Time Machine

Time Machine is very useful, because not only does it allow you to back up all of your user data, but it also allows you to selectively view and restore portions of that data, even down to individual files.

In this tutorial, the forth in our series about Time Machine, I’m going to show you to how to view and restore an individual file using a Time Machine backup.

How to restore individual files from Time Machine

Step 1: Enter Time Machine via the menu bar shortcut. If you don’t see this menu bar option. Click System Preferences → Time Machine, and select Show Time Machine in menu bar.

Enter Time Machine

Step 2: Once you’re in Time Machine, open the folder that contained the file that you wish to restore.

Time Machine

Step 3: Use the dial on the right to navigate back through time until the item that you wish to restore appears in the folder. You can now decide to simply view the file (double click it, or use click and then press the space bar to preview), or you can restore it by proceeding with this tutorial.

Time Machine go back in time

Step 4: While the file is highlighted, Click the restore button at the bottom of the interface to restore that individual file from backup.

Time Machine Restore

Congratulations, your file should now be back on your Mac as it originally was before it was lost.

And that’s it. That’s how you can easily view and restore files from a Time Machine backup. This can be a life-saver when you accidentally get rid of a single file, and later it turns out that you really needed that file.

To learn more about Time Machine, make sure to also check out these other tutorials:

  • Nolan I.

    If you cannot (or don’t want to) use the time machine interface, or you want to browse a different disk, you can also browse the backups in the Finder.

    Go to your backup drive, and you’ll see a folder called “Backups.backupdb”. This contains your backups – organized by date. Within those folders is an exact clone of your hard drive, down to each file – just drag it out to restore.

    You can’t open files in this folder, but you can restore them by dragging them somewhere else.

  • JohnH 17

    Great refresher on Time Machine. I’ve used this function to restore Adobe Illustrator to a previous state when I inadvertently changed a production setting. Anyone with any modern Mac not using this or a similar type of backup software is asking for trouble.

  • Richie013

    How do you select multiple files to back up in time machine? Just hold shift or something?

  • AmericanWoman

    I’ve been using time machine to back up years of data and at the beginning of the year I had to completely wipe my Mac. I will now need to restore certain files as needed. Thanks for this guide.

  • Alice Olson

    My Time Machine serves two computers. One of them was recently stolen/lost and I need documents from it. When I open Time Machine it only gives me access to the files on the computer I still have in my possession. How do I get to the documents from the other computer?