How to Fully Restore macOS From a Time Machine Backup in Recovery Mode

If you’re installing a new hard drive, or your Mac is completely messed up, you might think it’s time for a fresh installation of macOS. But if you’ve got a Time Machine backup, that’s not necessary: you can fully restore your Mac, and have all your applications and files exactly as you left them.

We’ve shown you how to back up and restore macOS from Time Machine, but today we’re going to dive in a little more and show you how restoring from Recovery Mode looks. Let’s dive in!

Step One: Boot Into Recovery Mode

The first thing you need to do is access Recovery Mode. Shut down your Mac, and then hold down Command+R while turning your Mac back on.

RELATED: 8 Mac System Features You Can Access in Recovery Mode

Note that this only works if you have a recovery partition, which you will not have in the case of a new hard drive. Don’t worry: you can boot into macOS recovery without a recovery partition using another keyboard shortcut: Option+Command+R.

Either way you should eventually boot into Recovery Mode. On the utilities screen, select the “Restore From Time Machine Backup” option.

On the Restore From Time Machine page, hit the “Continue” button.

Step Two: Choose Hard Drive

Next, you’ll be asked which Time Machine drive you’d like to recover from.

Connect your USB drive, if you’re using one. If you’re restoring from a network drive, you may have to connect to a wireless network before proceeding. A wired connection will be lot faster, so if that’s an option use that instead.

Also note that restoring from an encrypted Time Machine backup will require the password.

Step Three: Choose Backup

After you’ve chosen a drive to restore from, it’s time to choose which backup to use.

If you backup multiple Macs to a single drive you’ll need to pick your computer from the “Restore From” dropdown. Next, pick which time you’d like to restore from. If you’re setting up a new hard drive it’s best to pick the most recent one, but if you’re recovering from a crash you should pick a backup from before you started having problems.

Make your selections, and then click the “Continue” button to begin the restore.

This may take a while, especially if you’re restoring from a network backup, but when it’s done you’ll have all of your files.

Alternative Option: Install Fresh, And Then Restore With Migration Assistant

In some cases the above method will fail, but don’t panic: you can still recover your files. Simply install macOS from scratch, and then use Migration Assistant to transfer all your files from a Time Machine backup. Your Mac will offer this tool after installation is complete, or you can run it manually after installation is complete.

RELATED: How to Migrate Your Files and Apps From One Mac to Another

Justin Pot is the News Editor for How-To Geek. He lives in Hillsboro, Oregon. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, if you want. You don't have to.