Can't Access Time Machine backups after clean OS X install

Brian33

macrumors 6502a
Original poster
Apr 30, 2008
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USA (Virginia)
[Couldn't find more appropriate forum]

My MBP was running 10.8.5 (Mountain Lion) and had Time Machine backups going back to September last year. I re-formatted the drive and did a clean install of 10.11.3 (El Capitan) in April. I gave it the same machine name as it had before (simply "macbook").

I expected that even though I had used the same machine name, there would be a new unique identifier of some sort associated with it, and that OS X and Time Machine would behave as if this was a new (never before seen) machine.

I was surprised when I turned on Time Machine to use my Time Capsule, it started backup up to the existing "sparsebundle" file (i.e., "macbook.sparsebundle") which had been created while running Mountain Lion. I believe it did a full backup, as one would expect, but it seemed to be preserving the old backup history. I thought, "pretty neat!"

However, when I recently tried to restore a file from before my El Capitan install, the Time Machine interface shows the backup dates all the way back to September, but anything prior to April is "greyed out" and inaccessible. The interface won't "zoom back" to those dates, even to list the files.

Are these old backups accessible in some way?

If so, I might keep them, although I don't really feel a need to.

If not, I wonder why Time Machine didn't either delete them or start a fresh sparsebundle file. That's what I expected to happen. To me this seems like a (minor) bug in Time Machine -- that it added on to the old backups yet doesn't allow access to them. I wonder if it can even delete these old backups when it comes time to thin them out.
 
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Brian33

macrumors 6502a
Original poster
Apr 30, 2008
730
39
USA (Virginia)
Once in Time Machine interface, hit : Cmd + Shift + c (= go to the computer)
You Sir, or Ma'am, are correct -- Thanks! I never would have thought of that. After doing Cmd+Shift+c then I noticed two items under the "Devices" entry in my Finder sidebar, one with the current internal drive name, and one "macbook", which I think was the drive name it had before I reformatted it. It's not obvious which backup dates are valid for which device, but it works.

I really like and have had good luck with Time Machine, but it would be nice if Apple would spend a little effort improving the user interface.

By the way, do you know how to restore files that belong to another user? I'm admin and have password, of course, but I don't see any way to do that in the interface. Do I have to "ignore ownership" on the backup disk image somehow?

[I (purposely) changed the UIDs of all the accounts when I did the fresh OS X install, and now the on-disk owner UID number doesn't match with the new account UID number. (I.e., I used to be UID 504 but now I'm UID 502.)]

Anyway, thanks for your help.
 

Erdbeertorte

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May 20, 2015
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With the Root = Super User = System Administrator you should have access to all files in the Finder. You can activate it in System Preferences - Users & Groups - Login Options - Unlock with your Password - Network Account Server "Join..." - Open Directory Utility - Unlock with your Password - Edit in the Menu Bar - Enable Root User - Set a password for it.

After that you can login with the name root and it's password.

But be careful you can delete everything in that account. Don't use it as a regular account.

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Edit 1: added screenshots

Edit 2: added missing second screenshot
 
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Brian33

macrumors 6502a
Original poster
Apr 30, 2008
730
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USA (Virginia)
With the Root = Super User = System Administrator you should have access to all files in the Finder. You can activate it in System Preferences - Users & Groups - Login Options - Unlock with your Password - Network Account Server "Join..." - Open Directory Utility - Unlock with your Password - Edit in the Menu Bar - Enable Root User - Set a password for it.

After that you can login with the name root and it's password.
...
Ah, that sounds familiar -- I'd forgotten about that, thanks. It seems like an awfully convoluted process for what I would think would be a fairly common need, though. I might just as well attach the backup disk image and use 'sudo' in Terminal to find and copy the files. I'd hate to try to talk my mother-in-law through either process over the telephone, though! Again, I wish Apple would improve the user interface to Time Machine.

