I'm trying to move some files out of my Time Machine backup to a new location on the external drive (outside of the Time Machine folder) that is in use for Time Machine. I want to do this (as opposed to just copying from the original) primarily to retain all the hard links, not only between files under the directory I am moving, but also to previous backups, so I only maintain a single copy of everything. Also, I don't have enough free space to make an additional actual copy! But when I try to move the folder from Finder, I get the error: "The operation can’t be completed because backup items can’t be modified."

When I try to do it from the command line using mv I get the error: mv: rename [...] to [...]: Operation not permitted

I read this question where in an answer it was explained that the "bypass" utility supposedly "allows you to supply a command and argument to completely bypass the access restrictions."

However, while I found this to work with the rm command, it failed with the same error as above when trying to move a directory.

Update: It appears that if I type the full path to both the source and destination, then it works. But even when it is outside the backup directory, the system still somehow knows it is a "backup" file, causing trouble trying to use it as a normal file. How can I get rid of the "backup" bit or whatever that is making the system think it is a backup?

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    This is not a safe thing to do. Any modifications to the backup files & folder structure are likely to render the backup corrupt. If you make links to the backup files & folders, and modify those, you are modifying the backup files & folders, because they're the same files & folders, just linked under a different name/parent folder. If you need to modify it, you need to make a copy. Commented Jan 23, 2017 at 4:38
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    Keep in mind that TM may eventually notice that files from its backup have disappeared and then backup them again. Not sure if that's the case, but I'd consider it possible. Maybe you could explain what you hope to gain from moving them outside? Perhaps there's another way. Commented Mar 10, 2017 at 9:48

1 Answer 1


If you list a file inside the TM backup with the Terminal command ls -l@, you'll see that it has extended attributes:

$ ls -l@ "iTunes Library Genius.itdb"
-rw-r--r--@ 22 admin  501  94208 Sep 17  2013 iTunes Library Genius.itdb
    com.apple.metadata:_kTimeMachineNewestSnapshot     50 
    com.apple.metadata:_kTimeMachineOldestSnapshot     50 

I guess you'll have to remove those from the files that you moved outside the TM backup folder. I haven't tried that myself, though, as I do not want to mess with my backups :)

To remove these attributes, use the attr command with the "c" option, like this:

xattr -c /path/to/file

You may have to use the bypass command for that again.

Let us know whether that works.

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