Backups that don't backup

Once is a minor glitch (maybe). Twice is seriously upsetting. I worked on a story last night, backing up as I went along. I also backed up to Dropbox and a thumb drive. Time Machine also did it’s regular backups. This morning, all of yesterday’s work is gone. Nowhere is there any sign that this file was opened or modified since Sunday.

This happened several months ago and I just sighed and did the work over. Please don’t ask what I did that was different. I didn’t do anything different. The little window that always pops up during a backup did its thing. But nothing was backed up. Has this ever happened to anyone else?

By the way, the first time it happened, I was still using Leopard. Now I’m using Snow Leopard. This is the only problem I’ve had with Scrivener, but it’s a doozy, and is cutting into my belief in its reliability.

You might look around and see if the file was saved under a different name or in a different location than you thought. The odds of three different backups all failing are somewhat remote.


There’s no reason why it would be saved under a different name or in a different location. I didn’t change them, and I assume the program can’t. If Scrivener’s backup fails, then the saved copies aren’t going to have the changes either. When I save a file to a thumb drive or elsewhere, it’s the Scrivener copy I’m saving.

To be clear: are you using either menu File->Backup->* or the toolbar icon for initiating a backup? Some people use “Save As” to do a backup, and then later double-click on what they think is the most current version of the project, when it was actually the name/location they used in the Save As dialogue.

I know this is frustrating, but I’ve not heard of the Mac version losing work without something else outside of Scrivener doing the dirty work. Can you go step-by step through a typical edit-then-backup scenario, including menu items chosen and the like. Good luck finding your missing text!

Ever since upgrading Scrivener, I use the backup icon on the toolbar. But I believe the first loss some months back was with Scrivener 1., using File->Backup Now. In any case, I have it set for automatic backup when closing, so that doesn’t involve either the icon or the menu commands. The little backup window always shows up when I close the file, so there was never any reason to think that it might not actually be doing anything.

I think from now on, if I can remember, I’ll always reopen the file to check that it did actually backup. I simply can’t afford to keep losing my work.

This may not be the problem, but have you changed the default location for backups to be saved? In my case I find they go to:

~/Library/Application Support/Scrivener/Backups

which I believe is the default – it is a somewhat “out of the way” place. And in my case, I find the program is set to make the backup into a zip file (not sure if this is a default). As I say, this may not be anything to do with the problem you have, but perhaps it might be worth checking to see if you have zip files inside the ~/Library/Application Support/Scrivener/Backups folder, if it exists on your system.

Best wishes, and I hope you solve the mystery,

Edit: I should say that the default location I was referring to is for automatic backups – I realised that if you use “Back Up To” from the menu or toolbar you would go through a save dialogue where you choose where to save.

There is a little confusion here. The backup features you are referring to are all automated and put their backups into one spot. There is no feedback on where they should go, and it isn’t easily feasible to use it to put a backup on a Flash drive one minute, and a Dropbox folder the next. You can—but you’d have to go into preferences, set the folder to a different spot, go back to the project, and close it again (since you state you aren’t using buttons or menus any more). This doesn’t distribute backup copies anywhere except the preferred location, if you don’t know where that is, click the button in the Backups preference pane to reveal this location and you should find all of your recent backups.

It was probably File/Backup Project To.... There was no Backup Now function, because all that does is trigger a backup according to the automatic backup settings. It generates an automatic backup immediately, instead of waiting for the normal scheduling (but it will back up then, too). Scrivener 1.x did not have an automated system, and so that function wouldn’t have any purpose. The old method definitely was more like you are describing, where you can point the backup anywhere the Mac can see and fire off several of them one after the other. The symmetrical command in Scrivener 2.x is File/Back Up/Back Up To...

Actually, if you’ll pardon my butting in, Unusual Suspect wrote:


I guess that could either be “Back Up Now” or “Back Up To”. But I don’t want to confuse things.


Martin, I changed the default location for backups almost as soon as I upgraded Scrivener and haven’t touched it since. All backups go to the Scrivener folder in Documents. I double checked today to see if anything had gone to the library app support folder, and nothing had. And I never zip any of my files, so that wouldn’t have anything to do with the problem.

Today, backups are normal, so far, but I’m probably going to be cutting and pasting each day’s work to my regular text program before closing, from now on. Unless someone can figure out why Scrivener simply stops backing up at random intervals, I can’t trust it.

