MacMyDay welcome guest columnist Al Abdukadirov, founder of MacMyths.com
Al’s articles will have tips, hints and information regarding the Apple and Mac environment.
What’s Time Machine on Mac?
By: Al Abdukadirov/MacMyths.com
What comes to your mind when you hear the phrase “Time Machine”?
Maybe a 2002 sci-fi movie about time traveling. Perhaps the 1895 novel written by H.G. Wells.
However, in the Apple world, Time Machine is not about traveling into the future.
It’s about going back in time and restoring the files on your Mac even if they were modified or deleted from the computer.
The Time Machine is a program that backs up the data on the Mac.
Why do you need to back up the data?
Imagine you are playing a computer game. You passed 16 levels, and suddenly your hero was destroyed. If you were lucky and saved the game after the 15th level, you can go back to the savepoint, and start the last level again. If you didn’t save anything, then you have to go over all 16 levels.
Similarly, backup utilities save your time when something happens: the disk crashed, a new update was installed, the file gets accidentally deleted. If you have a backup taken at the right time, you can use a history tree, identify the point when the change happened, and restore data to the state before the accident.
The first thing you need for the Time Machine is storage. It is possible to store backups on the primary storage of your Mac. In fact, by default, the Time Machine does store all snapshots on the primary disk if you didn’t specify otherwise.
But I suggest against it for the following reasons:
1. If the primary storage fails, then any backup stored on it will be gone as well as all data on the disk. What’s the point of having multiple copies if you can’t use them?
2. If you back up regularly (recommended), the snapshots will quickly fill the space on your disk, and you wouldn’t even know why can’t you install a new app anymore.
So, you need an external device. Most people use external hard drives to store their backups. What’s good about Time Machine is that it automatically deletes older backups when there is not enough space to save the new ones.
For instance, if you have 2TB external hard drive and it is almost full, then the app will start deleting the oldest snapshots, possibly saved a year or so ago. So, if you have a small disk, it limits how far back you can go.
The problem with external drives is that they are not convenient when used with MacBooks. After all, nobody has external devices plugged continuously in, MacBooks supposed to be mobile. iMacs and Mac minis, on the other hand, are perfect in this regard because they are static.
So, ideally, you want something it always stays connected as soon as you come home with your MacBook.
For a long time, Apple had AirPort Time Capsules, which had Wi-Fi access points. And Time Machine would back up to the capsule whenever it can connect to it (which happens automatically in the home office).
Unfortunately, Apple discontinued Time Capsules years ago and didn’t care to provide alternative solutions.
If you need a recommendation on alternatives to the Apple Time Capsule, Click here to check out my article about Time Machines. If you need advice on a good dependant external hard drive, click here to check out my article about the most reliable hard drive for Mac.
Making backups with Time Machine
In this post, we will assume that you are using an external hard drive to store backups.
First, you need to make sure that it properly formatted.
· Start the Disk Utility app by pressing the Command key and the Space Bar simultaneously. Type Disk Utility in the Spotlight Search bar and hit Enter.
· In the Disk Utility window select the drive you want to format
· Click on Erase button in the top menu
· When asked, type in the name of the drive, e.g., My Backups.
· Then pick the right format: Mac OS Extended (Journaled).
· And click Erase.
Once the format process is finished, the drive is ready for backups.
Now start Time Machine. Again press Command and Space Bar and type Time Machine.
I like to enable the “Show Time Machine in menu bar” option, so I can always access it from the bar in the top right of the screen.
Now, all you need now is to select the disk you want to save the future snapshots on.
If you turned on the “Back up Automatically” option, then Mac will start backups by itself as long as the drive is connected.
Note: the very first backup usually takes a very long time. How long depends on the number of files you already have on the computer. You may see a message “preparing backup” for a long time, but this is normal.
There are other questions about creating backups, which I am not going to go over here. Click here to check out my article here for more.
Restoring files with Time Machine
There are two main approaches to restore data on Macs:
1. Full restore
2. File restore
With the full restore, the drive will be completely wiped out, and the old image of your Mac will be restored. This is a very drastic measure and usually used in the following cases:
1. You’ve got a virus. The best way to remove the virus is to restore the disk to an image before the virus sneaked into your system.
2. The macOS got upgraded, and you want to revert back.
3. You want to restore the image of the old Mac to a new computer.
In case you delete a file or changed a part of it and now want something that was in the document two weeks ago, you can use Time Machine again.
1. Click on the Time Machine icon in the top right corner of the screen.
2. Click on Enter Time Machine line in the pop-up menu
3. The Time Machine will open a history of snapshots you took so far. You can go back to the date when the file either existed or had the data you need.
4. Select the file and click on the Restore button
5. If the file with the same name exists, then you will see a pop-up confirmation dialog asking whether you want to Keep the Original (if you don’t want to replace it), Keep Both (if you want to have both copies of the file), or Replace.
Other ways to back the data
By far, my most favorite way to store documents is to upload them to the cloud. With data in the cloud, I can access them from my Mac, phone, or browser.
DropBox also keeps a history of changes, so you can always go back and restore the older versions of the files stored.
Two drawbacks of DropBox are:
1. Limited storage. The basic free version comes with merely 2GB of storage. However, you can always get a paid subscription and get as much space as you need.
2. DropBox only saves files. You cannot back up the entire Mac image and restore it when needed.
If you are thinking of using cloud storage, I suggest considering BackBlaze. It is cloud storage, which costs $60/year, way cheaper than DropBox Professional that costs $199/year.
Other nice features of BackBlaze are:
· The ability to back up external drives
· Private encryption key
· Unlimited storage (compare to 3TB limit of DropBox)
For any questions or help, please contact your MacMyDay tech support by clicking here:
About the author:
Al Abdukadirov – is a founder of MacMyths.com. You can reach him at