Step by Step Guide to Recovering Your Mac from a Time Machine Backup

Apple has made the process of completely restoring your Mac from a Time Machine backup very simple. Still, it can be a bit daunting to go through the process, as all the data on your Mac’s hard drive will be erased and replaced with the backup files. This complete step-by-step walkthrough will (hopefully) help alleviate some of the stress.

There are a wide variety of reasons why you’d have to perform a complete restoration of your Mac via a Time Machine backup. In my case, it was a hard drive partition that was determined to be unfixable unless I did a complete wipe. Here’s how I did it, with complete success.

  1. Start out by performing a Time Machine backup right before you use it to restore your system. If you’re unable to perform the backup due to a non-functioning Operating System, jump down to step #6 below. You’ll have to work from the last successful Time Machine backup you have, which means you may not be able to restore all of your files, but you’ll get your Mac back to a working state.
  2. To perform the complete backup, select the Time Machine icon from your Menu Bar. If it’s not displayed there, open your System Preferences, and locate Time Machine from the System section. Select Open Time Machine Preferences….
  3. Click the Options… button.

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  5. Make sure that you’ve set Time Machine to run a complete backup of your Mac. You can add external USB drives, SD/memory cards and external devices to your Exclude these items from backups: list, but you’ll want to make sure every file and folder on your Mac is being backed up.
  6. Now, run a Time Machine backup. As indicated in the screenshot below, my ‘latest’ backup was at 10:38PM – which was the current time.
  7. Now restart your Mac. It’s very important that you hold down the Command (Apple) Key and the r key as your Mac restarts.
  8. By holding down the Command Key + r while your Mac boots, it will enter into the “Mac OS X Utilities” mode. From here, select Restore From Time Machine Backup and then click the Continue button.

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  10. Review the info on the Restore Your System screen and then click Continue.

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  12. From the Select a Backup Source screen, select the disk that has your Time Machine backups on it. If they’re on a USB drive and that drive isn’t plugged in, plug it in now. Click Continue once you’ve selected your Time Machine backup disk.

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  14. Now select the backup you want to restore onto your Mac. The list of backup versions is displayed in a list sorted by date and time. Click the Continue button when you’re ready.

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  16. On the Select a Destination screen, select your Mac’s primary hard drive. Do not select an attached USB drive. Click the Restore button.

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  18. Now it’s time to sit back and wait. This process can take anywhere from 15 minutes to 4 or 5 hours, depending on a number of factors. Fortunately there’s a fairly accurate “Time Remaining” feature, so you’ll have some idea of how long it’ll take until you can use your Mac again. Once the process has completed, your Mac will restart. Your Mac is now back in action!

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