Despite being one of the most important utilities on the mac, i realized that many people have absolutely no idea how Time Machine works. I thought that this would be an apt time to do a quick tutorial on backing up your files since the new school semester is starting. Yes, B and A, I wrote this for you.
Most people I talk to tell me things like “I don’t know how to use Time Machine” or “I just send stuff to myself via email” or “I back it up to a thumbdrive”. Sure, you could do that, but those are additional steps needed in selecting your files, uploading them etc. With Time Machine, you literally just need to plug in your external hard drive, and let your mac run in the background. I typically run time machine once a week, just to make sure my important files are backed up. I’ve had far too many bad experiences where I’ve lost days or even weeks worth of work by accidentally deleting a file.
A very important aspect of Time Machine for me is the versioning ability - put simply, I can go back in time and select a specific version of a file (usually a word document that I have modified) and restore it. Another crucial aspect (but less frequently used) is when i reformat my mac (or get a new machine) and i want to transfer all my old files, system preferences etc. into the new machine. I just need to restore the entire backup from Time Machine and voila, good as your old machine!
For me Time Machine is a little bit like insurance - you hope you will never have to use it, but when you finally need it, you’ll thank yourself for having the foresight to back up your documents and files.
I mean it when I say it is a two step process -
1. Plug in your hard drive
2. Click “Use as Backup Disk” when the pop-up dialog comes up.
It’s a little bit pointless for me to cover the entire process in detail since it has been so extensively covered on the web, so here are a few useful links -
For this post, I will highlight some slightly more advanced techniques that I prefer, specifically -
1. Excluding specific folders
2. Restoring specific files
3. Deleting ENTIRE backups
EXCLUDING SPECIFIC FOLDERS
This is particularly helpful when you have limited space on your backup disk, and you only need to back up certain folders.
Right-click the time machine icon in the dock and select “open time machine preferences”
Select options from the Time Machine window
Immediately, you should see a pop-up window that allows you to select folders to exclude from backup.
Click the + sign at the bottom left of the window and select the folders to exclude.
Unfortunately the Time Machine only works like a blacklist (an exclude list of the folders) rather than allowing you to select the folders that you really need. Hopefully apple will have this feature in future updates. For myself, I prefer to exclude my Music and Movies folders since I already back those up in the home server.
RESTORING SPECIFIC FILES
Knowing how to back up your Mac is crucial, but the ability to restore files changes the game. left click on the time machine icon in the doc again and you should enter the window below:
Do the following steps detailed on the screenshot -
Note: The backup versions are listed as horizontal bars on the right of the window. Simply select the date which you want to restore from and proceed from there.
[Click the screenshot to enlarge]
To exit the time machine window, simple hit up the “esc” key on your keyboard and you should be out.
This helps you to reclaim your hard drive space. DO NOT delete your backups via finder it will take a very long time and you will probably end up messing up your permissions. Instead, enter time machine again, right click on any blank space and select ‘delete backup’
be patient it will take awhile to trash that backup, especially if a single backup averages more than 100 gb (like mine).
so that’s it, really…no excuses not to back up now! i suggest making a habit of plugging in your time machine every week (near the exams I’m paranoid enough to back up once a day and also to my dropbox!) and just letting time machine run on its own. Other than the initial set-up, it really is a no-muss, no-fuss solution to backing up all your hard work.