Expert Tutorial for Recovering Mac from Time Machine Backup

In this article we’ll explore one of the important features in macOS – the Recovery Mode. We’ll have a look at the recovery tools and how they should be used.

Expert Tutorial for Recovering Mac from Time Machine Backup

Recovery Mode is a special integrated feature that provides access to various tools designed for your computer’s maintenance and recovery. This mode lets users perform various tasks such as system recovery, macOS installation, data recovery from Time Machine backup, hard disk check and recovery with the help of Disk Utility etc.

We are going to examine the functionality of Recovery Mode and explore in detail the backup and restore process with Time Machine.

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🍏 Recovering Data after Mac OS Update, Reinstall or Disk Format 🍏

🍏 Recovering Data after Mac OS Update, Reinstall or Disk Format 🍏

How to start the Recovery Mode

And the first question to answer is how to start your computer in the Recovery Mode.

To enter the Recovery Mode on Mac, press and hold the key shortcut Command (⌘) + R when starting your computer or rebooting it, until the Apple logo appears on the screen.

Command (⌘) + R

After that, you will see the macOS Recovery window presenting all necessary system recovery tools and options.

macOS Recovery window

In Recovery Mode users can restore data from Time Machine backups, install new copies of macOS, reinstall the operating system, check and restore disks with the Disk Utility, and perform other operations to maintain and restore their Mac devices.

How to recover from backup

Time Machine

If you have previously configured Time Machine to back up your files and operating system to an external hard drive, you’ll be able to recover your Mac from this backup file.

To restore the operating system from a Time Machine backup in Mac Recovery Mode, you need to boot your computer in the recovery mode. Before you begin, make sure that the external Time Machine drive is connected and contains relevant backups.

When the macOS Recovery window appears, choose Restore from Time Machine and click the Continue button.

Time Machine in Mac Recovery Mode

After that, you’ll be suggested to Select a Restore Source. Select the drive where Time Machine backups are stored and click Continue.

Choosing restore source

Now select the Time Machine backup file from which the system should be restored. They are arranged by date and time. Choose the one you need and click Continue.

Select the Time Machine backup file

If this is a system drive, you can see a message saying that you must use Migration Assistant to transfer data from this backup. If necessary, you’ll have to reinstall the operating system first and then use Migration Assistant to transfer data from your backup.

Use Migration Assistant to transfer data from this backup

If the drive you are dealing with is not a system one, after choosing the backup to use you need to select the drive or volume that needs to be recovered, and then click Continue. Confirm your choice and start the recovery process by following instructions on the screen.

Choose the drive or volume to be recovered

When the recovery operation is over, the computer will restart with the recovered data.

Reinstalling the operating system

Another way to recover your computer is to reinstall the operating system. After such reinstallation, you will get an absolutely clean MacOS, while all files, additional software and user data will be removed.

Reinstalling MacOS can help to solve a number of system issues and improve its performance. Before you reinstall the operating system, we recommend backing up important data. For illustration, I’ll show you how to create a backup with Time Machine.

To back up your system with Time Machine on macOS, connect an external hard disk or another storage device which will be used to store Time Machine backups.

Connect an external hard disk to store Time Machine backups

Make sure that such disk has enough capacity to contain all the data you’d like to back up.

Make sure that disk capacity is enough for backup

For starters, enable Time Machine. Go to System Settings, General, and select Time Machine.

System Settings – General - Time Machine

Here, click Add Backup Disk.

Time Machine - Add Backup Disk

Select a drive from the list and click Set Up Disk.

Select a drive from the list and click Set Up Disk

At this stage, you can configure backup encryption, but I will disable it since I don’t need this option – and then click Done.

Configure backup encryption

This will add the new disk for backup.

The disk is added for backup

When the disk is selected, you can configure additional Time Machine backup options, such as excluding certain files or folders from backup, backup frequency and so on.

After you’ve finished with options, right-click on the disk and choose Back Up Now to start creating the backup file.

Right-click on the disk and choose - Back Up Now

Time Machine starts copying all selected data to your external drive, and you can monitor this process in real-time mode.

Copying all data to your external drive

When it’s over, you can get down to reinstalling the operating system. Reboot the computer by pressing and holding the key shortcut Command (⌘) + R until you see the Apple logo. This helps you to boot the computer into the recovery mode.

To erase a drive, use Disk Utility. Choose it in the menu and format the disk with the name Macintosh HD.

To erase a drive, use Disk Utility

Select Erase, APFS format, type the new disk name if necessary, and click Erase.

Select Erase, APFS format

After the disk is formatted, close Disk Utility and select Reinstall macOS in the recovery menu. Follow the instructions on the screen to reinstall the operating system.

Select Reinstall macOS in the recovery menu

When the reinstallation is complete, you’ll be suggested to recover data from a Time Machine backup or proceed with a clean installation.

At this stage, in the Migration assistant window, choose the option to transfer data from a Time Machine backup.

Migration assistant: transfer data from the Time Machine backup

Select the disk containing the Time Machine backup of another startup disk to transfer your data, and click Continue.

Migration Assistant: select the disk containing the Time Machine backup

After that, choose the latest backup or open the folder and select a particular backup file, then click Continue.

Migration Assistant: select a backup file

The Assistant will show you the list of data categories that can be transferred from this Time Machine backup. It includes apps, user accounts, files and settings. Check these boxes for the data you would like to transfer, and click Continue.

