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15th March
2009

How to make Time Machine backup less (or more) frequently.

written by Mark Wheadon

Apple’s Time Machine is a useful beast. Plug a disk into your Mac or buy a Time Capsule and Time Machine does the rest — waking up once an hour and copying anything that’s changed onto your backup.

However, you may not want a backup every hour — the backup disk is a limited resource. If you’re regularly changing large files then Time Machine is regularly writing large amounts of data to the backup disk, and if that’s the case then you won’t have backups going back very far into the past.

So there will be lots of revisions of files that have changed recently, but nothing much from, say, a couple of months ago.

So how do you change the interval?

The standard Time Machine options don’t allow you to change the backup interval (the time between backups), but the preferences are there to be changed if you know how.

From the command line

If you don’t want to install any extra software then you can change Time Machine‘s backup interval from a shell prompt. Start up a Terminal window and then type:

sudo defaults write /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/com.apple.backupd-auto StartInterval -int 18000

The 18000 above is the required backup interval in seconds — five hours in this example. And note that the above command is all on one line.

Point-and-click

There are several full Mac OS applications out there that allow you to manipulate Time Machine‘s hidden preferences. The two most popular are Time Machine Scheduler and Time Machine Editor. I haven’t used either (being someone who leans toward using the command line), but they look like they’ll do the job. However…

My recommendation was, but is no more:

I did suggest using the Secrets prefPane to change Time Machine‘s backup interval (see below), but unfortunately that turned out to be bad advice. You can set the interval using the Secrets prefPane but it doesn’t stick. Quit the System Preferences application and start it up again and you’ll find the interval has gone back to the default of 3600 seconds.

So it seems Secrets prefPane doesn’t work for this after all! I’ll leave the rest of this article in place and perhaps someone will tell me when the problem’s fixed?

In the mean time, please use one of the options suggested above.

Here’s the rest of the original article, which at the moment doesn’t work:

I suggest you use the Secrets Prefpane from blacktree. Just download it from the link near the top of the web page, unzip it and then install it by double-clicking on the resulting file (Secrets.prefPane).

Now, when you start up System Preferences you’ll find a new preferences pane:

secrets

The Secrets preferences pane allows you to set the hidden Time Machine backup interval:

secrets-prefpane-time-machinebut — and this is why I recommend the Secrets prefPane – it also allows you to change all sorts of other hidden preferences in Mac OS:

secrets-prefpane

which is great fun — and who knows, may even prove useful :-)

23 Comments

  1. David
    26/03/2009

    Secrets prefs for TimeMachine don’t appear to work for me.

    It doesn’t change the 1 hr. backup interval. Doesn’t appear to presist the new value (3600 default) is always present after launching Preferences – Secrets.

  2. Mark Wheadon
    26/03/2009

    Odd — so you set the interval to something different, come out of the Secrets prefPane, go back in and the number has gone back to 3600?

  3. Michael
    30/03/2009

    I read your posting, installed Secrets and had the same result: no changes. Every time you re-open Secrets it’s reverted back to the 3600 setting. Even more vexing is if you try and edit the file (as written up on other sites) I get a message telling me that I don’t have the authority to change the file. And here I thought I paid for the computer! Despite following Apple sites directions I still couldn’t get the file to allow me to edit it to allow me to change the interval.

    I purchased my MacBook Pro because I thought Apple was better. After 4 months I regret my decision on an almost daily basis.

  4. Mark Wheadon
    31/03/2009

    A thought: does your account have administrator privileges? If you go to System Preferences->Accounts and click on your account, is ‘Allow user to administer this computer’ ticked?

    Mark

  5. Michael
    31/03/2009

    Thanks for the post in response to my comment. Yes it is ticked. Your explanation is clearer than Apples but neither results in being able to edit the file that other sites refer to.

    I did download Time Machine Scheduler and am trying it out. I can’t figure out if it’s working–haven’t paid attention to the actual backup times–but the last I checked it’s still scheduled for an hour interval.

    This is truly frustrating and again: I’m very disappointed in Apple. It’s as though they hired some cast-off Microsoft employees and their viral thinking has infected the company.

  6. Mark Wheadon
    31/03/2009

    It seems I’ve been giving bad advice. Secrets prefPane doesn’t work for me either now I try it again. I must have changed my backup interval by a different route before installing the prefPane and so not noticed that the Secrets prefPane Time Machine settings don’t stick. Sorry — I’ve amended the article accordingly :-(

    Mark

  7. 24/05/2009

    Maybe my time machine is strange but it doesn’t work for me?

  8. Spade Aceman
    04/06/2009

    I believe I have an understanding of why solutions such as Secrets prefPane don’t appear to be working.

    The time interval for a Time Machine backup is declared in a launchd plist file. However, you have to restart your machine for any interval changes to take effect – the launchd daemon interval won’t change otherwise. This is true even for your command line solution, and might be why other programs (such as the Secrets prefPane) still “see” the old value, even after (apparently) applying the change.

