Read time machine backups

Recently I had been noticing that each hour when my Time Machine backups ran there was an excessive amount of data being backed up. I could understand the data changing frequently given how much I use my computer, but the backups were still over 1GB even when the machine sat idle. So I set out to find a way to navigate the time machine backups to see what exactly had changed and what was getting backed up with each iteration, but with the way they are stored on disk that task isn’t as simple as navigating through a folder.

That’s when I found a nifty little app called TimeTracker that will show you the size of each backup job in an easy-to-navigate interface. When I first fired it up, however, it said it wasn’t able to access my Time Machine backup due to what was obviously a permissions problem. I then switched over to the Terminal where I found that executing TimeTracker using the sudo command gave it the additional access it needed. Here’s a quick rundown on what I had to do:

  1. Make sure your Time Machine backup drive is mounted on your Mac. The easiest way I’ve always found to do this is to click the Time Machine icon in your Menu Bar, and choose the Enter Time Machine option. You can close the Time Machine viewer once you’ve entered it, and the backup drive will remain mounted.
  2. Download TimeTracker (here is a download mirror)
  3. Extract the contents of the ZIP file
  4. Open the Terminal, and cd to the directory where the file is located.
  5. Run the following command to execute TimeTracker with root-level permissions:
    sudo ./
  6. You should be prompted for the password of your Mac account (if you don’t use a password you’ll need to set one temporarily for this to work)
  7. Once TimeTracker has been opened you’ll need to give it some time to gather the stats on your backups, but the end result should look something like the screenshot at the beginning of this article.

In the end I figured out, thanks to TimeTracker, that the application I use for emailing (Sparrow) causes Time Machine to backup the entire cache for an email account if I received at least one email since the last backup. After I figured that out I was able to pull up the Time Machine preferences, click the Options button, and exclude that particular app’s problematic folder:

Time machine backup exclude

My hourly backups are now a mere 50-200MB instead of the 1.1-7.2GB they previously were depending on how many of the mail accounts had received new emails.

TimeTracker Homepage (Mac only; Freeware)