Migration Assistant: categories of data for transfer

Set the administrator’s password – Continue.

Migration Assistant: set the administrator’s password

This will start the transfer of data from the Time Machine backup to your Mac. The transfer process may take some time depending on the amount of data and the performance offered by your Mac and the external drive.

When the data migration process is complete, reboot the computer by clicking on the Restart Now button.

Migration assistant: Migration is complete

Now migration is complete.

Migration assistant: Migration is complete

If you don’t need to transfer data, configure the computer as a new system after reinstalling macOS and skip the data transfer option.

Migration Assistant: skip data transfer option

Reinstalling macOS may take a while, so make sure you have enough time and a sufficient Internet connection to download all necessary files.

Disk Utility

Now let’s take a closer look at Disk Utility, which we used to erase the drive.

Disk Utility is the dedicated tool to check, restore and erase any connected disks including Macintosh HD and external drives. You can use the Erase option in the Disk Utility menu to format your startup disk,

The Erase option in the Disk Utility menu

or run Disk Utility First Aid to restore the disk.

Disk Utility First Aid to restore the disk

After you start Disk Utility, you will see the list of all drives available on your computer. Select the one you would like to restore or erase.

Disk Utility: List of available drives

If you need to restore the system with the help of Time Machine backup, choose Restore in the menu. After that, chose the source to restore it from.

Disk Utility: Restore

If you encounter this error, it will be impossible to restore data from backup in this way. It means you have chosen the wrong disk or backup file.

Disk Utility: you have chosen the wrong disk or backup file

We have already explored how to erase a disk.

Before you continue with the restore or erase operation, Disk Utility will ask you to confirm this choice. Make sure you have selected the right disk, as all data will be deleted from there without any chances for recovery.

Disk Utility: make sure you have selected the right disk

When the disk is restored or erased, you can use it again for any purposes you may have.

Safari Browser

Another utility available in the Recovery Mode is Safari browser. It allows you to visit the Apple support page or other webpages when you need extra information. In this mode, bookmarks, plugins and browser extensions are not available.

macOS Recovery: Safari browser

You can use Safari to look up for solutions when you encounter problems in the course of restore operations. It can be useful when dealing with various issues.

In some cases, you may need to download additional files or software to restore the operating system. With this browser, you’ll be able to download the required files from official websites or other sources.

If you need help or guidance with certain restore procedures, you can use Safari to look them up.

In addition to utilities in the main Recovery Mode window, there are a few more recovery tools available in the menu at the top of the page – Terminal and Startup Security Utility.

The menu at the top of the page: Terminal and Startup Security Utility


In macOS recovery mode, Terminal gives you access to the command line which allows you to perform various operations to restore the system and manage its hard disks.

To start it, open Utilities, and then Terminal.

Utilities - Terminal

Now that you have access to Terminal, you can use it to perform various operations such as recovering data, changing passwords, checking and restoring disks, and handling other system tasks.

Keep in mind that some commands require additional administrator permissions.

Startup Security Utility

Startup Security Utility is a tool for managing security settings and starting your operating system. You can use it configure startup from removable media.

With Startup Security Utility, you’ll be able to configure security settings such as Secure Boot that define which types of operating systems and startup devices are allowed to run on Mac. Also, you can set a password to protect these settings from unauthorized changes.

Startup Security Utility

Startup Security Utility is a powerful tool to ensure system protection and monitor its startup processes. However, changing its settings requires caution, since getting these options wrong may cause issues with starting up your computer or accessing it.

What should I do if macOS Recovery Mode doesn’t work?

If you can’t start your Mac in the recovery mode, or there is no such option, it means that either the key shortcut Command + R doesn’t work, or the recovery partition on your disk is damaged. You might be using a wrong combination of keys.

For Intel-based Mac computers, you can start the recovery mode by holding down the shortcut Command + R during startup. On the other hand, Mac computers equipped with M1/M2/M3 processors use a different key shortcut.

To start your Mac in the recovery mode, shut it down, press the power button and hold it until you see Apple logo and the text saying that if you keep holding the button, you’ll be able to access startup options, so keep holding it.

Continue holding the power button for startup options

In the end, you can choose OptionsContinue – and finally see the Recovery Mode window.

Startup Options: Options – Continue

If your Mac was unable to boot from the recovery partition, you will see an error code on the screen – for example, 2003F).

macOS startup error - 2003F

To fix the issue with inoperable recovery mode, connect to the Internet and try restoring it from the same menu.


Summing up, you can see that macOS Recovery Mode is a powerful tool for fixing a wide range of issues that your computer may encounter one day. And now you know how to use its features to maintain and restore your system if necessary.

Recover data from pen drives, memory cards, HDDs and SSDs in macOS.
Vladimir Artiukh

Author: , Technical Writer

Vladimir Artiukh is a technical writer for Hetman Software, as well as the voice and face of their English-speaking YouTube channel, Hetman Software: Data Recovery for Windows. He handles tutorials, how-tos, and detailed reviews on how the company’s tools work with all kinds of data storage devices.

Oleg Afonin

Editor: , Technical Writer

Oleg Afonin is an expert in mobile forensics, data recovery and computer systems. He often attends large data security conferences, and writes several blogs for such resources as, Elcomsoft and Habr. In addition to his online activities, Oleg’s articles are also published in professional magazines. Also, Oleg Afonin is the co-author of a well-known book, Mobile Forensics - Advanced Investigative Strategies.

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