    Think of system launchd plist files like the old AUTOEXEC.BAT and CONFIG.SYS files of MS-DOS. Changes to those files wouldn’t have any immediate effect on how the system was running – you had to restart the computer in order to see the effects of those changes. The launchd plist files for Time Machine work the same way.

    There seems to be a fair amount of misinformation on the internet, related to confusion over why the interval change doesn’t take effect immediately. (Even the authors of TimeMachineScheduler seem confused about this, in the first description paragraph on their program’s website – which gives me cause to seriously question the validity of their software offering.) It’s easier to understand once you know how launchd works.

    To confirm this, I used the excellent open-source program Lingon (http://tuppis.com/lingon/) to modify my plist file for Time Machine, setting the interval to every two hours instead.

    After rebooting, the Time Machine UI still erroneously thinks backups will be happening every hour (this is apparently hard-coded, and make it appear that the interval change had no effect), but the backups themselves take place every two hours, just as I instructed!

    (Oh, and “Michael” – I’m sorry, but your over-the-top anti-Apple comments make it difficult to take you seriously.)

  9. 31/07/2009

    Lingon is now no longer available. Why is it so darn difficult to change the interval? Seems like Apple doesn’t want people changing it. Lame.

  10. Jerry Jones
    04/02/2010

    Mark,
    Thanks for the command line instructions. I am completely ignorant of this guru type stuff, but never the less followed your instructions. But how do I know if it did anything (other than waiting and watching for five hours)? Thanks.

  11. kupy
    12/02/2010

    This is cool but what if I want to schedule a specific time, say 1:00am for my Time Machine to backup? Can I run it off some cron job instead of its own scheduler?

  12. kupy
    12/02/2010

    Nevermind: Time Machine Editor can do it… Supposedly… We’ll see…

  13. abre
    15/04/2010

    Correction to Phototristan’s comment… Lingon can still be downloaded from http://sourceforge.net/projects/lingon/files/
    I’m just waiting to see if my next backup happens in 4 hours time

  14. Allan
    16/06/2010

    I find that whenever Time Machine runs it consumes so much of my home network bandwidth that my Vonage calls start stuttering. I downloaded Time Machine Editor and set it for a once a day at 01h00 backup. I’ll see if it works, and report back.

  15. 12/11/2010

    Allan,
    Did the TM editor work to schedule TM once a day?

  16. Allan
    12/11/2010

    Yes, works like a charm. I have it set up to backup every night at 1:00AM.

  17. PJD
    30/12/2010

    Not sure if everyone is still going on this post, but I too tried Time Machine Editor and it works like a dream. I’ve just changed after too many years to Mac from Windows and it’s an interesting adjustment. With Mac everything just works, but there seems to be a trade off in a loss of control. With Windows of course you are forced to control everything because it’s always falling down and you need to learn how to fix it. The other big difference is the “Mac community” – all the people on threads like this who invest their time to help. So from a new convert: Thank you

  18. Aram Fingal
    11/11/2011

    I tried the default writes solution and it didn’t work at first. No change took effect. Then I checked the actual plist file and found (in the get info window) that its permissions had been changed to be readable only by system. I added read only permission for everyone and then the change took effect.

    I wonder if this is what’s going on for some people with the other utilities not working. TimeMachine doesn’t have root level permission to read the preferences file so it can’t make the change.

  19. Coz The Cat
    19/11/2011

    Thank you for the info on this web age. I’m going to try the Editor or Scheduler. I just … it’s aggravating, to me, that there is no real control (in native software) of backup scheduling. I don’t understand the need to backup every hour – and I am at my Mac A LOT. It just seems to make much more sense to run a MANUALLY SCHEDULED backup in the middle of the night, when the Mac is not in use. I love my Macs (three Mac Minis and a 17-inch MacBook Pro) and will always use a Mac, but I have to wonder “What were they thinking?”

    Thanks again for the info here.

  20. Scully
    06/01/2012

    Thanks a lot! This was exactly what I was looking for and extremely helpful!!!

  21. Michael Sos
    17/03/2012

    When TimeMachineScheduler (TMS) installs, it posts a notice that the setting for Time Machine in the Time Machine Preferences Panel must be “off.” Somewhat counterintuitive, but I presume that Apple’s Time Machine Preferences Panel somehow overrides the settings in TMS. TMS can limit backups to a set time by excluding all other times (i.e., exclude 1:15 AM to 12:55 AM).

  22. John Powers
    19/05/2012

    Thanks MICHAEL SOS…..i kept reading that the setting for time machine had to be off but i kept thinking that only meant while i was doing the setup for time machine scheduler. now i realize the setting is ALWAYS left in the off position for the time machine scheduler to work.

  23. Erin Dillon
    17/08/2012

    Dear John Powers – thanks so much for this post! I was having trouble even getting my MAC to accept the command (wouldn’t take my Apple password), but then found your helpful advice above. (I’m a newby, obviously)

    Michael – this command line script is VERY helpful, as is all the advice in this thready – thanks!

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