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Restoring Time Machine Backups on a Different Computer even Over SMB or AFP

November 24, 2009

There are many situations that require you to restore backups to different computers, other than the one from where the data was originally backed up from. In the case of Apple’s Time Machine the restore procedure to different machines is not very intuitive. You have to use the “secret” option key…

There is a supported way to restore Time Machine backups of other computers using the “option-key” click on the Time Machine menu. If you want to use it just do the following:

  1. Connect the Time Machine disk to the Mac you want to restore the files to
  2. Set the “Show time machine status in the menu bar” In System Preferences -> Time Machine.
  3. Click the Time Machine icon in the menu bar and keeping the mouse button pressed, press the “Option” key.
  4. Select “Browse Other Time Machine Disks”
  5. Select the disk you want
  6. click Use Selected Disk

The Time Machine will open with the selected disk and you can use it to restore the files.

Time Machine with mounted disk

If, like me, you are using a non supported Time Machine configuration, where the backup disk is mounted using SMB or AFP (see this post on how to enable that) then the procedure above will not work directly. In my case I backup to my Buffalo TeraStation NAS, and the “Browse Other Time Machine Disks” window shows up empty, with no disk to select.

Empty Browse Other Time Machine Disks

In order for this to work you need to first mount the Time Machine disk by hand in using the command line.

  1. Mount the shared folder where your Time Machine backups are stored
  2. Open a Terminal window and cd to the Time Machine volume. in my case I called it backups
    sudo cd /Volumes/backups
  3. use hdiutil to mount the specific Time Machine .sparsebundle file
    sudo hdiutil attach <time_machine_file.sparsebundle>

Now you should be able to see the mounted volume in Finder, with all the backups listed as folders, and you can copy any files directly from it. Remember that mounting the disk may take some time due to the size of the disk and network connection speed, especially If you do this over a WiFi network.

Mounted image of Time Machine Backup disk

Another option is to repeat the supported Time Machine procedure  outlined in the beginning of this post. You should now see the mounted disk as a Time Machine disk. Select the the disk and click “Use Selected Disk” and Time Machine will open on the selected disk just like with a Time Machine supported back up disk.

Time Machine Browse Disk

Personally I like to copy them directly from the Finder but your preference may vary so I document both ways of achieving this goal. Hope this helps.

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16 Comments
  1. Thanks a lot for this tip! I had this problem with just a regular Timemachine backup on a complete standard mac formatted disk. But the window was blank.

    Your tip to mount the disk by hand just worked :)

  2. Michele evans permalink

    Can anyone help ? I have a 1TB TimeCapsule & I’m trying to integrate my older TIMEmachine backups so that I can carryon where I left off .

    I also have the same older TIMEmachine Sparsebundle on my external HDD

    Can anyone help me out with ins ructions of how I can do this ,I’m using a MacBook Pro,I’m a bit of a newbee so maybe step by step ins ructions would be a brilliant help for me ,Many thanks

  3. OzJohnnie permalink

    Thank you. The straight forward approach to getting files from a backup. Time Machine may be great for ease of use, but it sure can be a pain when trying to get something done in the most obvious, fewest steps possible. After a couple hours searching and trying, I finally found your article. Much appreciated.

  4. Timo permalink

    This really helped me a LOT. Thank you very much for string this!

  5. fddd permalink

    Hello! I just want to give you a huge thumbs up for your excellent information you have got here on this post. I am coming back to your blog for more soon.

  6. Rams permalink

    THANK YOU Very much for the tip. This simple “Option” key trick helped me see the backed up time machine from another machine. The official “Restore” method failed to recognize the external backup drive

  7. Manfred permalink

    Thanks for the help, the option key was the key ;-)

  8. Luigir permalink

    Thanks for the info. My mac died and now I have to retrieve the backup files on a Window or a Chromebook machine. How do I do that?

  9. hpuxguy permalink

    Fantastic trick with that “Option” ! … very cool .. kudos ! .

  10. Ash permalink

    Thank you so much…A PhD deadline tomorrow and my macbook crashed entirely…just managed to retrieve the files.

  11. worked good till the restore, after the files were copied, only the size of the new computer´s HDD was filled with something I cannot find in any place…
    mac mini os x 10.6.8 2.26 Ghz restoring to macbook pro 2.26 Ghz os x 10.6.8

  12. SunbeamRapier permalink

    Some dates would be useful on these posts – must be an OLD version of Time Machine because these options no longer exist: Aug 2014

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Restoring Time Machine backups over SMB or AFP « Chicago Mac/PC Support
  2. Merge time machine backups - Mac-Forums.com

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