Can We Back-Up Final Cut Pro X Libraries With Time Machine?

Posted on by Larry

workflowTime Machine is an automated back-up utility that ships with all recent versions of the MAC OS.

Whether you use Time Machine or some other utility – such as Carbon Copy Cloner – making regular backups of essential files is critical. However, unlike Final Cut Pro 7 or any version of Adobe Premiere, libraries in Final Cut Pro X use a different storage structure for media which often confuses editors who are concerned about backing up their projects.

This is because libraries are not a single file, they are a collection of files – called a “bundle” – that masquerades as a single file. Inside this bundle are databases, media files, folders… a whole flock of files that are invisible to the end user under normal circumstances.

Recently, Brian emailed me a question asking: “If I want to use Time Machine to backup my files, will it see files in a Final Cut Library and back them up? And, if so, if I change my edit, but not my media, will it back up everything again because the library changed, or only those files inside the library that changed?”

This is a great question because, if a library contains hundreds of gigabytes of media files, you don’t want to back up the media files which haven’t changed in order to backup up a 2 MB database which did.

So, I researched the answer on Apple’s website and here’s what I learned: “Time Machine updates individual files, so it should only backup files that have changed inside the library, not the entire library bundle.”

In other words, Time Machine is smart enough to look inside the bundle and only back up the files that are changed since the last backup.


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22 Responses to Can We Back-Up Final Cut Pro X Libraries With Time Machine?

  1. Joseph Rushton says:

    Sometimes I reconsider the appropriateness of certain names I give projects, events,or other media inside a library, and I change them while I’m editing. FCPX dutifully allows this. But will Timemachine recognize these name changes too, without thinking these renamed files are totally new, and have to resave the whole file even if only the names changed? Could be gigs of resaving, and a real time waster on my fairly slow machine which I’d like to avoid.

    • Larry says:

      Joseph:

      Changing names inside Final Cut only affects the databases stored in the Library, it doesn’t change media names at all.

      These changes are backed up by Time Machine. And, because the databases are tiny, when compared to the media files, don’t take lots of extra room on your hard disk.

      Larry

  2. Ben Curry says:

    Thanks Larry, I always wondered how bundles were handled. I also set my Cache Location to an external folder and exclude this from Time Machine backups to save space.

  3. Brian says:

    Hey Larry, this is Brian who emailed you regarding this question. I think you still are missing the problem I am trying to point out. Let me create a scenario for you. You use Time Machine to backup your computer, and FCPX library. Then you open FCPX and edit a bit, while Time Machine automatically backs up your machine every hour or so. If FCPX is open, Time Machine will not backup the library you have open. Then…the second you close FCPX, Time Machine will do another automatic backup, notice that the FCPX library is missing from the previous backup, and backup THE ENTIRE LIBRARY all over again. Isn’t that a problem if you have a huge library?

    • Larry says:

      Brian:

      The part that you may not clearly understand is that a library is not a “thing.” It is a group of things.

      A library is a “super-folder,” which contains dozens, sometimes hundreds, even thousands of assets (files.) When you are editing, the two library databases (which are also stored in the library) are locked, but the media files and other assets are not.

      When Time Machine makes a backup, it looks inside the library folder for those elements which have changed: databases, render files and analysis files, generally. Those get backed up. The media files which you imported into the library never change during editing, so once these are backed up, Time Machine doesn’t need to back them up again.

      This means that, as you would expect, Time Machine does not duplicate your entire library but only those files that have changed since the last backup. This means that once media is safely archived, your incremental backups are relatively small because databases are tiny.

      Larry

      • Brian says:

        Hey Larry,

        Thank you for the reply. The problem is that Time Machine IS backing up the entire library. It shows that it is backing up 985GB which is the exact size of my FCPX library. It already backed up my library before, but since FCPX is now open when Time Machine just tried to back up my system, it skipped the library. Now when I close FCPX, Time Machine is showing a new 985GB backup. I understand what you are saying, but that isn’t what is happening on my machine..

        • Larry says:

          Brian:

          In my researches, here’s what I’ve learned.

          If the the media is in the library bundle then it will be backed up when the library is backed up. You can easily move media out of a library if using Time Machine for backups and then it should only back up the media that changes in the media folder.

          And you can move the media back again into the library when you want to move the library and media as a single object. If the library and media are on the same drive then this process is instant.

          In other words, move media out of the library during the edit, then move it back into the library for final archiving.

          Larry

          • Brian says:

            This is terrible. I am not sure when this bug appeared, but I should be able to use Time Machine and FCPX at the same time…..at least I used to be able to. Now it appears as your saying, that I should not keep media in the library, but only use linked media so that Time Machine works properly. So disappointing.

  4. Daniel says:

    I have been using this method for backup for sometime. It has always worked perfect. But recently since upgrading to FCPX 10.3 Time machine has been skipping some of my FCPX Libraries rendering the method of backup useless. Not sure if this is a bug in Mac Os or FCPX or if its just my system. Just wondering if anyone else has recently run into this problem?

