Do you know a way to copy HFS+ hard links to a folder on a HFS+ or NTFS drive?

Before you say it can't be done, I don't want actual backing up functionality of Time Machine, just the ability to restore files that have been backed up.

I have 2 time machine backups on an HFS+ drive, of my mac before it was formatted for a fresh install of Lion, one of which is the first backup ever. I have to give that drive away soon, but want to retain the backups so that I can go through the store of backed up files and restore any important files to my fresh installation. The only drive I have with the capacity to store all the data is NTFS formatted.

If I just copy the .backupdb folder to the new drive, will it work? Will it copy the hard links as well? When I plug the HFS+ time machine drive into a windows pc (with an HFS+ driver installed), it shows most of both files and folders as files of size 0kb. I assumed these were hard links, but the initial backup also contains numerous such folder-files of 0-1kb size, which doesn't make sense, since the initial backup should contain all files and folders as is.

Say I can just copy the backup to the NTFS drive, should I:

  • Copy the folder in Finder
  • Copy the folder in Windows Explorer
  • Copy the folder using some functionality in Disk Utility or other such partition manager?
  • 3
    Time Machine uses directory hard links, which are forbidden by NTFS (and pretty much every other file system out there).
    – user1686
    Jan 13, 2012 at 13:15

3 Answers 3


If i were you i would try to copy the latest backup to the NTFS partition with Finder. I don't know how good Mac OS X is with NTFS but if something is acting odd just share the files from your Mac and download the files through FTP/SFTP/SMB to get rid of all possible issues.

  • With "latest backup" i mean only the latest backup directory. I would expect trouble otherwise. Jan 13, 2012 at 13:12

Use Disk Utility to save, on the NTFS volume, an image of either:

  • the HFS Plus volume that includes Backups.backupdb; or
  • the folder that contains Backups.backupdb .

Sparse bundle disk image may be ideal. It's the type of image preferred by Time Machine.


If you'd be using a linux distribution (might be a live cd, so you won't have to install it), you might use tmfs by Alexandre Bique which is a read-only userspace filesystem that works with directory hard links like the ones you have if you're using time machine.

I just did that to solve the same problem and it turned out fine. I wrote a quick tutorial, maybe you want to have a look.

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