How to restore data using MobileMe

Roman Loyola
25 February, 2011
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I recently covered how to back up your data using MobileMe’s Backup utility. In this article, I’ll show you how to use Backup to restore your home folder.

Redundant backup should be part of any backup plan. Backup is a software utility that’s available to MobileMe users. Though you probably don’t want to primarily rely on the Backup software, if you have MobileMe, the software is available to you, and you can use it in addition to Time Machine and any other backup method, such as disk cloning or saving to a cloud service. Read more about what you can and can’t do with Backup.

Step 1: Be prepared
Backup’s major limitation is that it saves only data that’s in your home folder. It will not save system files (those in your System folder). If you’re restoring a Mac’s hard drive, you need to use the Mac OS X installation disc that came with your Mac to reinstall the operating system. Do that first.

In addition to not saving system files, Backup does not save applications. Even though Backup does show the Applications folder in the Restore window, nothing from your actual Applications folder has been backed up; Backup has only saved the folder itself. You’ll need to figure out another way to reinstall your applications.

Step 2: Which home folder?
Launch Backup, and in the main window, select the Home Folder plan and click Restore. In the new window that opens, you’ll see a list called Previous Backups. This shows the archives that are available for you to restore.

Which one should you pick? Probably the most recent archive, if all you want to do is a basic restoration of data to a hard drive. If you want to be more selective about the files you want to restore in your home folder, then it can get a little tricky.

Time Machine allows you to perform Quick Look previews of files (by selecting a file and tap the spacebar), so you can actually see the contents. Backup doesn’t have a similar preview feature. (There is a workaround for previewing files in a Backup archive, which I cover on the next page.)

When you select an archive, the home folder appears in the window to the right. When you select the home folder, you can drill down to see more files and folders, and even select and deselect files you want to restore. But all you see are the filenames—you don’t even get to look at when the file was created or last modified. This makes it a little difficult if you want to selectively restore a single file or a few files; it’s a task better suited for Time Machine.

Step 3: Restore
Ready to restore your home folder? Select an archive, and the home folder appears in the window to the right. Click Restore Selection.

You’ll be asked how you want to restore your files. You have two choices.

  • Restore missing items If Backup sees that files or folders are missing from their original location on the destination drive, they will be restored. If a file or folder exists on the destination drive, Backup will leave those files alone and not replace them with corresponding files or folders in your archive.
  • Replace existing items All files and folders in the home folder on the destination drive will be replaced by files and folders in the archive. Select this option if you want to restore your data completely.
  • Select an option and click Restore. A warning will appear, telling you to close any open applications. After you’ve done this, click Continue.

    The main Backup window will show a progress bar of the restoration, which will take several minutes, depending on how much data is involved.

    Step 4: Done

    When Backup has restored the data, it doesn’t post an alert. But in the main window, it does show whether the restoration was successful and the time it finished.

    You can use Backup to save your iTunes files or your personal data and settings (for AddressBook, Keychain, and so forth). The restoration works in a similar fashion.

    How to access files in a MobileMe Backup archive
    If you really want to access a single file or a few files in Backup’s archives, you can. It’s not difficult at all. And it’s a much easier way to get to a single file than through the Backup software (though maybe not as easy as through Time Machine).

    When Backup creates an archive, it’s saved as a Backup Package. There are two kinds of Backup Packages. A Full Backup Package contains the entire contents of your home folder (except applications). An Incremental Backup Package saves any changed files since the Full Backup Package was created.

    If you double-click a Backup Package, Backup will launch. But you can get inside a Backup Package to get to the files. Here’s how.

    Step 1: Pick a Package
    Which package should you pick a file from? You’ll have to count on your own memory to determine when the file was created or was most recently updated. If you’ve changed the file recently, then obviously, the version in the Full Backup Package will be old, so you’ll want to pick an Incremental Backup Package.

    Step 2: Show Package Contents
    A Backup Package is basically a grouping of files. Right-click on a Backup Package, and select Show Package Contents. A Finder window will open, showing a Contents folder.

    Step 3: Dig deeper
    Double-click the Contents folder. Another Finder window will open, showing a few files. The folder you care about is called Contents. (No, that isn’t a typo and you aren’t imagining things. It’s another folder named Contents.) Open this folder. There should be a file called Backup.sparseimage.

    Step 4: Mount the image and start looking
    Backup.sparseimage is a Sparse Disk Image file. Double-click this file, and it will mount on your desktop just like a standard disk image file. Look at your desktop, and you’ll find a home folder icon. (If you are opening an iTunes archive, it will mount as iTunes Library.)

    Double-click the home folder icon, and it’ll open to a Users folder. From here, you can keep drilling down until you find the file you want. You can even use Quick Look to preview files. Once you find your file, drag it to a place on your hard drive to copy it from the disk image. You’re done.

    One Comment

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    1. AUS-IP SecurVault says:

      Great article. Although MobileMe has a data restoration function, it still does not beat a good online backup service.

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