Transferring a Time Machine backup to a new drive

I Have an Time Machine external HD that is beginning to lag and has some issues so I want to move all my backups to a new drive. I have found several how-to articles online and have followed them all but I can’t move the backup files to the new drive. Here are the steps I did for reference:

  1. Reformatted the new drive to Mac OS Extended (Journaled) with a GUID Partition Map scheme.
  2. Get Info for your new drive in Finder and turn off the option to ‘Ignore ownership on this volume.’
  3. Temporarily turn off Time Machine backups in System Preferences.
  4. Open Finder and drag the ‘Backups’ folder from your old drive to your new one.
  5. Turn on Time Machine again, with your new drive as the destination.

I have been trying to copy over the files but when I drag them over to the new volume it isn’t allowed. Other directions I found say to find the .backupdb file and drag it over but I can’t find that specific file. How can I find it? Am I missing some steps?

When I moved, I believed that there was no way to do this. You can either start a new drive (as if the old one didn’t exist) or use two the drives in tandem. (I think the old one remains “frozen” and the new one takes all new files.) I may be misremembering though, or things may have moved on.

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If two or more (local or network) drives are used with Time Machine, Time Machine will happily continue backing up to all of them (backing up to the next drive in line when the next scheduled backup time comes, then starting from the first one again).

Not sure what’s wrong, though, as TM backups can be moved to a different drive. What’s the exact error the OP is seeing?

When I drag the files over, the cursor changes to a circle with a diagonal line through it (like a no smoking sign without the cigarette obviously). When I try to drop it there it just doesn’t copy.

Assuming you’re on a recent macOS, you’ll want to use APFS ref.

You’ll need to show hidden files in Finder. Open the folder in Finder, and press Cmd+Shift+. (command + shift + period), you should see any hidden files. You can turn it off using the same shortcut.

I’m not sure about turning off ignore ownership. Since you’re formatting the drive, it should be okay.
You can right-click the drive, click Get Info, and check the Sharing & Permissions to be sure you have Read & Write access.

Screen Shot 2022-12-11 at 3.43.07 PM

Thanks, I did actually end up using APFS, I just forgot to change that from the instructions I copied.

As far as permissions, I made sure that I, as well as administrators, have read/write access. None of these have made a difference in not being able to copy the files over.

Ah, so that’s the issue. Time Machine backups cannot be moved from HFS to APFS volumes due to the way file systems handle snapshots and hard links (which APFS does not support at all so it uses snapshots, which HFS again does not support so it uses hard links to create TM backups).

In other words Time Machine works quite differently on HFS vs. APFS volumes and these backups cannot be moved between filesystems.

You need to either start a new backup or format the new destination drive as HFS again and then copy the files.


That makes sense, but my old time machine is also APFS. I wonder if TM drives that are formatted as APFS just don’t transfer like they used to?

According to some you cannot copy an APFS Time Machine backup to another drive.

“Although Time Machine itself copies a snapshot over to the backup volume and uses that to assemble the data required for it, there’s currently no way that you can copy or move snapshots from your backup storage or anywhere else for that matter.”


Thank you for this. I appreciate the article. I wish it wasn’t that way, but I guess the answer was just not what I was hoping for.

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I’ve also been looking at ways to move time machine to a bigger hard drive. My current time machine is on HFS+ but I was planning to migrate over to APFS for a new external. Looks like I have a different problem than you, but I’ve come to the same conclusion of starting another set of backups.