Time Machine on Samba with ZFS

Time Machine is Apple’s in-built backup system for MacOS. It’s probably the best consumer backup option, which really achieves “set and forget” backups.

It can backup to an external hard disk on a dock, an Apple Time Machine (wireless access point), or a custom location based on SMB shares.

Since I have a fileserver at home, I use this as my Time Machine backup target. To make this work really smoothly there are a few setup steps.

MacOS Time Machine Performance

By default timemachine operates as a low priority process. You can set a sysctl to improve the performance of this:

sysctl -w debug.lowpri_throttle_enabled=0

You will need a launchd script to make this setting survive a reboot.


I’m using ZFS on my server, which is probably the best filesystem available. To make Time Machine work well on ZFS there are a number of tuning options that can help. As these backups write and read many small files, you should have a large amount of RAM for ARC (best) or a ZIL + L2ARC on nvme. RAID 10 will likely work better than RAIDZ here as you need better seek latency than write throughput due to the need to access many small files.

For the ZFS properties on the filesystem I have set:

atime: off
dnodesize: auto
xattr: sa
logbias: latency
recordsize: 32K
compression: zstd-10
quota: 3T
# optional
sync: disabled

The important ones here are the compression setting, which in my case gives a 1.3x compression ratio to save space, the quota to prevent the backups overusing space, the recordsize that helps to minimise write fragmentation.

You may optionally choose to disable sync. This is because Time Machine issues a sync after every single file write to the server, which can cause low performance with many small files. To mitigate the data loss risk here, I both snapshot the backups directory hourly, but I also have two stripes (an A/B backup target) so that if one of the stripes goes back, I can still access the other. This is another reason that compression is useful, to help offset the cost of the duplicated data.


Inside of the backups filessytem I have two folders:


In each of these you can add a PList that applies quota limits to the time machine stripes.

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<!DOCTYPE plist PUBLIC "-//Apple//DTD PLIST 1.0//EN" "http://www.apple.com/DTDs/PropertyList-1.0.dtd">
<plist version="1.0">

The quota is in bytes. You may not need this if you use the smb fruit:time machine max size setting.


In smb.conf I offer two shares for the A and B stripe. These have identical configurations beside the paths.

comment = Time Machine
path = /var/data/backup/timemachine_b
browseable = yes
write list = timemachine
create mask = 0600
directory mask = 0700
spotlight = no
vfs objects = catia fruit streams_xattr
fruit:aapl = yes
fruit:time machine = yes
fruit:time machine max size = 1050G
durable handles = yes
kernel oplocks = no
kernel share modes = no
posix locking = no
# NOTE: Changing these will require a new initial backup cycle if you already have an existing
# timemachine share.
case sensitive = true
default case = lower
preserve case = no
short preserve case = no

The fruit settings are required to help Time Machine understand that this share is usable for it. Most of the durable settings are related to performance improvement to help minimise file locking and to improve throughput. These are “safe” only because we know that this volume is ALSO not accessed or manipulated by any other process or nfs at the same time.

I have also added a custom timemachine user to smbpasswd, and created a matching posix account who should own these files.


You can now add this to MacOS via system preferences. Alternately you can use the command line.

tmutil setdestination smb://timemachine:password@hostname/timemachine_a

If you intend to have stripes (A/B), MacOS is capable of mirroring between two strips alternately. You can append the second stripe with (note the -a).

tmutil setdestination -a smb://timemachine:password@hostname/timemachine_b