How to restore partial data from Time Machine backup after OS X Yosemite clean installation

How did I get here

Lately I updated my MacBook Pro operating system to OS X Yosemite. Since the time I bought it in 2012 I always performed updates on top of existing system. After over 2 years I decided to make a fresh install to boost its performance even more.

I had a regular Time Machine backups but when I installed a brand new system I was asked if I wanted to restore all my data from this disk. I din't want that because I was afraid all junk I wanted to get rid of would come to new system eventually. So I started to look for a way to manually recover only a few selected directories and leave others untouched.

First thought was that I can open Time Machine.app and manually copy some directories, but unfortunately Time Machine backups before the installation became not available - I couldn't have moved backwards more than to that day, 19th of October

Time Machine backwards limit

I started to manually check Time Machine partition and it turns out that directory structure of Time Machine backups is quite strightforward, as shown below.

Time Machine partition directory structure

Time Machine partition directory structure

Time Machine partition contains a directory called Backups.backupdb which contains directory of your computer name and inside all synchronized snapshots of your data named by date. When you open directory with selected date you will have complete snapshot of your disk from that date.

Despite the fact that Time Machine.app creates incremental backups and it allows you to browse backwards through the selected directories it can be easily accessible in raw format without the need of incremental merging of files. Complete snapshot of all your data from this particular date is right here, just under your fingers. All you need to do is to open directory with particular date and choose anything you want from that time.

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