Help! My Time Machine Backups Won’t Open!

September 5, 2011, By Christian Cawley

If you’re using a Mac but have come from many years of using Windows, you might be surprised to find that some things are much easier than what you’re used to – such as accessing backed up data created with Time Machine.

This utility is designed to run as simply as possible, making it very easy for you to create and retrieve backups with the minimum of fuss. There’s simply no need to get your hands dirty with Time Machine – as long as you have sufficient storage space (perhaps on an external disk drive, for instance) then this system will just work.

However, if you’re expecting to retrieve backups in the way you would on a Windows computer, think again – it is far simpler than that!

Help! My Time Machine Backups Won’t Open!

How Not to Restore Backups in Mac OS X

When you create a backup with Time Machine, a file is created with your archived data in it, and this is stored on the chosen storage device. In most cases you can “fire and forget” with Time Machine – leave the file where it is only access it when you need to restore a deleted file or folder.

In some cases, however, you will want to check the backup to see what is being saved; whether you wish to check the contents or restore a backup file you can do this very easily via Time Machine.

What you certainly shouldn’t try doing is opening the backup file and restore the data manually. All this will do is result in various error messages, such as “You can’t open the application iPhoto because it is in a Time Machine backup”. This should of course indicate to you that the file you are looking to restore cannot be accessed manually.

Fortunately it is a simple task to restore data on your Mac, simply by opening Time Machine.

Restoring Time Machine Backups in Mac OS X

In order to actively restore your backed up data to your Mac’s file system you will need to use Time Machine to find and retrieve the archived data. This is done by right-clicking the Time Machine icon on the Dock and selecting Enter Time Machine.

A few sound effects later you will see a new Finder window; a little different to usual as this version appears as a set of “stacked” panes, each one representing a different state of the backup. All you need to do is identify the right date for the file to be restored from, navigate to the correct directory and then click the file or folder that you wish to bring back and click the Restore button.

That’s it – you’ve done the hard part and now Time Machine will take over the task of extracting the data and restoring it to your Mac’s hard disk drive!

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