How to Restore Time Machine Backup Files on Windows

If you have ever used a Mac, you might know the “Time Machine backups” term. In fact, it’s a powerful feature every Mac users prefer to secure their personal data. If any of you here are a developer, we’re sure you use Time Machine backup every week. Simply connect your external hard drive to your Mac, and then create the latest backup. While everything looks great from outside, the real problem will occur if you want to access Time Machine backups on your Windows computer. Some new MacBook Pro models deny to switch on even after you perform a PRAM, NVRAM, and SMC reset and you might switch to Windows instead if you don’t have another Mac for the backup.

However, when you plug your external hard drive, Windows will fail to detect it since your new MacBook Pro has already formatted the hard drive into HFS+ format while creating the first Time Machine backup. While Windows only supports two formats: NTFS and FAT32, so it could not detect Mac’s formatted hard disks as well as disk images. The only way if you want to connect your Time Machine backup drive to your Windows computer is formatting it in Windows file system. However, formatting will erase all Time Machine backups permanently, and it’s absolutely not an ideal solution.

Another way to restore Time Machine backups on Windows is to use third party software, which can read HFS, HFS+, and HFSX file systems of MacOS. Currently, there are few such tools available, while some of them have a price tag. Windows and MacOS are two different platforms, you can only view Time Machine backups and its files with these tools, and you are not able to restore settings or applications. But, exporting all your files inside Time Machine backups to your Windows computer is not difficult with the software, which is designed to read drives in HFS+ format.

Copy Time Machine Backups to Windows

HFS Explorer and HFS+ for Windows are two popular software that allow Windows to read HFS, HFS+ and HFSX files systems created by MacOS devices. The former one is a free tool, but it requires Java to be installed whereas the latter one is an advanced HFS+ reader, but comes with a small price tag. However, you should not worry as HFS+ for Windows gives you a 7-day free trial. Both tools also have its pros and cons, so you should pick up your preferred one.

If you usually restore Time Machines backups to your Windows PC and don’t like installing Java on your device, then HFS+ for Windows will be a better choice. However, paying some fees doesn’t make sense. So, in this guide, we’ll show you the solution that is using HFS Explorer with installing Java. This solution that allows you to see Time Machine backups on Windows supports all popular versions such as Windows 10, Windows 8, and Windows 7.

Download Java and set PATH variable

To use HFS Explorer, you need to download Java and install it on your computer. Once JAVA is installed, you need to set the Java path properly so that your Windows could know where Java is currently installed.  Simply follow the below steps to set the path:

  • Open My Computer/ This PC and right click on it, choose Properties
  • Click on Advanced System Settings> Environment Variables
  • Create a path variable under User variables.

Connect Hard Drive to Your Windows Computer

To access Time Machine backup files on your Windows, you first need to connect your Mac formatted hard drive to your computer with a USB cable. You might need adapters if your hard drives support a Thunderbolt cable, which is not popular.

As mentioned, Windows fails to detect the hard drive in the HFS+ format. Although MacOS can read file systems of Windows (NTFS/FAT32), Windows cannot read the file systems of MacOS (HFS/HFS+HFSX).

Also see: How To Fix CredSSP Encryption Oracle Remediation Error In Windows

Install HFS Explorer

Once you have successfully configured Java, you need to download and install HFS Explorer tool to see Time Machine backups on your Windows computer. After the HFS Explorer installation, there will be a dialog box on the screen that prompts you to format your external hard drive. You carefully click on Cancel button without formatting the drive.

Next, open HFS Explorer by right-clicking on the shortcut icon on Desktop and opening as Administrator. After that, click on File menu and select “Load file system from drive“. HFS Explorer will then detect your connected external drive which is currently in HFS+ format. If the tool could not pick the device, you need to manually choose it from the drop-down “Detected Devices” menu.

Once you select the correct drive, click on Load and you will see a list of all file contents of a hard drive in Time Machine backups.

Restore Time Machine Backup Files to Windows

To restore Time Machine Backup files, you first have to know the file hierarchy of Time Machine backup files so that you could navigate through desired folders. After the tool shows up the files of the hard drive, take note a folder named “Backups.backupdb” in the main folder.

Double-clicking on Backups.backupdb folder, you will see another folder with your MacBook name. For example, it can be “John’s MacBook Pro”. Just open it and see all your t Time Machine Backups created at different times. The recently created Time Machine backup will name as “Latest“. But you can also choose older ones if you want older files.

To see your files, open the Latest folder and then head to Macintosh HD – Users. From there,  open your username folder and you will see all your Downloads, Desktop files, Music, Documents and so on.

To restore the entire Time Machine backup to Windows, head to the backup folder and then click Export button. Select your desired destination folder and the HFS Explorer software will automatically export and copy Time Machine backup your Windows computer.

If you just want to export a few folders or files inside Time Machine backup, go to your preferred folder, select the file(s) and click on Export button. The selected files and folders will have symbolic links, and HFS Explorer tool will follow the same. All you need is to let HFS Explorer follow symbolic links and Time Machine files will be copied to Windows. You could see the duplicate files copied due to symbolic links, but you can manually delete them later.

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