Time Machine on Mac

If you've started from scratch with your new Mac, but want a few files from your old one, you can easily grab them from your Time Machine backup!

If you got a new Mac and decided to start over from scratch instead of using a Time Machine backup, you may have come across a moment when you realize that there are a few files or applications sitting in your old Mac (or in an old Mac Time Machine backup) that you need. You can get those files onto your new Mac without having to restore the entire backup. Here's how.

First thing's first: Back up your Mac... both of them

If you still have your old Mac, go ahead and do a fresh backup with Time Machine before recovering files on your new Mac. It might seem redundant, but the file you need may not have been backed up before you switched over. A fresh backup never hurt anyone.

You should also run a quick backup on your new Mac for safety sake. There's no need to worry about making changes. If something goes wrong, you can always recover from a backup.

How to back up your Mac using Time Machine

If you don't have your old Mac, just use the latest backup on file on with Time Machine on your external hard drive.

How to recover specific files from your old Mac on your new Mac

Here's the easy part. Just connect the external hard drive that you were storing your old Mac's Time Machine backups on. If you were using the same external hard drive for you old and new Mac, you've already completed the first step!

  1. Double-click on the Time Machine external hard drive you connected that was used to back up your old Mac.
  2. Double-click on the Backups.backupdb folder.
  3. Double-click on your old Mac folder.

    Select backup file, then select computer

  4. Double-click on Latest. It should be the last file on the list.
  5. Double-click on Macintosh HD.

    Select latest, then select Macintosh HD

  6. Select the folder that stores the files you want to recover, like Applications, Library, System, or Users.
  7. Drag the file to your desktop to make a copy of it.
  8. Enter your User account password if prompted.

    Select a folder, then select a file The new file will now be on your new Mac and you can use it as if it had always been there.

How to recover files from another Mac when you're using a NAS

If you're on a network attached storage (NAS) hard drive to save and store backups, you may have noticed that you're having a difficult time accessing files from your old Mac on the hard drive. I don't personally use a NAS, and so have not been able to test this method, but StackExchange user bofolsen noted that you can access restricted NAS file on your new computer after you create a new User with the same login credentials as the one you used with your old Mac.

  1. Create a new user account on your Mac. This new user account should have the same name and password as your old Mac.
  2. Log in to the new user account.
  3. Open your Time Machine folder using Finder.
  4. Double-click on the Backups.backupdb folder.
  5. Double-click on your old Mac folder.

    Select backup file, then select computer

  6. Double-click on Latest. It should be the last file on the list.
  7. Double-click on Macintosh HD.

    Select latest, then select Macintosh HD

  8. Select the folder that stores the files you want to recover, like Applications, Library, System, or Users.
  9. Drag the file to your desktop to make a copy of it.
  10. Enter your user account password. Remember, this should be the same user account information that you used with your old Mac.

    Select a folder, then select a file

I haven't personally verified these steps since I don't use a NAS for my backup solution but if you try it, let me know how it works.

Any questions?

Do you have any questions about how to recover specific files from your old Mac on your new one using Time Machine? Put them in the comments and we'll help you out.