Time Machine For PC backups is a powerful and valuable feature every Apple users prefer to secure their personal and professional data. Being a developer, I regularly commit my code to BitBucket for backups and to safeguard personal files and memories; I use Time Machine backup every week. I will connect my 1 TB WD passport external hard drive to Mac, and it creates the latest backup every time. Everything looks good from the outside, but the real problem is when you want to access Time Machine backups on a Windows PC or laptop. Recently my MacBook Pro refused to power on even after PRAM, NVRAM, and SMC reset, and I switched to a Windows laptop till it got repaired.
When I tried to connect my external hard drive, Windows failed to detect it since Mac formats the hard drive in HFS+ format while creating the first Time Machine backup. Unfortunately, Windows only supports NTFS and FAT32 file systems and can not detect Mac-formatted hard disks and disk images. The one way to connect your Time Machine backup drive to Windows is by formatting it in any Windows-supported file system. But formatting will permanently delete all Time Machine backups, and we don’t want to do this.
Copying Time Machine Backups to Windows
HFS Explorer from Cotacombae and HFS+ for Windows by Paragon are two popular software for Windows to read HFS, HFS+, and HFSX file systems. The former is a free tool with a primary user interface but requires Java, whereas the latter is a more advanced HFS+ reader with a rich interface but comes with a price tag. However, HFS+ for Windows offers a 7-day free trial which is quite enough to test and understand the software. Both tools have pros and cons – you must pick one of your choices.
If you want to restore Time Machines backups to Windows frequently and don’t want to install Java on your device, then HFS+ for Windows is the best Option. But paying for something which comes for free doesn’t make sense. So, we’ll use the free solution using HFS Explorer with the only downside of installing Java.
This solution to view Time Machine backups on Windows works on all popular versions, including Windows 10, Windows 8, Windows 7, and even XP.
1. Download Java and set the PATH variable
To use HFS Explorer, you must first download Java and install it on your device. After installing JAVA, you must set the Java path properly to let your Windows know where Java is currently installed. To set the path, you need to open Environment Variables under the Advanced Settings of My Computer and create a path variable under User variables.
To confirm whether you have installed and configured Java correctly, type
javac in the command prompt, which prints the output as shown in the image below.
2. Connect Hard Drive to Your Windows PC/Laptop
The first step to accessing Time Machine backup files on Windows is connecting your Mac formatted hard drive to your Windows machine using the USB cable. You might need to use adapters if your hard drives come with a Thunderbolt cable, which is very rare.
As we already know, Windows will fail to recognize the hard drive as it is an HFS+ formatted device. If you don’t know, your Mac can read file systems of Windows (NTFS/FAT32), but your Windows machine cannot read the file systems of OS X (HFS/HFS+HFSX).
3. Install HFS Explorer
After installing and configuring Java successfully, you need to download and install HFS Explorer to view Time Machine backups on Windows. After installing HFS Explorer, you might see a dialog box on your screen asking you to format the connected external hard drive. You should cancel it carefully and never format the device.
Being said that, open HFS Explorer (as Administrator) by double-clicking the shortcut icon on the Desktop. After opening it, select the File menu and choose “Load file system from the drive. “HFS Explorer is smart enough to detect your connected external drive, which is in HFS+ format. If it fails to pick the device, you must manually choose it from the “Detected Devices” drop-down box.
Once you choose the correct drive, click Load, which will list all the file contents of a hard drive containing Time Machine backups.
4. Restore Time Machine Backup Files to Windows
You need first to understand the file hierarchy of Time Machine backup files to navigate through the desired folder. After listing the files on the hard drive, you will find a folder named “Backups. backupdb” in the root folder.
Inside Backups. backupdb folder, you will see another folder with the name of your MacBook. In my case, it is “Amar’s MacBook Pro.” Open it to see all your recent Time Machine Backups created on different dates. The recent Time Machine backup will be named “Latest. “However, you can also choose older backups if you want to see the older files.
To view your files, open the folder named Latest, navigate to Macintosh HD – Users, and open the amarilindra (your username) folder. Here is where you can see all your Downloads, Desktop files, Music, Pictures, Documents, and more.
To restore the entire Time Machine backup to your Windows, navigate to the backup folder and click on the Export button. Choose the destination folder in your Windows device and HFS Explorer will export and copy the Time Machine backup to Windows automatically.
If you want to export only a few folders or files from Time Machine backup, navigate to the required folder, choose the file(s), and hit the Export button. Your selected files and folders might have symbolic links, and HFS Explorer follows the same. Don’t worry; allow HFS Explorer to follow symbolic links, which will take care of copying Time Machine files to Windows. You might see duplicate files being copied due to symbolic links, and you must manually delete them later.
Use Mac Formatted HFS+ Files System External Drives on Windows
This is how you can copy Time Machine backups to Windows PC or laptop without formatting or data loss. The drawback of this method is you have to install Java on your device. If for some reason, HFS Explorer didn’t work on your device or if you don’t like installing Java, then HFS+ for Windows by Paragon will be the best choice for you.
Usually, OS X uses the FAT32 file system for regular usage devices like pen drives, memory cards, etc., which is supported by Windows but in some individual cases, like Time Machine backups, it uses the HFS+ file system. This is when you need Windows tools that can open HFS+ file systems. Though you can connect, access, view, and export Time Machine backups to Windows using HFS Explorer, you can not still edit and write the files. You have just read-only access.
Another workaround to access Time Machine backup files in Windows is by connecting your hard drive to another MacBook or iMac and copying the data to a portable device with the FAT32 file system accessible in Windows. But this is not preferable for everyday tasks as it kills a lot of your time. So the ideal solution to view Time Machine backups on Windows is using HFS Explorer and Java runtime or buying HFS+ for Windows by Paragon. If you choose the free solution and install Java on your machine, you must also consider disabling Java on web browsers for various security benefits.