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Restoring Data from Time Machine Backups

It is well documented that restoring your Mac from a Time Machine backup is a fairly straightforward process especially now that installing OS X Lion creates a recovery partition, from which you can boot to repair and restore the main operating system. Restoring an individual file is also easy: just enter Time Machine and find the file. But what if your Time Machine disk keeps several Macs backed up and you want to access a file from the backup of another Mac? Or, you're using a Mac that has never been backed up by Time Machine (it does happen!)? Well, you can still access all the files and folders on the Time Machine disk directly from your Mac’s Finder. Here's how…

Types of Disk

If your Time Machine disk is a regular USB or FireWire hard drive, simply connect it as usual. If however you connect wirelessly to your Time Machine disk (in which case it is either a Time Capsule or a hard disk connected to your wireless router) you can make it appear as a network drive in the Finder by choosing Network from the Finder’s Go menu (Shift-Command-K).

Connect to your Time Machine disk from the Finder’s Go menu

Connect to your Time Machine disk from the Finder’s Go menu

Alternatively, you can reveal your wireless Time Machine disk (or Time Capsule) as a connected server in the Finder by going to the Finder preferences (Finder > Preferences...), choosing the Sidebar tab and ticking ‘Connected servers’ under ‘Shared’:

Show the Time Capsule in the Finder using its preferences

Show the Time Capsule in the Finder using its preferences

Sparse Bundles

Once the drive is mounted you will need to connect to it: Click the Connect As... button and you will be prompted for the password you set up for the TIme Machine disk. 

Connect to the Time Machine sharepoint

Connect to the Time Machine Sharepoint

A folder with the name you gave the backup volume when you first set it up appears, inside which will be a set of .sparsebundle files, one for each computer that you back up to that drive:

The .sparsebundle files - one for each backed up Mac

The .sparsebundle files—one for each backed up Mac

Double-clicking the .sparsebundle file mounts it as a volume in your Finder. The volume will be called ‘Time Machine Backups’, as will all the other sparse bundle files if you double-click them. Inside this volume will be a folder with the name of the computer that created the backup. Inside that will be a series of dated folders which represent each back up that Time Machine made:

The contents of the .sparsebundle file

The contents of the .sparsebundle file

Usually you will want to head to the one at the bottom of the list, which is an alias called ‘Latest’. Clicking on this allows you to navigate and search the files and folders that you want to transfer:

‘Latest’ is an alias to the most recent backup folder

‘Latest’ is an alias to the most recent backup folder

Mike Watkinson

Mike Watkinson | Articles by this author

Mike has been obsessed with music software since he first saw Fairlight's Page-R, and has tracked its development through his work as a performer, composer and producer. As a writer he has contributed articles to Sound On Sound since 1999, and currently writes their Apple Notes column. As well as being a certified Logic Pro and Pro Tools trainer he is also an Apple Distinguished Educator.


Feb 03, 2012
Gary Hiebner
Nice Mac Backup Tip.
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