How To Restore Mac From Time Machine

You’ve lost a file, over wrote a file, deleted it. Because you thought you didn’t need it.

Now you do – you’re stressed – you need that file back.

But you’ve a back up of it. Relax. I’ll talk you through you to get it back.

Who Is This Blog Post For?

This article is to help those with Mac’s. I use the term Mac, MacBook Pro and MacBook Air interchangeably.

Because the way you restore is the same. I’ll say where there are differences and tell you ‘How to Restore Mac From Time Machine.’

Do You Have A Backup?

Firstly and though this may sound obvious …

You do need to have set up Time Machine and have a back up before you can restore your files when the worst happens.

No Time Machine backup? Don’t know how to set it up? Then go along to my article here to find out how to backup a MacBook.

No backup means you won’t be able to use Time Machine to restore.

Always have a backup, preferably a couple of different ones, because all drives fail eventually.

It’s possible the latest upgrade of the Operating System or Application may mess with your Mac.

And you don’t want to be the one stressed out, with the sad face after loosing your files.

Time Machine

What Does Time Machine Backup?

That can be restored to your Mac, MacBook Pro or MacBook Air.

Everything on your Mac. Operation System, file structure, your set up, folders, applications, documents, photos, music, hidden files – yes everything.

The Two Types Of Backup

There are two types of backup that Time Machine does.

  1. When your external hard drive is connected to your Mac and you manually kick off a backup
    Or Time Machine does one automatically when your external backup drive is connected.
  2. Local Snapshots, when your external backup drive isn’t connected. An enabled Time Machine will take local snapshots once an hour to the free space on your internal hard drive. Snapshots that are older then 24 hours are automatically deleted. I cover more about local snapshots later, or you can head to the Table of Contents for this article and click to jump down to ‘Restoring from a Local Snapshot’.

Restore Files from Time Machine

When Would You Want To Do This?

When your Mac, MacBook Pro or MacBook Air is working fine. When you’re not having hard disk errors. When you’ve deleted a file and also crazily removed it from your Trash folder so you can’t get it back from there.

Or you need to restore a file or directory to a previous date. A file you’ve realized you’ve overwritten and you want to go back to a copy that was backed up a few weeks ago.

Or you’re missing an email and you know it’s in a backup you’ve done.

When Wouldn’t You Restore Files From Time Machine?

If you’re having hard disk errors on the internal disk inside your Mac then those will need to be sorted first. By using Disk Utility to try and fix those errors

or you may even need a replacement of your internal drive if the disk errors are not transient errors.

What You Need To Restore Your files

  1. Your external hard drive with your Time Machine backup on it.
  2. Your MacBook Pro or MacBook Air or other Mac.
  3. The USB cable connecting your external hard drive to your Mac.

Power Up Your Mac, Connect To External Power

If your external hard drive with your Time Machine backup on it’s not USB powered, plug it into external power.

Now connect up your Mac, MacBook Pro or Air, to your external drive using your USB cable.

Head to your Time Machine application. Before you find out how to do that there are some things to know.

Restoring From An Airport Time Capsule

If you’re not using an Apple Time Capsule to restore from you can scroll right past these instructions.

To Restore From Time Capsule

Your Mac needs to be on the same wireless network as the Time Capsule with your backup on it.

Be sure your wifi is on and you’ve visibility of your Mac Time Capsule. That means you’re logged onto to its wifi signal.

To do this,

Go to your wifi on your Mac, MacBook Pro or Air.

Wifi Symbol On Your Desktop

Click once and check there is a check mark against your Mac Time Capsule in the list of wifis your Mac can see.

If there isn’t a check mark against your Time Capsule, click on it in the list and go ahead and log in with your password.

Now you’re good to go and can head to your Time Machine App.

How To Find Time Machine On A Mac?

Time Machine lives within your Application folder.

Applications Folder In Dock
Applications Folder In Dock

Click on the Application Folder on your Dock.

Time Machine is found inside that folder.

Time Machine In Apps Folder
Time Machine In Apps Folder

Or use the Time Machine symbol at the top of your desktop.

Time Machine At Top of Desktop
Time Machine At Top of Desktop

Click once to see the options. And then choose ‘Enter Time Machine’.

How To Restore From Time Machine

When you enter Time Machine you’ll be in the Time Machine Window. In the center will be a finder window. This Time Machine window is no ordinary window. Time Machine is really neat in the way it works and this is a window into your backups.

How Time Machine Restore Works

Along the right hand side of your screen is your Time Line. This Time Line shows you the dates and times of your backups as you move your cursor along it.

The bottom right corner is Now.

Time Machine Now
Time Machine Now

Moving up, along the right of the screen towards the top sees you heading backward in time through older backups.

You can click anywhere along up the right hand side of your Time Machine Window to find the date of the backup you want.

– always assuming you know the date.

To the right of your finder screen there are up and down arrows.

Time Machine Up Down Arrows
Time Machine Up Down Arrows

You can also use these arrows to move backwards and forwards in time through your backups.

