Hidden macOS Sierra feature: Manual Time Machine

10 September 2016, 03:14

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A frequent criticism of Time Machine since its invention has been that people don’t necessarily want it to run automatically, because it can sap resources and slow down the Mac.

Well, in macOS Sierra there’s now a switch in the Time Machine section of System Preferences, where automatic backups can be turned off.

Once this is activated you must click the Time Machine icon on the menu bar, and select to backup whenever you feel the need. You’ve always been able to do this, of course, but by turning off automatic backups it becomes the ONLY way to backup via Time Machine.

Notably, turning off automatic backups also turns off the local snapshot feature that temporarily backups files to the Mac’s hard disk when the Time Machine drive (or Time Capsule) isn’t available.

UPDATE: As is pointed out in the comments below turning off automatic backups was in fact possible with earlier releases of macOS (OS X) by simply clicking the switch in System Preferences so that it went from ON to OFF. Despite the switch now reading OFF, which implies Time Machine has been turned off (!), you could actually manually backup by clicking the option on the Time Machine menu bar icon. So what’s really happened with macOS Sierra is that the ambiguity has been removed, rather than there being a new option.

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You’ve always been able to use TIme Machine this way… the only difference was that it used to be a big switch that you turned off and now it’s a checkbox.

Previously, if you turned the big switch off that disabled automatic backups but left any selected destinations configured and you could still back up automatically to those destinations using the menu extra.

— Chris · Sep 11, 11:30 AM · #

Good point, Chris. After experimenting with an El Capitan installation, I’ve edited the article to reflect what you said.

Keir · Sep 11, 12:22 PM · #

For years now I’ve been using a really useful (and free) little utility called TimeMachineEditor <http://tclementdev.com/timemachineeditor/>.

It lets you schedule TimeMachine backups for any interval/time you want.

Don’t know why Apple doesn’t provide this….

— Dale · Sep 11, 07:26 PM · #

THANK YOU, Keir, for the tip about TimeMachineEditor!!! I was actually searching for how to view Time Machine logs and had only found command line options. This free utility is TERRIFIC!! I like the other features in addition to being able to easily view the log, too.

— Debi · Oct 30, 05:24 PM · #

There is another Time Machine utility that you and your website visitors may want to check out – TM Error Logger, available from Carnation Software <carnationsoftware.com>. Rich Love has updated his utility to Version 4 compatible with macOS 10.12 Sierra, and charges a reasonable $5 for the initial download. The previous shareware Version 3 is still available, and compatible with macOS 10.11 El Capitan and previous versions of macOS going back to 10.5 Tiger. The author has always been responsive to user suggestions, corrects bugs frequently, as they arise or are reported. I find his software truly useful for anyone that is adverse to digging through the system logs to find more information about what went on with their Time Machine backup, and I highly recommend visiting his website and looking over TM Error Logger.

— Scott · Dec 27, 02:21 PM · #

Hi Keir,

Great article!

I don’t see this as an improvement.

I’m trying to turn TM off to unmount all my external HDs to test them. I can’t unmount TM without unassigning it and then reassigning it for use the same day.

Also, it looks like the default for Back Up Automatically is unchecked, meaning it’s not doing backup?


Richard Vitale · Jan 14, 11:10 AM · #