How To Restore Mac From Time Macine Title Image

It doesn’t matter if you’ve a MacBook Pro, MacBook Air or iMac.

The way you restore your Mac. Or restore to your new Mac from Time Machine is the same.

This article walks you through how to do it.

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

Now you do – you’re stressed. You need that deleted file back onto your Mac.

But wait… you’ve a backup of it.

Relax. You just get it back from your Time Machine backup.

Read on. And get up to speed.

Do You Have A Mac Time Machine Backup?

And yes I know this sounds obvious …

You do need to have a Time Machine backup before you can restore your files when the worst happens.

No TM backup? Don’t know how to set one up? Then go along to my article here. And find out how to backup a MacBook.

How To Restore Your Mac From Your Time Machine Backup

And restore all your files, applications, your setup from your Time Machine backup to your Mac.

But if you need to reinstall your MacOS operating system files as well. Know that Apple has changed how you do that.

Not running Catalina or Big Sur?

Then head to the post here to find out how you do this on older Mac OS releases. ‘How To Restore Mac From Time Machine Using MacOS Recovery

You used to restore everything from your Time Machine backup. Including your Mac OS. But in MacOS Big Sur you now do this differently.

You have to reload your Mac OS first. By putting your Mac into MacOS Recovery mode. And choosing the option on there to reload your Mac OS.

Reinstall MacOS

This is what you need to do now if you need to reload your OS on your existing Mac.

Or load an OS to a new Mac.

You load your Mac OS first. Then restore your files and set up from your Time Machine backup.

How to do that? Check out this Apple article here.

To Restore Your Mac’s Data From Time Machine

For a restore of your Mac’s data in Big Sur. You use standard software that’s part of your Mac called Migration Assistant. To start.

1. Boot up and log into your Mac.

Your Mac needs an installed OS.

2. Plug In Your External Backup Disk.

Connect up your Mac to your backup drive. The one with your Time Machine Backup on it.

You’ll see the drive icon on your Mac’s desktop when the drive is ready.

Drive Icon

Need an external drive. Check out the best here.

3. Start Up Migration Assistant.

You’ll find the App inside your Applications folder.

Applications Folder In Dock
Applications Folder In Dock

Inside that folder click on your Utilities folder.

Utilities Folder In Applicatiions

Then Click to start up Migration Assistant.

Utilities Folder Migration Assistant

4. A Photo Walk Through On The Restore Screens

Your Mac will open Migration Assistant.

Migration Assistant 1st Screen

Migration Assistant will close any Applications that are open.

And will ask you to save open files. Click continue when you’ve saved any files you need to.

Then Migration Assistant will ask you to put in your admin password to make changes to your Mac.

Migration Assistant Enter Password

Put in your admin password and click on OK.

Your next Migration Assistant screen asks you: ‘How do you want to transfer your information?’

You pick the radio button for ‘From a Mac, Time Machine Backup or Startup disk’.

Then click Continue.

Migration Assistant 2nd Screen

The next screen will show you your Time Machine drive.

You plugged yours in at step 2 of these directions. But if you didn’t do it then. Plug it in now.

Click on it and click on Continue.

Migration Assistant 3rd Screen

Your next screen asks you to pick the backup on your Time Machine backup drive. This the backup you’ll restore to your Mac.

Click on the backup. And click Continue.

Migration Assistant 4th Screen

After that is where you pick what you’d like to restore back to your Mac from your Time Machine backup.

Migration Assistant 5th Screen

You can check each box individually.

Just your applications or for a user and their information. Other files and folders or your System and Network settings.

Check all the boxes to restore everything in this backup.

Pick what you want then click Continue.

If you’re restoring onto a brand new Mac. Or you’ve had to wipe your Mac clean and there’s only your OS install on it. Then your restore now goes ahead.

5. Restoring a User That’s Already On your Mac

But if you’re restoring a user and their information. And that user already EXISTS on your Mac you’ll see a couple more screens.

Migration Assistant Password For User Name

When the user you’re bringing back is also an admin user. You’ll need to enter a password that user will use.  You can re-enter the current password you’re using if you want.

You’ll see a check mark when you’ve entered the password.

The next screen asks you to pick what you want Migration Assistant to do. When it brings this user account back from your Backup.

Migration Assistant Replace Or Keep User Data

You can delete the existing user information on your Mac. And replace it with the user information in your backup.

And get rid of the user’s data that’s currently on your Mac.

Or keep both accounts and give the account you’re restoring a new name and account name.

Then click Continue.

Your Mac’s Time Machine Restore Starts

Time Machine restores your files from your backup disk to your Mac’s internal drive.

And when it’s done you’ll go back to how your Mac computer was at your last backup.


A full restore could take quite a while, depending on the speed of your internal drive and backup disk.

