I've been trying to debug a "Waiting for index to be ready" issue with my Time Machine volume, and one piece of advice that I've encountered is re-creating the Spotlight index on the volume.

To do this I ran the following commands (as sudo):

mdutil -i off /Volumes/Backup
rm -R /Volumes/Backup/.Spotlight-V100

However, I'm now trying to re-enable Spotlight with the reverse of the first command, but this is what I'm getting:

mdutil -v -i on /Volumes/Backup
    Indexing and searching disabled.

It simply doesn't want to do it, and I can't figure out why. I've tried manually recreating the .Spotlight-V100 with ownership set to root:wheel and mode set to 700 (exactly as the folder on other volumes is configured), and while mdutil has now created a VolumeConfiguration.plist file, it still won't enable indexing.

I can't find anywhere to get more information; the -v option of mdutil doesn't give any additional output, and nothing extra seems to be logged anywhere. There doesn't appear to be any physical problem, as the drive is new and reporting no I/O errors or other issues; aside from the "waiting for index" slow-down, Time Machine is otherwise working perfectly and I can view the contents of its backups without any problems.

Anyway, are there any other steps that can be followed to force Spotlight to re-index the drive, or find out why it's failing to do-so?

  • 2
    Have you tried erasing and rebuilding the stores with mdutil -E /Volumes/Backup? Also check that there isn't a file called /Volumes/Backup/.metadata_never_index. Commented Mar 27, 2015 at 11:29
  • @onik Good call on the file - I've added a "troubleshooting" answer to get that listing as well as any ACL and flags that are set. There are .spotlight directories within the Backups.backupdb as well as in the root of the drive. Keeping them coordinated might be the trick to manipulating indexing on T M drives.
    – bmike
    Commented Mar 27, 2015 at 13:28
  • onik's answer will probably take care of it; had the same issue and resolution earlier this year. Commented Mar 28, 2015 at 0:59
  • Unfortunately there's no never index file, and mdutil -E gives the same results as mdutil -i off; it just tells me that indexing and searching is disabled and does nothing.
    – Haravikk
    Commented Mar 28, 2015 at 10:56

2 Answers 2


There are typically user immutable flags set on Time Machine backup volumes so that even root can't directly chown or chmod. You can look at these with:

ls -laeO /Volumes/*
ls -laeO /Volumes/Backup/Backups.backupdb/

Mac:~ me$ ls -laeO /Volumes/Backup/Backups.backupdb/
total 0
drwxr-xr-x@  7 root  wheel  -  238 Mar  3 04:40 .
 0: group:everyone deny add_file,delete,add_subdirectory,delete_child,writeattr,writeextattr,chown
drwxrwxr-x  20 root  wheel  -  748 Mar 25 12:29 ..
drwxr-xr-x   3 root  wheel  -  102 Mar 27 12:04 .RecoverySets
drwx------   7 root  wheel  -  238 Mar  6 10:47 .spotlight_repair
drwx------   2 root  wheel  -   68 Mar 27 14:28 .spotlight_temp
drwxr-xr-x@ 40 root  wheel  - 1360 Mar 27 18:31 Mac
 0: group:everyone deny add_file,delete,add_subdirectory,delete_child,writeattr,writeextattr,chown

Cross reference with diskutil list to double check your mount points and volume names. My experience is that since Time Machine requires spotlight to make hard links is that if you tamper with the stores where those databases are resident on the filesystem you can't put "humpty dumpty" back together again and should archive off the snapshot backups you need using Finder/rsync or by making a dmg of those instants and then wiping the drive to start with new slate of .dotfiles and .dotdirectories with associated stores.

Clearly, someone with internal knowledge of how Time Machine and spotlight self check might step up and explain things, but I've not seen this level of detail publicly documented by Apple so far. I'd start at http://pondini.org/OSX/Home.html if you haven't checked there for any community knowledge on the innards of Time Machine + Spotlight

  • I'm not sure this is true; I've never had Time Machine prevent manipulation of the volume, only the contents of Backups.backupdb (you need to use the special bypass tool to do anything, and pretty much shouldn't, ever). You can still add and remove stuff to the volume's root if you want to. Also, Spotlight doesn't implement hard-links; although it's true HFS uses a hidden file trick to do it, it's a filesystem feature.
    – Haravikk
    Commented Mar 27, 2015 at 21:04
  • @Haravikk - Looks like you have better experience with these recovery sets than I. Heh, heh - apple.stackexchange.com/a/113257/5472
    – bmike
    Commented Apr 14, 2015 at 11:03

I had the same problem, but fixed it by taking the affected volume out of the privacy list in the Spotlight system preferences pane. A simplistic approach, but it worked.

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