Time Machine - Troubleshooting


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Time Machine - Troubleshooting

D10n.  Recovery without a Complete backup


This page shows how to recover when you've lost all your User Accounts, but have backups containing their home folders (and perhaps some other data you kept in the special Shared home folder, and/or other top-level folders). 

And you have (or will) replaced or erased your internal HD, or will use an external HD instead.

The basic procedure is to create the necessary user accounts, then copy their home folders from the backups.  That's not quite as simple as it may sound, though.

If you need more help, send an e-mail to the address on my Contact page.  I'll answer as soon as possible.

First, Install OSX on the new or erased disk:

You must be connected to the Internet to download and install OSX. 

  1. If you have Time Machine backups on an external HD, it probably has a copy of the Recovery HD.  You can start from that and download and install Mountain Lion.  Start your Mac while holding the  Cmd and R keys.  If that shows a green disk icon with the name of your Time Machine drive, click it.  Select Restore From Time Machine Backup in the Mac OS X Utilities menu there.  See FAQ #14 for the gory details.  If you see a different screen, you're in Internet Recovery.

  2. If not, you must use Internet Recovery, as explained in About OSX Recovery.

Second, Create the necessary User Accounts:

Determine how many user accounts you had, and their exact short user names (home folder names) and passwords and, if possible, the order in which they were created.  Because OSX automatically assigns User ID (UID) Numbers, and uses those to control which files each user has permission to, the procedure here will allow the permanent accounts you'll create in step 4 to retain permission to their files on previous backups.

  1. 1.Create temporary "placeholders."  While logged-on to the temporary account, create a new, temporary "placeholder" account for each of the accounts in question.  If in doubt, create an extra or two.  Go to System Preferences > Users & Groups. 

You'll get a prompt about there already
being a home folder with the same name:

That's what you want.  Click the Use Existing Folder button.


Follow the on-screen instructions to download and install OSX.  If your HD isn't shown as an available destination, it's probably not formatted for a Mac.  Quit the Installer and select Disk Utility to format it (see #1 in Using Disk Utility if you're not sure how to do that).  Then return to the Installer and install OSX.

When your Mac restarts, do not select any of the Transfer options, as your damaged backups won't work (that's why you're here).  Instead, select Not now and create a temporary Admin user account.  Do not use the same short user name (home folder name) as any account on your backups.  You can skip entering an Apple ID and registration.

You'll then be logged-on to the temporary account, ready to get started.

Unlock the padlock and enter your current
Admin password.

Click the plus sign at the bottom, and enter a new name, password, etc. on the next prompt.

The names don't matter, just don't duplicate any you'll be recovering from the backups.

You can skip entering an Apple ID if prompted.

  1. 2.Create a temporary Admin account.  This is the one you'll use for the rest of the procedure.  Just select that in the prompt.  You can skip entering an Apple ID if prompted.  When done, log off the account you've been using and log back on to the temporary Admin account.

  2. 3.Delete the placeholders.  Go to System Preferences > Users & Groups again, unlock the padlock, and enter the password for the Temporary Admin account you're now using.  Click each placeholder account in the sidebar in turn (except the one you're using) and click the minus sign at the bottom.   On the prompt that brings up, select Delete the home folder. Do not select Erase home folder securely.

  3. 4.Recreate the original user accounts, preferably in the order they were originally created.  Be sure to use the identical short names (home folder names) and passwords as the originals.

Third, copy the home folders from your backups

  1. 5.Open the top-level Users folder via the Finder.

To open the Users folder, select your internal HD in the sidebar;  or press Shift-Cmd-C to display your Computer, then double-click your internal HD (gray icon, probably named "Macintosh HD") in the center, then the Users folder: 

It's probably best to use List View.  Open the Users folder by clicking the disclosure triangle by the name.  Leave this window on your screen.

Expand the
Backups.backupdb folder by clicking the disclosure triangle. 

Inside it is one folder for each computer on the backups;  inside that is a series of time-stamped folders representing the backups. 

You want the most recent (but  not an ".inProgress" package, as that's the incomplete remains of one or more failed or cancelled backups).  Open the Users folder to see the home folders inside.

  1. 6.Open a second Finder window to your backups and navigate to the most recent successful one.

  2. If your backups are on an external HD, open it via the Finder.

  1. If your backups are on a network, such as a Time Capsule, you must connect to them and open the sparse bundle disk image they're stored in, via the Finder.  If you don't know how to do that, see How Network Backups are Stored in Sparse Bundles.  That will show how to get to the display above (you don't need to see the control files, in the green box there).

  1. 7.Copy (drag) the desired home folders from the backups in one Finder window to the Users folder on your Mac in the other one. 

  2. 8.Re-create the missing user accounts via System Preferences > Users & Groups.  Try to create them in the same order you did originally, so they won't lose permission to their earlier backups.  Be sure to use the identical short user name as the name(s) of the home folder(s) you just copied, and the same passwords as before.

  1. 9.Log on to each of the restored accounts.  Each should have access to all the files in tehir home folders, plus the ones in prior backups via the Time Machine browser (the "Star Wars" display).

  2. 10. Drag any other folders or contents from the special Shared folder, or other top-level folders, from the backups.

  3. 11.Delete the temporary Admin account if you want, or keep it "just in case" you need it later.

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