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I have a drive used only for Time Machine.

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The drive is 3TB, with 1.75TB showing available, so TM actually has used only 1.25TB, yet the total reflects 50+ backups of 80GB each.

The question is - If I were to take one of these snapshots and copy it to another drive, will that file function as a TM backup? Or is that image a series of aliases and if the TM drive isn't there, this file will be useless?

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Yes - copying any of the folders will use the hard link to make a full copy of that moment in time. The hard links only work on the same filesystem, so you can test things if you are copying to the same volume but most instances where I do this, I'm copying to another volume (compressed disk image or physical/logical volume).

In a nutshell - using Finder (or rsync/ditto) to make a copy of any of the folders will result in a functional full copy of the system at that point in time with all the files intact.

  • Thank-you. This explains why the whole thing can't copy to another 3TB drive, the copying creates real files, so a copy is truly 4TB, if I got it right. – JoeTaxpayer Jan 24 '15 at 17:27
  • Exactly @JoeTaxpayer . Time Machine just stores one copy of your Led Zeppelin album files and links them with hard links across all backup intervals. When you copy that folder out - it goes and gets a copy of that one file and places it in the destination location. Grab a tool like BackupLoupe to dive into each backup interval and see what changes. – bmike Jan 24 '15 at 17:53

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