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I make my Time Machine backups on an external hard drive. Recently I upgraded from Mountain Lion to Mavericks. Now I need the ability to freeze those old backups I've done with Mountain Lion in case I need to go back with the hole system.

What I tried so far:

  1. Stop Time Machine and rename backup folder on the disk. On Mavericks the Time Machine folders can't be renamed or moved.
  2. Remove the external drive from Time Machine preference pane and read the drive - Time Machine backups continue on same folder and in some time in the future overwrites old backups.

How can I achieve what I want?

  • How long do you want to keep the backup – Mark Nov 1 '13 at 16:46
  • @Mark - I guess at least half a year. Does that matter? – Jan Michael Nov 2 '13 at 13:03
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The simplest way is for you to note the date and time of your last backup in Time Machine on OS X Mountain Lion. You can get back to it at any point in time in the future just by restoring to the backup with that date/time (this will remain on the disk as long as you have adequate space so that Time Machine does not delete these older versions).

  • You can easily find this date and time by navigating into the "Backups.backupdb" folder on the Time Machine disk and looking at the timestamp for the "Latest" folder (it is actually a link - so you can even open it to see the latest backup folder name with the date and time).

If you do not wish to note down the date and time of your last backup with OS X Mountain Lion, the next simplest way is to change the computer name either on the Mac on OS X Mavericks before you do your first Time Machine backup on it or on the Time Machine backup disk for the older backup.

In either case, this will make Time Machine create a new folder with the new machine name on the disk and it will do a full backup the first time (so you need adequate disk space to hold almost two copies of your Mac). This way, you can restore from the old or new backup in the future (if you rename the computer name on the Time Machine disk, then you would have to revert that to do a full restore of the old system).

  • To change your computer name, go to System Preferences > Sharing and edit the Computer Name: text.
    OR
  • To rename the computer name on the Time Machine disk instead, use the following command in Terminal.app:

    sudo /System/Library/Extensions/TMSafetyNet.kext/Contents/Helpers/bypass mv /Volumes/<TMDiskName>/Backups.backupdb/<ComputerName> /Volumes/<TMDiskName>/Backups.backupdb/<OSXMountainLionBackupComputerName>
    

    Substitute the following in the above command before running it:

    • <TMDiskName> is the name of the Time Machine volume name
    • <ComputerName> is the current computer name (which you will continue using for OS X Mavericks)
    • <OSXMountainLionBackupComputerName> is the name of the snapshot for you to do a full restore from in the future (you would have to rename it back using a similar command as above before the full restore)
  • 1
    1. Note Timestamp of Mountain Lion backup The first suggestions only works if there is enough disk space on the external hard drive and the time machine snapshot didn't get killed by newer ones. So this isn't really an option because I can't make sure time machine keep those old snapshots.<br> 2. Rename Computer Name Sadly this is not an option for me, cause the machine name is fixed by the it department. I'm not supposed to change the name. Do you have any other idea? – Jan Michael Nov 2 '13 at 12:57
  • I've updated the answer with another option. You can *rename the computer name (the OS X Mountain Lion one) on the current Time Machine disk (instead of renaming your computer). So you would have the old backup under that directory and new backups would go to a new folder with the current computer name. – M K Nov 2 '13 at 15:02
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    Maybe I misunderstood your instructions. With the bypass helper command I was able to move the computer name directory to some other name. But once I started Time Machine it renamed the folder back to the original computer name. What Do you mean by "instead of creating a copy"? – Jan Michael Nov 4 '13 at 18:22
  • 1
    Then the the bypass command doesn't do the trick. Time Machine is able to detect the moved folder and reuses it. – Jan Michael Nov 5 '13 at 8:21
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    Works when command supplied by @m-k is used to move the Backups.backupdb-Folder to another location on the external disk drive. – Jan Michael Nov 6 '13 at 17:13
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This answer adresses more scenarios when one needs to preserve one or more Time Machine backups.)

Time Machine is not designed for preserving old backups indefinitely (i.e. For permanent archives). Even if there is plenty of free space on the backup disk, Time Machine will delete a backup after 24 hours in case it's not the furst backup of a day. If it is, Time Machine will keep it for 30 days unless it is also the first backup of a week, where the start of a week is defined as the time and day of the initial backup (thus not necessarily Monday or Sunday). The life span of the first backup of a week is not time limited. However, the oldest backup is deleted if space is needed for a new one, unless it's not the last remaining backup.

