Is the format of Time Machine's backups documented, or standard? Can I extract the files with a non-Mac system?


2 Answers 2


Time Machine is documented well at http://support.apple.com/kb/ht1427 and this discussion goes into sparse bundles and FileVault so it's worth a read http://discussions.apple.com/thread.jspa?threadID=1447315

Since backups to an attached hard disk are written as plain files - that would be easier to connect to a non-Mac system. Backups to a Time Capsule are stored in a disk image in sparse bundle format, you will need to have software that knows how to mount those bundles.

Either requires your non-Mac system to be able to read HFS+ volumes - but once over that hurdle, you can simply navigate the Backups.backupdb folder and extract whatever files you need. The folder structure is simply organized by the time the backup completed.


It's barely a format at all. Time Machine just keeps multiple directories, each containing complete copies of your filesystem, using hard links to prevent storing unchanged files multiple times. You can get the files off just by copying them out of the correct directory. The only requirement is that if you're mounting the disk locally, your machine has to be able to mount a HFS+ filesystem.

  • UFS+? Did you mean HFS+?
    – Ian C.
    Jul 5, 2011 at 13:14
  • Yes, quite right. Thanks for the correction. I've edited my answer.
    – Mike Scott
    Jul 5, 2011 at 15:47

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