Saturday, October 31, 2015

Time Capsule & Time Machine: "Browse Other Backup Disks" doesn't let you access backups from a different device

One day your iMac dies. It’s old, but not old-old. Sucks. Good thing you are paranoid about backups. You have onsite backups. You have offsite backups. You have Time Capsule backups. You have Synology NAS backups. You have Carbon Copy Cloner “Backups” (clones). You have …

Ok. I’ve made my point. Anyone this paranoid ought to feel good. Problem is, they’re paranoid for a reason. Data just wants to die.

The “you” is “me” and I’m here to tell you that one small bit of my data almost didn’t make it. One folder full of almost-deleted images got lost, I had to pick it up from a last minute copy of the iMac’s user folder. 

I had to do that because when I tried Time Machine’s “Browse Other Backup Disks…” feature (option key)  …

Screen Shot 2015 10 31 at 11 50 45 AM

… it didn’t actually work. That is, I got the right list of disks ...

Screen Shot 2015 10 31 at 11 36 11 AM

but when I selected one of them Time Machine showed me only data from my current Device’s current state — and no past data.

I did this first using a Synology NAS backup replacement for my died-young Time Capsule. I thought I’d run into a Synology limit, but I got the same results from older Time Capsule backups. It turns out that “Browse Other Backup Disks” really means “Browse Other Backup Disks … for the current device”…

 Yeah, I hate Time Machine too. OS X Help has some entries on Time Machine, but there’s no real documentation. There’s nothing on “browse other backup disks”.

So, if you don’t have access to your original mac, you are sort of doomed. That’s what happened to me.

I say “sort of” because there are weak options. You can open the disk image and navigate Time Machine’s base storage. You don’t have access to the File System Event Store or hard links though, so things are hard to locate. might help. Or you can use Migration Assistant, the official solution, and move large pieces of the backup to a local store (only most current versions of course). Maybe OS X Server has some special options …

You can also try Backup Loupe ($10). It doesn’t replace Time Machine’s time-slice views of data, but it does let you browse snapshots and search for file instances. I’m not sure it’s a big improvement on EasyFind, but I bought a copy for emergency use.

The bottom line? Time Machine is a sucky backup solution — just good enough to eliminate strong alternatives. But you knew that. If you don’t have a machine (Device) that “owns” a backup you can use Migration Assistant to copy the latest state of a large amount of data, or if you know a file name you can use EasyFind or Backup Loupe to browse.

Sure, Apple should fix this. They should fix a lot of things.

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