How To Find And Follow The Best Backup And Password Strategies (Part 3)

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How to restore from Time Machine

Restoring data from Time Machine is just as easy as backing things up in the first place.

A single file or folder

Start by connecting the external drive that you use for Time Machine backups or by making sure that you can connect to your Time Capsule. Click the Time Machine item in the menu bar at the top of the screen (a clock with an arrow running counterclockwise), and choose Enter Time Machine. All of your saved backups will appear in chronological order. Use the visual timeline on the right side to scroll through. The timeline renders older dates in pink, and indicates the most current date in white. (You’ll see the word “Now” in bold, white letters on the timeline.)

Not sure which backup might hold the last copy of your missing file? Try running a Spotlight search in Time Machine based on keywords.

With Time Machine, you can look through multiple backup copies and restore just the data you need

With Time Machine, you can look through multiple backup copies and restore just the data you need

Once you think you’ve found what you’re hunting for, use OS X’s Quick Look to make sure: Select the file and then press the spacebar to view the file without having to launch its parent application.

Click the Restore button, and Time Machine will copy the item to your desktop or to the file’s original folder. This process may take some time.

An entire system

You can perform a Spotlight search in Time Machine, using the search field

You can perform a Spotlight search in Time Machine, using the search field

First connect your Time Machine drive. Then start up your Mac from the Mountain Lion recovery partition by pressing (and holding) z-R at startup. This action launches Recovery Mode, a portion of your drive that Mountain Lion treats as a separate volume. It includes a few essential utilities for restoring files in case of a problem. Note that for this approach to work, you must have a complete Time Machine backup that contains all system files.

The Mac OS X Utilities window appears. Select Restore From Time Machine Backup. This command will erase the destination drive – that is, your Mac – so use it only if you’re restoring an entire volume to its original source or to a replacement drive. (For setting up a new Mac or transferring data between Macs, see

Click Continue until you reach “Select a Backup Source”. Choose your Time Machine drive and click Continue. In ‘Select a Destination’, choose your Mac’s hard drive. Although Recovery Mode erases your Mac’s hard drive before restoring from Time Machine, once the process is done you’ll be able to log in and use your Mac normally.

How to restore from the cloud

Online backups are a useful component of a well-balanced strategy. Whether you rely on cloud storage (“The Basic Backup”) or you use it to supplement bootable duplicates and other local backups (“The Bulletproof Backup Plan”), it’s crucial to know how to restore data after disaster strikes.

How to restore from the cloud

How to restore from the cloud

Disaster is the operative word. If you need to restore a few individual files or folders, usually that’s simple enough. But what if your hard disk dies or your Mac is stolen, and you buy new gear? Such situations require a different strategy, because your online backups almost certainly don’t have every single file on your Mac; and even with a fast broadband connection, you may be looking at days or weeks to restore your cloud data.

One way or another, you must first get your Mac back to basic functionality, and then – perhaps by stages restore essential missing files from the cloud. How you do so depends on what other backups you have available.

If you have no other backups

Let’s start with the least pleasant scenario: Your only backups are in the cloud. You have to do more work and wait longer; but if you backed up crucial files, you will return to a happy place in due time.

Set Up OS X Make sure that your drive has OS X installed. If you’ve had to replace a defective drive with a new, empty drive, you’ll need to install OS X on it first.

Set up OS X

Set up OS X

If your Mac shipped with an older version of OS X that included physical installation media (a DVD, CD, or flash drive) – or if you planned ahead and made a recovery volume via the OS X Recovery Disk Assistant – start from that media and run the installer. Newer Macs (released in the past two years or so) instead rely on OS X Internet Recovery; hold z-R as you restart, and follow the prompts.

Run Your Backup or Sync Software Your next step is to download and install whatever cloud-backup or sync program you used. Run the software and sign into your account.

With sync software, such as Dropbox, SpiderOak, and SugarSync, all your synced files will download in the back-ground. With backup software, like Backblaze, CrashPlan, or MozyHome (, follow the instructions for restoring current copies of your files. (You might skip restoring email, contacts, and calendars, as I’ll discuss in a bit.) Restoration speed depends on your broadband connection. If you find that it’s too slow, you can ask the cloud provider to ship your data overnight on a hard drive, DVD, or flash drive (for an extra fee, naturally).

Reinstall Your Applications Most cloud backup services don’t back up apps. You’ll have to reinstall them from the Mac App Store (Apple menu ð App Store), download them from the developer’s sites, or use original installation media.

Re-download Purchased Media In iTunes, you can re-download purchased music, movies, TV shows, books, and iOS apps (which you may not have included in your online backups or syncs). And if you use Apple’s $25-per-year iTunes Match service, you can download fresh copies of all your music tracks (even those not purchased from Apple).

Under ‘Not on This Computer’ you can see the purchased music, movies, TV shows, apps, and books you need to reacquire

Under ‘Not on This Computer’ you can see the purchased music, movies, TV shows, apps, and books you need to reacquire

Use Photo Stream to Restore Photos If you previously enabled iCloud’s Photo Stream, open Aperture ( or iPhoto (, make sure the feature is still enabled (check the Photo Stream preference pane), and sit back while up to 1000 of your most recent photos download to your Mac.

Sync Email, Contacts, and Calendars If you rely on cloud services for email, contacts, and calendars – particularly iCloud, Google, Exchange servers, and (for email only) other IMAP servers, getting your data back into apps such as Mail, Contacts, and Calendars is usually as easy as signing in to your accounts and waiting for the data to Sync from the server to your Mac. It’s better to grab this data from the server rather than restoring it from backups, because the server almost certainly has fresher versions, and restoring from backups may result in irritating collisions with live server syncing.

If you have only a Time Machine backup

Let’s say you supplemented your cloud syncing or backups only with Time Machine. This means you can restore every file on your disk, including OS X itself and your apps, to their state when Time Machine last ran – even if you install a new, blank drive. Restore the Time Machine backup first, and then use your cloud sync or backup software to retrieve any files that may have changed since that backup. (You will probably have few if any of these.)

I should mention that if you use Dolly Drive to store Time Machine backups in the cloud, restoring your whole disk over the Internet may be impractical. I recommend that you also have a bootable duplicate (or “clone”) of your startup volume; read on for details.

If you have a local bootable duplicate

Restoring a disk from a bootable duplicate is simple. Start from the duplicate and then, using an app such as SuperDuper, select the duplicate as the source and your internal disk as the destination.

Restoring a disk from a bootable duplicate is simple. Start from the duplicate and then, using an app such as SuperDuper, select the duplicate as the source and your internal disk as the destination.

If, in addition to cloud backups, you made a bootable duplicate of your disk, restoring that first will give you the fastest path, by far, to complete recovery. Attach the disk containing your duplicate to your Mac, and restart while holding <Option>. Select the duplicate and press <Return> to start up from that disk. Run the app you used to make the duplicate, such as Carbon Copy Cloner or SuperDuper, to reverse the process, with your duplicate as the source and your new, empty internal disk as the destination.

Within a few hours, the restoration should be done. Use the Startup Disk pane of System Preferences to set the startup volume to be your internal disk, and restart. Your Mac should now be as it was the last time you updated your duplicate, which, if you take my advice, will be no less often than once a week.

Now, download any files you backed up to the cloud since that duplicate was last updated. Cloud-sync services will do so automatically in the background. For some backup apps, you may have to select individual files manually or restore everything, which involves overwriting many files with copies from the cloud.

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