Monday, November 9, 2020

Updating to Catalina, Finally

Yesterday, I finally updated to Catalina, straight to 10.15.7 with the supplemental update. It still has issues, but they no longer outweigh not being able to run Xcode 12 directly from 10.14.

The best part so far is being able to run NetNewsWire 5.1, which has some great new options for only showing unread feeds and articles.

The worst part so far is the backup situation. It’s no longer possible to directly make an encrypted clone with Carbon Copy Cloner or SuperDuper. Even if you have an existing clone from a previous version of macOS, you can’t Smart Update it. You have to first clone to an unencrypted container, then boot from the backup and enable FileVault. This sounds simple, but I cannot overstate how frustrating and time consuming it is. (And, of course, your data remains unencrypted during this time.)

Booting from an APFS volume on a spinning hard drive takes forever. Don’t forget to hold down the Shift key after logging in or it will beachball for an additional 20 minutes while relaunching your apps. Even so, some of them (launch agents?) still relaunch, and that can take a while. I was greeted by a dozen or so dialogs complaining about the Bonjour name, Little Snitch’s rules, my Apple ID needing to be logged in again, iMessages from long ago that failed to send, etc.

The first time I did this, I made the mistake of trying to enable FileVault via System Preferences. That takes multiple minutes between each click, and twice the Security pane failed with a “Preferences Error” and bumped me back to the main System Preferences window.

The faster way is to open Terminal and type:

sudo fdesetup enable -keychain

This command takes about 5 minutes to start the encryption process, but at least it’s reliable and unattended.

After rebooting from your regular drive, you can connect the backup, enter the password, and let it finish encrypting in the background. You can check the progress using:

diskutil apfs list

At first, I thought it was stuck because it stayed at 5% for 2.5 hours. 6 hours later, it is still only at 16%. This is for a 1 TB drive that’s only slightly more than half full. At this rate, it will take days to finish this one drive, the first of many. Prior to macOS 10.15.7, it would simply encrypt while cloning, taking virtually no extra time.


Update (2020-11-20): Another issue is that enabling FileVault on a backup drive sets the passphrase to the relatively short login password. I like to use a longer passphrase for drives that will be stored off-site. APFS passphrases cannot be changed in Disk Utility. You can do it with System Preferences, but that requires booting from the drive again, which is very slow. The faster way is to use Terminal. First, use:

sudo diskutil apfs list

to find the “APFS Volume Disk” for your “Data” partition, disk4s2 in my case. Then use:

sudo diskutil apfs listUsers disk4s2

to find the UUID of the “Local Open Directory User.” In my case, that’s 414C4BC7-B641-44E8-A681-911B2030F7AE. Then tell it you want to change the passphrase for that user:

sudo diskutil apfs changePassphrase disk4s2 -user 414C4BC7-B641-44E8-A681-911B2030F7AE

10 Comments RSS · Twitter

Oh my. Cloning an APFS system to a HDD? Do yourself a favor and get an external SSD.

There are fairly affordable solutions by now for having a fast external SSD. If you're just cloning, then a 1TB SSD should probably suffice. Get something like this:

* Crucial P1 1TB SSD (or similar one below $100 - doesn't have to be the fastest)
* ICY BOX SSD M.2 NVMe enclosure (USB 3.1) or something similar that dissipates the (extensive) heat from the SSD.

Should cost you $130-150.

Then you get ~400 MB/s speed via the USB-A connector, and ~700 MB/s with USB-C connector. I have several of them and use them for testing (and booting from) the various macOS versions.

@Thomas I have a few external SSDs, but 10x more HDDs. That adds up. It will take a while to upgrade them all. And I’m not sure I want to buy a bunch of 1 TB backup SSDs when my next Mac might have a larger than 1 TB internal SSD. I guess I could partition it and only back up the boot partition to SSD…

John McCormick

I’m ion Catalina for life! Early 2013 15in a book pro so no Big Sur in this mbp’s future. I haven’t suffered too much considering I adopted it on day one.

First of all, you guys don't have to listen to me, I'm old, tired and REtired. I've been an Apple user since the IIe and my tech career "ended" in the late 2000s. Apple still has the best support of East Asian languages so that's why I stick with them, but I do not need one of the new glorified iPads with a keyboard and mouse as of yet.

Maybe read this rant from just over a year ago about Catalina first, nothing has changed if anything it's accelerated and there's no going back:

@JohnMc I feel you, I updated to das Cat about a month ago and went from "relatively stable" Mojave to a cluster... cluster EXPLETIVE of AFP partition remaps, kernel panics, memory leaks and machine uptime of no more than three days. But at least they fixed MOST of the data loss bugs, right?

Catalina became "serviceable" LAST WEEK with the introduction of fixes to the kernel and (AFAIR) MRT. I still use iStat View to audit my machines from my iPhone, and I *now* have uptime of 5 days and counting. No freezes, and no kernel panics as of yet.

I don't see Big Sur being any different, so I'm going to "hang back" for TWO YEARS now and MAYBE see if I "need" Big Sur. If ever.

