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If you are using Time Machine to backupup from a Mac to an external drive, you can decide to manually delete old backups that are no longer needed. Yes, Time Machine does its own housekeeping, but sometimes users have to intervene manually. This can be for a variety of reasons, be it simply deleting old backups, or if you end up facing space constraints on a backup drive where Time Machine throws an error saying “Time Machine could -up not complete. This back-up is too big for the backup disk. The backup requires XX GB, but only YY GB is available. “
Whatever the reason, you can easily delete old backups from Time Machine drive to either one for free up space on that disk for a new backupup, or just to manually manage a Time Machine disk.
Delete old Time Machine backups through Time Machine in Mac OS X
This is the preferred approach for deleting old backups made in Time Machine, it uses the Time Machine application itself and is simple, fully handled through the friendly user interface.
- If you haven’t already, connect the Time Machine drive to the Mac
- Pull down the Time Machine icon in the menu bar and choose ‘Enter Time Machine’
- Navigate to the time you want to delete (if it is a very old backupup you want to delete, scroll until you find the correct place in time)
- Right-click on the backupup in the Time Machine Finder window, or click the little gear icon in the Finder window – both work the same – then choose “Delete all (name) backups”
- Enter the admin password when prompted for the backupup to delete
Essentially, you’re navigating to the portion of the Mac file system for which you want a time machine backupup To delete, so if you want to delete old backups for the whole Mac, navigate to the root folder or the user folder, whichever is right for your scenario. In this way, the process of deleting a very old backupup similar to removing a backupup of a specific file or folder from Time Machine, except that instead of targeting a small portion of the file system, you choose the entire Mac or the user directory. within Time Machine.
Remove old backups from Time Machine with tmutil
If you are savvy with the command line, the tmutil utility can also instantly delete backups of any age. The GUI approach above is much easier for most users as it provides a visual representation of what will be removed, while tmutil is only suitable for those with enough terminal experience. As always with the command line, the exact syntax is essential.
The tmutil syntax to use is as follows:
tmutil delete / TimeMachine / Drive / Path / To / OldBackup /
You probably want to list the folders by date to see which old backupup you want to delete to make sure you have set the correct path. Using tab completion can skip this if you’re sure, or just use ls to see a list of dates:
This list can be quite long and specific.
For example, if you have an old backupup from a few years ago that you want to delete on a specific date:
tmutil delete /Volumes/BackupDriveName/Backups.backupdb/MacComputerName/YYYY-MM-DD-HHMMSS/
Make sure to change “BackupDriveName” to the Time Machine volume drive name, “MacComputerName” to the name of the Mac you want to delete the backups from and the exact date in Year / Month / Date / Time format by “YYYY-MM-DD-HHMMSS” if needed.
An example of such a syntax would be:
sudo tmutil delete / Volumes / Time Machine backups / Backups.backupdb / MacBook Pro / 2020-07-13-150021 /
Again, make sure to use the exact syntax.
Like other command line tools, tmutil can accept wildcards, which means you can technically delete all backups this way. Make sure you know what you’re doing or you could lose data you didn’t intend to. Unless you back up your backups (with Time Machine redundancy or otherwise) from which it is impossible to restore.
(Important note: some advanced Mac users may wonder why not just use rm -rf or drop it in the trash and empty it. While both methods work to get the backupup will almost always result in a broken Time Machine backupup. or at best Time Machine crashes in ‘Backupup preparing ”, which requires further troubleshooting. Skip rm and skip trash to delete old Time Machine backups, use Time Machine app or tmutil tool)
Deleting old backups is usually only necessary for very specific maintenance reasons for a backup disk, or to free it up up space from obsolete backups. In rare cases this may be necessary as a troubleshooting trick also, which is usually caused by a failure in the most recent backup file.
Whichever method you choose, it is highly recommended to manually create a new backup.up immediately after deleting other backups, this ensures that you have a recent backupup and is especially important if you’ve just deleted a lot of old backups for a specific Mac.
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