From an old Time Machine backup (Backups.backupdb folder) on a physical external disk I would like to extract some snapshots to other external disks as complete machine volumes. These resulting volumes don't need to be bootable, but if they are, even better.

How can I do this? A command line solution would be the best. I had a look at hdiutil, but wasn't sure whether it can help with this problem.


I am coming to this because I would like to archive old Time Machine backups (El Capitan system), but I have huge problems to copy the whole Time Machine folder to other locations. (I'm now on Mojave.)

Therefore I thought I extract instead some snapshots of the Time Machine as complete system volumes to separate disk images. These volumnes should look like the original disk when the snapshot was created.

  • Did you check whether your TM history even goes back so far? Also, what do you want to do with the snapshot afterwards, do you want to keep the capability to restore your Mac to El Capitan or do you just want to keep a known old version of your documents?
    – nohillside
    Dec 19, 2021 at 16:07
  • Thanks @nohillside for looking at this. The TM history is from Jan 2016 to Dec 2017 with 19 snapshots. I just want to archive the snapshots, so that I can retrieve any file from it (not only my documents, but system files as well). I can do this on the current old physical disk, but I want to ditch that physical disk and move the stuff to disk image(s).
    – halloleo
    Dec 20, 2021 at 3:03
  • TM doesn‘t use snapshots as such, but you for sure can copy all files/folders of a specific date to an another drive/image. You won’t be able to restore from it (or boot it), but files will remain accessible.
    – nohillside
    Dec 20, 2021 at 5:57
  • @nohillside How can I copy the folders for a specific date? Finder says "Some items on the source are in use" and when I use ditto in the terminal I get lots of Time Machine typical "Operation not permitted" errors.
    – halloleo
    Dec 20, 2021 at 12:25
  • I'm not using TM right now so I can't check, but inside the TM structure there are folders named like 2018-12-05. You should be able to copy the whole hierarchy beneath it onto a separate drive with Terminal.
    – nohillside
    Dec 20, 2021 at 12:41

2 Answers 2


I know that you are preferably looking for a command line solution, but have you checked Carbon Copy Cloner or Super Duper to see if they shouldn't be able to copy the whole Time Machine folder to other locations? They are usually very good at deep system integrations in terms of copying files…

  • Well, Carbon Copy Cloner actively rejects copying Time Machine folders, but of course I can try Super Duper...
    – halloleo
    Dec 20, 2021 at 12:19
  • ...And with Super Duper I can copy the complete TM folder, but I cannot extract a snapshot from the TM folder. (I checked with Dave from Super Duper.)
    – halloleo
    Dec 22, 2021 at 7:51
  • Another stretch here from my side @halloleo – I haven't tried this myself, but if you're still struggling, perhaps give Pacifist a shot?
    – max1mvs
    Mar 30, 2022 at 7:02

You can extract a snapshot from a Time Machine backup to an external hard drive vai tmutil:

sudo tmutil restore /Volumes/TMdrive/Backups.backupdb/machinename/2021-11-30-042315/MyHD /Volumes/Safety-HD

(where Safety-HD is the harddrive with the full machine volume and TMdrive is the Time Machine backup drive).

Two caveats:

  1. On the resulting hard drive the files and folders from the normal machine root are moved into a sub folder (see this question).

  2. I don't think this works with an old Time Machine backup which is not associated with the computer you are running the command from. This command as is works probably only with your current TM backup drive.


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