Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Browser for your OS X Time Machine Backups (Updated)

A few years back I was very excited about a browser for OS X's Time Machine called Time Tracker. It probably still works, but remains in its very early "unpolished" state (in the author's own words). So here's another one that I've been using for a while now, one I personally think is well polished and much better.

BackupLoupe by soma-zone — Advanced Browsing for Time Machine

If you're not paying attention to Time Machine as it backs up, you won't see the size differences—and even if you are, there's no easy way to see individual file differences. In some ways that's the beauty of Time Machine—it's totally set and forget, completely out of the way. But sometimes you want to take a closer look... and that's where BackupLoupe comes in.

BackupLoupe is useful for diagnosing why Time Machine is so slow, or why the last backup was 32 GB even though you don't think you changed anything, or even checking that there was actually a 10 GB backup after you imported your holiday photos into iPhoto...

It's well worth the $5 USD (which I paid after using it for a while—there's no copy protection, but its cheap and very useful).

High Level Differences

The main feature in my view is being able to see the differences between any two successive backups. That is, on top of the normal browsing features of Apple's own Time Machine interface (browsing for a file, viewing/restoring it).

Basic BackupLoupe interface—colours indicate where the big chunks of backup data have gone, and you can easily dig down into backups to see exactly what changed.


My first use of BackupLoupe was looking for cache data, logs and other essentially temporary/transient files that really didn't need to be backed up on my previous, slower Mac. Some applications do indeed prevent their cache files being backed up, but there's some caches (like my email application's local cache of my already-remotely-backed-up-emails) that just doesn't need to be backed up every hour, slowing the rest of the backup down, and ultimately using up space that would otherwise allow longer-term backups of my important data.

File Changes

BackupLoupe also works with MobileBackups. These are the backups that Time Machine does when it can't find any of your Time Machine disks (e.g. when you're away from the office/desk), so that you still have hourly backups, even though they're not on a redundant/separate disk. They proved quite useful recently when I was playing a game and several save files were lost due to a bug in the game's UI.

Thanks to Time Machine, the files were backed up exactly as they had been about 45 minutes earlier. Thanks to BackupLoupe it was very easy to see which ones had changed (updated, and thus OK), and which had been lost (deleted, and needing to be restored).

MobileBackups saved my saved games, BackupLoupe showed me which files had changed and how, even though I would otherwise have no idea which file is which.
And if you want to see how and when the file has changed over time, you can do that too. Just open up the 'History' panel to see a list of backed up versions of the file. Double-clicking takes you to that revision in the backup history, or right-click to bring up the 'Show Differences' option, which opens the two versions of the file in Apple's excellent FileMerge application, showing you the actual changes to the file, side-by-side.

See detailed file changes with the 'History' side panel. Bringing up the context menu allows you to see differences between snapshots in FileMerge.

All up a very useful application, if you want to delve a little deeper into your Time Machine backups, see exactly what is being backed up, see how big each incremental backup is, what files are changing and how, and look for possible exclusions to speed things up and save space.

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