Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Apple Time machine: accomplishment unlocked -- Decreased trust!

The saying is true: you only know backup works when you've restored.

I got a new laptop and restored from time machine backup on an external drive attached to my airport extreme at home. My time machine backups had been going fine for years. It took a long time, and the network got disconnected so I had to restart it once, but eventually claimed to finish.

And there's the rub it *claimed* to restore, but it only partially restored. It's one thing to error, but why is it Apple UI's lie to me? (For example, my iPhone's iMessage has shown my message as delivered, whereas my wife's showed no sign of the message.)

For anyone else who runs into a failed Time Machine restore I'd like to write down what I've found as I manually attempt to synchronize critical folders with the backup image.
  1. First, my home directory appears complete. The incomplete restorations all have to do with top-level directories like "/foo" and "/bar" that are either missing entirely or have the following problems.
  2. Some subdirectories are just missing. My Aperture photo library had most years but was totally missing 2012 and 2013, as well as other misc files.
  3. Some files were present but zero length.
  4. Finally, the weird thing is that some files were actually corrupted. I found photos that were smaller size in the restore than in the latest backup image on the time machine disk. Indeed, these jpegs, could still be viewed but would be missing part of the image. 
The last makes me especially nervous because it's NOT consistent with a (sequential) transfer of files and directories that got interrupted at a single point in time. Of course, I was guilty of restarting the restore process as I'd mentioned at the top. So maybe the bottom line here is that restarting it without manually wiping the HD in between is not safe. (It's not idempotent.)

Right now I'm using Unison to do the repairs, but for greatest peace of mind I should probably wipe it and restore again... The problem is that I used this machine for a while before noticing that the time machine restore was a partial failure!!

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