You can as well use the finder window itself. By:

Clicking on Search and typing in the name of the file you want.

Assuming you know the name.

Time Machine Search
Time Machine Search

Or go to the folder you know the file was in. You can navigate just as you would using a finder window on your normal desktop, and find the folder.

Then skip backward through time using the arrows or the Time Line on the right side of the screen to find the file.

When you’ve found your file.

Highlight it.

And click the restore button under the finder window.

Time Machine Restore Button
Time Machine Restore Button

To Restore A Whole Directory

Navigate as described above. Highlight the directory and click restore.

Whether it’s a file or a directory you’re restoring. If the file name exists already you’ll be asked to confirm you want to overwrite the file to the earlier version.

Or create a copy. You’ll also be prompted to enter in your main Mac password to confirm you want to change the files on your internal disk with the files from your backup.

And that’s it. You’re done. Your file is restored.

Restoring From A Local Time Machine Snapshot

If the external drive with your Time Machine backup is not connected and

Time Machine is enabled and switched on. Time Machine will take a Local Snapshot every hour to your internal drive. This is what is called a Local Snapshot.

This does give you somewhere to go if you’ve an issue with a deleted file

But a Local Snapshot doesn’t get you away from having an external hard drive to do backups to. Because snapshots older then 24 hours are deleted automatically anyway.

And Snapshots won’t save you if your problem is with your internal drive as that’s where your local snapshots are stored to.

Mac operating systems from Mac OS High Sierra onwards will save a snapshot before your Mac OS is updated.

A handy just in case feature, if something horrible happens during or just after you’ve upgraded.

Though I would always recommending ‘belt and braces’ – taking a backup to an external hard drive ahead of all major operating system upgrades.

To Use A Local Snapshot;

Enter Time Machine when your external hard drive is not connected.

You’ll find a description of how to open your Time Machine application above.

Your Local Snapshots will be shown and you can scroll through time or use the Time Machine finder window to find the file or directory you want.

Note that the Time Machine window Time Line will you show ‘Now’. Your Local Snapshots may well be the greyed lines below or show earlier than ‘Now’.

To Restore Everything To Your Mac from A Time Machine Backup

To restore all to your Mac, MacBook Pro or MacBook Air from a Time Machine backup. All your files, applications, the Operating System, a total restore in every way is done using something called Mac OS Recovery.

When Would You Do This?

  • When an Operating System upgrade has messed up your Mac.
  • When you downloaded a virus and you know your backup is clean.
  • When you installed some brain dead software that’s messing with your Mac and you want to go back to your pristine Time Machine Backup.

When Wouldn’t You Do This?

If you’re having internal drive errors, sort those out first before restoring.

You Restore All Using Mac OS Recovery

Mac OS Recovery is a Utility built into the most basic system of your Mac. It’s there in case of a catastrophe, you can boot to Mac OS Recovery, check your hard drive, carry out repairs and restore from a Time Machine backup.

It’s your safety belt. Your if all else fails.

Stress Free Use

Shutdown your Mac, MacBook Pro or MacBook Air. Just after pressing the power on button hold down the command and the R key.

Hold down those keys till you see the Apple logo or a spinning globe. After a relatively short while you’ll see the Mac OS Utility Screen. Ensure your Mac is connected to external power.

Mac OS Recovery Screen
Mac OS Recovery Screen

Connect up your external hard drive with your Time Machine Backup on it via its USB cable to your MacBook Pro, MacBook Air or Mac. If it’s externally powered then plug it in to the mains power.

Select Restore from Time Machine Backup.

Click Continue.

Your MacBook Pro, MacBook Air or Mac’s internal drive will be erased. And after that Time Machine will start to restore everything back to your Mac’s internal drive.

Even though Time Machine does incremental backups it will restore everything back to how your Mac was when you did your last backup.

Keep in mind that a full restore could take quite a few hours to do.

So don’t get all impatient or stressed. Leave it to do its thing and don’t jump in and interrupt.

Mac OS Recovery With A Time Machine Backup On A Time Capsule

When your Airport Time Capsule holds the backup you’re looking to restore. You directly connect it to your MacBook Pro or Air via Ethernet cable.

Yes, you can restore over the wifi. But your restore will soak up your wifi bandwidth and take a very long time. As wifi is nowhere near as fast as Ethernet.

If you really want to restore over wifi then;

  • Ensure your Mac can see the Time Capsule, by clicking on the wifi symbol at the top of the screen.
  • Pick your Airport Time Capsule’s wifi and log in.
  • Choose the Mac Time Capsule backup you want to restore to your Mac and
  • Click to continue

I emphasize that it will be quicker to use direct connect with Ethernet cable and leave your wifi for the other Macs you’re supporting on your network to use the Internet.

Even so the restore could take a few hours depending on how much you had on your MacBook.

Final Words

Thank you for reading my post. I hope you found it useful and you’ve restored your file or directory or even your complete MacBook from a backup and that it was stress free.