How to restore files from Apple Time Machine

How to restore files from Apple Time Machine
Mac Tip #413, 02 December 2009

Provided you set it up and turn it on, Apple Time Machine makes regular backups without you having to intervene. Here’s how to retrieve files or folders from a Time Machine backup.

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There is a file missing from my folder.

There is a file missing from my folder.

Open the folder the file is missing from

I have a demo folder (as in the screenshot) where there once used to be a photo of a tuatara. That photo is no longer there, but I’ll be able to restore it from a Time Machine backup.

Enter Time Machine

Click on the Time Machine icon in the Menu Bar and choose Enter Time Machine. Or, click on the Time Machine icon in the Dock.

The computer first connects to the server where the backup is stored.

The folder that’s open shrinks, and the screen transforms to show a picture of space with stars and a galaxy. A stack of open folders stretches back in time. A dateline extends down the right-hand edge of the screen.

Looking at a folder in Time Machine.

Looking at a folder in Time Machine. This is the 18 August version of the folder. In November the folder contents have completely changed. Click for a larger version.

Across the bottom of the screen is a bar with a Cancel button on the left, a Restore button on the right, and a date in the middle. The date refers to the ‘snapshot’ state of the folder you’re looking at.

Navigate in Time Machine

Go back and forward through the stack of open windows to locate the file you want to retrieve:

  • Click the top edge of a window in the stack.
  • Click on the arrows below and to the right of the stack of folders.
  • Click on a date in the Dateline.

As you navigate, the folders move forward or backward to show you their contents.

Retrieve a file or folder

Once you locate a file or folder you want to retrieve, select it. Then click the Restore button in the bottom right corner of the screen. Time Machine closes, and the selected file is restored to the folder.

Backups vs Archives

Time Machine keeps backups of your files. Once the Time Machine disc fills up, your oldest backups will be deleted to make room for new backups.

Don’t rely on Time Machine to provide an everlasting archive.

If you have files you want to keep for future reference save them to a specific Archive storage space, such as a DVD or an online storage facility.

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