Amber, you don’t have to use Preferences to save copies to Dropbox or anywhere else. I do it manually, by dragging and dropping, just as you’d save copies of anything. I go to the Scrivener folder, find the file, and drag it to the backup device. I’m not “distributing” backups; I’m saving copies. I know that Scrivener’s backup process is automatic. All I’m saying is that it has stopped working, twice. Please don’t confuse that backup with saving to other locations.

From your description so far, it isn’t really clear what you’re doing…

It sounds like you’re using Scrivener’s automatic backup functionality to create a backup file, then using the Finder to drag copies of that file to Dropbox and your thumb drive. Meanwhile, Time Machine automatically creates backups of both the original project and the backup file. Is that correct?

If I’ve got that right, the first thing to check is to make sure that you are looking at the most recent .bak file. Scrivener’s automatic backups are named Project.bak?, where the ? is a number depending on how many backups you’re keeping. (Add a .zip at the end if you’re storing them as .zip files.) Looking at my own projects, it cycles through the numbers, so the one with the largest number may not be the most recent. Can you confirm that the backup command does indeed create those files, and that the one you’re looking at is the most recent?

I’d also recommend doing a Spotlight search for both .scriv and .bak files that are stored where they’re not supposed to be. I know you didn’t intentionally change them, but I’ve created lots of problems for myself with inattentive mouse clicks and such. It’s a quick check.

Another thing to check is to make sure that Dropbox and the thumb drive are behaving as expected. It seems unlikely that both would fail, but it’s possible.


Martin, I might have read a little too much into the line right after the one you quoted. :slight_smile:

Okay, so, you close the project and a backup gets created. If you are using roughly default settings, there five of these for each project in this folder, and they are numbered. So the last thing you do in the day is drag out copies of this last backup using the Finder; Time Machine runs, etc.

The file copied to the locations correctly, it’s just old. Hmm, a bit of a long shot, but the numbers on these can be deceptive, they are created sequentially, but once the full rota is in place, Scrivener alternates through them again, meaning that at times the latest backup could be the third in a list of five files, not the fifth—that might be one of the older ones. Turn on the Date Modified column in Finder if necessary, and see if maybe there is just a more recent one under an unexpected name?

It would be very strange if the latest backup is identical to the second latest backup—which is what you should have, going by your description. If the last backup is a day old, then it would be identical to the second to last backup. Do you have two sequentially numbered backups that are exactly the same size?

So there are two folders, one on Dropbox and one on your thumb drive that you created yourself by drag-and-drop on the 14th of June. If it was me, I would open the folder I had saved on the thumb drive, and take a look at the RTF files inside. I would also look at their modify times. That would at least tell me what the state of the documents in the project was at the time I did the manual drag-and-drop copy.

Are they all zero-length files? Are they all unmodified copies with modify times that tell you Scrivener never touched them? Perhaps the modifications are there, but the file protections have changed? It would interesting, and perhaps helpful, to understand the state of the thumb drive backup you made on the 14th.

Not to discount what anyone has said, but I’m going to go through the most recent suggestions one by one. As for the backup files, they’re dated, and there are no backups for yesterday. And that’s the problem. Whatever else is happening, I’m at fault for using Backup throughout the day rather than Save. I’ll go back to using Save again, and if the backups fail again, at least I’ll have the one modified file.

The main thing I need to say, settinging aside the unintentional confusion about saving to Dropbox and other places, is that there were no backups for the entire day, despite the backup window appearing as it normally would. That’s what it boils down to. I made absolutely no changes that would have affected the process. Since this is the second time it’s happened, I’m inclined to say that there’s some obscure bug in the program that shows up so rarely that it’s probably impossible to track it down.

I appreciate all the attempts to solve this, but it looks as if I’m on my own with it. If I discover anything useful, I’ll report back.

One last note, Amber. Sorry I wasn’t clear about that. No, I don’t drag and drop a backup file. I use the (file name).scriv for that.

I can only wish you the best of luck with it, and I hope it’s so obscure that it doesn’t happen again. I hate losing even five minutes’ work.


All right, so you have the date stamp option turned on in your backup preferences (I prefer that as well), and all day you pressed the Back Up Now button, so if all is working well, you should have five or six (or however many times you backed up) copies dated for yesterday, but instead you have none.

