How to Fix Time Machine Backup Failures

Time Machine Backup Failures

Time Machine is a pretty handy and convenient backup tool for macOS. Just set it up once, and it will automatically create a backup of your system. It’s basically a set-and-forget backup feature that runs silently in the background, and you’ll never notice that it’s there unless you check your processes.

To set up a Time Machine backup, you’ll need an external storage device where all your backups will be saved. Connect the drive to your Mac and choose it as your backup disk. You might need to encrypt the drive first before you can use it as a Time Machine storage drive.

Time Machine will then start creating periodic backups without needing any further actions from you. You can even create a backup manually using the Time Machine menu bar.

However, for some reason, a Time Machine backup fails without you knowing it. Some Mac users reported that Time Machine keeps stopping without any error or notice. Even though Time Machine has been correctly set up, it is unable to complete the process and stops before the backup has been successfully created. When users check Time Machine, no backups are created because the process gets interrupted by something.

For some Mac users, Time Machine only runs in the beginning but does not regularly as it’s supposed to do. Backups are usually created at midnight when the computer is idle, but Time Machine isn’t even running for some Macs.

The worst thing is that there is no error or notification displayed when the Time Machine is unable to complete its backup. Not knowing what caused the error means you need to proceed by trial and error to figure out what went wrong.

What Causes Time Machine Backup Fails?

When Time Machine stops before completing the backup, it could be due to one of these scenarios:

  • Low storage space – To be able to create backups, your storage drive should have enough space for Time Machine to write to.
  • Security issues – Since Time Machine works in the background, it is possible that security software on your Mac considers it as malicious, therefore stopping its activity.
  • Corrupted Time Machine preferences – All Time Machine settings are stored in a .plist file. When this file gets corrupted, Time Machine won’t be able to function properly.
  • Hard disk problems – When your hard disk is damaged, Time Machine won’t be able to use it to save backups.
  • Incorrect network settings – If your Time Capsule is wirelessly connected to your Mac, incorrect network settings might interfere with the backup creation process.

To fix Time Machine backup fails, you need to address these possible causes one by one until you find the root cause.

What to Do If Time Machine Stops Before Completing the Backup?

It is difficult to find out when Time Machine is unable to complete its backup because there is no error or notice most of the time. You’ll only know when you check.

To access your backups, launch Time Machine by clicking its icon from the menu bar. Click Enter Time Machine to see your backups. The most recent backup is usually named Now and is shown in red at the bottom of the timeline. You’ll know when the Time Machine has stopped creating backups by looking at the dates of the files. If there are no recent ones, then there is something wrong with your Time Machine.

To fix this issue, follow the troubleshooting steps below.

Step #1: Refresh Your macOS.

The first thing you need to do is disconnect your Time Machine hard drive from your Mac. Next, clean your system by deleting junk files using an app such as Outbyte MacRepair. You might also need to run your antivirus software to scan for possible malware infections. Once you’ve completed these steps, reboot your Mac and reconnect your hard drive.

Step #2: Check Storage Space.

When Time Machine keeps stopping without any error or notice, the first thing you need to check is whether you have enough storage space on your backup drive. Because if you don’t, it will be impossible for Time Machine to save new backups.

To check if your Time Machine backup disk has enough storage:

  • Click on the Apple logo, then choose About This Mac.
  • Click on the Storage tab in the menu bar to see your hard drives and how much disk space is left.

Alternatively, you can also use Disk Utility in the Utilities folder to check for the available storage space on your hard drives. Just choose your Time Machine hard drive from the list, and you’ll be able to learn its capacity, available space, used storage, and other information.

If you see that you have enough space on your hard disk, then the problem must lie somewhere else.

Step #3: Turn Off Your Security Features Temporarily.

Sometimes macOS can be overprotective to the point that some legitimate processes are throttled or stopped. Turn off your antivirus and Firewall temporarily to see if it makes any difference. Force-quit your antivirus software if it’s running.

To turn off your Firewall:

  1. Click System Preferences from the Apple menu.
  2. Click Security & Privacy, then select the Firewall tab in the toolbar.
  3. Click the lock icon at the bottom of the window, then type in your admin password to be able to make changes.
  4. Click the Turn Off Firewall button.

Once you’ve turned off these features, try to manually create a backup using Time Machine to see if this method works. If not, turn these features back on and proceed to the next step.

Step #4: Reset Time Machine Preferences.

The .plist file, where the preferences for certain apps and features are stored, can get corrupted or damaged over time. When an app or feature starts misbehaving, resetting the preferences by deleting the .plist file is one of the most common fixes.

To reset the .plist file associated with Time Machine, follow these instructions:

  1. In the Finder menu, click Go.
  2. Press and hold the Option key to reveal the Library folder, then click on it.
  3. Look for the Preferences folder, then double-click to open it.
  4. Search for the .plist file or files with TimeMachine in their filenames. You can use the search feature at the upper-right corner of the window to easily find the Time Machine .plist files.
  5. Move these .plist files to the Trash and close the folder.

When you relaunch Time Machine, a new set of .plist files will be generated, which will hopefully fix this issue.

Step $5: Check Hard Drive for Errors.

If your backup drive has bad sectors, Time Machine won’t be able to write new data on it. To check your hard drive’s health:

  1. Navigate to Finder > Go > Utilities.
  2. Click on Disk Utility.
  3. On the left-side menu, choose your backup drive from the list.
  4. Click on First Aid at the top menu.
  5. Click the Verify Disk button at the bottom right corner to start the diagnostics.

Let the process run its course and wait for the results. When you see the message The partition map appears to be OK, it means that your hard drive is in good condition. Items in red, however, indicate hard drive errors that need to be fixed.

If you see a line that says, Error: This disk needs to be repaired, you can click the Repair Disk button to attempt to fix it. If the button is not clickable, then you might need to replace your hard drive.

Step #6: Use Wired Connection.

If you’re using Time Capsule to save your files, you might need to tweak your network settings to make sure it is able to properly connect to your Mac. Make sure you use a fixed local IP address instead of dynamic. You should also set the wireless security type as WPA2 Personal, with an 8-character password at least.

Summary

It can be annoying when you expect Time Machine to run smoothly in the background, only to find out that the backup is unable to be completed. Backups are important because they’re you’re saviour when your Mac goes kaput. To bring your Time Machine back to life, you need to find out first what caused it to fail. You can follow the steps above to know the reason why a Time Machine backup fails so you can apply the appropriate solution.

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