Is it safe to delete my Time Machine sparse bundle file? Can a fresh time machine backup be recreated WITHOUT reformatting the drive or affecting any other files on my external Time Machine drive?

My time machine backups stopped a month ago and nothing I do will get the backups to continue as usual. The drive is 25% full. I don't know what to do. The way I look at it, the best option might be to delete the sparse bundle entirely and just start a fresh sparse bundle, right? This seems logical to me but I cannot find any advice anywhere to affirm my belief.

I am afraid to choose the "Delete backup disk" option in the Time Machine applet because, while I want it to delete my sparse bundle, I am afraid it will take the liberties of deleting all content on the "drive". That would be disastrous since I also use the drive for a important file share. I'm also afraid to delete the sparse bundle because I don't know exactly how it works.

Can anyone provide advice? I cannot find any advice on this specific subject anwhere.


5 Answers 5


As long as you don't care about anything in the backup being gone, yes it is safe to remove the sparsebundle.

Disable Time Machine first. Instead of deleting the whole bundle at once:

  • Right-click and choose Show Package Contents.
  • Open the bands folder.
  • Select a large number of bands (8000 at a time seems to be good from what I read) and move those to the trash.
  • Repeat until all bands have been deleted, then delete the main sparsebundle file.
  • Thanks for the suggestion. What IS the "bands" folder? Just afraid to try these steps without knowing what that is.
    – djangofan
    May 7, 2015 at 17:26
  • It contains the data that was backed up.
    – tubedogg
    May 7, 2015 at 19:14
  • I'm unable to remove all the files in /bands since they're in use?
    – Alec Rust
    Aug 12, 2018 at 21:01

Sparsebundles are created for each machine backed up to Time Machine. I needed to delete one of these sparsebundle files. Manually deleting thousands of files under the 'Bands' folder takes a long time. The faster and easiest method is:

  1. Open Terminal
  2. Switch to 'Superuser': sudo su (you will be asked for your admin user pw)
  3. Change directory to your Time Machine/Sparsebundle path: cd /filepath to Time Machine
  4. List files to be sure you see the Sparsebundle you wish to remove: ls
  5. Remove the sparsebundle: rm -R "sparsebundle_filename.sparsebundle"
  6. Exit Superuser: exit
  7. Close Terminal

Note that while logged in as Superuser you can do anything to your Mac so be certain you know what you're doing while logged in as 'su'. Also, I put my filename in quotes as it contained spaces, you do not need to enclose in quotes if your filename does not contain any spaces.

It takes a minute or two to remove the offending file, depending on file size. Be patient...You're done!

  • 1
    You can also do sudo -rfv sparsebundle_filename. Option f here will force delete all the files inside that folder, and option v will show you the file names as they are being deleted–that's how you know the process is not halted. Also, using sudo instead of su will allow the system only execute this particular command with superuser privileges–less ways for you to make mistakes.
    – Iopheam
    Jun 12, 2021 at 14:42
  • I like @lopheam suggestion of using sudo. Make sure to include the remove command: sudo rm -rfv sparsebundle_filename
    – slothbear
    Dec 5, 2023 at 16:34

I followed the links suggested by njboot and the solution to my problem was:

  1. Turn off time machine backups.
  2. Delete time machine system prefs file
  3. Reboot machine and if the file is still there, delete the prefs file again and reboot again.
  4. once the Prefs file is gone, if you go into Time machine prefs, the disk is no longer selected.
  5. Then, finally select the disk that you had been connected to before and then the backup should connect successfully again.
  6. At that point it was working for me again.
  • How do you 'delete time machine system prefs file'? What and where is it?
    – dmolony
    Mar 24, 2018 at 8:55
  • Sorry, it looks like njboot's hyperlinks he provided no longer work. I don't remember the name of the prefs file. It has been a while since I did this and so I don't remember.
    – djangofan
    Jul 9, 2018 at 20:08
  • 1
    This sounds like an unnecessarily complicated way to unselect a Time Machine backup drive. You can turn automatic backing-up off in System Preferences/Time Machine via a checkbox. You can then "remove" any drives marked as backup drives. That said, if Time Machine prefs are corrupted, then removing it's prefs file and rebooting makes sense. Oct 21, 2018 at 23:38

The way that worked best for me was to shut down the mac and start a linux computer. If you do the same thing in Ubuntu there are two benefits compared to mac:

  1. You can feel relaxed and not have to worry about Time Machine starting automatically which will lock up the process and force you to start over.

  2. Finder never showed a progress bar, even when I tried with a small amount of files. Nautilus (the Ubuntu equivalent), on the other hand, has a nice little wheel that shows the overall status when you delete files and folders.

Everything went smoothly in Ubuntu and even command-line was easy to work with despite the thousands of files in the "bands" folder.


Easy access to 'Bands' in a .sparsebundle file in Air Capsule and deleting them (individually) via iPhone: https://www.stratospherix.com/support/getting-started-with-timecapsule.php

  • Be sure to disclose if you are promoting a specific site or product. If so, be sure your answers are complete here and link to the external resource just for reference and not as a substitute for contributing the actual complete answer here.
    – bmike
    Feb 2, 2019 at 16:03

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