How to Restore OS X’s Address Book Data From a Time Machine Backup

| MGG Answers


Lauren writes: I recently had to do a clean reinstall of OS X and I backed up everything except my Address Book contacts. I do have a Time Machine backup; is there a way to extract just my contacts from the backup?



Yes, there is a way to restore Address Book content from a Time Machine backup. However, it’s important to note that Address Book data is used by many applications throughout OS X, so before we begin, make sure to quit all open applications to make sure we minimize the possibility of introducing problems.

Location of Address Book Data

Next, to be on the safe side, make a backup of your existing Address Book library. That information is located in [home]/Library/Application Support/Address Book.

Now, hop over to your Time Machine drive in Finder and navigate to the same location under “Latest” in the Time Machine backups folder. Copy the entire contents of the Address Book folder from the backup and overwrite the contents of this folder on your system drive.

Once the copy is complete, relaunch Address Book and you should see your contacts listed, current as of the date of your last backup.

Note that in this case, the listener had performed a clean installation of OS X and her Time Machine backup was no longer linked to her system. If you have a current backup that’s still linked to the OS, simply navigate to the Address Book folder on your system drive, launch Time Machine, and restore the files from within the Time Machine interface.

This question was originally answered on MGG 345: Mail, Time Machine, Lion, Tips, and More

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Each week Dave Hamilton and John F. Braun provide some great troubleshooting advice to listeners of the Mac Geek Gab podcast. Here with MGG Answers we share some of those tips with the rest of the world!

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Just open Address Book and enter time machine. Why bother copying files in the finer?


This answer is incomplete.  (I tried this under Lion 10.7.5.)  The problem is that the Finder will not show you the “Library” directory in your $HOME (~).  So I had to use the command-line to navigate down into /Volumes to my TM backup for yesterday, then use ‘find | cpio’ to copy AddressBook in the backup, to $HOME/Library/‘Application Support’/ .

I thought there is a way to force Finder to show hidden files like ‘Library’, but I did not see that option in Finder->Preferences.  If you know where that option is, please comment.

Incidentally, a warning: AddressBook in 10.7.5 is sensitive to the type of data entered into its URL fields.  If you enter something which isn’t a valid URL/contains disallowed characters, that can cause AddressBook to crash when you try to bring it up.  That makes restore the only reasonable option to get things running again.

Hugh Mackworth

To show the Library in Finder, just hold down Option while looking at your Finder’s Go menu.  Alternatively, you can use the Go command in the same menu and copy/paste in “~/Library/Application Support/AddressBook”

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