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How to Back up Your Mac with OS X Mavericks’ Time Machine

Time Machine is a most excellent backup system that was introduced with OS X Leopard — and OS X Mavericks has only made it better. It’s a system because it consists of two parts: the Time Machine System Preference pane and the Time Machine application.

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To use Time Machine to back up your data automatically, the first thing you need is another hard drive that’s the same size as or larger than your startup disk.

It can be a FireWire hard drive, a USB 2 or 3 hard drive, a Thunderbolt hard drive, an SSD (if you can afford to use a Solid State Drive for backups), or even another internal hard drive, if your Mac is a Mac Mini or an aging Mac Pro like mine.

Another option is an Apple Time Capsule, a device that combines an AirPort Extreme wireless base station with a large hard drive so you can automatically back up one or more Macs over a wired or wireless network.

The first time a new disk suitable for use with Time Machine is connected to your Mac, a dialog asks if you want to use that disk to back up with Time Machine. If you say yes, the Time Machine System Preferences pane opens automatically, showing the new disk already chosen as the backup disk.

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If that doesn’t happen or you want to use an already-connected hard drive with Time Machine, open the Time Machine System Preferences pane and click the big On/Off switch to On. Now click the Select Disk button and select the hard drive you want to use for your backups. Mine is called emiT enihcaM.

The only other consideration is this: If you have other hard disks connected to your Mac, you should click the Options button to reveal the Exclude These Items from backups list, which tells Time Machine which volumes (disks) or folders not to back up.

To add a volume or folder to this list, click the little + button; to remove a volume from the list, select the volume and then click the – button.

The Options sheet also has a check box for notifying you when old backups are deleted; check it if you want to be notified. And if your Mac is a laptop, a second check box governs whether Time Machine backs up your Mac when it’s on battery power.

For the record, Time Machine stores your backups for the following lengths of time:

  • Hourly backups for the past 24 hours

  • Daily backups for the past month

  • Weekly backups until your backup disk is full

When your backup disk gets full, the oldest backups on it are deleted and replaced by the newest.

When does it run? Glad you asked — it runs approximately once per hour.

What does Time Machine back up in OS X Mavericks?

Time Machine backs up your whole hard disk the first time it runs and then backs up files and folders that have been modified since your last backup. That’s what backup systems do.

But Time Machine does more — it also backs up things like contacts in your Contacts, pictures in your iPhoto or Aperture Library, and events in your Calendar calendars, not to mention its support of versions and locking. About the only thing Time Machine doesn’t back up is the contents of Home folders other than your own.

Those features — sweet ones indeed — make Time Machine unlike any other backup system.

How do you restore a file (or a contact, a photo, an event, and so on) in OS X Mavericks?

To restore a file or any other information, follow these steps:

  1. Launch the appropriate program — the one that contains the information you want to restore.

    If what you want to restore happens to be a file, that program is the Finder, which, as you know, is always running. So to restore an individual file, you don’t actually need to launch anything. But to restore a contact, a photo, an e-mail message, or an event, for example, you need to launch Contacts, iPhoto, Mail, or Calendar, respectively.

  2. With the appropriate application running (or the appropriate Finder window open), launch the Time Machine application.

    If you selected the Show Time Machine in Menu Bar check box in the Time Machine System Preference pane, you can choose Enter Time Machine in the Time Machine menu.

    It will be easier to restore a file in the Finder if the folder the file is in (or was in) is the active folder (that is, open and front most) when you launch the Time Machine application. If not, you have to navigate to the appropriate folder before you can perform Step 3.

  3. Click one of the bars on the right side of the screen or click the big “forward” and “back” arrows next to them to choose the backup you want to restore from (Today at 11:10 AM).

    The large “Today at 11:10 AM” at the bottom of the screen reflects the bar clicked on in the lower-right corner. If one of the other bars was selected (by clicking Latest Backup, Now, or Today), you’d see files from that backup and the large date and time would reflect the date and time of that backup.

  4. Select the file, folder, Contacts contact, iPhoto photo, e-mail message, or Calendar event you want to restore.

  5. Click the big Restore button below the big forward and back arrows.

If the file, folder, Contacts contact, iPhoto photo, e-mail message, or Calendar event exists in the same location today, Time Machine politely inquires as to your wishes.

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