Friday, April 10, 2009

Time Machine doesn't back up iPhoto

I've confessed before to having a scary number of photographs in my iPhoto library. However, since Steve Jobs promised that iPhoto could handle "hundreds of thousands" and since I only have a measly 40,000 I get downright testy when folks from Apple say I have too many.

This happened the other day. First, Time Machine just stopped working. Up and failed. Said it couldn't find the external drive I had just hooked up even though it had started running because said drive had just been hooked up.

I called Apple's tech support. The guy was nice and knowledgeable. Told me I had formatted the disk incorrectly, that instead of "Apple Partition Map" I should have used "GUID Partition Table" (because I have a MacBook with Intel processor). The only solution was reformatting the drive (using Disk Utility, selecting the drive, clicking the Partition tab, then clicking Options and choosing GUID).

"Why," I asked, "has it worked just fine for the last six months and today it decides it doesn't like that partition system?"

He said it was pretty random. OK, whatever. I reformat the drive.

I do a full backup, Time Machine seems much happier, but I notice that the backup file only takes up 150gb. How can that be if my iPhoto library alone takes up 162gb?

I call Apple up again. The new guy says, oh well, that sounds about right, you know, because of the compression.

But on Apple's site, it specifically says that Time Machine "copies every file exactly (without compression), skipping caches and other files that aren’t required to restore your Mac to its original state".

I point out this discrepancy and he puts me on hold as he goes to check it again.

While he's gone, I go into the backup file to see if my iPhoto Library is even there. Of course, it is not. (How could it be?)

When the Apple guy gets back on the phone, I tell him that Time Machine has not backed up my iPhoto Library at all and he says, with jaw-dropping alacrity:

"Well, it's not perfect."

I'm shocked. A backup program that skips my most important files is "not perfect".

He says, "Well, why don't you just drag the iPhoto Library to your external drive to back it up?"

Apart from the fact that it takes several hours to copy the entire library, and that this seems like a pretty lame workaround for updating the few photos that I might back up each day, I am just flabbergasted that he doesn't admit that the program has a fatal flaw. It doesn't do what it promises.

He offers no apology, no recognition that this is a big deal. I get off quickly before he can harangue me with "Is there anything else I can help you with today?"

I immediately call back and speak to Apple support guy #3. He gets that skipping my iPhoto Library is serious and has me send him my log file. He promises to get it to the engineers and get a response back within 3-5 days. It's been 3 and so far, no news.

Meanwhile, I can't not backup my iPhoto Library so I find another external drive, and copy the whole thing over. When I'm done, I decide to do one last test. I close iPhoto and try Time Machine again. This time it works, iPhoto Library and all.

So, the moral of the story is, first, make sure Time Machine is backing up your large important files. How? Open the drive where Time Machine stores the backups, open the folder "backups.backupdb", open the folder with your user name, open the folder of one of the dated backups, and go through your file structure until you find the files you're most interested in. (They should be in the same places as on your computer.)

Second, if you have a large iPhoto Library (and perhaps even a small one), make sure it's closed at least some of the time when Time Machine is running.

It unnerves me to no end to know that Time Machine may randomly decide not to back up certain files. If this is really the case, then I need a new backup program. I'll let you know what Apple says.


Gabby said...

I'm no expert, and I'm not sure if this is the same problem people were trying to solve earlier this year. But hopefully this info helps someone out there.

I was transferring data from my old (but still used) Powerbook to new iMac and naively dragged and dropped the old iPhoto library into new iPhoto. So it replaced everything that I had been working on the last few months with the old library on the laptop. No big deal, I thought, I could just do a Time Machine restore from earlier in the day.

The Time Machine interface didn't actually show _any_ backups of the iPhoto library. I saw all the dates that a regular backup occurred, but the arrows didn't work, and the timeline wouldn't let me select anything. So I went into the backup folders themselves just to see if find a backed up library. Sure enough, in the Pictures folder, I found a backup library for every time Time Machine had done its thing, so I tried to drag and drop that library into iPhoto. If gave me some kind of Caution/error, that permissions would have to be repaired or that the file was locked, and after clikcing 'Repair,' it wasn't able to fix the library so it seemed to be of no use.

My workaround was to simply copy that iPhoto library onto my desktop, and _then_ drag it into iPhoto. Worked like a charm and I'm fully restored. Thank God.

Liz Castro said...

Hmm. I want to look at this more closely to see what's in those folders. At one point, I remember thinking they were aliases pointing somewhere else... because of course, TimeMachine doesn't back up the entire library each time it creates a backup, so some of those libraries aren't complete? Or how would that work? Back soon.

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