We use Apple's Time Machine to back up our Apple 10.5.8 workstations at the office.

If I want to restore a file, I need to open up the Time Machine GUI and browse files there. The GUI is ugly eye-candy and gets in my way.

Is there a way to browse the Time Machine archive using the Mac's command-line?

I'm used to Netapps and other storage appliances. I use backintime for my Ubuntu workstation. To restore a file with one of those systems, you can restore a file with a simple command like:

cp .snapshot/daily.0/filename.txt .


cp /backup/backintime/20100611-000002/backup/etc/shadow /etc/shadow

Is there an equivalent for Apple's Time Machine?

  • 1
    An intermediate solution would be to use Finder to browse the Time Machine backups just like a regular folder.
    – fideli
    Jun 14, 2010 at 22:23
  • @fideli : You said we can browse Time Machine in the finder. I didn't realize this was possible. It also turns out we can browse the Time Machine folder using the commandline! For example, I can a backup of ~/.vimrc at /Volumes/TimeMachine/Backups.backupdb/$HOSTNAME/Latest/$USERNAME/Users/mydirectory/.vimrc. Jun 14, 2010 at 22:48
  • @fideli : I think you answered my question. Go ahead an put in your answer below, mention something about 'command-line' and collect your prize! Jun 14, 2010 at 22:48

2 Answers 2


Putting my comment as an answer. An intermediate solution would be to use Finder to browse the Time Machine backups just like a regular folder. If you want to browse it in the command line, drag the folder from the Finder to the Terminal window so that you don't need to hunt through the many levels of directories that Time Machine sets up. Enjoy!

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    how do you drag a folder from Finder to Terminal while browsing a Time Machine backup? Dec 6, 2013 at 3:07

Restoring a backup from command-line can be done with the tmutil command:

tmutil restore <complete path to snapshot> <path to restore>

For example:

sudo tmutil restore /Volumes/TimeMachine/Backups.backupdb/Server/2013-03-18-002707/Boot\ HD/Users/me/Documents/loveletter.doc loveletter.doc

Will restore your love letter from the backup on March 18th.

  • 1
    Actually, tmutil is not even needed to operate on the stuff in /Volumes/TimeMachine/Backups.backupdb. Dec 6, 2013 at 3:26
  • 1
    Maybe you can use raw files copy from Backups.backupdb, but as being prudent I prefer using appropriate tools, you never know...
    – CharlesB
    Dec 6, 2013 at 9:53
  • 1
    I think a straight cp would not strip the timemachine metadata from the restored files. So , yes, better to use tmutil. Don't know whether copying using the Finder would strip them. Jul 5, 2015 at 5:24

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