    Daniel

  5. Fran says:

    With fcpx 10.1 and 10.2 time machine was behaving well (only doing backups of what changed inside fcpx libraries as explained in this article).
    Since 10.3 it’s doing backup of the entire libraries as soon as a little change is done inside them.

    This is pretty wrong !

    • Larry says:

      Fran:

      I agree and this is not how FCP X is supposed to work. I suggest calling Apple Support / or emailing them to figure out what’s wrong. FCP X should only backup changes.

      Larry

  6. Nikolaj says:

    I’m having the same problem with Time Machine skipping libraries. Did anyone find a solution?

    I sent feedback to Apple (https://www.apple.com/feedback/finalcutpro.html) and would suggest you all to do the same 🙂

  7. I have just been bitten badly with Time Machine. My machine had to be wiped (reasons too boring to go into), and I was under the impression that my fcpx titles, ie the movies folder, would be backed up to time machine. Sadly not, time machine backed up all the normal stuff like desktop, downloads and applications but not the movies folder. Empty, nada, not a sausage. I had several custom motion files, saved as fcpx titles that I thought were being backed up by time machine. My own stupid fault for not checking but come on Apple, why would time machine not backup the movies folder. I now have to re-create everything! OS Sierra 10.12.6, latest fcpx and motion

  8. Licia says:

    I’ve run into this very thing and looked into it quite a bit. Although I completely understand that the libraries are not single files but instead collection of files and that theoretically, there is something that FCP does that overrides that.

    When FCP launches it takes a look at what libraries are open in the sidebar. It immediately writes a metadata tag to each of the open libraries. This is applied at the top level of the library to the package itself and affects everything inside. The tag is “com_apple_backup_excludeitem”

    You can see this happen by using the following terminal command both before and after you launch FCP.
    sud mdfind “com_apple_backup_excludeitem = ‘com.apple.backupd'”

    It will show you any files that are being excluded and I can see each of my open FCP libraries listed there.

    From what I experienced, everything is fine until time machine starts its hourly backup. it sees that those libraries are excluded and not only does it not back them up, it actually removes them from the backup set.

    When you close FCP the tag is removed. The next time Time Machine runs it sees that there are now “new” files to back up. It then backups up the entire library. I have a library that is > 1T in size (I know, I need to split it up). So this entire 1TB library must be backed up from scratch.

    It gets worse….

    If I’m using FCP a lot during the day, there are many hourly backups where these libraries are not part of the backup. Time machine keeps hourly backups for 24 hours and then prunes them down to daily backups for a month and then weekly backups after that. I don’t know how it decides which of the daily (and then weekly) snapshots to keep but I got in a situation where for 6 months I was doing so much FCP work that I ended having no backup of my main libraries because the saved snapshots were ones where the FCP libraries were excluded because they had been open in FCP and then excluded (and removed) from backup.

    And it got worse…

    I also use CrashPlan for online backups. It took over a month to get my entire computer backed up to CrashPlan. It turns out CrashPlan obeys that metatag instruction as well and does the same thing. So if CrashPlan runs and FCP is running, it deletes my entire 1TB library off the CrashPlan servers and then I spend another month uploading it the next time I back up.

    My work around has been to pause CrashPlan and turn off Time Machine before I open FCP. I then have to enable them again after I’m done working. If I forget – OMG I’m kicking myself.

    • Larry says:

      Licia:

      Thanks for this write-up. I’m trying to see if there’s a better work-around. If there is, I’ll let you know.

      Larry

    • Brian says:

      Thank you! Finally someone understands what I am saying! I can’t imagine how many people don’t even realize this is happening and their libraries aren’t backed up!

  9. Mark Bigelow says:

    Some time ago, I too found Time Machine repeatedly rewriting my entire FCPX library if TM ran while I had FCPX open and the library in use. Furthermore I suspected that a TM backup of a FCPX library might end up in an inconsistent state and be unusable with the backup being made while I was working in the library.

    Hence I have adopted the process of turning Time Machine hourly backups off, and instead exiting FCPX several times a day to manually run backups. This clearly results in only changed files within the library being backed up. I have used these backups to restore my primary drive several time, I know they work.

    My frustration with Time Machine is that it is unnecessarily backs up the optimized and other FCPX created and recreatable files. This means that the TM backups are much larger than they need be, and my backup drives hold much less of my original media files than they otherwise would. Why doesn’t Apple provide TM with the capability to do this much more efficient backup of their own products such as FCPX?

  10. Ben says:

    Do we know if this has been updated/addressed in later versions of FCPX?

    Just had a hard drive failure on my iMac and now looking into back-up options for realtime use (Time Machine) as well as a NAS drive set-up etc. so I always have a backed-up data.

    Given the issues raised by Brian and the subsequent comments, any recommendations as to the best way to ensure remote back-up of FCPX files?

    Thanks

    • Larry says:

      Ben:

      Time Machine behavior has not changed with recent versions. As this article states, Time Machine will only back-up files that have changed (or been added) since the last backup.

      So, this is a good option to back up your projects and libraries.

      Larry

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