What to do When Time Machine is Stuck on Preparing Backup

(Last Updated On: October 9, 2017)

If you’ve ever used Time Machine to create backups in el Capitan, Yosemite, macOS Sierra or any other Mac version you might have partaken of the unpleasant long wait. Since the Time Machine progress bar doesn’t give you much to go by, it is sometimes to tell if your Time Machine is stuck on preparing backup or not.

So, how can you tell if your backup is really stuck or Time Machine is working fine and has more files to process?

time machine stuck preparing backup

How Long Should Time Machine Preparing Backup Take?

The time taken varies depending on your disk space and backup frequency. The process is generally fast and you should be done in a couple of hours at most. The time to completion varies depending on:

  • The size of your hard drive and how much data it contains
  • It is the first time you are doing the backup or haven’t done it in a while
  • You have added new and big files to your drive recently
  • You recently installed new software
  • A disk was disconnected from your mac while running the backup
  • A previous backup was interrupted
  • The mac didn’t shut down properly

Even under heavy load, your Time Machine backup process shouldn’t take 12 to 24 hours. If you’re taking overnight or a full day just preparing backup, then your Time Machine is stuck.

Fixing the Time Machine Stuck Preparing Backup Problem

The recovery procedure will take you through a couple of steps.

1. Step 1: Stop the Current Time Machine Backup

You will have to cancel the stuck Time Machine Backup. The progress bar will disappear and so will the ‘Preparing Backup’ message.

  • Open Time Machine settings panel in the System Preferences section to bring up the backup
  • Click the ‘X’ icon until the backup attempt stops

2. Step 2: Get Rid of .inProgress file

This is the Time Machine placeholder file that shows that there’s a current backup running. You’ll have to trash it to save space and also avoid a longer backup next time since your Time Machine will use this folder to tell if a previous backup failed

  • Open Time Machine drive in Finder and go to Backups.backup folder
  • Open the folder within Backups.backup that has the name of your current mac
  • Order your files by date and sort by date modified so that your latest backup file is at the top of the list. It will have a date identifier too. Delete the file

delete in progress backup time machine

3. Step 3: Reboot and Initiate Backup

Once you are done, reboot your Mac and repeat the normal backup process. Your Time Machine will work well and will not be stuck preparing backup anymore. Ensure that you don’t unplug or eject any drives during the process to avoid initiating another backup stall.

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