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In the El Capitan installer splash screen, it says, "To repair your disk using disk utility, restore your computer from a Time Machine backup, or perform other tasks using utilities, choose an option from the Utilities menu."

However, Time Machine is not an option in the Utilities menu! Is there a way around this? I want to restore directly from a Time Machine backup, but my device (2008 iMac) does not support Recovery Mode.

2 Answers 2

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The necessity for this is very limited. Here's the situation it will help with:

  • You don't have a working Recovery partition.
  • You have a bootable drive that boots to the Finder.
  • You don't want to—or can't—simply install a fresh copy of macOS onto your drive and restore from there.
  • You have a complete Time Machine backup (from which you did not exclude system files).
  • That Time Machine backup does not come with its own Recovery partition, as with a Time Capsule.

In order to do a Time Machine system restore on a drive without a (working) Recovery partition without installing macOS first, follow the following steps:

  1. Obtain a macOS installer. You can download one from Apple's support site, but that didn't work for me. I was able to make this work with the version of El Capitan that's downloadable from the App Store.
  2. Get access to a recovery partition. There are a few options:

    2.1 Attempt to install macOS onto your computer. After it reboots, don't continue the installation; instead, restart into your bootable drive (TechTool eDrive, USB key, whatever you have).

    2.2. Alternately, use Recovery Partition Creator (MacWorld has instructions).

    2.3. Lifewire has another method. I've discovered that you can run Disk Utility 13 (that has the option of the Debug menu mentioned in the Lifewire article) in El Capitan if you hack it first.

  3. If one of these options results in a working recovery partition, great! Boot into it and use that (in my experience option 2.1 will boot, but will not allow you to restore from Time Machine—at least in El Capitan). If not, continue to the next step.
  4. Open the recovery partition. You can use the Debug menu in Disk Utility 13 or earlier (instructions in the Lifewire article above) to select and then mount it, or mount a disk image of the partition.
  5. Use Tinkertool or some other method to show hidden files in the Finder.
  6. On the Recovery HD (that you should have mounted on your desktop in Step 4) there is a folder called "com.apple.recovery.boot." In it is a hidden disk image named "BaseSystem.dmg." Mount that (I had to hit Command-O for some reason; double-clicking did not do the job).
  7. A disk image called "OS X Base System" will appear on your desktop.

  8. Launch Terminal.

  9. Paste the following command, hit Return, then input your password when prompted: sudo -b /Volumes/OS\ X\ Base\ System/System/Installation/CDIS/Time\ Machine\ System\ Restore.app/Contents/MacOS/Time\ Machine\ System\ Restore (The reason for this is that Time Machine System Restore must be launched as root in order for it to properly restore your permissions.)

  10. Follow the instructions to restore your system from your Time Machine backup!
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Unless I'm missing something, I would just install El Capitan (if that's what you're trying to do) and then use the Migration Assistant app within El Capitan to restore from your Time Machine backup.

For more information on this, refer to How to move your content to a new Mac on Apple's website.

In summary though, you can use Migration Assistant to transfer data, user accounts, settings and apps from your backup drive, and you can do this manually after installing El Capitan.

Migration Assistant can also be used multiple times so you can choose a combination of what you need to transfer across (e.g. applications, user account(s), settings).

Note that while it can transfer applications and utilities, those bundled by Apple with Mac OS X/macOS (e.g. Safari, Mail, etc) are not migrated across (although some user data such as your Safari bookmarks will transfer across).

Additional info

You can run Migration Assistant from whatever version of macOS you have installed. By doing this you can restore your entire system from your Time Machine backup (well, as much as is possible from a Time Machine backup). Doing this is effectively the same as using the Restore From Time Machine Backup option available in the macOS Utilities window you refer to in your question.

If you want to install El Capitan first, then download it here. You can refer to How to upgrade to OS X El Capitan on Apple's website for more info.

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  • Two reasons I'm not just installing El Capitan: One, pondini.org says "The best option is to restore your entire system from your Time Machine backups." Two, El Capitan doesn't seem to want to install; something about there being no valid packages to install.
    – Calion
    Nov 1, 2019 at 2:53
  • Ah. It says, "No packages were eligible to install."
    – Calion
    Nov 1, 2019 at 3:14
  • I think there's some confusion, so I've updated my answer with some additional info.
    – Monomeeth
    Nov 1, 2019 at 3:44
  • And the installer you linked says, "OS X can't be installed on this disk. OS X isn't installed."
    – Calion
    Nov 1, 2019 at 16:08
  • Ok, sounds like we haven’t got the full picture here. You’re going to have to edit your question and provide more details on your situation. For example, what version of macOS do you have installed? Why are you having to restore from your Time Machine backup? Anything else to help us understand the context around your question?
    – Monomeeth
    Nov 1, 2019 at 21:43

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