Time Machine Troubleshooting Guide: Backup & Restore your Mac Easily

By Connie | Updated to Howto on November 16th, 2020 |

What is Time Machine on Mac? Time Machine is built-in backup software on your Mac. This utility helps you back up your Mac, including photos, videos, documents, music, and other data. And it also supports to restore your Mac from Time Machine backups. Specifically, if you have Time Machine backup, you can restore data when you encounter the listed conditions someday:

  1. Data on a disk erased due to formatting
  2. Data on a disk lost when re-partitioning
  3. Mistakenly deleting data from the disks
  4. Data is inaccessible when the disk corrupted
  5. Data on your Mac is inaccessible because macOS update failure

However, this article will give answers about how to use Time Machine to back up your Mac, how to restore Mac from Time Machine backup. Besides, it will also tell you what should you do if back up with Time Machine fails or restore backups with Time Machine fails.

  • 1. Back up your Mac with Time Machine.
  • 2. Solutions for Time Machine backup fialures.
  • 3. Restore your Mac from Time Machine backup.
  • 4. Solutions for Time Machine restoring failures.
  • 5. Restore your Mac from local snapshots.
  • 6. Recover lost data with free data recovery software.

How to back up your Mac with Time Machine?

What necessities you need to prepare for Time Machine backup:

  1. A bootable Mac
  2. An HFS+ (also Mac OS Extended (Journaled)) external hard drive with a GUID Partition Table and enough storage space (better 1 or 2 TB)
  3. A USB cable to connected the external hard drive to your Mac

Guide to back up your Mac with Time Machine

No matter you want to back up MacBook Pro or other Macs with Time Machine, you can follow the operational steps listed in detail as below:

  • 1. Connect your external hard drive with your Mac.
  • 2. Click the Apple icon on Apple menu and choose System Preferences.
  • 3. Click Time Machine on System Preferences panel.
  • Back up data with Time Machine
  • 4. Click Select Disk and choose the external hard drive you prepared, and then click Use Disk (The Encrypt backups feature is available).
  • Tips:

    • To make your later operation more convenient, you'd better check Back Up Automatically and Show Time Machine in the menu bar.
    • If you don't want to back up some files, you can choose Options... to exclude them.

  • 5. Click Back Up Now on the Time Machine menu bar to start up backup, and then wait for it back up.

Common problems & solutions to Time Machine back up failure

What to do if Time Machine backup failed? You can check out the possible problems listed below. After solving them, try to back up your Mac again.

Problem 1: Time Machine stuck in "preparing backup"

If the preparation time takes over 30 minutes while the number of items displayed in the progress bar is not increasing at all, Time Machine is probably stuck. And the Time Machine backup fails.

The solution:

  • 1. Stop the Time Machine backup process by turning the OFF button on the Time Machine panel (for macOS older than 10.14) or uncheck Back Up Automatically (for macOS of 10.14 or later).
  • 2. Open Spotlight on System Preferences panel and click Privacy, then click the Add button ( + ) to browse to your backup folder and add it to the list.
  • 3. Remove the .inProgress file in the external hard drive set as backup drive, the path of the file is: /the name of your drive/Backups.backupdb/the PC's name that you assigned at the first-time setting.
  • 4. Eject your external hard drive and re-plug it after you restart your Mac. And then, try to back up again.

Problem 2: Storage space of your external hard drive is not enough

If Time Machine backup failed for not enough space of your external hard drive, it will notice you just as follows:

Insufficient Time Machine hard drive storage space

The solution: Replace the external hard drive to a new one that meets the required storage space.

Problem 3: Fail to erase your external hard drive to HFS+

If the file system of your external hard drive is not HFS+, Time Machine will remind you to erase the current drive to HFS+ drive as follows:

Erase the Time Machine backup hard drive to HFS+

But sometimes, the erasing process may go wrong. For example, it fails to finish the erasing process, which makes your external hard drive unmounted (although it has been mounted when you connect it to your Mac).

The solution: Go to Disk Utility to erase the unmounted backup hard drive again. Select Mac OS Extended (Journaled) from the listed Format.

Problem 4: External hard drive isn't connected to the same network as your Mac

You back up to a drive connected to your AirPort Extreme Base Station, but your Mac isn't connected to the same network as it.

The solution: Select your WIFI from the Wi-Fi status menu, and make sure the external hard drive connected to the same network as your Mac.

Problem 5: Your wrong operations when using Time Machine

Maybe you have found that the running speed of the computer slows down during the backing up process. So, you click Skip This Backup on Time Machine menu bar (or disable it by mistake) to stop the backup process.

The solution: Click Back Up Now on Time Machine menu bar to continue the backup process.

If you lost data from your Mac, what should you do? Don't worry. If you have a Time Machine backup, you can retrieve the lost data from it. The following part will show how to restore Time Machine backups.

How to restore your Mac from Time Machine backup?

There are two situations when you restore Time Machine backups from the external hard drive. One is restoring backups when your Mac can start up, and the other is your Mac can't boot. Thus, the operational steps of restoring Time Machine backups are different.

1. Guide to restore Time Machine backup when your Mac can start up:

  • 1. Connect the external hard drive that has backups to your Mac.
  • 2. Open Launchpad > Other, and click Migartion Assistant and Continue.
  • Open Migration Assistant at Launchpad to restore Time Machine backup
  • 3. Fill User Name and Password on the pop-up panel and click OK.
  • 4. Choose From a Mac, Time Machine backup, or startup disk and click Continue.
  • 5. Choose the external hard drive and click Continue.
  • Tip: If your external hard drive is connected to your AirPort Extreme Base Station, please confirm it is connected to the same network as your Mac.

