How-To: Use Time Machine Over a Network

I love Time Machine for its simplicity and the fact that it’s free. Apple (s aapl) did the right thing in creating a backup utility that was integrated into the OS and was actually useful. Anyone who has fought with Windows Backup can tell you, this has been needed for a long time. Apple created a beautiful backup  utility and then made money on hardware that seamlessly works with it. For the home user, nothing could be more simple.

In the office environment however, users tend to backup to server shares and not local external drives. So, let’s take a look at how to use Time Machine over a network.

Setting it Up

It’s easy to do this in Leopard Xserve by sharing a backup folder. Under Server Admin, you can check the box “Enable as Time Machine backup destination.”

This worked great in Leopard but in Snow Leopard, Time Machine no longer saw this as an available destination. Luckily, changing a property for System Preferences solves this.

Enter this command in Terminal:

sudo defaults write TMShowUnsupportedNetworkVolumes 1

This tells Time Machine to treat network shares as possible backup locations. Now, when I go to select a disk in the Time Machine preferences, I see my mounted AFP share listed.


So that’s how you get the Time Machine backup working, but what about restoring. Most people don’t test the restore functionality but it’s the most important thing you can do. To restore a Time Machine backup over an AFP connection,  first boot off the Snow Leopard install DVD. Then, Launch Terminal by clicking on the Utilities menu. In the terminal window, type the following commands.

mkdir /Volumes/TimeMachine
mount -t afp afp://user:[email protected]/ShareName /Volumes/TimeMachine

This will mount your AFP share and make it available to restore from. Quit Terminal and then run “Restore from Backup” from the Utilities menu. You will see your backup listed and you should now be able to restore from it.

Time Machine is a very nice utility and if you aren’t using it, you should be. I even have other Xserves backing themselves up to this share using Time Machine. Sure, there are third-party applications out there can do so much more, but I’m for just getting the job done. Integration with the OS is also important to me. It’s the main reasons I use Safari as my main browser. As with all backup solutions though, you need to test the restore functionality once in a while. If anything, you might sleep better at night knowing your data is not only safe but recoverable.