Checklist for restoring computer from backup?

My Mac mini threw in the towel during the Ventura 13.0.1 upgrade. It got to the point that my only path forward was erasing and starting over, which I did. I thought, no problem–I have Time Machine and Backblaze backups, so I’ll restore from Time Machine and be back in business. I started Migration Assistant, let it run the rest of the day and overnight, and checked in the morning to see the progress bar showed scant momentum with a transfer rate averaging 10 kb/s. (I have no idea why it was so slow; I purposely disabled wifi to avoid transferring that way, and the external HDD was connected via USB-C to the Mac.)

After giving up on the Time Machine restore process, I was able to determine the most recent backup snapshots looked fine, and so I’ve spent today manually restoring files as needed. It’s given me a lot of food for thought, including reevaluation of my heavy reliance on local storage, and perhaps nudging me to finally adopt a data retention policy I’ve been flirting with but keep putting off.

Anyway, to my question. I’ve read a lot about backup strategies over the years–and I’m glad I followed that advice–but I feel much less versed on recommended procedures when restoring data. Are there any good resources that lay out general advice for restoring data from backups? Most of the articles I’ve read have focused on migrating data from an old Mac to a new one, but they aren’t very detailed.

I’d like to create a checklist for myself so that if I have to do this in the future, I’ll have something to work from. I realize that even something as simple as an inventory of my installed software and what files are already stored in the cloud would have saved me a lot of time. It’s also been time-consuming to track down supplementary application files, like where to find my too-many Hazel rules. (Thankfully, I was able to move them over without issue, but I’d rather document that now then have to research it again later.)

I know a lot of this will likely be system-dependent, but I was hoping someone might know of a good resource I might be able to use as a starting point before fill in the details specific to my setup.

Would something like Carbon Copy Cloner work for your scenario? That way you have a cloned snapshot of your system to restore.


Yes, I’m looking into CCC as an alternative after this incident. Time Machine has always been sort of flaky for me.

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I consider (1) Time Machine a good tool in my backup toolkit. It can be easy, convenient, and great for a quick fix but is widely known to be unreliable at times. So I also use (2) Carbon Copy Cloner with a rotating set of externally attached spinning disk drives. And finally, I use (3) Arq to back up up to a secure cloud.


Not really. As you’ve probably seen, everything is focused on backing up, and it’s very much a mass of files-type operation. What we need is a system where we could choose to, say, restore Hazel and all its files from Tuesday of last week at 3:00pm. As far as I know, nothing like that exists. A program like Clean My Mac would seem to have some of this logic built in, as it seems to know which files are associated with which programs so that it can remove them when a program is uninstalled. Maybe we should put a bug in MacPaw’s ear about creating a restore utility.

When I had problems with Monterey and had to revert to Big Sur (twice), I just had to do it all by hand, installing programs, then finding out where their config files were, or just reconfiguring if that was faster. Lots of folders in ~/Library, and lots of ~/.* and ~/.config/* files. Restores are really just geared towards an all-or-nothing scenario.

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Thanks. In an effort to turn this situation into something productive, I think I will focus on:

  1. Reviewing what data I’m keeping, why, and where I’m storing it.
  2. Creating an inventory of all software applications I’m using, with notes about where settings and configuration files are stored, and if possible, copying the config files into a repository that would make future restores easier.

I lean toward being an archivist, and cheap storage makes that easy, but this is a good opportunity to reassess. When this all started and I realized I was going to need to wipe my drive, my thought process was something like:

“What if my backup doesn’t work for some reason–I’ll lose all my photos! Wait, those are backed up to iCloud. But it will be a mess to figure out what’s going on with my finances! Oops, I forgot my Banktivity document is synced to the cloud. But what about all my tasks! Hold on–you’re using Things Cloud, so all good on that front. Think about all the stuff you might lose in the Documents folder, though! Well, some of that would be painful to lose, but do I really need copies of utility bills from 2010 that are from two houses ago?”