Be patient. And leave it to do its thing.

Your Mac will restart when done. And you can properly Eject your Time Machine drive when you’re done.

When Would You Restore Your Mac From Time Machine?

Some for instances.

Because you downloaded a virus. And you know that your backup is clean. You can go back to your backup to clean up your Mac.

You realized you’ve installed some brain dead software. And it’s messing with your Mac computer so bad. That you want to go back to your pristine Time Machine Backup without it.

Or you’re upgrading from an old Mac to a new Mac. And you want all your apps, documents, and set up on your new bought Mac.

When Wouldn’t You Do A Restore Of Your Mac’s Data?

If your existing Mac’s internal drive shows you errors.

Because it could be that your internal drive is failing. And a full Mac restore can’t fix that.

You’ll find it best to sort out your internal disk drive first.

Use Disk Utility to check and fix problems with your internal disk.

Then restore your backup.

Restore Individual Files From Time Machine Backup

When Would You Want To Do This?

When you’ve deleted a document you now need. And also crazily removed it from your Trash as well. So, you can’t get it back from there.

Or you’ve messed up. And need to restore a deleted file or folder to an earlier date.

When you realize you’ve overwritten a document or folder. And you want to go back to a back up a few weeks ago.

Or you’re missing an email and you know it’s in a backup on external storage.

When Wouldn’t You Restore Files From Time Machine?

It’s not a good idea to recover files if you’ve got errors coming up on your internal disk. Use Disk Utility to sort and fix those errors first.

What You’ll Need To Restore Your Single Files

Your storage device with your TM backup file on it.

How to Restore Your Document or Folder On Your Mac

1. Plug In Your External Drive Into Your Mac.

Now you need to start up your Time Machine app.

There are a few ways.

You can start Time Machine from your Applications folder.

Applications Folder In Dock
Applications Folder In Dock

Click on the Application Folder on your Dock.

And look for Time Machine inside that folder.

Time Machine In Apps Folder
Time Machine In Apps Folder

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

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

Click and pick ‘Enter Time Machine’ from the menu.

2. Inside Time Machine On Your Mac.

When Time Machine starts you’ll be in the Time Machine Window.

In the center is a finder window.

Look along the right hand side of your screen. This is your Time Machine Time Line.

This Time Line shows you the dates and times of your backups as you move your cursor along it.

3. How to Find the Document or Folder You Want to Restore.

The bottom right corner is today – Now.

In your top right hand corner, you’ll find your oldest backup.

Time Machine Now
Time Machine Now

Moving your cursor up, along the right of the screen towards the top. And you’re walking backward in time through your 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.


To the right of your finder window you’ll see up and down arrows.

Time Machine Up Down Arrows
Time Machine Up Down Arrows

You’ll notice that these arrows to move you backwards and forwards. Through your backup time line.


In your finder window. Click on Search and type in the name of the specific file you want.

Spotlight Search Symbol
Spotlight Search Symbol


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. Find the folder.

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

4. When You’ve Found Your Document.

Highlight it.

And click the restore button under the finder window.

Time Machine Restore Button
Time Machine Restore Button

It doesn’t matter what you’re restoring. If the file name exists Time Machine asks you to confirm if you want to overwrite the file to the earlier version.

Or create a copy.

You’ll get a prompt to put in your admin Mac user password. This is 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. You’ve restored your file.

Restoring Mac From A Local Time Machine Snapshot.

When the external disk drive you use for your Time Machine backup is not plugged into your Mac. But Time Machine switched on to take automatic backups.

Time Machine will take a Local Snapshot – hourly backups to your internal drive.

It’s your local backup on your internal disk drive.

This does give you somewhere to go if you’ve deleted a file.

But a Local Snapshot won’t save you from having a proper backup to a hard drive.

Because snapshots older then 24 hours get deleted automatically.

And Snapshots won’t save you if your problem’s with your internal disk drive.

Because that’s where your Mac stores local snapshots.

Mac’s from High Sierra onwards will save a snapshot before an OS update. 

A handy just in case feature. If something horrible happens during. Or just after you’ve upgraded.

Though it’s best to take a backup to a hard drive anyway ahead of all major OS upgrades.

To Use Your Mac’s Local Time Machine Snapshot

Open up Time Machine when your external hard drive isn’t connected.

Go to your Application Folder. And click on Time Machine.

Time Machine will open up and you’ll see all your Local Snapshots.

You can scroll through time. Or use the Time Machine finder window to find the document you want.

In Closing

Remember no Time Machine Mac backup means you can’t use Time Machine to restore.

Always have a backup, preferably a couple of different ones. And in different places.

Because you never know when you’ll need it. And you don’t want to be the one stressed out. With a sad face after losing your files.

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