I have an external USB disk which is backing up my Mac using Time Machine. I need to reformat the external disk for an unrelated reason.

If I:

  • temporarily move the Time Machine files off the external disk
  • reformat the external disk, then
  • put the TM files back onto the external disk

will Time Machine continue to work? Or will I lose my existing Time Machine archive?

2 Answers 2


You can make an efficient copy of the Time Machine volume by using Disk Utility and making a disk image of the original volume. Store that image on the temporary storage / other drive as a single file. Once you've erased the original drive and partitioned it as you wish, then use Disk Utility to reverse the operation and restore the image to the new partition. That will erase anything on the new partition so do the restore first then add extra files as needed.

Time Machine will pick up and use the new destination and carry on with backups and cleanup operations assuming no corruption happens during the two copy events.

I would just get a cheap drive and do the first step. Once I've verified that the backup img file mounts and I can restore a sample file to my desktop from Time Machine, I'd just erase the intended drive and start over with backups.

Much easier that way and why spend the second half of the work - just archive that Time Machine data offline in case you need it down the road.


That should be no problem - see http://support.apple.com/kb/HT5096

Edit - copy the entire Backups.backupdb folder, reformat the drive as Mac OS Extended (Journaled) with a GUID partition, copy it back.

  • The downside of this copy is that you may not be able to store dozens of copies of the files and the copy will take a very long time to complete. Better to just copy one backup increment or just get a second disk / walk away from the backup history.
    – bmike
    Commented Aug 15, 2014 at 14:36

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