Did you delete an important file from your Mac by mistake? Or did your startup disk suddenly fail? Luckily, if you’ve been regularly backing up your Mac, you’ll be able to easily restore files from a Time Machine backup whenever needed. So, whether you want to recover a particular document, restore your Mac to an earlier version, or migrate data from the Time Machine backup to a different Mac, it’s all possible.
In this guide, we’ll give you step-by-step instructions for each of the recovery options and show you how to restore lost data even if you don’t have a Time Machine backup of your Mac.
What are the main Time Machine recovery options?
All Macs come with a built-in tool called Time Machine. It is a backup software that helps to recover accidentally deleted or corrupted files.
Through Time Machine, you can create a copy of all the files and data stored on your Mac and export them to an external drive. Then, whenever needed, you can restore any piece of information from that backup.
With Time Machine backups, you have three main options:
- To recover a specific file: when you mistakenly deleted an important file and wish to restore only that one.
- To restore your Mac to the state it was during a particular backup: when you reinstall macOS on your device and want to return everything as it was before.
- To restore Time Machine backup to a new Mac: when you wish to import all of the data from the Time Machine backup to your new Mac.
3 Proven Ways of Restoring from a Time Machine
Don’t know how to restore files from a Time Machine backup properly? It’s alright; we’ve all been there. If you do everything right, you’ll be able to recover the needed data in no time.
Here’s how to recover files from a Time Machine backup using three different methods.
Restore Individual Files From Time Machine
In most cases, people resort to their Time Machine backups to recover a single file or to revert it to the same state as it was a few days or weeks ago. To do this, all that you’ll need is your Mac and the external drive containing the Time Machine backup.
Here’s how to restore individual files from Time Machine backup:
- Open the needed folder or file. Head to the folder where the deleted file was previously located, or open the document that you wish to revert.
- Launch Time Machine. You can do this either from the Launchpad or by clicking the Time Machine icon on the menu bar and then clicking Enter Time Machine.
- Choose the right Time Machine backup. Use the arrows or the timeline on the right side of the screen to navigate through all of the previous backups.
- Click on the file that you want to restore. To preview it, press Space on your keyboard. If it is the right one, then click the Restore button to confirm and recover the chosen file.
You’re all set. After the recovery is finished, the lost file should be automatically placed back into its original folder.
Note: This method works only when restoring individual files from a Time Machine backup. So, if you want to recover all of the data from the backup, check out the next method.
Restore Entire Mac From Time Machine
If there is a problem with your startup disk and you can no longer use your Mac properly, your best option is to restore the entire macOS from a Time Machine backup to the version when your Mac had no issues.
To do this, you must have a ready Time Machine backup of your Mac on an external drive. So, to restore all of the data from a Time Machine backup, you should do the following:
- Connect the external drive with the Time Machine backup to your Mac. Also, make sure that it is turned on and working.
- Boot into macOS Recovery. To do this, head to the Apple menu and click Restart. As soon as you click it, press and hold Command + R. Hold these two keys until you see the startup screen and then follow the instructions. However, the process of running an M1 Apple Silicon Mac in the macOS Recovery mode is different: you should head to Apple menu and click Shut Down, power it back on by holding the power button until the Loading startup options screen appears, then click Options, and Continue.
- Click Restore From Time Machine. Use the macOS Utilities window to restore your entire Mac from a Time Machine backup.
- Select your external drive containing the Time Machine backup.
- Select the needed backup version. Check the data, click the right Time Machine backup, and then click Continue to confirm.
- Select a destination. Click your Mac’s hard disk to choose it as the destination. Then click Restore to start the transferring process.
Note: After you complete this process, all of the new files created after the Time Machine backup you are restoring from will disappear. So if there’s anything valuable to you in those files, it is best to copy them to an external drive before starting the recovery.
If there’s nothing wrong with your Mac and you do not need to reinstall its operating system, you can use Migration Assistant to restore the Time Machine backup. Here’s what you should do:
- Open the Migration Assistant. To do this, head to Finder > Applications > Migration Assistant.
