Apple Time Machine

If your computer contains valuable documents, even if they are important only to you (irreplaceable photos, library of music and so on) it’s unquestionably worth regularly backing up your files to some kind of external media, as any computer file can be accidentally deleted or become corrupted. Besides, though it’s generally possible to recover files that seem to have been erased or overwritten, all this is of no use if your computer gets stolen or destroyed. Apple Time Machine feature makes both backing up and recovering data very straightforward, so let’s take a look at how it works. Let’s also outline a few backing up strategies.

Apple Time Machine

In fact, there are several ways to back up your data, but the most convenient method by far is to use OS X’s built-in Time Machine application in conjunction with an external hard drive. Such drives are fast, capacious and connect via FireWire, Ethernet or USB2 cable. It is possible to connect wirelessly over a network router or hub. Apple Time Machine, meanwhile, can be set up in a couple of minutes and the be forgotten about; it even makes the process of recovering lost data rather enjoyable.

Note that though the wireless option is great for the incremental backups, the initial backup of the whole system should be carried out using some sort of cable, as it can take days if attempted over the airwaves.

Time Machine creates incremental backups of files that can be restored at a later date from the Recovery HD or the macOS Install DVD. The feature works within iWork, iLife, and other compatible programs. Time Machine software application has been designed to work with the Time Capsule storage product, as well as other internal and external disk drives.

How to Set Up Time Machine

When the user connects a hard drive to his or her Mac, Time Machine should spring into life automatically and ask if the user should like to make a backup. If the Time Machine doesn’t open, open it from the Dock or Applications, or go to System Preferences and choose Time Machine. Next, his Choose Backup Disk and select your connected drive from the list.

By default, Apple Time Machine will back up all the data on your machine the first time the user uses it. Then, over time, the feature appends accumulative updates of all the files that change. That means the amount of backed-up data will grow over time, so if possible, use a backup drive with enough capacity to keep you going for a while. When Time Machine runs out of space it automatically starts deleting the oldest backed up files to make room for newer ones.

If the user thinks space will be an issue, or if the user simply doesn’t want to back up all of his or her data, the Apple Time Machine can exclude selected data and folders. To do this, the user must hit the Options button within System PreferencesTime Machine and then use the “+” button to add items to the Do not back up list. If the users chooses to exclude any folder that contains system files the user will be offered the option to Exclude All System Files – the logic being that these files can be restored from the System Restore disc that came with the Mac.

How to Restore From Time Machine

This is where the fun starts. When users want to recover a deleted file or folder, or restore a file or a folder to an earlier state, they select the item in question in Finder and then launch Time Machine from the dock or Applications.

Similarly, to restore Photos, iTunes, Address Book and other apps to an earlier state, users click into the window of the app in question and launch Time Machine.

The Mac is then whisked off to what appears to be the edge of a black hole. Here the user can skip through his Mac’s backups by either clicking through the stack of windows, tapping on the arrows or scrolling up and down the time line on the screen’s right-hand edge. When the user finds the item in its desired state, he must hit Restore.

To Backup on an External Hard Drive

If you intend to use an external drive with Apple Time Machine or with any other application that accumulates incremental backups, aim to purchase a drive with a capacity roughly double that of the amount of data you intend to back up. When making your calculations, take into consideration how much media you are likely to accumulate over the next year or two. If you intend to use Time Machine also take into account that the larger the drive, the further back in time you will be able to go to restore files. Apple’s own Time Capsule device is a good option, as it acts a wireless router.

A Few Tips

If you don’t want to give up your entire hard drive to Apple Time Machine, first split the drive into two partitions using Disk Utility, then select one of the partitions as your backup drive in Time Machine.

By default, Apple Time Machine will carry out regular backups according to the schedule specified in System Preferences – Time Machine. But if your Mac is not permanently connected to your backup drive then backups will take place whenever you plug the drive in.

You can use Time Machine to back up multiple Mac to the same drive – as long as the drive has enough space.

There may be little point backing up applications that came with your Mac or that you purchased, as you can easily reinstall them from the original discs. Likewise you can download and install downloaded software. However, consider backing up any applications that may no longer be available or available in new versions, when you prefer an older one. You may also want to backup an application that is too big and may be a hassle to re-download. One strategy is to keep a copy of the original compressed files that you download in a folder within your home folder and back up these.

If you are backing up your home folder, have a think about whether you’ve ever saved anything elsewhere – such as shared widgets, screen savers or fonts in Macintosh – HD – Library. The items on your desktop are covered if you back up your home folder. If you are backing up selectively though, don’t forget anything important that you keep on your desktop.

