Use Time Machine in macOS

When it comes to local data backup in macOS, Time Machine is still one of the most important tools. In this article, we show the possibilities and give tips for using and managing Time Machine in macOS, even in the new version macOS 12.x (Monterey).

In general, enabling Time Machine is not a complex matter. However, there is some optimization potential with which users can improve backups and adjust settings. The management of Time Machine can also be improved with additional tools.

Activate Time Machine and Encrypt Backups

As soon as an external hard drive is connected to the Mac, macOS automatically suggests using the data carrier as a backup medium. However, the backup settings can also be adjusted in the System Preferences under “Time Machine”. Here, you can also select the volume that Time Machine should use for the backup.

Furthermore, it can be specified that the data on the data medium is encrypted. The respective option is available in the settings with “Select volume” by activating “Encrypt backups”. A password is required to encrypt the backups. Access to the data is then only possible with this password.

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Time Machine uses APFS as the file system on the external data medium. If another file system is activated on the hard disk, the service reformats the disk. All existing data is lost in the process. However, after formatting, data can be saved to the external disk without any problems. The first backup takes significantly longer, because Time Machine first has to back up all data here. The future backups run faster, because Time Machine then only backs up the changed data.

Time Machine can be called up and customized via the corresponding icon in the menu bar. By default, however, the service offers rather few setting options. Therefore, additional tools such as the free “TimeMachineEditor” are quite useful, for example, to better control the time intervals of Time Machine.

Restoring Data with Time Machine – Even the Entire System

When Time Machine is called, individual data can be restored to a specific date. To restore data, the Time Machine icon in the menu bar and the command “Open Time Machine” are selected. This can also be done via the system settings. On the right side of the window, you can then select the date to which data should be restored.

However, it is also possible to restore the entire Mac via Time Machine. This works after starting in macOS recovery mode. This is started by the key combination Command+R at system startup. In this mode, the entire operating system with all data, settings and applications can be restored directly from the backup medium with “Restore from Time Machine”.

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Understanding and Controlling Time Machine Intervals

Time Machine backs up the data on the Mac every hour and, after 24 hours, combines the backups into a daily backup. After a week, the existing daily backups are again combined into a weekly backup. If the storage space on the backup medium is no longer sufficient, Time Machine deletes the older backups.

Various adjustments can be made in the Time Machine system settings. In addition to the automatic backup, “Options” and “Perform backup during battery operation” can be used to specify that a regular backup should also start without an external power supply. It is also possible that Time Machine backs up the Mac while it is in sleep mode.

In the System Preferences, “Power Supply” can be found under “Battery” on the left side. The option “Enable power nap when power supply is connected” allows Time Machine to back up the data afterwards while in sleep mode. This can also be checked in Time Machine’s options after setup.

View, Delete, or Disable Local Snapshots

If the backup medium is not connected, Time Machine backs up the data by taking snapshots of the operating system. The snapshots can be displayed with “tmutil listlocalsnapshots /” in the terminal. Individual snapshots can in turn be deleted with “sudo tmutil deletelocalsnapshots <name>”. The local snapshots feature can be disabled with “sudo tmutil disablelocal”. This function can be enabled with “sudo tmutil enablelocal”.

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External add-on tools: TimeMachineEditor, BackupLoupe and TimeMachineMechanic

The free tool “TimeMachineEditor” allows more flexible control of the backup schedule. If the intervals are to be flexible or if backups are to take place based on different events, TimeMachineEditor can be a useful way to do it.

With “Show advanced settings” it can be specified that the backup should not start on certain occasions, for example, if there is no WLAN connection. If “When inactive” is activated in “Backup”, Time Machine only performs a backup when the Mac is not currently in use.

The tool “TimeMachineMechanic” (T2M2) helps to analyze backups and supports the analysis of Time Machine’s log files. The tool can be started directly after the download.

“BackupLoupe” is a tool that also provides setting and management options for Time Machine. Simply put, BackupLoupe is an alternative graphical interface for Time Machine that gets more out of the internal backup tool. In addition, there is a better search. It is also possible to index the backed-up data in order to restore files more quickly afterward.