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I changed hard drives for my Time Machine backup. I can't delete the backups on the older hard drive. I get an error code after I use "Move to Trash": -8072. It spends 45min deleting some 1,000,000+ files to end in error -8072. A google search didn't turn up the reason for the error.

Also, for some reason creating a backup on this hard drive locked all my other folders and subfolders. I can unlock them one at a time but this will take a while. Is there a faster way?

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  • If there is nothing else o the old hard drive except backup then erase the partition in Disk Utility
    – mmmmmm
    Aug 23, 2011 at 15:38

3 Answers 3

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On current macOS the syntax is changed so substitute /Volumes/drive_name/Backups.backupdb/mac_name/YYYY-MM-DD-hhmmss for the <PATH> text at the end of the appropriate command:

sudo tmutil delete -p <PATH>

On Lion and several older OS X, to clean things up properly, delete backups one by one (snapshot by snapshot).

sudo tmutil delete <PATH>

If you are sure you have selected the correct path, you can delete all backups from that one Mac by not passing in the time and letting it delete the entire folder:

sudo tmutil delete -p /Volumes/drive_name/Backups.backupdb/mac_name

The sudo command needs your password (and it won't echo to the screen, so just type it and pause to be sure you're dating the correct files before pressing enter). Also be sure you enable full disk access to Terminal.app or the shell application you choose in System Settings : Privacy & Security

Full Disk Access system setting on macOS Ventura

If your trash is already full of "backup files" these commands may not fix the issue and you should copy off any files you need to preserve and then erase the disk. It's usually far faster to do this even if you have to borrow a drive temporarily.

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  • Is there any way to remove the entire Backups.backupdb folder without formatting the drive? Or is it as simple as pulling it to the trash when it's emptied?
    – Emil
    Feb 9, 2013 at 10:34
  • Simple, but takes quite some time. Using tmutil to delete things seems much faster (perhaps an order of magnitude) due to the system deleting files rather than finder going through a less efficient path. The fastest is erasing the disk so if you can copy the other files off, that might still be fastest.
    – bmike
    Feb 9, 2013 at 20:22
  • Add your Terminal app (i.e. Terminal.app or iTerm.app) to your list of apps for full disk access in Settings > Security & Privacy > Privacy > Full Disk Access. Mar 24, 2020 at 14:32
  • It has to be delete -p <PATH> these days.
    – Alper
    Jun 26, 2023 at 18:05
  • Thanks! Can you proof check my edit / further correct it as needed, @Alper
    – bmike
    Jun 26, 2023 at 18:25
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The Time Machine backup format is not designed to let you use the Trash. If you are sure you don't need your old backups, you should

1) Erase and reformat the drive in Disk Utility

2) Go to your Time Machine Preferences, click on Select Disk..., and select the disk again, instructing the Time Machine preferences to take control of the disk and create a new Time Machine backup.

Others have pointed out to me that you can store additional files of your own on your Time Machine volume if you like. But what you should not do is use the Finder to try to delete anything in the Backups.backupdb directory, or to move any files into those directories.

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  • I agree that Disk Utility is the way to make that drive reusable again and that manually deleting the files created by Time Machine is not an ideal operation (because of the amount of sym links and such). Having said that, I want to mention that all of my Time Machine drives that I have had, I have used at some point or another to store files in addition to the Time Machine backups with no problem. I've found that as long as I keep those files separate from Time Machine's own backups folder that I can reuse the rest of the drive as any other. Aug 23, 2011 at 17:15
  • I regularly keep terabytes of data side-by-side with Time Machine backups on a single volume. If there is any documentation from Apple that says that this should not be done, I would very much like to see it.
    – zzz
    Aug 23, 2011 at 22:23
  • I think Christian's point is correct. I'll edit my answer.
    – user9290
    Aug 24, 2011 at 0:45
  • I also have data side-by-side the backups on the same partition; I suppose I can leave them there for the time being. It's over a terabyte of used space so I don't have anywhere I can move it to wipe that old drive. Aug 24, 2011 at 7:51
  • This won't work well on Lion - there isn't a nice tool that doesn't care if you are deleting your Mac's backups or another Mac's backups, as long as the drive is currently the destination for your mac so it has delete permissions arranged.
    – bmike
    Jul 5, 2012 at 20:12
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I used Path Finder, the alternative Finder app. I connected my mac directly to my Time Capsule via Ethernet (faster than wifi). Then in Path Finder, I selected the Time Machine disk, selected the sparsebundle, and then chose "Delete" from the Commands menu. It took about 10 minutes to delete a sparsebundle that was about 250GB.

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