What to Back Up

When backing up your Mac, you ideally want to cover everything that could be a pain to lose, including photos, emails, musics movie footage, bookmarks, preferences, calendars and contacts. Of course, the obvious way to make sure you don’t forget anything is to back up the entire contents of your hard drive (this is the Time Machine default option).

A slightly more efficient alternative will be to back up just your home folder. This way, you should get all your personal files and data but you won’t waste space backing up applications or OS X system files that could be easily reinstated from the original discs or downloads.

If there’s more than one user account set up on your Mac, there will be more than one home folder. If you administrative powers, you could deal with them all at once by backing up the entire Users folder, found in the top-level of Macintosh HD.

If you don’t have room for your entire home folder, you’ll need to be more selective. Here are a few pointers:

The music files that make you your iTunes Library live within your home folder under Music – iTunes – iTunes Music. You can back up artists or albums from there, but if you want to retain playlists, album artwork and other such extras, you’ll need to back up the entire iTunes folder.

You can back up individual photos. But it’d be better to safeguard your entire albums, Events and other such data. Simply back up the Pictures – Photos Library, which contains the whole kit ad caboodle.

You can back up the entire Library folder within your home folder, as this contains things such as contacts, emails and calendars.

It the space is restricted, at least grab the following: Your email files. If you use Apple Mail, your email files will be located within Library – Mail. For other email clients, look for a folder named after the application in either home folder’s Documents or Library folders.

Bookmarks for Safari bookmarks, back up the Bookmarks.plist file, found within Library – Safari. If you use Firefox, back up the Library – Application Support – Firevox. You can also turn to Xmarks.

Contacts & Calendars Address Book contacts ans calendars are found under Library – Application Support – AddressBook and Library – Calendar app respectively.

Fonts: Don’t worry about fonts that came with OS X, but any you’ve added can be backed up via the various Fonts folders.

How to Back Up Without Using Time Machine

You you have an external hard drive, a flash drive or even an iPod, you can back up individual files or folders by dragging and dropping them onto the device in question. First create a folder on the drive and name it with a date. Each time you overwrite the contents, rename the folder with the new date. This way you can see at a glance when you last backed up. Other backup options include the following methods:

CD, DVD, USB flash drives: You can back up files onto writeable discs or an USB flash drive. CDs are not ideal because of their relatively small capacity. DVDs are better, but the whole process is still slower and more cumbersome than using an external drive. USB flash drive are inexpensive and eminently portable – great for backing up essential documents.

Online backups: Backing up data online is ideal in a sense, as your files are duplicated to a remote location. However this is only an option to back up certain key files rather than your whole system. iCloud, for example, features tools for backing up online, though you’ll get more webspace for your money with a dedicated online storage service.

You can also set up an email account with an online provider such as Google Mail. You can back up key files by emailing them to that account, however, with most accounts you’ll be limited to sending around a limited amount of data per email.

You can also back-up data with iPod. In fact, iPods are basically just external hard drives or flash drive storage drives in pretty cases. iPods don’t work with Apple Time Machine, but you can use them to manually back up and transfer all kinds of files – without even affecting the ability of iPod to play music. First, attach your iPod to your Mac. Then open iTunes and under the Summary tab check Enable Disk use. The iPod will now function exactly like any other hard drive, when you attach it. Now its icon will appear on the desktop and Finder Sidebars, ready to receive files. Note that, as with any other drive, you’ll now have to eject the iPod before physically disconnecting it – even if you’re just using iTunes.

If there’s room on the iPod, you could back up your entire system.

But if you’re short of space you may want to drag files on selectively – perhaps avoiding music and/or photos that are already stored on the iPod.


Note that Apple Time Machine places strict requirements on the backup storage medium. According to Wikipedia, the officially supported configurations are:

  • A hard drive or partition connected directly to the computer, either internally or by a bus like USB or FireWire, and formatted as journaled HFS+.
  • A folder on a journaled HFS+ file system shared by another Mac on the same network running at least Leopard.
  • A drive shared by an Apple Time Capsule on the same network.
  • A drive connected to an Apple AirPort Extreme 802.11ac model on the same network. (Earlier generations of the AirPort Extreme are not supported.)
  • Local network volumes connected using Apple Filing Protocol.
  • On a Time Capsule, the backup data is stored in an HFS+ disk image and accessed via Apple Filing Protocol. Although it is not officially supported, users and manufacturers have configured FreeBSD and Linux servers and network-attached storage systems to serve Time Machine-enabled Macs.


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