That line of thinking has helped me realize that I care more about some of my data (e.g., my music library) than others, and I should consider whether my current approach is sufficient.

So, might as well use this time to take stock and determine what I really need to keep (data), and what I really want to use (applications).

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I would love to hear an update when (or as) you work through it.

I guess I’m an archivist too, and at one point realized I was putting a lot of effort into backing up work, rather than doing work.

My problem now is not having a single place where things go. Part of this arises from working more on Linux and trying to throw things back and forth over the wall around Appletown.


Why do you not just use TimeMachine for that?

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That’s definitely possible, with TimeMachine or any backup software. The difficulty comes in locating all the files associated with what you’re restoring.
For instance, some files are in ~/Library, there are 104 folders in there on my laptop, and there are 4799 .plist files alone in those folders. Some files in Application Support, some in Preferences, etc.
So if I wanted to restore, say, Acorn, here are some of the related files:

./Library/Application Support/Acorn
./Library/Application Support/TextMate/Managed/Bundles/JavaScript.tmbundle/Support/lib/jsbeautifier/javascript/
./Library/Application Support/
./Library/Saved Application State/com.flyingmeat.Acorn7.savedState
./Library/Application Scripts/com.flyingmeat.Acorn7.Acornappex
./Library/Application Scripts/com.flyingmeat.Acorn7.editinacorn
./Library/Containers/com.flyingmeat.Acorn7.Acornappex/Data/Library/Application Scripts/com.flyingmeat.Acorn7.Acornappex
./Library/Containers/com.flyingmeat.Acorn7.editinacorn/Data/Library/Application Scripts/com.flyingmeat.Acorn7.editinacorn

And some of those are folders, with more files.
So if something happens to Acorn, how do you decide what to restore?
If someone was restoring from a clean install, which ones would they install? Since it’s a clean install, they wouldn’t be able to just find ~/Library -iname '*acorn*' to get a list of candidates.

So, like I said, I don’t know of a way to restore, say, an application and its supporting files and settings. Maybe there is one.

I ended up creating a few inventories in Notion to assess what software I’m using, what types of data I’m storing, and where it’s stored. Then I surveyed what storage I already had available (external hard drives and cloud service subscriptions) and created a backup plan. Some of it may be overkill, but I feel more comfortable having gone through this review process (and in particular, learning or confirming that specific application preferences and settings are preserved in this backup plan).

While creating the software inventory, I also ended up deleting a bunch of unused applications–stuff I had downloaded for uses that are no longer relevant, and it also felt good to clean that up.


If you don’t know, which files are important, and which might be not, why do you not simple restore all related files!?

Normally the Userdata are stored outside of the library with the most apps I have, but for the Apps where some, or all, data is located within the library, I had never a serious problem in locating them, and restoring them, and TimeMachine is great for that in my opinion because of the easy way to search and use the files.

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A lot of work, but it looks really good.
My problem that always occurs, if I start something like that, that I became lazy with the updates over a period of time, and end up with non reliable data unfortunately. :cry:

It’s an interesting thought exercise and I’m guessing that a lot of initial work is good enough to get the bulk of things.

I wish all apps had a configuration/preference export function. Then we could export on a regular basis and restore using that.

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I had this issue when I moved from my 2018 Mini to my current Mac Studio. I did a clean install and spent quite a bit of time finding and moving over settings files. Fun times (fun not included).

I also keep a list of interesting software I come across while wandering the web, things to investigate later. Two tools may be of interest here, mackup and chezmoi. Note that I’ve not yet gotten around to any further investigation on either.


And preference sync, while we’re wishing.

Some apps have the export and some have preference sync too. Sounds like I need to add this to my projects (someday/maybe).

Mackup and chezmoi sound interesting too. Is anybody using git to sync and store config and dot files?

Yes, I am for .config.
Things got a little complicated when I threw doom emacs into the mix, as it added a folder with a lot of files to .config. Easy enough to fix with a sub-repo though.

What is doom emacs? …