I use Time Machine on my MacBook Pro (late 2011, macOS Sierra) to back up my internal hard drive and an external hard drive containing heavy files such as video, etc. This worked great for about a month: each backup would contain separate folders for my internal drive and external drive, even if my external drive was not plugged in (as it most often is not, since that drive is mostly used for long-term storage).

However, today, when I added a file to my external hard drive and plugged in my backup drive, it began backing up the ENTIRE contents of the external drive again... which, I hadn't noticed until now, was because the backup files stopped including my external hard drive and would only show my internal hard drive. So, I'm very confused, and I'd rather not have to waste some 400 or so GB of space on my backup drive with this copying of data... Anyone know what might be going on here? It seems to me like Time Machine somehow "forgot" I had a second drive to back up... And yes, I checked the "Exclude" list in Time Machine preferences (Can Time Machine back up an external hard drive in addition to internal one?).

1 Answer 1


Once a backup interval happens where the external is skipped, you might end up with two copies. Getting partial recognition of unchanged files to have them deduplicated would require a lot of scripting to recreate hard links across several folders.

I usually set that drive on a shelf and buy a new one. Once the new one has sufficient backup history, you could check for deleted files or just wipe the "broken" drive. The risk of not realizing a file was corrupt or deleted is slim but exactly what a backup is designed to do.

In the end, you'll need to evaluate the cost of a new drive and the cost of potentially losing a file you could have recovered and minimize your risk and budget costs.

  • Thank you for your response. Do you think it would be worth considering having a single backup drive for each drive, to avoid this skipping? One for my laptop, one for my external hard drive?
    – theo1010
    Commented Apr 15, 2017 at 14:46
  • @theo1010 Time Machine works better to have two destinations - each backs up everything. You'd be futzing with exclusion lists each backup interval to split things the way I think you are.
    – bmike
    Commented Apr 15, 2017 at 15:18
  • Just to be clear: two destinations are 1 backup drive for internal hard drive and 1 backup drive for external hard drive, correct?
    – theo1010
    Commented Apr 15, 2017 at 15:25
  • No @theo1010 - better to ask an entirely new question - link here so I can see it. It's too hard to answer follow on questions in comments...
    – bmike
    Commented Apr 15, 2017 at 15:57
  • I'm just not certain as to what you meant in your first comment ("Time Machine works better"...). Could you please clarify/elaborate for me? Thank you.
    – theo1010
    Commented Apr 17, 2017 at 12:57

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