Creating Backups with Time Machine on Mac

The Time Machine backup utility is a very important part of the macOS operating system. It creates incremental backups of your files to a specified location, such as an external hard drive. These files can later be browsed and restored by running the Time Machine application. It’s great for restoring deleted or incorrectly changed files.

Setting Up Time Machine

Connect an external hard drive, via USB, FireWire or Thunderbolt, to your Mac. It should be at least the size of your Mac’s hard drive. The larger the drive, the further back in time you will be able to store backups. Now open System Preferences and click on Time Machine in the bottom row.

Click the Select Disk… button and you will be presented with a window listing your currently connected drives. Select the drive on which you would like to store your Time Machine backups. If your external drive isn’t already formatted as ‘Mac OS Extended (Journaled)’, Time Machine invites you to erase and reformat it.

If you choose to reformat your disk, all data currently on the drive is wiped so if there’s something on there you want to keep, move it first. You might get a pop-up asking if you would like to use the connected drive with Time Machine. Click Decide Later so the Time Machine settings can be configured to your requirements first.

Once your external drive is connected and formatted correctly, you can always access Time Machine by opening System Preferences from Launchpad or the Applications folder on your Mac. Check the Show Time Machine in Menu Bar box and you can also access it from the menu bar.

time machine MacOS

Backing Up to Time Machine

There’s an option to encrypt backups. This stops anyone from accessing the data on your drive without the password you specify. If you choose to encrypt your backups, simply enter and verify your password, enter a hint, and then proceed by clicking Encrypt Disk. You can click Choose Different Disk to return to the previous screen.

You’re now presented with a window that shows the status of your currently selected drive, the one that’s to be used for your Time Machine backups. This window lets you know how much space is available, as well as the date of your oldest and latest backup and when the next backup will take place.

By default, Time Machine is configured to back up all data on your Mac’s hard drive. If you click the Options button, you can add locations on your Mac’s hard drive not to be backed up. To exclude a new item, press the ‘+’ icon to reveal the file browser. Browse to the file or folder you don’t want included in your backups, and click the Exclude button.

To remove an item from the list of excluded backup items, click the item once to highlight it, and then click the ‘-’ icon. You can either Cancel or Save your changes to return to the previous screen. The item you removed is dropped from the list and will once more be backed up with your Mac’s next Time Machine backup.

To retrieve a file from Time Machine, Choose Enter Time Machine in the Time Machine menu and then navigate to the file you want. You can get hold of an older version of a current file or one you’ve deleted. When you’ve found it, highlight it and press Restore.

It’s important that you keep your Time Machine backups separate to your data files. Never, for example, partition a hard drive and keep data on one partition and Time Machine backups on the other. If you do, both your data and your backups are lost if the hard drive fails.

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Ian Osborne

Ian has worked on computer and video games magazines since the legendary Crash and Zzap! 64 in the early Nineties, so he’s seen many changes over the years (including an expanding waistline and receding hairline). A lifelong Mac user, he bought his first Mac in the year 2000. It’s a testament to the resilience of the Mac that his mother is still using that computer to this very day.

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