A free Time Machine

I’ve been itching to go wireless on my office desk for sometime. The final wires to eradicate are from my Mac into a USB hub connected to two hard discs for backups. Years ago I had an Apple Time Capsule. The Time Capsule is an Airport Wi-Fi basestation with a hard disc for Macs to back up to using the Time Machine backup software. It was pretty solid kit for a couple of years. Under the hood, it runs NetBSD and as an aside, I have had a few beers with the guy who ported the operating system. The power supply decided to give up – a very common fault apparently.

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I will clean the cables up. I promise.

When I was on my travels and living in two places, I had hard discs in both locations. The Mac supports multiple discs for backups and I encrypted the backups in case the discs were stolen. But now I’m in one home, I want to be able to move around the house with the Mac but still backup without having to go to the office. We are a two Mac house, so we need something more convenient.

I already have a base station and I don’t really want to shell out loads of money for an Apple one. There are several options to setup a Time Capsule equivalent.

  1. If you have a spare Mac, get a copy of Mac OS X Server. It will support Time Machine backups for multiple Macs and also supports quotas so that the size of the backups can be controlled. I don’t have a spare stationary Mac.
  2. Anything that speaks Appletalk file sharing protocol reasonably well.

Enter the Raspberry Pi. I have a Raspberry Pi 3 and within minutes one can install the Netatalk software. This has been available for years on Linux and implements the Apple file sharing protocols really well. With an external drive added, I was able to get a Time Machine backup working using this article.

I could not use my existing backup drive as is. Linux will read and write Mac OS drives, but there is a bit of too-ing and fro-ing so it is best to start with a fresh native Linux filesystem. Even if you can get it to work with the Mac OS drive, it will not be able to use a Time Machine backup from a drive previously directly connected.

I’ve been using this setup for the last couple of weeks. I have not had to do a serious restore yet and I should caveat that I still have a hard drive I use directly into the machine just in case. The first rule of backups – a file doesn’t exist unless there are three copies on different physical media.

(The Raspberry Pi is setup to be MiniDLNA server. It will stream media to Xbox’s and other media players.)

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