Here is my situation. I live in a shared house where there is already a wireless router that other people use. I have a Macbook Air that has 128GB of hard drive. I want to use Time Machine for automatic backups. I'm considering one of the following options:

1) I have a spare 320 GB USB drive and spare old Thinkpad that I basically use as a Desktop running Ubuntu. Its on 24/7 and connected to the wireless network. If I connect my hard drive via USB cable to my Thinkpad, is it possible to configure it to be used with Time Machine on my Macbook Air? If so, can I also access the drive from "outside world"?

2) I can get a Time Capsule. I do not have the option to use it as the router (other guys won't like messing with the router). I can connect it via Ethernet to the router but since the router is not in my room, I'd rather not. Is it possible to connect it wirelessly to the router for backups? If so can I access it from the outside network?

Which of the two options is more feasible?


Both are feasible. I use the first myself, and my sister had the second set up at one point.

1) On the laptop, you can install netatalk which handles AFP file sharing. Time Machine requires some special AFP features but those are supported by the version of netatalk that comes with Ubuntu 12.04 (just do sudo apt-get install netatalk).

Here's a decent guide for that, although with current versions you shouldn't actually need avahi-daemon, netatalk can handle Bonjour by itself now. You may actually just be able to get away with adding a line like:

/home/username/backup    "Time Machine"  allow:username   options:tm,noadouble

to /etc/init.d/netatalk/AppleVolumes.default, which is all I had to do on one machine running 12.04 (I don't remember having to do the other stuff, but YMMV).

Note that you should NOT ever need to use the "EnableUnsupportedVolumes" hack as netatalk meets Apple's spec and should appear as a backup destination automatically. Using this hack causes Time Machine to ignore problems that can cause loss of your backups.

2) A Time Capsule can indeed be connected to a wireless network as a client to share the hard drive (it can also share a printer connected via USB). I think the setup wizard makes it pretty easy, you're basically just looking to set it up as a wireless client and not a router. You might want to hook it up by ethernet if the signal isn't so great, though.

If 320GB is enough space (which I imagine it is, unless your Air has a 512GB SSD), I'd go with the netatalk solution unless money is no object.

  • I'll try the first option tonight and see it works :D – mmirzadeh Aug 6 '12 at 22:35
  • I did all the steps in the link you mentioned, but I cannot see the disk in Time Machine utility. What am I doing wrong? – mmirzadeh Aug 7 '12 at 6:14
  • Can you connect to the file share manually? You should be able to see the laptop as a connectable server in your finder sidebar, and Time Machine might not know that it's a backup-compatible volume until you connect the first time. – gabedwrds Aug 7 '12 at 18:18


  1. To get netatalk on Ubuntu working with Mac, you have to build the Ubuntu package with SSL support yourself. It's pretty easily but it'll mean you'll have to download the package manually and rebuild the package for every upgrade

  2. If you want to access the drive from the outside world there are many options, but you're limited by the wireless router: How does it handle VPN passthru? Do you have access to set up port forwarding on it? It probably deserves a separate post.

  3. Using AFP on Linux for Time Machine backup is fine, but if you plan on sharing other things on that drive, remember that AFP does not support symlinks on its shares.

  4. If you use AFP on Linux for Time Machine to backup wirelessly, you'll probably always have to backup/restore wirelessly from Linux because the disk will be foramtted as ext3/4 and Time Machine requires HFS+ with ACL for local backups. You can possibly format the backup drive as HFS+ on Linux, but you have to either disable journaling for write support (if you use the native Linux driver) or install Paragon HFS driver for Linux (free).

  5. You can get an Airport Extreme instead of a Time Capsule since it's cheaper. Use the hard drive sharing feature on Aiport Extreme and have Time Machine backup to it. The HDD can be formatted in HFS+ in such case. You can also configure the Airport Extreme as a WDS wifi extender so the wireless feature won't go to waste (and might make your housemates happy too).

  • That second link is out of date - I didn't have to build netatalk myself on Ubuntu 12.04. The Ubuntu package was fine, although it may have needed a config change to use the right authentication type (I don't remember that part). Also, Airport Extreme + external disk is an unsupported configuration for Time Machine and doesn't show up in the backup sources list unless you enable the hack. I lost my backups to that hack quite a few times so I'm not a fan of it. – gabedwrds Aug 7 '12 at 18:15
  • Re: Netatalk on Ubuntu 12.04 – goofrider Aug 8 '12 at 9:42

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