How to use Time Machine to back up or restore your Mac

Time Machine backs up all of your files to an external storage device so that you can restore them later or see how they looked in the past.

Set up Time Machine

Time Machine is the built-in backup feature of your Mac. To use it, you need an external storage device, sold separately:

  • An external USB, Thunderbolt, or FireWire drive connected to your Mac
  • External drive connected to an AirPort Extreme Base Station (802.11ac model) or AirPort Time Capsule
  • AirPort Time Capsule
  • Mac shared as a Time Machine backup destination
  • Network-attached storage (NAS) device that supports Time Machine over SMB
    Learn more about backup disks that you can use with Time Machine.

When you connect an external hard drive directly to your Mac, you might be asked if you want to use the drive to back up with Time Machine:

Select Encrypt Backup Disk (recommended), then click Use as Backup Disk. An encrypted backup is accessible only to users with the password. Learn more about keeping your backup disk secure.

If Time Machine doesn't ask you to choose a backup disk when you connect the drive to your Mac:

  1. Open Time Machine preferences from the Time Machine menu Time Machine icon in the menu bar. Or choose Apple  () menu > System Preferences, then click Time Machine.
  2. Click Select Backup Disk, Select Disk, or Add or Remove Backup Disk.
  3. Select a backup disk from the list, then click Use Disk.
  4. For additional backup security and convenience, you can repeat these steps to add another backup disk. For example, you might use one backup disk while at home, and another backup disk while at work.

Back up using Time Machine

After you set up Time Machine, it automatically makes hourly backups for the past 24 hours, daily backups for the past month, and weekly backups for all previous months. The oldest backups are deleted when your backup disk is full.

  • To back up now instead of waiting for the next automatic backup, choose Back Up Now from the Time Machine menu Time Machine icon in the menu bar.
  • To stop automatic backups, open Time Machine preferences, then either deselect Back Up Automatically (macOS Sierra or later) or turn off Time Machine (OS X El Capitan or earlier). You can still back up manually by choosing Back Up Now from the Time Machine menu.
  • To cancel a backup in progress, choose Skip This Backup (or Stop Backing Up) from the Time Machine menu. 
  • To check backup status, use the Time Machine menu. The icon shows when Time Machine is backing up In progess, idle until the next automatic backup Idle, or unable to complete the backup Can't backupCan't back up.
  • To exclude items from your backup, open Time Machine preferences from the Time machine menu, click Options, then click the Add (+) button to add an item to be excluded. To stop excluding an item, such as an external hard drive, select the item and click the Remove (–) button.



Your first backup may take a long time, depending on how many files you have. You can continue using your Mac while a backup is underway. Some Mac computers make backups even when asleep. Time Machine backs up only the files that changed since the previous backup, so future backups will be faster. 

Restore specific items from a Time Machine backup

  1. Open a window for the item that you want to restore. For example:
    • To restore a file you accidentally deleted from your Documents folder, open the Documents folder.
    • To restore an email message, open your inbox in Mail.
    • If you're using an app that automatically saves versions of documents as you work on them, you can open a document, then use Time Machine to restore earlier versions of that document.
  2. Choose Enter Time Machine from the Time Machine menu Time Machine icon, or click Time Machine in the Dock. This example shows Time Machine for the Documents folder:
  3. Find the items to restore:
    • Use the timeline on the edge of the screen to see the items in your Time Machine backup as they were at that date and time. The timeline may also include local snapshots.
    • Use the onscreen up and down arrows to jump to the last time the contents of the window changed. You can also use the search field in a window to find an item, then move through time while focused on changes to that item.
    • Select an item and press Space Bar to preview it and make sure it's the one you want. 
  4. Click Restore to restore the selected item, or Control-click the item for other options.

Restore everything from a Time Machine backup

To completely restore your Mac, use the “Restore from Time Machine Backup” utility in macOS Recovery. The disk you're restoring is erased before receiving the macOS and other contents of your Time Machine backup.

To copy just your files, settings, or user accounts, use Migration Assistant.

Learn more

  • Learn what to do if you can't back up or restore with Time Machine.
  • If you back up to multiple disks, you can switch disks before entering Time Machine. Hold down the Option key, then choose Browse Other Backup Disks from the Time Machine menu.
  • If you're using Time Machine to back up to a storage device on your network, you can verify those backups to make sure they're in good condition: Hold down the Option key, then choose Verify Backups from the Time Machine menu. 
  • After you choose your backup disk, its icon in the Finder might or might not be the same icon   that you see in Time Machine preferences. You can change the icon
  • In OS X Lion v10.7.3 or later, you can start up from your Time Machine disk, if necessary. Hold down the Option key as your Mac starts up. When you see the Startup Manager screen, choose “EFI Boot” as the startup disk.

Information about products not manufactured by Apple, or independent websites not controlled or tested by Apple, is provided without recommendation or endorsement. Apple assumes no responsibility with regard to the selection, performance, or use of third-party websites or products. Apple makes no representations regarding third-party website accuracy or reliability. Risks are inherent in the use of the Internet. Contact the vendor for additional information. Other company and product names may be trademarks of their respective owners.

Published Date: