Time Machine Backup To Dropbox

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If you use Time Machine to back up your Mac, you have the security of automatic backups. And if you’re a Dropbox user, everything in your Dropbox folder benefits from both the protection of offsite storage and file versioning. But what may not have occurred to you is that, by default, Time Machine is also backing up the contents of your Dropbox folder.

  1. Will Time Machine Backup To Dropbox
  2. Using Dropbox For Backups
  3. Can I Do A Time Machine Backup To Dropbox
  4. Can Time Machine Backup To Dropbox

It’s important to realize that one of the key aspects of how Dropbox works is that it creates a Dropbox folder in your home folder and then syncs the contents of that folder with the Dropbox Web site. Move a file into the Dropbox folder and it’s copied to the Dropbox Web site; make a change, and that change automatically propagates to the Dropbox site. Because there’s nothing special about the Dropbox folder itself, it’s part of Time Machine’s backup set by default.

Will Time Machine Backup To Dropbox

Computer backup lets you back up certain key folders on your computer, such as “Desktop”, “Documents”, and “Downloads”, to Dropbox. After backup, those folders, and the files within them, are still accessible from the same place on your computer, while also backed up to Dropbox. But it took a full three releases from the first APFS appearance until Time Machine backups could be written to drives formatted with APFS: macOS 11.0 Big Sur is the first release to allow that. Time Machine is the best way to backup your Mac. It is an in-built tool on every macOS powered computer. You require an external storage device like a hard drive, SSD, etc. For best performance, it is recommended that the external drive be at least twice the size of your Mac’s internal drive.

On the one hand, backing up your Dropbox folder with Time Machine gives you an added layer of confidence that your files in Dropbox are backed up locally, in case something were to go wrong with the Dropbox Web site. Plus, Dropbox maintains deleted files for only 30 days unless you pay for a Dropbox Pro account and enable the Packrat add-on in your account settings, so a Time Machine backup could let you restore deleted files after that 30-day period.

On the other hand, since all those files in your Dropbox folder are duplicated on the Dropbox Web site, they can be restored easily in case of accidental deletion or hard drive death, so there’s no inherent need to use space on these files on your Time Machine drive. (An earlier version of this article said that only files, not entire folders, could be restored from Dropbox. In fact, both files and folders, plus application packages, can be restored easily.)

Time Machine Backup To Dropbox

To exclude your Dropbox files from your Time Machine backup, open the Time Machine pane of System Preferences and click the Options button to reveal the “Exclude these Items from Backups” dialog. Drag your Dropbox folder from the Finder into that list, or click the plus sign at the bottom and select the Dropbox folder in your home folder. Click Save when you’re done.


When I initially discovered my Dropbox files on my Time Machine backup, my first reaction was to exclude the files from my backup. After more thought, though, I realized there already had been times that I had deleted files from my Dropbox folder that I could have rescued via Time Machine. But if you have a Dropbox Pro account with Packrat enabled, or simply aren’t worried about needing to restore a deleted file more than 30 days later, you might prefer to save some space on your Time Machinedrive.

[Alicia Katz Pollock has been working with computers since designing a database on an Apple IIc for her father’s dental practice when she was 13. Today she is a consultant at Royalwise Solutions and a course author for Lynda.com. She holds a variety of Apple, Microsoft, and Intuit certifications.]

Apple started shifting Macs from its old HFS+ filesystem to its more sophisticated APFS format with macOS 10.13 High Sierra. In that release, all SSD-based Macs were upgraded to APFS. Fusion Drives followed with macOS 10.14 Mojave. But it took a full three releases from the first APFS appearance until Time Machine backups could be written to drives formatted with APFS: macOS 11.0 Big Sur is the first release to allow that.

But you format a Time Machine drive to APFS, there are a few things to consider.

There’s no way to convert an HFS+ Time Machine volume to one that uses APFS without erasing it. Apple created an exceedingly wacky way to encompass Time Machine’s snapshot format inside the APFS format, almost as if the company hadn’t developed both APFS and Time Machine. (Insert thinking face emoji here, for sure.)

Your old HFS+ based Time Machine volumes remain valid and readable in Big Sur. You can set up a drive from scratch with HFS+ to create new Time Machine volumes as well. That’s not a problem. However, if you want to shift a drive from HFS+ to APFS, you have to reformat the drive, and that erases all the Time Machine backups. Because of the structural differences, you can’t just copy from HFS+ to APFS, either.

Using Dropbox For Backups

While APFS has advantages for SSD-based storage, there really aren’t any for hard disk drives, the most likely kind of drive used for large-capacity backup drives. I would set up any new Time Machine volume formatted with APFS, but not convert an old one from HFS+.

Big Sur APFS-based Time Machine backups can’t be used in Catalina or earlier releases. This might go without saying, but I know enough people with mixed-system setups who will ask. Not only must you use Big Sur to back up to an APFS-formatted Time Machine volume, you can’t even access the backups from a Mac with Catalina or an earlier macOS version installed.

The reason is slightly involved. APFS divides a disk into one or more containers (similar to partitions). Each container has one or more volumes, and each volume (starting in High Sierra) has a “role,” which defines the kind of volume it is. You can have several volumes in a container that dynamically share the space allotted to the container, which means you don’t have to allocate storage space to a given volume beforehand. (In Catalina, Apple added volume groups, which are used to hold the operating system itself in pieces, separating your data from system files, enhancing system security and integrity.)

In Big Sur, Apple added the Backup role, designed for Time Machine snapshots and incremental backups, and which is effectively unreadable in Catalina and earlier, because those releases simply don’t know how to interpret it. Nor does Apple have any reason to back-port that role type.

You can share the Time Machine container with volumes that aren’t being used for backups. Apple notes in its Big Sur guide on a page describing the kinds of disk formats supported with Time Machine that the backup requires the whole “disk.” This appears to be an error: Apple really means that the disk can only have a single container, which occupies the entire disk. The Time Machine backup, however, takes place to a single volume in that container.

Can I Do A Time Machine Backup To Dropbox

You can’t access the Time Machine volume directly through the Finder and store other kinds of data on it, but Apple states you can add a volume in the same container. This volume will contain regular data, and can be used independently of the volume assigned the Backup role.

This Mac 911 article is in response to a question submitted by Macworld reader Jonathan.

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Can Time Machine Backup To Dropbox

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