- Transfer from a Time Machine backup. Choose to transfer your information From a Mac, Time Machine backup, or a startup disk. To confirm, click Continue.
- Choose the right Time Machine backup. Click Continue to move forward.
- Select all of the data. Place a checkmark near every information type to transfer everything from the backup to your Mac. Click Continue to start the recovery process.
Note: Don’t worry if seems like the recovery process is taking forever. Depending on how large the Time Machine backup was, it can take you from a few minutes to several hours to finish the transfer.
Restore Time Machine Backup to New Mac
If you have a new MacBook that you wish to set up entirely as your old one, you can use your Time Machine backup for this job. This way, all of your user accounts, files, apps, and settings will get automatically imported into your new device.
During your new Mac’s setup process, a Transfer Information window should appear. Here’s what you should do to restore a Time Machine backup to a new Mac when you spot that window:
- Connect your external drive containing your Mac’s backup. Make sure that it is turned on and working.
- Choose to transfer your data from a Time Machine backup. Click the option of transferring your information From a Mac, Time Machine backup, or a startup disk. Confirm your choice by clicking Continue.
- Select the disk that contains your Time Machine backup. Click Continue to confirm your choice.
- Select the desired backup version from the list. Click Continue to move forward.
- Choose the data that you want to import. Put a checkmark on all of the boxes containing the files and data that you wish to transfer to your new Mac. Click Continue to confirm.
- Choose whether you wish to turn on or off the FileVault disk encryption. Click Continue to confirm. After this step, all of your information should start to transfer from the backup to your Mac.
- Click Start using your Mac.
Now you can enjoy all of the data from your old Mac’s Time Machine backup on your new device.
Bonus Solution: How to Recover Data on macOS Without Time Machine Backup
But what to do if you haven’t backed up your Mac with Time Machine and need to recover an important file that you’ve mistakenly deleted? Even though Time Machine is a great tool when it comes to restoring data from a backup, it has a major downside—if you haven’t backed up your Mac before losing that file, you can’t use this tool to restore it.
If the needed file is not located in your Time Machine backup and you’ve already emptied your Trash bin, the only option that you have left is to use data recovery software.
Luckily, there are various third-party data recovery tools on the market that can help you easily recover your missing file. We’ve tested a few of the most sought-after options and can say for sure that there is a data recovery tool suitable for every Mac user.
We’ve also come to the conclusion that the most universal and effective data recovery software is Disk Drill. If you’re not yet familiar with such a tool, you can be sure that you’ll be able to easily navigate through it, and it will take just a few clicks to recover your loss.
Disk Drill is known as a data recovery app that can be used to recover over 400 file formats. So, when testing this application, our team decided to see how it works when recovering three types of files: a TXT file, JPG image, and MOV video clip. And the truth is, we were pretty impressed with the results since Disk Drill successfully recovered each of them.
If you want to give Disk Drill a try, here’s what you should do:
- Download and install the app. Head to cleverfiles.com to automatically start the download and follow the on-screen instructions to install Disk Drill.
- Run a scan to find all recoverable files. From the list of disks, choose the one where the lost file was previously located and click on the Search for lost data button located on the bottom right corner of the screen.
- Choose the needed folder to easily locate the file. On the left side of the screen, you can see that all of the files are grouped into folders according to their type. Click on the needed one and look through the files that can be restored.
- Recover the right file. Double click on the file to preview it. If it is the one that you’ve been looking for, click Recover.
That’s it! Just as easy as that, you can recover files on your Mac that you previously thought are long lost.
Note that if you’re using an internal drive, it should be partitioned into two volumes before the backup. And alternatively, if you wish, you can create a network backup.
Time Machine is an excellent tool for creating backups of your Mac’s data. If you make them regularly, then with the methods described above, you should be able to restore any valuable information stored on the external drive with the Time Machine backup.
However, there are cases when Time Machine backups don’t help. If you find yourself in such a situation, then using data recovery software might be your only chance left in getting your data back.