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How to restore individual files from a Time Machine backup

Apple's built-in Time Machine app makes it simple to back up Mac data — capturing them in their most recent state so you can recover them later. When the time comes when you have to restore individual files from a backup you can do so with ease by following these steps.

Great backup drives

How it's done

Regardless of the reason, you can restore an older file from a Time Machine backup. In doing so, you can replace a newer version of the file or keep both versions so that you can compare. Here's how it's done.

  1. Plug in your external backup disk and make sure it's on.
  2. Go to the location where the original file(s) were located. For example, if you're looking for a file that was under Documents, go into that location.
  3. Choose Enter Time Machine from the Time Machine Menu.

  1. Find the items you wish to restore by using the timeline on the edge of the screen on the right. You can also use the up and down arrow.
  2. Select an item and press Space Bar to preview it and make sure it's the one you want.
  3. Click Restore to restore the item you selected, or Control-click the item for other options.

From there, you'll be given a choice to copy over the existing file or leave the newest file in place alongside the older one.

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.