  • 6. Choose the Time Machine backup to transfer information from and click Continue.
  • 7. Choose the information to restore to this Mac, and click Continue.
  • 8. Fill your Administrator password when required and be authorized before backups restored.

Waiting for the data restored, which usually takes a few minutes. Once the data restoring finished, your Mac will restart automatically.

2. Guide to restore Time Machine backup when your Mac won't boot:

  • 1. Enter into macOS Recovery mode.
  • 2. Choose Restore From Time Machine Backup on macOS Utilities panel and click Continue.
  • Open Time Machine in macOS Recovery mode
  • 3. Connect the external hard drive to your Mac and choose it, and then click Continue.
  • 4. Select the Time Machine backup you want to restore (both macOS and your files will be restored) and click Continue.
  • 5. Select a disk where you want to save Time Machine backups, and click Continue.
  • 6. Erase the destination disk (All data on it will be erased) first, and click Restore.

Waiting for macOS of your Mac and Time Machine backup restored, and then your Mac will restart automatically.

Common problems & solutions to Time Machine restoring failure

When you restore your Time Machine backups, the backup restoring failure happens occasionally. There are common problems that can lead to Time Machine backup restoring failure:

The network problem:

Your Mac and your external hard drive are connected to different networks. For example, you prepare to restore Time Machine backups from the external hard drive connected to your AirPort Extreme Base Station, but your Mac isn't connected to the same network as it.

The solution: Select your WIFI from the Wi-Fi status menu, and make sure the external hard drive connected to the same network as your Mac.

The external hard drive problem:

Usually, the hard drive going wrong is also the main problem that causes the restoring failure. Please check if you encounter the following problems:

1. The file system of the external hard drive is corrupted

The file system of your external hard drive may be corrupted due to you re-partition or format it by mistakes, which makes it unreadable, unmountable, or unrecognized.

Fix corrupted external hard drives on Mac

2. Files on your external hard drive are deleted

You delete the files on your external hard drive by mistakes or to free up more storage space. Besides, if you format the external hard drive, all data on it will be erased.

Recover deleted files from external hard drives on Mac

3. Backing up files to a Fusion Drive but it is split when restoring

As we know, Fusion Drive is produced by 'fusing' solid-state drive (SSD) and hard disk drive (HDD) together. You use a Fusion Drive to back up your Mac with Time Machine. But when you need to restore Time Machine backups from the Fusion Drive, the Fusion Drive has separated into SSD and HDD for some reasons like file system corruption. Then, you can't restore your data from the Fusion Drive.

The solution: Firstly, you can try to restore your Mac with Time Machine local snapshots since they are stored on your Mac's internal storage disk. If you fail to restore your Mac with Time Machine local snapshot, try data recovery software like iBoysoft Data Recovery for Mac instead.

How to restore data if Time Machine backups are not available?

Restore data with Time Machine local snapshots

As mentioned above, if backups on the external hard drive are not available, restoring data with a Time Machine local snapshot is another way. However, there are two preconditions for restoring data with Time Machine local snapshots.

First, the internal hard drive of your Mac is working normally. Second, there's a Time Machine local snapshot. If one of the two preconditions is not available, you can't restore data with Time Machine local snapshots successfully.

The operational steps of restoring data with Time Machine local snapshots are different for your Mac can boot or not.

When your Mac can boot up:

  • 1. Click Enter Time Machine on Time Machine menu bar. Or open Launchpad > Other, then click Time Machine.
  • 2. Browsing the timeline at the edge of the screen or using the upturn & downturn buttons to find the target file and click Restore.
  • restore files from Time Machine local snapshots

When your Mac won't boot:

  • 1. Enter into macOS Recovery mode.
  • 2. Choose Restore From Time Machine Backup on on macOS Utilities panel and click Continue.
  • 3. Select the volume of your internal storage disk that contains Time Machine local snapshots and click Continue.
  • 4. Select the Time Machine local snapshot you desired and click Continue.
  • 5. Allow restoring your Mac to its snapshotted state you have chosen and click Continue.

When the local snapshot restored, the state of the system of your Mac will be restored at the same time. And then, your Mac will restart automatically.

Recover lost data with some data recovery software

Sometimes, not only your Time Machine backups are not available, but the Time Machine local snapshots are also not available. So, how can you get your lost data back without Time Machine backups and Time Machine local snapshots?

You can utilize some data recovery software like iBoysoft Data Recovery for Mac. It can help you recover deleted Time Machine backups with simple operational steps as below:

  • 1. Down load, install, and launch iBoysoft Data Recovery for Mac on your Mac.
  • 2. Restart your Mac and choose the disk you lost data from.
  • 3. Click Scan to check the selected disk/partition.
  • 4. Choose the desired data that is found and preview it.
  • 5. Click Recover and save the data to another disk or partition.

Using Time Machine to back up and restore your Mac is also a way to protect your data. So, backing up your Mac with Time Machine is needful in our life. However, if you have no Time Machine backups or no Time Machine local snapshots, or back up with Time Machine fails? What will you do to recover lost data on your Mac? You can use iBoysoft Data Recovery for Mac. It is always here to help you recover data from your Mac.