How to restore selected files from Time Machine backup

Don't ask me why I've made this post...

If you accidentally delete half of your projects I hope you have a recent backup available. Even if that's the case the graphical interface of Time Machine seems to be very limited. There is no easy way to tell which files are missing.

Use the CLI Luke!

So the CLI you say. OK. Time Machine has a CLI command tmutils which is really handy if only you know how to use it.

Example. You deleted some of your files from /Users/someone/files directory (I'm glad it's not a root directory).

So you will need to execute:

tmutil listbackups

to get backups list. Something like this will be an output:


Looks easy, the last part is a date and a time. Pick one of them which suits you best.

Then execute:

tmutil compare -D 1 /Users/someone/files /Volumes/DISKNAME/Backups.backupdb/COMPUTER_NAME/2016-11-26-173122/Macintosh\ HD/Users/someone/files


  • -D 1 - means comparing only one level deep
  • /Users/someone/files - is a directory which you want to compare
  • Macintosh\ HD/ - is the name of your hard drive (probably same as in this example)
  • /Volumes/DISKNAME/Backups.backupdb/COMPUTER_NAME/2016-11-26-173122 - is the name/path of choosen backup

Then you will get a list which looks like this:

!         (mtime)               /Users/someone/files
- 4.3M                          /Volumes/DISKNAME/Backups.backupdb/COMPUTER_NAME/2017-04-23-133603/Macintosh HD/Users/someone/files/file_name
+ 58.0M                         /Volumes/DISKNAME/Backups.backupdb/COMPUTER_NAME/2017-04-23-133603/Macintosh HD/Users/someone/files/file_name
! 377B    (size, mtime)         /Volumes/DISKNAME/Backups.backupdb/COMPUTER_NAME/2017-04-23-133603/Macintosh HD/Users/someone/files/

Added:         215.9M
Removed:       3.8G
Changed:       14.4K


  • - means that file/folder was removed
  • + means that file/folder was added
  • ! means that size has changed

That's it. Now you should know what to restore.