Apple has made it quite clear that Big Sur is optimized for Apple Silicon, and these Macs will have lower memory and storage thresholds, in fact even T2 era Macs had (for me) stingy storage and memory for "professional use". Everything I've bought I've had 512GB SSD and 16GB RAM and that's enough "head room" to semi pro and now light "development" for personal projects. This used to be Apple's pro tier. Boot volume being SSD at the 128GB or 256GB tiers I've found to be far too constraining if we're talking about XCode, audio or video editing. If forced to use these lower tiers, I'm going to offload as much content as possible to external HDs, and Michael, yes, I have a lot of HDs too.

In fact I've only had one catastrophic event with failing hardware and most content being somewhere else *and cloned* saved me a lot of gray hair.

So what do from now given Apple's direction? For one's I see no compelling reason to upgrade hardware or software given Apple's (lack of) quality record. I don't care about A/R at all, the only ML functions I'm using on my iPad revolve around Chinese character OCR.

My 2 machine 2012-13 (Mini, MBP) "fleet" on Catalina isn't going past that. I have a lot of non-SSD externals so these have been organized into "clone pairs" and get backed up every other day. Yes these HDs are formatted with Mojave- or Catalina- APFS and some are to 80% capacity. I'm not seeing ANY "speed issues" with playback of audio- or video- files, no "frame dropping" and yes my Music Library lives on one of those externals. I've been able to chain 5 external USB bus powered HDs between 2 USB ports with a USB hub without suffering data loss for years, and each of these has a clone that occasionally gets older data burned to DVD.

The clones SHOULD go in a fire safe but I might be a bit lazy/tired/retired from remote work. I was remote for half a decade before retiring.

Michael I would suggest that if you have a machine that can be upgraded with an SSD that you pursue that. I would not recommend the fusion drive route, just get a 512GB SSD and migrate/backup/snapshot all content to external. For me APFS seems to be okay, YMMV.

My Mini started with a 1 TB external and I upgraded it to a OWC Mercury 512GB SSD. I didn't feel the need to upgrade my i5 Mini after that and it's still a very suitable file server now. Boot times are what you'd expect and are fine even on "soon to be vintage" iron. The external is now 2 partitions of backup, one is a boot clone and the other is iMazing to back up iPhone + iPad over WiFi.

Then use those external HDs as storage and either plug them in on demand or chain up to 5 via a hub. And (I can't stress this enough) have clones, and if in a professional env a fire safe.

Thanks for attending my non-TED talk. B-)

Great to see I’m not the only one that still hasn’t abandoned Mojave! :)
I’m also tempted to upgrade to Catalina, as it should finally be fairly stable, but with Big Sur around the corner (and even better with 11.0.1 very close), I’d like to hear what made you take this route and not wait a few more days ?

Hi Michael,

Think I first noticed your name (as I always avoided SpamSieve ...) when there was mentions of bad behavior of Mail in Catalina. You have no problem there any longer? I think there are still problems moving messages in Catalina manually between folders (and I have always myself moved all messages manually) – think lots of messages were just lost when I tried to move between an IMAP account and an Exchange account for a customer, (but just now got unsure if it was on High Sierra or afterwards on Catalina I made the move – it worked fine in Mojave though).

Personally I still use some 32-bit software (abandonware for all I can tell) that would be terribly ineffective for me to abandon in favour of other 64-bits ones (because of the learning time and workflows), so thought to jump directly to Big Sur hoping the Mail issue might be less of a problem there and run Mojave in a virtual machine ... .

@Jerry I’m still seeing various message moving bugs in Catalina, but I have workarounds and backups.

OK, so why? Why Catalina, and not Big Sur?

Experimental in-place upgrade of my Mojave clone to Big Sur shows surprisingly good results (and that I took good care of my installations, only using the proper filesystem locations for add-on software). Given that I don't use encrypted volumes on my desktop, lose iTunes in any case, and cloning is equally dodgy on both Catalina and Big Sur AFAICT due to all the APFS gimmickry, and that both support synthetic.conf(5) for mount points or symlinks in the root of the file system, what exactly is the case for Catalina over Big Sur? Please don't tell me you're only doing this because AAPL made you do it with Xcode ...

Of course, given that I've squandered a whole precious year not using iTunes to rip my media collection and script fixes to my existing metadata, still rely heavily on iTunes features for podcasts and audiobooks, and see absolutely no feature I really need in Catalina or Big Sur that isn't down to devs being pressured by API changes, I am coming to the definite conclusion that the Mac as a platform may be at end of road for me. Or it would be, except for the M1 Mini I've ordered, probably for use as a Mac server in the long run, once I've quite finished playing with it. I don't want to be melancholy about this, but Apple's war of attrition against the power user seems to be paying off ...

@Sebby If it weren’t for Xcode, I would still be using Mojave. The backup situation is worse on Big Sur than Catalina, and there are new bugs that aren’t in Catalina. But I will probably be updating sooner rather than later because 10.15.7 is still quite buggy and more work for testing Big Sur–specific stuff. And at least Big Sur will be getting improvements.

I finally upgraded to Big Sur for Xcode. I never did install Catalina. Once you completely give up and just decide to only use it for Xcode builds then being On the latest version makes sense. I think it looks and works worse than Mojave, but I need the latest Xcode.

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