How to make sure Time Machine is backing up properly on your Mac

Digging into Time Machine
Digging into Time Machine

Backing up your data on your Mac is essential, but only if the backup system you're using is working as promised. Here's how you can tell your Time Machine backups are sound and ready to use when needed.

Great backup drives

How it's done

There are a number of ways to verify your Time Machine backup, depending on whether your backup device is on a network or physically attached to your Mac.

Restore and verify

The easiest way to confirm that your backup files are sound is to simply restore a file (or files) using Time Machine. This option works for anyone using Time Machine, regardless of how the backup drive is accessed.

  1. Select System Preferences from the Apple menu.
  2. Choose the Time Machine icon.

To enable Time Machine backups on your Mac, select System Preferences from the Apple menu, then choose the Time Machine icon. (Image credit: iMore)
  1. Check the box next to Show Time Machine in menu bar.
  2. Click Enter Time Machine after clicking the Time Machine icon in the Menu bar.

To restore files from a Time Machine backup, check the box next to Show Time Machine in menu bar. Click Enter Time Machine. (Image credit: iMore)
  1. Find the file or folder in question and click Restore.

To restore files from a Time Machine backup, find the file or folder in question and click Restore. (Image credit: iMore)

You're all set! Time Machine will copy that file back to its original location on your hard drive.

Verifying networked Time Machine backups

If you're backing up your files with Time Machine to a networked location, there's another simple solution, this one that doesn't require restoring old files.

  1. Hold down the Option key on your keyboard while clicking on the Time Machine icon on the menubar.
  2. Click Verify Backups.

Depending on the size of your backup files and speed of your Mac, verifying may take a while. During this time, macOS will alert you if there is a problem. Otherwise, no report is issued. If there are concerns, your system may recommend solutions.

Verifying local Time Machine backups

Most Mac owners who use Time Machine have a physical storage device connected to their computer. In this case, the solution mentioned above isn't possible since Verify Backups is grayed out on the menubar. Instead, you'll need to verify your files using Terminal.

  1. Make sure your backup drive is plugged into your computer.
  2. Click on the Spotlight Search icon on the Mac menubar.
  3. Type "Terminal" in the search box.
  4. Select Terminal under the Top Hits results to open Terminal.

  1. In Terminal, copy and paste the code tmutil compare –s.
  2. Click Return on your keyboard. In doing so, the system will compare the contents of your Mac with the contents of your backup. Depending on the size of your backup drive and speed of your Mac, this report can take up to 15 minutes to complete.

You'll see the following items on this report:

  • A ! before a file means the given file has changed.
  • A + before a file means the given file is new.
  • A - before a file means the given file was deleted.

Once the report is completed, you'll see a summary indicating how much storage was added, removed, and changed. If there's a problem with your backup, you'll see language in the report indicating as much.

Ideally, the best way to verify that your Time Machine backups are sound is to restore one or more files as a test. If you want to dig deeper, other options are available.

Our top equipment pick

There are countless hard drives available that support Apple's Time Machine app for backup purposes. These three are among the best on the market.

Also available with 2TB and 4TB, G-Technology's G-Drive is one of the easiest drives to use for backup. Just plug it in, and you're halfway there! It's available in silver, space gray, and rose gold.

Other options

The following hard drives are also among our favorites for 2019.

Sandisk 500GB

SanDisk Extreme Portable External SSD (Image credit: SanDisk)
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SanDisk Extreme Portable External 250B, 500GB, 1TB, 2GB (opens in new tab) (starting at $73 at Amazon)

This product proves that even hard drives can be beautiful.

Lacie Porsche Design

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LaCie Porsche Design 1TB, 2TB, 4TB (opens in new tab) (starting at $90 at Amazon)

LaCie is well known for its backup devices; this is one of the most popular on the market.

Bryan M Wolfe
Staff Writer

Bryan M. Wolfe has written about technology for over a decade on various websites, including TechRadar, AppAdvice, and many more. Before this, he worked in the technology field across different industries, including healthcare and education. He’s currently iMore’s lead on all things Mac and macOS, although he also loves covering iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. Bryan enjoys watching his favorite sports teams, traveling, and driving around his teenage daughter to her latest stage show, audition, or school event in his spare time. He also keeps busy walking his black and white cocker spaniel, Izzy, and trying new coffees and liquid grapes.