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CrashPlan Support

Using CrashPlan And Time Machine

Applies to:
  • CrashPlan for Home
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CrashPlan and Time Machine complement each other very well and can be used on the same computer, side-by-side, backing up your live data. But you don't want to try to use CrashPlan to back up Time Machine or Time Machine to back up CrashPlan. For best results, use them both independently to back up your original files. Read on for the nitty-gritty technical details.

Non-Code42 Products
Information about products from other manufacturers is intended as a resource to help you get the most out of Code42 products. However, our Customer Champions cannot provide direct assistance for these products. For assistance with products not developed by Code42, contact the product's manufacturer.

Can I back up my Time Machine data with CrashPlan?

The short answer is that backing up Time Machine data with CrashPlan does not work very well. There is no advantage to sending your Time Machine data offsite if you're already using CrashPlan to back up remotely.

To protect the overall health of your backup, Code42 excludes the default filename for Time Machine backups from going to the Code42 cloud by default. If Time Machine data is included in your CrashPlan backup, your archive can quickly grow to many times the size of the actual files being backed up because you are asking CrashPlan to unnecessarily store multiple copies of the same file. There is no advantage to including this data in your backup and it may prevent important files from backing up in a timely manner. For more information, see the technical details below.

Excluding Time Machine from your CrashPlan backup selection

To ensure that Time Machine data isn't included in your CrashPlan backups, open the CrashPlan app and select Backup > Files > Change. Review your backup selection to confirm that the box next to your Time Machine destination is deselected. It should look like this:

Deselect Time Machine Drive

If your entire Time Machine drive is excluded from the backup, then you don't have to worry about any of this data being backed up by CrashPlan. However, if you choose not to exclude the entire drive, then at a minimum you should confirm that the Backup.backupsdb folder for Time Machine is excluded from your CrashPlan backup.

The Backup.backupsdb folder is where Time Machine stores its backup data; asking CrashPlan to back up this data is not necessary as long as the original files are already included in your CrashPlan backup file selection. The location of this file can vary:

  • If Time Machine is used for local backups only, the Backup.backupsdb folder is located at the top of the drive's directory.
  • If Time Machine backs up computers over a wireless or Ethernet network, then the Backup.backupsdb folder is contained within what is known as a sparse bundle disk image. The sparse bundle is located within Time Machine's HD, and it will be prefixed with the name of the corresponding computer. There is a sparse bundle disk image for each Mac backed up over the network.

Backing up with CrashPlan to a Time Machine destination

When you specify a volume as a Time Machine destination, it erases the volume first. So in order for CrashPlan and Time Machine to back up on the same volume, set up Time Machine first and then point CrashPlan to the volume as a backup destination.

Local vs. remote backup

Time Machine was designed for local backup only, while CrashPlan was designed for local and remote backup. If you want remote backup and just one system, you'll probably be happiest using CrashPlan both onsite and offsite. If you prefer to use two systems, use CrashPlan for remote backup of your files only (not Time Machine data) and use Time Machine (or Time Machine and CrashPlan) for local backup.

The important thing to remember is don't use CrashPlan to back up Time Machine data; use CrashPlan to back up your original files. If you'd like, you can also use Time Machine to back up your original files. This provides a much more comprehensive and efficient backup solution than trying to use CrashPlan to back up Time Machine directly.

Technical details

The long, technical answer that follows describes results when we tested backing up Time Machine data with CrashPlan. This chart compares the Time Machine backup size before and after backing up to CrashPlan.

Time Machine Size Time Machine Size in CrashPlan
Start 53 GB after initial backup complete --
End (7 days later) 63 GB 303.5 GB

Because it's not practical to make a full copy of the file system every hour, Time Machine works by creating hard links to directories and data that have not changed since the previous backup.

About hard and soft links

A file system contains both content files (e.g. documents, photos, MP3s) and files that store index information about those content files (e.g. size, permissions, type). The files that store index information are called directories (or folders). The link between the content file and the entry for the file in the directory can either be “soft” or “hard.”

A hard link points directly to the address on the disk where the file is actually stored. A soft link is really just a file that contains the path of the target file. A Windows “shortcut” is an example of a soft link.

A soft link has the advantage of being able to reference a file on another device or file system, whereas a hard link can only refer to files on the same file system. A soft link is independent of the target: if a soft link points to a file that is later deleted, the soft link continues to exist.

A target file can have multiple hard links and soft links that point to it. As long as at least one hard link still exists, the file continues to exist. Once the last hard link is deleted, the file is deleted. A soft link that refers to the deleted file no longer works.

What this means for backup

The technical explanation for why you shouldn't use CrashPlan to back up Time Machine data is that Time Machine uses hard links in a non-standard, albeit clever way, which differs from how CrashPlan interprets hard links.

Time Machine is unique in that it uses hard links to reference directories. Each iteration of a Time Machine backup may create a new hard link to the same directory. Time Machine knows the links point to the same files and directories and so does not back up duplicate data. However, CrashPlan, like most backup software, follows hard links. This means CrashPlan treats each hard link as a unique instance, which can quickly and exponentially increase the number of files CrashPlan watches as well as the overall size of the backup.

The end result of this is a decrease in system performance and increase in disk space and bandwidth required for your backup, yet no advantage in terms of ability to back up or restore your files.

Specific file count example

Since CrashPlan follows hard links, if a file has 10 hard links, the file count increases by 10 and the file selection size increases ten fold. If the hard links point to a directory, then the file size of every file in the directory also is multiplied by 10. That's a lot for CrashPlan to scan! After running Time Machine for just one week, CrashPlan reported that the Time Machine volume had 7,984,818 files (includes both files and hard links) and had grown to 303.5 GB! The Mac OS measured the Time Machine volume at 63 GB (hard links excluded).

What matters is not the discrepancy between Time Machine and CrashPlan; rather in following those hard links, CrashPlan is scanning an abnormally large number of files rather frequently. Remember, there were almost 8 million files after only a week of using Time Machine. Depending on your CrashPlan settings, this scanning could take a very long time or seriously bog down your system.

As this test illustrates, Time Machine and CrashPlan can work very well side-by-side. Just don't try to integrate the two.

Backing Up Time Machine Data With CrashPlan
Again, it's worth stressing that that backing up Time Machine causes CrashPlan to back up a much larger quantity of data than is necessary, which adversely affects bandwidth usage (due to extra data being sent to the cloud), and also causes CrashPlan to use a substantial amount of extra disk space for your local backups.

External resources

  • Jonathan DePrizio provides a useful diagram of hard links vs. soft links in his blog posting on the topic.
  • For general information about setting up Time Machine to perform multiple backups on a single computer, Christopher Breen's article provides a quick overview. Additionally, Cory Bohon provides a step-by-step tutorial on configuring Time Machine for multiple backups.
  • Finally, if you're interested in learning even more, James Pond wrote a great article explaining how hard links work with Time Machine. Pond's article also includes information about locating your sparse bundle files. For further information on sparse bundle files, see Steve Sebban's blog post on the topic.