What happens when Backup apps die?

Just a short post/hint about how to get your data back from DVD backups made with Apple’s Backup.app utility. Backup was introduced in 2002 as part of Apple’s .Mac service, later MobileMe, but languished relatively unloved by the Mac community, and was last updated to version 3.2 in 2010. I liked it however because it could split large backups over several DVDs. [Important: no data was lost in this exercise – multiple redundant backups y’all.] I haven’t had much reason to recover data from Backup backups lately, but it always worked smoothly when it needed to.

Until MacOS Sierra.

Backup.app fails to run under Sierra

As I found out today, while searching for some old NMR data, Backup no longer runs under Sierra, leaving me with a pile of DVDs with no easy was of recovering the data. Searching Google and Apple’s support forums gave no joy.

So what was I to do? In such circumstances my standard trick is to drag and drop the (in this case large) file onto a bare-bones text editor such as Smultron/Fraise in order to discover what sort of file I’m dealing with. In this case Smultron threw up this useful error dialog:

Error shown when dragging a Backup file into Smultron

So Control-clicking, or right-clicking on the first part of the backup enabled me to look inside the package structure and begin searching for my files.


The first disk contains a file named “NMR – 2008.08.05- – Part 1.FullBackup”. Drilling down through:
Contents -> Contents -> Backup.sparseimage
located in image file whch contains all the actual data.

The image file could be mounted with DiskImageMounter and was simply named NMR. It contained a directory structure which ultimately contained my files in the desired folder, nested in their own project folders. Path = Users/u.sername/Documents/nmr_backup/etc.

This is not the end of the story however, as the data does not appear to be backed up in any particular order (that I could discern – perhaps creation date?), so every DVD had to be opened in this way, giving me ultimately 4 directory trees that needed to be merged by hand to get all the data into the right common subdirectories. Ultimately I was able to locate all the data, which matched another backup location I had, using a different backup protocol.

So to lessons learned. 1) Backup apps that use a proprietary format are probably a bad idea. In this case I was able to eventually dig all the files out, which ultimately didn’t matter because I also had simple file-copies in at least two other “cloud” and two hard disk locations to compare the file lists to. 2) Verify your backups.

About martin

almost on holidays
This entry was posted in mac, NMR, software and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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