🤖 How to use Time Machine. Instructions for beginners

Time Machine is a file backup feature found in any modern version of macOS. By enabling Time Machine, you protect yourself from accidental deletion or loss of files. Any files and folders, as well as their intermediate versions, can be restored.

Now I’ll show you how to set up and use Time Machine.

👉 Read also: Three-level backups. How I Ditch Time Machine Made a Reliable Backup System for My Mac

How Time Machine works

Time Machine makes a backup of the user’s folder: documents, downloads, applications, etc.

Backups are created automatically every hour. All you need to do is specify the drive to which the system will backup.

Once you’ve set up Time Machine, you’ll always have access to:

  • hourly backups for the last 24 hours;
  • daily backups for the last month;
  • weekly backups for all other months of work.

Time Machine does not back up macOS itself. Therefore, if your system completely crashed, then you first have to put macOS on a clean one from Recovery Mode or a bootable flash drive, and then restore information from Time Machine using the migration assistant.


How to set up Time Machine

To enable Time Machine – connect an external hard drive to your Mac and select it in:

 ▸ Cистемные настройки… ▸ Time Machine ▸ Выбрать диск…

The first step is to select an external drive for Time Machine
I preformatted the disk using Disk Utility and named it Time Machine

The system will ask you to format the disk specifically for Time Machine, so make sure there is no important information on it.

Make sure to enable encryption of the backup so that no one else can access your files.

Which drive is better to choose

As for connecting the drive, there are two options: wired and wireless. Both have their own advantages and disadvantages.

Wired Disc

The easiest and most affordable option. A 1 TB mechanical HDD will cost $ 60-70. It is not as fast as an SSD, but the speed of a modern disk is more than enough to rewrite several hundred megabytes to it once an hour.

🐢Western Digital My Passport USB-A 1 TB: Rozetka / Citilink

⚡️Samsung SSD T5 USB-C 1 TB: Rozetka / Citilink

The Samsung T5 SSD is fast, small, light, and can be plugged directly over USB-C

The downside is that the wired connection is not convenient and not very reliable. If you can connect a disk to the iMac and forget about it, then the disk will have to be constantly connected / disconnected to the laptop. It’s just too lazy to do it.

Over time, USB connectors, and especially USB-C, begin to loosen and the drive can “fall off” during the backup process, which leads to file corruption in the case of mechanical drives.

Wireless disc

With such a disk, the backup occurs when the computer is in range of home WiFi. With a wireless connection, accidental disconnection of the disk due to a dropped power cable is excluded, as is the case with wired disks, which means there is less chance of damaging any files when copying.

Western Digital My Cloud Home 4TB: Rozetka / Citilink

WD My Cloud connects to a WiFi hotspot and MacBook sees it as a network drive

Typically, the drive is connected to your access point via an Ethernet cable, after which it appears in macOS as a separate network drive.

A network drive can be used to back up multiple home computers at once.

Time capsule

You’ve probably heard of Apple’s own Time Capsule. This is an access point with a built-in network drive for several terabytes, which is sharpened for working with Time Machine. Alas, Apple in 2018 closed the division responsible for Time Capsule and AirPort access points, so it’s better to take a closer look at the two previous options.

How much disk space to choose

It is better to take a disc that is two or more times larger than your main disc. For example, if the MacBook Pro has a 512 GB SSD, then it is better to allocate a 1 TB disk for a Time Machine backup. In this case, you will have a history of file changes for at least the last couple of months, not weeks.

What happens when the disk is full

Time Machine will start automatically deleting the oldest weekly backups that are older than one month. So Time Machine will never stop working.

How to limit the size of a Time Machine copy

Time Machine “captures” the entire disk that you specify for its needs. If your external drive is 4 terabytes, then TM will keep old backups until the drive is full.

The only way to “pacify” Time Machine is to create a separate logical partition for it and make backups for it. This can be done through Disk Utility macOS.

If you have a large disk, it makes sense to create a separate, smaller partition for Time Machine. To do this, the disk will have to be formatted and partitioned.

How to exclude folders from backup

Sometimes it is useful to exclude certain directories from backups, for example the folder Downloads or Films, in which files appear and are often deleted.

In order to exclude the desired folder, go to  ▸ Системные настройки ▸ Time Machine ▸ Настройки and add it to the list by pressing the key +

Add folders you don’t want to back up. For example Downloads and Videos

How to recover files from Tim Machine

If you need to restore a file, start Time Machine from the folder Applications:

Finder ▸ Приложения ▸ Time Machine

You will see a Finder window in a carousel. Suppose you need to restore a file from your Desktop that was there last week. Go to your desktop in a Finder window and then on-screen arrows ⬆︎⬇︎ move between backups until you see this file.

Click on the file and click Restore

Time Machine File Recovery

If Time Machine was not turned on and you need to recover your files, Disk Drill will help you.

How to disable internal backups

If you set up Time Machine, but stopped connecting the backup drive, then after a couple of weeks you will notice a lack of free space on your primary drive.

This is because while the external drive is not connected, Time Machine creates temporary backups on the system storage.

To clean up your local backups, simply plug in the drive that you’ve configured with Time Machine. The system will automatically transfer all local backups to this drive.

If you are unable to connect the disk to your computer, then install the DaisyDisk utility and delete the folder /.MobileBackupswhere local backups are stored.

If you want to completely disable local backups, then run in Terminal command:

sudo tmutil disablelocal

Turn local backups back on:

sudo tmutil enablelocal

If you disable local backups, then Time Machine will work only when an external drive is connected to the computer.


🌿 Remember

  1. To enable Time Machine, you will definitely need an external drive. This function does not work with the system disk or “cloud”;
  2. I recommend buying an SSD. These discs are more reliable and faster than mechanical ones. And yet they are not afraid of falls;
  3. Make sure to turn on disk encryption so that no one can access your files in the backup;
  4. Backup occurs automatically and every hour if the computer is connected to a power source;
  5. It is advisable that the disk size is twice as large as that of your MacBook or iMac. This way you can have backups of your files from the last few months.

👉 Read also: Three-level backups. How I Ditch Time Machine Made a Reliable Backup System for My Mac

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