Sorry if this is a repetition, but you have clicked on the “Open backup folder…” in the preference pane, and verified that it is indeed where the old backups are located, and the new ones are nowhere in that folder it opened up? It sounds a bit like that preference got reset and backups ended up somewhere unexpected for the day. Failing that, a Spotlight search for the root project name only turns up the master project and the backups you are aware of? How about searching in the Time Machine interface?

What I would do is try attaching a folder action to your backup folder. You can then use AppleScript to fire off a notification whenever a new item lands in this folder. So you back up in Scrivener, the progress bar fills, and a second later you get a confirmation alert. If that sounds like a decent monitoring step to take, I’d recommend this checklist here (no programming required, the necessary AppleScript is already coded and provided by Apple, this just shows how to attach it to a folder).

Then you can continue to work in the fashion you are, without having to spend a lot of extra time with copy and paste (I’d compile, or export before taking that step), because if you back up and no alert appears, you know something is wrong immediately and can investigate it.

Amber, I remember reading way, way back that preferences are subject to occasional screwups. That might have something to do with it. I did search Time Machine, but all it had was the last backups from a couple of days ago. Thanks for the suggestion about folder actions and Applescript. I’ll give that a try for added insurance. I changed my mind about copy and pasting every day’s work to a text file. Real pain in the butt. Instead, I’ll check the file in the documents folder to make sure it has the current modified date. If it doesn’t, then I’ll do a copy and paste.

Thanks for all the help.

I’m sort of jumping in from another track here, but setting aside the obvious issue of the backups seeming to not have been made, there seem to be another issue regarding saving/auto-saving and what version of the file you’re using. Forgive me if I’ve completely jumbled this, but it sounds like you’re using Backups as a means of “saving” your work so that you can then work from the most recent backup as though it were the most recent saved version. Scrivener by default autosaves your work every two seconds of inactivity and it always auto-saves when you close it, so strictly speaking the .scriv file you were working in should be the most recent version, identical to the backup made automatically when the project closed. Clicking “Save” does the same function as the autosave, so it’s generally just a psychological thing unless you’ve bumped up the auto-save time to something high enough that the autosave only rarely runs, and again, the autosave kicks in when you close the project regardless.

Basically, the .scriv file you were working in yesterday ought to contain all your most recent edits, even if the backup didn’t get created, so you should be able to just open that and continue (or make a new backup from there and see if that works) without any lost work. I’m not clear then if when you said

whether you were referring to this file (definitely the one you were working in yesterday, and not one of the backup versions) or the backups folder where, apparently, your backups didn’t get created. But you also talk about making additional backups by copying that file to your thumbdrive and Dropbox–so those aren’t Scrivener backups, made by the program, but just copies of the active project that you’ve made, correct? You talked about doing it while working, so are you making these copies while the project is open? (You really want to do it when the project is closed.)

Sorry to pick up this semi-unrelated point, but it sounds like there are two problems here, since if your active project failed to save the latest changes, that’s unrelated to the backup not working (in theory; they might both have the same root cause).

To complicate things a little more, I found that when the backups weren’t working, the project file wasn’t being saved either. That didn’t change any modification date past the one I mentioned. Possibly, as Amber mentioned, it was a problem with preferences. I haven’t had to delete and redo preferences in a long time, probably not since system 9, so it wasn’t something I would have thought of. If this ever happens again, the first thing I’ll probably do is delete the old preferences from the library and reset them.

When I do backups to Dropbox, etc., I do it by dragging and dropping the project file after I’ve closed the program, never when it’s open. I have autosave set for every five seconds of inactivity. Yeah, I know that hitting Save is a psychological thing, probably a leftover from when I had a program that sometimes failed to do saves when it was supposed to.

A lot of the confusion here seems to be because I didn’t differentiate between Scrivener’s backups, and the file saved to the various locations as backups. But I do use just the basic project file for external backups, not one of Scrivener’s backups. The one thing I’m getting from all the suggestions is that there was a failure somewhere. It might have been a one in a million glitch in Scrivener, a corrupted preferences file, or something else in OSX. At least, you’ve all given me a lot of help in checking through what I might have done wrong, and a way to verify any future failure.