'd be curious to see what you discover.

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