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How to change Time Machine backup interval, backup manually

How to change Time Machine backup interval, backup manually

Time Machine, the automated backup utility built into Mac OS X, is set to run every hour by default. Is this too often for you? Find out how you can change the backup interval, plus how to initiate backups only when you trigger them manually.

For most people, hourly backups with Time Machine are just right for keeping their Mac’s precious files safe from disaster. But, as with all things related to technology, everyone has their own personal preferences and needs. That means automatically backing up every hour is overkill for some folks and simply not often enough for others. Terminal to the rescue! A quick command lets you to set a custom interval of your choice.

Set Time Machine’s backup interval

Since the preference file Time Machine uses to schedule automatic backups handles time in seconds, the default 1 hour interval is represented by 3600. That is, 60 seconds x 60 minutes. When you enter your own value to replace 3600, make sure it is in seconds. There’s really no limit to how high you can make this number – 7200 for 2 hours or 14400 for 4 hours are good ones. For the sake of saving system resources and avoiding conflicts, I wouldn’t go any lower than 1800 for 30 minutes. With that said, let’s figure out how to do this.

Open Terminal (Applications > Utilities) and copy & paste the following command (all one line). Replace 3600 with your chosen time interval in seconds.

sudo defaults write /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/ StartInterval -int 3600

Press Enter/Return to run the command. A password prompt will appear in Terminal. Type your administrator password, but be aware that the cursor will not move. It is registering your keystrokes, though, so don’t be alarmed. Press Enter again and you’re all set. While I don’t know if this is necessary, restarting your Mac would be a good idea at this point to make sure the changes go into effect.

UPDATE – 4/7/12: This method no longer works in OS X 10.7 Lion. However, there’s a free program called TimeMachineEditor that does the same thing and works with Lion.

Only backup with Time Machine manually

For those of you who like Time Machine’s simplicity and ease of use but don’t like the idea of automated backups, you can enjoy the best of both worlds. Simply go to Time Machine in System Preferences and move the big switch to Off. This disables all scheduled backups and only needs to be done once.

Now go to the Desktop or Finder and right-click on your Time Machine backup drive. Select “Back Up Now” from the menu and a manual backup will start. Follow this two-step procedure every time you want to do a backup.

7 Comments Have Been Posted (Leave Your Response)

Thanks for the tip on how to change the intervals. How did you figure that out? I am always amazed when people get down on the command line and discover things like this.

Hi everyone. I’ve been working TM since December, and finally decided to do only manual backups. Here’s why. Being an adamant backup person anyway, I’ve tried the auto backup, but still prefer to backup at will. I’ve found that hitting the “Back Up Now” button works best for me. Being a writer and designer, I don’t want to wait for the hour to pass, so I backup as soon as I finish a task or plan to walk away from the computer, and the backup happens in seconds. As well, I don’t like the collection of months of backups, so i keep only 2 months of work on my external drive at a time. I also have folders that are no longer on my HD, but are resting comfortably on my external. I have a 750 GB drive that will never fill up now from scheduled backups. Truth is, I won’t remember what I backed up sooo long ago anyway! I’m a “keep it current” type person, and searching thru so many files isn’t for me. I love Time Machine, and am most comfortable with my old methods of backing up. They work, I remember to always back up, and all is well with my beautiful new Mac. I suggest to all to quit fiddling with the intricate language of Time Machine and just keep it simple. It’s a fabulous backup system. Enjoy it!

An application allows editing the intervals of backup:


Very useful!
Before, you must put the big switch to Off In Time Machine.

Jonathan Brooks
May 17th, 2012, 7:09 AM

Or you could open a terminal and edit

sudo vi

put in the root password, i.e. your password, then find the section that says 3600 and change this to something more sensible like 14400 (time in seconds).

When you’re happy with your edit press:
ESC : w q
or (if you don’t want to save the change):
ESC : q

In practice it’s much better to have an automatic backup than do it manually, as you’ll forget and then be totally screwed. Also, I’ve been running TimeMachine on a 500GB hard disk for 2 years, and it’s got about 250GB left free. So unless you generate HUGE amounts of data on a daily basis (>10GB), you aren’t going to run out anytime soon.

Cheers, Jon

try this (if you don’t link VI):
– Open Terminal
– cd /System/Library/LaunchDaemons
– sudo pico -w
– enter your user password
– Change 3600 to 14400
– Type Ctrl + x (save the changes then exit)
– reboot your mac (click on restart in the apple menu) to relaunch the backup daemon
– Done

Hope this helps,

I mean “If you don’t *LIKE* vi” ;)

Thank you Ant. This was such a great find. -David