Apple

Pro tip: How to recover files using Time Machine, including email

While most users understand Time Machine backs up data, many don't know how to actually recover files, including email messages. Here's how.

Time Machine

Hard drives crash. Laptops are stolen. Users accidentally delete and corrupt important files. Time Machine, thankfully, consistently provides an elegant method for recovering from such disasters.

The key is preparation

Time Machine's only real Achilles' heel is that the backup application must be configured and run before a disaster occurs. After a disk crashes, once a user accidentally deletes a critical file, or following a computer theft is not the time to commit to a Time Machine implementation; Time Machine must be installed and running on a system before trouble occurs.

Time Machine backups and geographic separation

Time Machine backups should not be stored with the corresponding computer, server, or laptop. Obviously, if a theft occurs, the drive collecting Time Machine backups could be stolen with the computer. Likewise, if a fire devastates an office, the inferno will reasonably destroy the Time Machine backup drive and the Mac being backed up (one possible exception is if the Time Machine backup drive is a hardened device, such as an ioSafe Solo Pro). By rotating Time Machine backups, a user can possess reasonable confidence a backup exists at another site that could be used to recover critical business data, should a failure, theft, or disaster occur.

Simple backups

Like so many other complex actions for which Apple has earned a reputation of simplifying, Time Machine makes it easier to create comprehensive Mac backups. Just connect a drive, configure Time Machine to begin backing up the Mac, and ensure the disk is routinely connected to the Mac in order to enable Time Machine to update the backup.

Straightforward recovery

Recovery, like the backup process, is also very simple. Just connect the Time Machine backup and click Enter Time Machine. I encrypt my Time Machine backups, so the only other step I encounter is the need to enter the third-party encryption tool's password first.

Next, the Time Machine window appears. Users can navigate to the specific backup possessing the file they wish to recover, should a specific file become corrupted, deleted, or improperly edited. Essentially, a Finder window appears with a calendar list of backup dates superimposed on the right edge of the Mac's screen. Users select the date of the last backup containing the correct version of the file they wish to recover, navigate to the file's location using the Finder menu, and then click the Restore button that appears at the bottom right of the Time Machine window.

Full system restore

Time Machine allows enables the full recovering of a system. For example, a user can boot a new Mac with the old Mac's Time Machine backup connected, press the [command] and [R] keys simultaneously, and choose Restore from a Time Machine Backup. In addition to restoring user settings, files, and email, the Time Machine backup can also assist in recovering applications, assuming Time Machine was previously set to back up the entire machine.

Recovering email

Unlike some backup utilities that require recovering an entire email database if a single email message must be recovered from a backup, Time Machine also enables users to recover a single email message from a previous backup. To recover a single email message using Time Machine, open Mail, then select Enter Time Machine from the Time Machine menu. Scroll back to the date of the backup when the message was last present, select the message, and click the Restore button. Time Machine will restore the message to a new mailbox called Recovered Messages.

Do you use Time Machine to backup and restore data on your Mac? If you use or prefer another disaster recovery tool, please let us know in the discussion thread below.

About

Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...

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