Blog Post

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.

13 Responses to “How-To: Use Time Machine Over a Network”

  1. Hey, thanks so much for this.

    I also thought it’s worth mentioning that (at least in Snow Leopard over an Airport Express network and a partitioned drive) you have to be ‘connected’ to the networked drive for it to be found in the Time Machine prefs. You also have to browse to the particular partition you want to use (I named mine Time Machine).

    Basically, just open a finder window, click the drive in the ‘sharing’ list and navigate to the ‘folder’ that is your backup partition. The drive will instantly become available in the list of possible drives in the Time Machine prefs.

    Thanks again!

  2. Using the above technique allows you to see the volume, but you also need to create the disk image for Time Machine to backup to, otherwise you will receive an error stating that usernametmp.sparsebundle could not be created. Open the Disk Utility and click “New Image” and enter the following

    1. Save the disk image as “computername_ethernetmacaddress” your computers name found in system profiler as well as your mac address.

    2. Under “Partitions” select “No partition map”

    3. Under “Image Format” select “sparse bundle disk image”

    4. Adjust the size of the disk image to accomodate your backups and click “Create”

    5. Drag you new disk image to the share folder where Time Machine will back up.

    If you name the disk image right, your Time Machine should connect right away.

  3. I’ve had a lot more success doing this by not sharing out the whole drive, but instead creating a folder inside the backup drive, then sharing that folder as the Time Machine backup destination. I have noted on three occasions that setting the drive itself as the share point eventually leads to permissions issues which cause backups to fail.

  4. Thomas Rasmussen

    One major mistake apple has done, is making filevault not work if you also want to use time machine :-( which really makes time machine useless for office use.

    • Tim Arruda

      I have an old, home built tower PC, that I converted over to an NAS using FreeNAS and have been using that to store my Time Machine backups for all of our macs for going on two years now. Works like a charm… I realize it’s running on FreeBSD, not Linux, but like Andrew said, I would imagine if you can create an AFP share you could use it.

  5. Alejandro Perez

    Ditto, my Macbook was stolen, I went to the store (after saving some serious buck) bought a new macbook got home, few hours later my new mac had the exact same information (same passwords, desktop images, settings…) on my old mac. I’d like to see a windows machine do that in as few steps.

  6. My 320 gb hard drive died on my 20″ imac after 2 years (I had 150 gb material on it). I own a 500 gb Time Capsule. My hard drive was replaced in 1hr for free under apple care at my local apple store. I took the machine home, turned it on, and restored the machine from the time capsule it detected. In about 5hrs my machine was back to normal. You would never have noticed anything had happened.
    Only minor pain was re-installing VMFusion and the associated Windows XP. I do not back this program up. I only backup the data files I use in Quicken and Quickbooks which I save outside the emulation. Those data files were restored with no issue. A total system crash without the loss of anything!!! I was overjoyed! I recommended to all my friends who own a mac to buy a time capsule.

    • Joe Anonymous

      I use Time Machine, as well, but I’m a bit on the paranoid side since I had a house fire 10 years ago destroy a lot of my stuff.

      In addition to Time Machine, I use iDisk to store my irreplaceable files. So, if my house gets blown away in a hurricane, I may lose my iTunes files, but they’re replaceable. I’ll lose my ripped DVDs, too, but I won’t lose my personal correspondence or Quicken data files.