time machine icon FIXED: Time Machine error SparseBundle already in useSo, Time Machine decided it would blankly refuse to back up today.. It seemed to think that the SparseBundle file was still in use, despite the fact it was a fresh install and it was the very first backup! Turn’s out it’s quite a simple issue to fix (at least it was in my situation)

  1. Open Finder
  2. Open the Utilities folder
  3. Open the AirPort utility
  4. Double click on your Time Capsule
  5. Select the ‘Disks’ tab
  6. Click the button to disconnect all users
  7. Launch the Time Machine preferences
  8. Click ‘Backup Now’
You should now find your Time Machine will finally complete the backup as expected.
NB: This may have occurred as I have recently upgraded to Lion, and was wanting to continue using the same SparseBundle file.

What is a SparseBundle?


Mac OS X v10.5 (Leopard) introduced the concept of the sparse bundle. Instead of a monolithic file, a sparse bundle is a bundle (directory) that stores the disk image as banded data files. When the content of the image changes, one or more band files is changed, created, or deleted. This allows backup software (such as Time Machine) to operate more efficiently. You may use a tool such as rsync to keep your disk image(s) consistent across various systems


  • James Durkee

    This is driving me nuts and still doesn’t work properly unless I completely reboot the Airport (which is unacceptable!)  I really hope there’s a fix for this soon. :(

    • http://www.mikesel.info/ Mike Hudson

      I am sorry to hear that James, out of interest what firmware version is your Time Capsule running on? 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_G7SMCZJ7XB2D6JY7DOUCBMXOJM andy

    I get the same thing, but I’m using a disk attached to an Airport Extreme. It only happened once or twice in a couple years under Snow Leopard, but with Lion it happens all the time. I can reboot the  AE and it will work once, but not the second time. Something about Lion causes it to not fully release the disk once the back up is done. Hope Apple fixes this even though they don’t support Time Machine on AE shared disks (it competes with Time Capsule). :-(

    • http://www.mikesel.info/ Mike Hudson

      What build number of Lion are you using Andy? Click on the Apple symbol, then ‘About this Mac’ then click on ‘Version 10.7′ it should cycle to build number.

      • burt plotkin

        Stuck at the same point as Dylan and Michelle. Is there an answer?

      • Mindy

        11G56 Currently have this problem myself now with Lion and Time Capsule

  • http://twitter.com/DylanBoudreau Dylan Boudreau

    I’m having the same problem as well…I’m not even a little bit impressed with Lion.  Considering reinstalling back to Snow Leopard.  Apple really missed the mark on this one.

  • Victor Miller

    Here’s some information: I’m running version 7.5.2 on my Airport Extreme, and build 11B26 of Lion.  I would bet on a memory leak in the software of the AE — since things work fine after the AE is rebooted, and the problem comes back after a few days to a week.  Then I have to reboot.  What annoys me, is that I can’t find out what’s going on in detail: i.e. Time Machine makes some query (what exactly is it) about the sparsebundle file, and the OS responds (erroneously) that it’s in use.  Under the covers there is an exchange of messages with the AE software, which is giving the bad response.   This never happened until the update of the AE software to version 7.x (I don’t remember the x).  I got the AE in December of 2009, and this didn’t start until around May or June of 2010.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/michele.armstrong.37 Michele Armstrong

    I’m following your directions exactly but when I get to the point to disconnect all users, there is no option for it. It’s only giving me the option to “Erase Disk”. Please advise.

    • http://www.mikesel.info/ Mike Hudson

      Hi Michelle, I’m not near a mac currently. But I believe this article was written for the older airport utility. I must update it.

      In the meantime, download the old version from here and try again.



  • http://www.facebook.com/dylan.luyten Dylan Luyten

    I’ve got same message, but with mountain lion, I don’t have option to “disconnect all users” – the disk utility interface is completely redone… any other info? thanks

    • http://www.mikesel.info/ Mike Hudson

      Hi Dylan

      I’ve not had the problem in a while, certainly not since upgrading to ML. I’ll have a look at the utility in ML and post back how to do it as soon as possible.


  • Victor Miller

    Mike, I’ve tried what you suggested (I’m running Lion, but had the same problem with Snow Leopard).  Unfortunately after I “disconnect all users” with the Airport Utility,  Time Machine says it can’t find the disk.  When I go into finder it no longer has a link to my airport extreme.  The only thing that works is to reboot airport extreme.  This is certainly an extreme solution.

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