So, later, if you decide to restore the latest backup Time Machine has ever made on the old system, it may already not be available, and you may need to pick an older backup instead that Time Machine has kept according to the aforementioned rules.

Basically, you have two options if you want to preserve one or more backups:

  • Start a new set of backups to a new disk or partition, or
  • preserve the backup by other means than Time Machine, and continue backing up to the same set of backups.

Note that if you install the system on an erased disk or partition, and put your data back (whichever way you do it, including Setup Assistant and Migration Assistant), or if you restore the whole system (again, whichever way you do it, including a restore from a Time Machine backup using OS X Recovery), then the first Time Machine backup will probably be a full backup (not an incremental one which could save a lot of backup disk space and time). However, you may be able to prevent it by following this guide.

Starting a new set of backups to a new disk or partition

This may be preferred, as it will allow you to restore your old system in the future most easily, by restoring from a Time Machine backup using OS X Recovery.

You might be able to create a new partition on your current Time Machine backup disk even without erasing it by following the steps here.

Depending on free space and other preference, you may want the new partition to be either for future backups of the new system, or it can hold only the single latest backup of the old system, selecting the new partition temporarily in the Time Machine Preferences just before the system upgrade, but continuing backing up to the old partition after that. You may also consider adding some exclusions, so that it holds really only the old system without the data you are already backing up to the old partition.

To see the old set of backups after starting a new one, you'll need the Browse Other Backup Disks option.

Preserving a backup by other means

This can be done even via the Time Machine interface, either before or after upgrading the system, by restoring the old system backup to a chosen location, such as a different folder on the Time Machine backup disk or another backup disk.

Another way is making a clone of the old system or its Time Machine backup via a specialized software like Carbon Copy Cloner.

Moving the Time Machine Backups.backupdb folder to a different location on the backup disk, using a little modification of the command supplied in M K's answer, to isolate it from the reach of Time Machine, will also do the trick, but it would require a reverse process every time you need to access the old backups via Time Machine or perform OS X Recovery. On the other hand, making a permanent backup this way is much faster, as it doesn't require copying anything.


It is also worth noting that if you want to keep a backup just because you want to retain an option to downgrade OS X, then you have also another option. If you have purchased or downloaded an older version of OS X in past using the Mac App Store, you can download its installer again from the purchase history in the Mac App Store. It's not possible to run the older installer from a newer version of OS X though – first, you would have to erase the partition the current system is on and install the older OS X version fresh. Then you can use Setup Assistant or Migration Assistant to copy your data, accounts, and/or settings (apps won't work) which you've backed up via time Machine on the previous system with newer OS X.

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Thanks for the thread and answers. I have a 2 TB Time Capsule so have space to keep the entirety of the previous Time Machine backups as well as new ones.

I used above information, from the great answer already provided, but created a new folder on the TMDisk first, once the TMDisk was showing mounted in the sidebar I added new folder in the same place as the Backups.backupdb one and called it backup2013.

Then I did the following in Terminal, after modifying the original in TextEdit.

sudo /System/Library/Extensions/TMSafetyNet.kext/Helpers/bypass mv \
/Volumes/**TMDisk**/Backups.backupdb/**machinename** \
/Volumes/**TMDisk**/**backup2013**/**machinename**

Substitute the following in the above command before running it:

  • **TMDisk** is the name of the Time Machine volume name
  • **machinename** is the computer name (regardless of old or new)
  • **backup2013** is the extra folder created to house the pre-Mavericks backup

As before this is where the snapshot will live for you to do a full restore from in the future (you would have to rename it back using a similar command as above before the full restore - hence saving it in a text file).

…and I also moved the **machinename**.sparsebundle to a backup folder in the standard Finder view of my Time Capsule. I also saved the TextEdit doc to the same folder so I can reverse it later if needed.

Important

I then promptly panicked when I opened Time Machine and only saw the new Backups.backupdb, this will be because I drag and dropped the machinename.sparsebundle to another folder on my Time Capsule.

I located the other folder and double-clicked on the machinename and it then mounted the old image as a separate device in the sidebar.

Time Machine also now seems to have reset its name to default.

  • The idea of moving the folder out of Backups.backupdb suits me. I don't want to re-partition HD or bring over another one. Neither do I want to see Time machine renames the machine name folder back to the original. By this way, time machine regenerates the backup as the first attempt also. – pigtail Sep 1 at 3:42

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