But, it is possible, and that's what counts the most. Your reply makes me wonder if enabling the root user is the only way to get access to all files in Finder? I can and do use Terminal, but sometimes I have wanted to be able to quickly move something directly into one of my kids' accounts directories with Finder...
 

Erdbeertorte

Suspended
May 20, 2015
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You can see all hidden files with the following command in the Terminal:

Code:
defaults write com.apple.finder AppleShowAllFiles YES

killall Finder
The second one just restarts the Finder. Don't do it while copying/moving anything or things like that.

With sudo you can also move every file I think if you are familiar with the commands. It's like you are root then. If you want to do it in the Finder there is no other way than logging in as root.

Maybe disabling SIP (rootles) could work. I don't know. I have only my own account. But I have it always disabled and can access files in my old accounts from another Mac on external drives without a problem.

You have to boot into the recovery partition by holding cmd+r and there just enter in the Terminal "csrutil disable".
 
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Makanan

macrumors newbie
Jul 26, 2018
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You Sir, or Ma'am, are correct -- Thanks! I never would have thought of that. After doing Cmd+Shift+c then I noticed two items under the "Devices" entry in my Finder sidebar, one with the current internal drive name, and one "macbook", which I think was the drive name it had before I reformatted it. It's not obvious which backup dates are valid for which device, but it works.

I really like and have had good luck with Time Machine, but it would be nice if Apple would spend a little effort improving the user interface.

By the way, do you know how to restore files that belong to another user? I'm admin and have password, of course, but I don't see any way to do that in the interface. Do I have to "ignore ownership" on the backup disk image somehow?

[I (purposely) changed the UIDs of all the accounts when I did the fresh OS X install, and now the on-disk owner UID number doesn't match with the new account UID number. (I.e., I used to be UID 504 but now I'm UID 502.)]

Anyway, thanks for your help.
Thanks Bruno! It's a lifesaver!
[doublepost=1532642322][/doublepost]
Yes.

Once in Time Machine interface, hit : Cmd + Shift + c (= go to the computer)
Hi Bruno, after the clean install, the Mac says the external USB drive that houses the Time Machine backup files is read only and will not allow me to make new TM backup. What to do?
 

TheMachineO

macrumors newbie
May 31, 2011
2
0
Yes.

Once in Time Machine interface, hit : Cmd + Shift + c (= go to the computer)
Thank you for the tip! This allowed me to access older backups I couldn't click on before. My main goal is to find my old fonts from before I did a clean reinstall. However, once I "Go to Computer" (by using Cmd + Shift + c) I don't know how to access the top secret hidden Alcatraz "Library" folder that has my user fonts. Usually, when in Finder (not in Time Machine), I open the "Go" menu at the top and hold Option to show the hidden Library folder that contains my fonts. Can you tell me how to access it once I go back into older Time Machine backups? Thanks for your help!
 

Brian33

macrumors 6502a
Original poster
Apr 30, 2008
730
39
USA (Virginia)
Two thoughts. First, remember that your Library folder is within your Home folder (the one that contains Documents, Downloads, etc.). In Time Machine, did you check within your Home folder? (It just seems to me that TM should always show such an important folder!)

Second, there is a Terminal command you can enter that causes Finder to show all hidden files. I've had it set that way for years and that's probably why I can see my Library folder in finder and in TM. I know there's some way to do it!

Open Terminal.app, and type/paste this command:

defaults write com.apple.finder AppleShowAllFiles TRUE

Then press Enter. Then either log off and in again, or enter this command to kill and reload Finder and have it use the setting:

killall Finder

and press Enter. Afterwards, you should see extra files in Finder with filenames that begin with a '.' (period character). Hopefully you will also see Library, now, in both Finder and TM. If you get tired of seeing the hidden files you can un-do the setting with this command:

defaults write com.apple.finder AppleShowAllFiles FALSE

followed by logging out or the killall Finder command to reload Finder. Good luck!