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Last year, I switched from an iMac to a MacBook Pro, and I restored from my Time Machine backup. I've been using Time Machine since then, and never checked it until now. I just found out that my backups are split into 2, "dee's iMac" and "dee's MacBook Pro" when I expect them to be just one backup since I moved everything from my iMac to MBP.

The "dee's iMac" backups aren't accessible through "Enter Time Machine" and aren't deleted when Time Machine is full; instead, it will delete the newer backups from my MBP backups, which currently holds only the past 2 months while there are backups from my iMac from last year.

Is there any way to merge these backups? What happens if I just move all the contents of the "dee's iMac" folder to the "dee's MacBook Pro" folder? Or should I just delete the entire "dee's iMac" backup folder?

Note: Currently on OS X Yosemite, 2013 MBP (non-retina)

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You can still access data from "dee's backup" by selecting "Browse Other Time Machine Disks" from Time Machine's Dock menu. (Right click or click-and-hold on TM's icon in the Dock.)

TM is holding onto both sets of data because even though YOU know you copied all the data from the old machine to the new, all TM knows is that a bunch of data just showed up on the new machine. It doesn't know where that data came from, but knows it should be backed up.

When TM, running on "dee's Macbook Pro", needs to delete files to make room, it can only delete files backed up from "dee's Macbook Pro". Even the root user on that machine has no authority (and cannot give TM authority) do delete some other computer's backup files.

You don't need any of "dee's iMac" backup. As you say, everything from that computer got copied over, and none of it has been needed since last year. It's time to let it go. To do that, open the Backups.backupdb folder on your backup disk, and delete the subfolder named "dee's iMac". (I'm assuming you're backing up to an external disk connected to your MBP. Details will be different if you're backing up to a Time Capsule or a network volume, but the principle is the same.) Time Machine won't let you modify that backup in any way except that it will allow you to delete it in its entirety. You'll need to authenticate as an admin to do that. And it will take a while. You should be able to delete it using Finder, but if not you can enter the Terminal command:

sudo tmutil delete /Volumes/"disk name"/Backups.backupdb/"dee's iMac"
  • Something strange is happening. "Browse Other Time Machine Disks" (works w/ holding option key while clicking Time Machine on menu bar), and I accessed the old iMac backup. It shows the timeline since last year, but I can't browse to anything before a couple months ago, the same date that's the earliest of my MBP backup. And I believe the files listed are actually from the MBP backup. – dee Dec 20 '14 at 7:01
  • Wow, thanks for this tip, I completely did not realise it was possible to do that because it was "hidden" with the right click functionality of the dock icon. I worry if future macOS versions will remove this feature :( – Aditya M P Nov 12 '17 at 17:43
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Don’t attempt to merge them. All that will do is corrupt the MBP backup, which is the only one that matters. There’s no use in keeping the old one. It’s just redundant. Think of it as a useless block of data that’s just clogging up disk space.

Time machine is only deleting the MBP backups because those are the only backups it recognizes as Time Machine backups - those associated with the external drive. The old iMac "TM backups" aren’t recognized as such, so they are just treated as any other data on the backup drive would be treated by Time Machine (not touched). You'd need to delete the iMac TM backup because there’s no use for it and it’s taking up unnecessary space (which, by extension, will cause the MBP backups to be automatically deleted more quickly).

Is all your data accounted for currently? If so, I’d recommend starting fresh. Reformat the external hard drive. It will be recognized as a new drive by TM. Then, have Time Machine make a new, full backup of your machine in its present state and proceed unimpeded from there (into the future).

  • This part is incorrect: "There’s no use in keeping the old one. It’s just redundant." If files have been deleted after restoring from time machine, those files will no longer be available if the iMac TM backup is deleted. Even if they were restored but then later deleted, access to these files will be deleted as older backups are deleted to make space for newer ones. Just be sure you aren't losing anything essential before deleting old backups. – thepen Jan 26 at 1:28

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