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Thanks to constant developments, computer operating systems seem to grow more complex with each passing day. Some of these developments include new features or add-ons users can take advantage of for both business and entertainment. 

However, these advancements bring more complexity to data processing and computer operations. It also gives users more flexibility but exposes them to other risks. For example, much of our daily lives rely on computer systems working and storing the data we need. Therefore, it is essential to mitigate the risks of data loss as much as possible.

Most operating systems have built-in features that back up data, and Apple is no exception. For example, the Time Machine app allows Mac users to save and protect critical data in case of computer failure. 

By setting the app in active status, you can program your Mac to create backups on almost any schedule you desire. The system can also create snapshots that allow you to restore specific versions of data.

Does Apple Time Machine Back Up Your Operating System?

For the most part, Time Machine will back up your operating system. However, there are some exceptions to the files it grabs and saves. We will try to go over these in detail. 

Think of Time Machine as an app that creates backups of all the files your OS might need to restore itself to good working condition in case of a computer breakdown.

The app backs up just about everything the Mac stores in its startup volume. Therefore, while you may not get an operating system with the exact files or settings, you can get something similar. You can even have an OS that looks and behaves like brand new. 

The system has rules about what it will exclude by default. You could also modify the way your Time Machine behaves. For example, you can program it to identify files, folders, paths, or separate additions you don’t want to include when you restore the system.

You can find a long list of typical exclusions if you check your Mac’s exclusions list. You can find this list in the System Library’s Services location. We will also review some more obvious things that Time Machine will leave out: 

  1. Any recent revisions you made to documents 
  2. Items currently in your Trash
  3. Temporary files
  4. System files, such as Spotlight index databases, which are only there for the benefit of other files, caches, and any logs the system creates. 

On the contrary, personal files, Node Package Managers (NPM), and docker files should restore themselves completely once the Time Machine backup finishes its work.

Does Time Machine Overwrite Old Backups?

Yes and no. Time Machine should not overwrite old backups by itself. It’s particularly true if you haven’t used much space on the partition reserved for backup. However, your OS might alert you to do something about some of the restore points you’ve saved over the years. 

Further, the more items you need to back up, the larger the space for a single backup will become. At some point, your laptop might fail to run or complete a Time Machine job. It’s also possible that the Mac no longer has enough space to create the new backup.

In such cases, your Mac will give an error message about why Time Machine failed to complete its operation. Then, you’ll see the size of the current backup file. It will also show you how much space is still available on the system. After correcting these, you can continue with the Time Machine backup.

You can do two things after. One involves getting rid of some old backups. Make sure you haven’t created backups for unnecessary data. That way, you can free up more space on your system for future backups.

Saving Space

Here’s a step-by-step guide on removing obsolete backups to save some space. First, select larger files from the backup you want to create and delete them. The rest of the steps are listed below

  1. Open the Mac Finder.
  2. Type part of the filename of the data you want to delete
  3. Find the Time Machine icon in your system’s menu.
  4. Click to open the Time Machine app, and go to the specific point you want to delete.
  5. Find the “Gear” icon and choose the ‘Delete Backup’ option
  6. Enter your password to gain administrator access and complete the process

Removing Whole Backups

Removing obsolete backups is one of the most efficient ways to free up space. If you haven’t messed with any of your settings, your Mac automatically frees up disk space when it gets full. It starts with the oldest backups. 

However, if you want to remove some of these backups manually, here are the steps to do it:

  1. Use the Finder to search for the ‘Backups’ folder. It may use that name twice, or the extension may mirror the folder name.
  2. You will find subfolders inside the main folder
  3. Scroll through the whole list to find the oldest one
  4. The Mac will move them to Trash by default once you delete them
  5. To ensure you’ve cleared the space, empty your Trash folder manually.

How Far Back Does Apple Time Machine Back Up Data? Where Does It Store the Data?

Time Machine makes backups at different points in time. If you haven’t changed any settings, it will back up data daily, weekly, and monthly. The process continues until the system’s storage for backup files is full. 

It will delete the oldest backups when it has used up all the storage space. In other words, your backup storage space is the only limitation to how far Time Machine will go. Additionally, you can adjust the Time Machine settings and schedule when you prefer to back up files and data. 

Many of the full backups go on an external drive or separate volume. Your Mac reserves some internal space for things like local snapshots. It’s a way for your Mac to grab and save recent changes you make to the files you are using. The Mac can take a snapshot of these changes hourly, and it can do so until you run out of space on the internal drive.

Is Time Machine the Best Way To Back Up a Mac?

Time Machine is a quick and convenient way to back up most of your data. The only initial investment you need is an external drive to host the full backups. Otherwise, the app makes it easy to set and delete backup dates. 

What Are Other Ways To Back Up a Mac?

Time Machine is a great option, but it also has several drawbacks. For one, it doesn’t clone your Mac entirely. Although it’s unnecessary for most users, others like to clone their entire systems. 

Additionally, you’ll probably store the external drive containing the backups in the exact location as your Mac, putting it at risk of losing data if any events compromise or destroy the computer.

To get around this, you can choose an additional backup method. Some of the most common include iCloud from Apple, a different cloud-based service, or using an off-site server that stores essential data. You can also clone your hard disk.


Time Machine comes standard with many modern Apple computers. Thanks to how seamlessly it integrates into the macOS, it is an excellent way for beginners to get a handle on backing up important data.

However, its convenience makes it an excellent option even for seasoned data storage veterans. You can delete old backups that are taking up space, and Time Machine will make a nearly complete copy of your operating system by itself.