So, I started up my computer a couple days ago, and OS X reported that my Time Machine Drive had some damage and that I could view files, but not copy anything to the drive. After verifying with disk utility, I learned that the drive has an Invalid Node structure, meaning I have to reformat the drive. But here's where the problem comes in: Before I can reformat, I need to backup all the information on the drive. Time Machine uses symbolic links, so I can't just copy with the finder. I can't use Disk Utility's restore feature to copy everything on the drive to another drive, since that will also copy the damage (I know, I tried it...). I tried using the cp -R command in terminal, which I think will not copy the hard links properly, but it started giving me permission errors.

So, does anybody have any suggestions on how to transfer my Time Machine Backups to another drive? Any help would be greatly appreciated!

  • For the hassle, I might put that drive on a shelf and start with a new $125 3 tb drive. Do you really need the whole history? Finder can copy one good point in time without worrying about hard links or multiple copies.
    – bmike
    Mar 14, 2012 at 2:51
  • 1
    This may be somewhat pedantic... but AFAIK Time Machine doesn't use symbolic links. It uses hard links. That's core to understanding the whole way it works.
    – user33693
    Oct 28, 2012 at 22:22

1 Answer 1


I would suggest using rsync, which will sync all files and folders from a particular directory to another and skip over files it can't transfer because of damage. Use the following command to copy the entire root directory of your current Time Machine drive to a new drive:

sudo rsync -avxr --progress /Volumes/BadDrive/ /Volumes/GoodDrive

Due to the damage, you probably won't be able to continue using the new drive as a backup drive. It's likely that rsync will skip over some damaged files, causing OS X not to recognize it.

Another option would be to attempt to use Drive Genius to repair the existing drive. However, this probably won't work with an invalid node structure.

You could also use SuperDuper! to copy the existing files over to the new drive. However, you may run into the same problem as rsync in that it may not preserve the Time Machine file structure.

Good luck.

  • Will this copy the symmbolic links properly? And also, as long as I reformat the drive, i will be able to use it again (even if I have to start over with time machine)?
    – thekmc
    Mar 14, 2012 at 20:14
  • It might and it might not. It completely depends on how bad the corruption is. However, after reformatting the "bad" drive, you should be able to keep using it.
    – Matt Love
    Mar 14, 2012 at 20:57
  • Okay. I've been trying rsync right now. It's currently building the file list, and right now, it's counted 5064900+ files, and still increasing. Would that be normal for time machine backups?
    – thekmc
    Mar 14, 2012 at 21:02
  • Yeah. I'd let it run for a while. I added the verbose (v) parameter to the command, so it should show you each file it's transferring as it goes.
    – Matt Love
    Mar 15, 2012 at 0:18
  • 1
    I then let it run overnight, and the next day, it reported a memory issue. I may try doing it in smaller segments to see if that helps.
    – thekmc
    Mar 15, 2012 at 20:37

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