Restoring files with Time Machine

Accidentally deleted files or need to return to an earlier version of a document? Restore your data with Time Machine.

Time Machine is Apple’s built-in backup system that backs up data in a special format to an external hard drive, a server, or Time Machine-enabled wi-fi router. Time Machine can also use local snapshots – earlier revisions of your files. Local snapshots are only kept a day or so, and they won’t help if your drive completely crashes or your computer is lost. That’s why it’s important to set up Time Machine before you need it.

Time Machine uses a special format for backups, so you can’t just open the backup drive and drag & drop.

The first step for restoring files is checking your backup location. Click the Time Machine menu in the upper-right corner of your Mac screen – it looks like a circular clock with an arrow pointing backward. Don’t see this icon? See instructions.

If you’ve been backing up to this drive before it should be listed here. To select another drive, make sure it’s attached or mounted on the computer. Now hold Option key, click the Time Machine menu in the menu bar and Browse Other Backup Disks. Select your Time Machine disk.

Restoring files from Time Machine backups or local snapshots

  1. Click the Time Machine menu in the upper-right corner of the screen and Enter Time Machine. Or click Time Machine in the dock or Launchpad.
  2. Click the date and time on the right when the files or folders were last available, or the a previous version of a file.
  3. Select the files or folders you need. Search for files using the search box.
  4. Click Restore.
  5. Optional: Choose the option to replace the original copy or keep both copies. The original is the one that already existed on your computer, not the Time Machine.

Time Machine also works with Mail. Just open the Mail app window before clicking Time Machine. Now you can search through the records of your mailbox folders and restore lost messages.


Learn more about Time Machine.

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