RestoreI ndividual Files From Time Machine To New Mac Title Image

The problem is that Time Machine will only read a backup on the Mac it backed up.

And that means.

When you plug this drive into your new Mac, and open up Time Machine. Time Machine greys out the drive and won’t read it.

This post shows you how to get around this limitation. So that you can restore individual files or folders from a time machine backup onto a new Mac.

How Can You Restore A Single File From A Backup Taken On Another Mac To A New Mac?

Recently I needed to do this and yes, it’s possible to do and this is how you do it.

1. Plug In The Time Machine External Drive Into Your New Mac.

It’ll take a few moments to come up on the new Mac’s desktop.

Just wait till you see the drive icon.

Plug In Your Other Macs Time Machine Backup Drive

If you’ve waited a while and the drive icon doesn’t come up. Check your Finder window Settings (from Mac OS Ventura). In earlier Mac releases it’s called Preferences.

Open up a Finder Window and take a look at its Finder Settings or Preferences.

Finder Settings

Look at the General Tab. And check the ‘External Disks’ box. This tells the Mac to show the drive icon on the desktop.

Finder Settings Show External Disks

Now the drive icon is up on the desktop.


2. Click On The Drive Icon.

Double Click to open up a Finder window on the drive.

Or put your cursor over the drive icon and right click on the drive.  From the menu that comes up pick ‘Open’ from the menu.

Open The Time Machine Backup Drive

3. Click Into The Backup.backupdb Folder.

Other Macs Time Machine Backup DB

The Backup.backupdb folder is your gateway into the other Mac’s backup. Double click on it.  Inside you’ll see a folder with the name of the other Mac. Double click on that to go inside.

Click On The Other Macs Backup

4. In The Next Folder You’ll See Folders With Dates.

These folders are all the backups of that other Mac in date order.

Other Macs Backup Dates

From here it’s a matter of making your way to the folder with the date you want.

5. Extract Your Files From The Time Machine Backup.

Click through the folders on the Time Machine Backup drive to the file you want. Highlight it. Copy and paste.

Find The File In The Other Macs Backup

Or drag and drop onto your new Mac’s desktop. Or into a folder you’ve opened up in a new Finder window on your new Mac.

Dead Ends Traveled Down To Restore Single Files

You might find it useful to hear of the other things I tried that didn’t work. It could save you some time.

Asking Time Machine To Browse The Backup Drive.

You can open a Finder window and pick Go > Computer from the menu.

Go Computer Menu
Go Computer Menu

That puts the Finder window into a viewing mode that allows you to pick Time Machine from the top of your desktop. Hold the ‘Option’ key and you’ll see the menu change and you get the option to browse other Backup Disk.

Browse Time Machine Backup Drive
Browse Time Machine Backup Drive

Yes, it lets you pick the external drive and drops you into the Time Machine restore interface.  But it seems with MacOS Big Sur that’s as far as you get.  The drive is still greyed out and you can’t navigate it.

Tried changing disk permissions on the external drive and it made no difference.

The manual search seems to be the best option.

Not great, but it’ll get you there.

In Closing

Time machine is a great way to back up your Mac. But, if you’ve switched Macs you might find yourself needing to get to a file on the old computer.

You can get to those files if you’re willing to do a little digging around.

In this post, you found the steps you needed to take to restore individual files. Or folders from a Time Machine backup.

We hope this article helped you.

Don’t forget that there are also other articles on our site about fixing common Time Machine issues. So do browse around.

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