Restore Files From Time Machine To Another Mac Title Image

You’ve a Time Machine backup, but it’s for an other Mac.

Time Machine links a backup to the Mac you backed up to it. And doesn’t naturally restore to another Mac.

An issue when you’ve had your main logic board on your Mac replaced.

It makes your Mac look like a different Mac to your time machine backup.

Or you need a file that’s in a backup from another Mac. How do you get to that file?

When I was trying this out for myself, my first thought was “There must be an easy way”.

And there are 2 ways.

Lean in and I’ll tell you how. …

Why Use Migration Assistant To Restore Your Files To A Different Mac?

The advantage of using Migration Assistant is that it’s quite easy to use. And it brings back a group of files and puts them where your Mac expects. Which is great for Applications.

And if what you want to restore falls into these groups:

  • The files associated with a user on that other Mac.
  • All of the other Mac’s Systems and Network settings.
  • Applications from that different Mac.

The disadvantage of using Migration Assistant is it may not be specific enough for what you want. You can’t bring back one file or folder for instance.

How To Restore Files From Migration Assistant To Your Mac

1. The Mac You’re Restoring Onto Is Up And Running.

And by that I mean it has a working operating system on it, that you can log into.

Put in your log in details and wait for your desktop to come up. Then plug in the external drive. The one with the Time Machine backup you want to restore from on it.

And wait for the external drive to come up on your Mac’s desktop.

Plug In Your Other Macs Time Machine Backup Drive
Plug In Your Other Macs Time Machine Backup Drive

2. Open The Migration Assistant Software.

You’re Migration Assistant App lives inside your Utilities folder.

You’ll find it by clicking on your Applications folder.

Applications Folder In Dock
Applications Folder In Dock

Inside you’ll find your Utilities folder.

Utilities Folder In Applicatiions

Click on Migration Assistant.

Utilities Folder Migration Assistant

3. When Migration Assistant Opens

Migration Assistant 1st Screen

Migration assistant closes down any open applications. And gives you the change to save any open files.

Click Continue.

Your Mac asks you to put in your administration password to make changes to your Mac.  Do that and click OK.

Migration Assistant 2nd Screen

Next you answer the question ‘How do you want to transfer your information?’.

Click on the radio button ‘From a Mac, Time Machine Backup or Startup disk’. Then continue.

The next screen asks you to pick the Time Machine backup you’re restoring from. Click on the drive. Then click Continue.

Other Macs Backup Drive In Migration Assistant

Then choose the backup you want to restore to this back. Click on it and click Continue.

Pick Backup To Restore From In Migration Assistant

Now this is where you decide on the groups of files you want to restore to this Mac.

By checking on each box you decide if you want to restore:

Migration Assistant 5th Screen

Check on Applications. To restore the groups of files associated with the applications from the other Mac.

Check mark on the user name for the files that user has on that different Mac.

Or pick ‘Other Files and Folders’. But it’ll be difficult for you to work out what files Migration Assistant is bringing back.

Check mark on System and Network. When you want to bring back those settings from that other Mac backup to your Mac.

Then click Continue.

If the user name and their files you’re restoring from that other Mac onto your Mac exists. Or is also an admin user. Then you’ll see 2 more screens.

Your Mac asks you to set up a new admin password. And if you want to keep both accounts. Or get rid of the user files on your current Mac. And replace them with the user files from that other Mac. Just pick the options you want.

When you click on the final Continue the restore starts.

Use The Time Machine Backup To Restore Files To Another Mac

The advantage is that diving into the Time Machine backup itself quite easy to do.

You can search through the Time Machine backup database for the exact date of the document you want. You can bring back single folders.

Or just that photo. Music file or spreadsheet.

And you can put the files where you want on your Mac.

The ultimate flexibility.

The disadvantage of going into the Time Machine backup itself. It that it may take a bit of hunting around if you’re not sure where the file is. But you can search the backup.

Unless you know what you’re doing. Copying out a particular Application is more of a challenge. Because you need to know what files you want and where they should live for your Mac to use them.


So you might be thinking why can’t I use Time Machine itself to do this?

Try it. And you’ll find that.

You can plug in the other Mac’s Time Machine’s Backup Drive. You can enter Time Machine ok enough on your Mac.

Could Enter Time Machine

But you’ll find you can’t click on the other Mac’s Time Machine drive. It’s greyed out. And you can’t go through the backup. 

Other Time Machine Backup Drive Greyed Out

This is because MacOS tags each Time Machine backup with the Mac it was taken on. And you can’t just use the Time Machine on another Mac to restore it.

How To Restore Files From A Time Machine Backup Of Another Mac

Your Mac that you’re bringing those files onto needs to have its MacOS running and working. And you logged in.

Plug in your USB external drive into your Mac. The one with the Time Machine backup of that other Mac on it.

Wait till the drive icon comes up on your Mac’s desktop.

Plug In Your Other Macs Time Machine Backup Drive

1. Right Click On The Time Machine Backup Drive.

Open The Time Machine Backup Drive

And choose Open from the dropdown menu.

That opens the other Mac’s Time Machine backup.  And you’ll see its Backup.backupdb.  It’s a database of the backups of that Mac and a file.

Other Macs Time Machine Backup DB

Click on the folder.

Inside you find the folder with the different Mac’s backup. Click on it.

Click On The Other Macs Backup

2. Look For The File Or Folder In That Other Mac’s Backup.

Next you’ll see a set of folders with dates. These are the dates of the other Mac’s Time Machine backups.

Other Macs Backup Dates

And from there it’s a case of going to the date you want. Clicking into that folder.

Then searching though for the folder with the file you want. Or the folder you want.

When you’ve found your file or folder. Click to highlight it.

Find The File In The Other Macs Backup

Then you can simply drag and drop it to your desktop. Or copy and paste it out and into the folder you want.

Click On File And Move To Desktop

And you’re done.

Oh and by the way, you can change the way you view the files if you want.  Just by clicking on the view option in the finder window.

Change The View Of The Backup Files

In Closing

It’s easy to restore files from a Time Machine backup to another Mac with a little know-how.

If you’ve had a repair to your Mac that means your backup is no longer recognized. Or you’re looking for a file or folder on a backup from some other mac, this blog post tells you how.

Ready to know more?

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