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So my mac was acting very slow and so I backed up all my files to an external hard drive using time machine and then proceeded to restart the entire mac. Now that I plug in my hard drive with my back up I dont really want to put it all back since my computer is running so much faster. My question is then how do i delete some files on that back up. Every time i press delete it says files can not be deleted from this back up time machine?

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    Deleting 1 file from a specific backup can corrupt the entire backup. Keep that in mind. Dec 31, 2017 at 2:24

3 Answers 3

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You need to 'Enter Time Machine' by clicking on the menu bar icon that looks like a clock face. One of the options is to enter time machine. This transforms your screen temporarily into a time machine window. From there you can select and delete time machine files.

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  • From there you can select and delete time machine files. Sorry, I must be missing something... I can select the file(s), but I don't see any way to delete it/them. MacOS 10.14, and 1.5 years after your answer, so maybe this is no longer possible?
    – Dan
    Mar 26, 2019 at 15:29
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    is there an icon that looks like a gear on each backup pane. If you click on this icone it should show you an option to delete.
    – Natsfan
    Mar 26, 2019 at 15:53
  • Many thanks for the speedy reply. Must have changed with an OS update... i only see open, restore, get info, quick look, and copy (same as the right click options). No delete :-(
    – Dan
    Mar 26, 2019 at 16:12
  • I think I discovered where the issue is... I have my USB hard drive Time Machine, and then there is the "local" TM which (I think?) is buffering local backups until the next time I connect the USB TM. I was entering TM (clock icon) without the USB drive plugged in. I wanted to delete a screencast that I forgot to stop (11.1GB file on Desktop), no reason to fill up the USB drive. But that doesn't work. Once I plugged in the USB TM, I could select "Delete". Hope that makes sense? Many thanks again for replying!
    – Dan
    Mar 26, 2019 at 20:32
  • great. Glad you got it fixed.
    – Natsfan
    Mar 26, 2019 at 21:01
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A straight deletion will only get rid of the file selected in the individual backup you're addressing. However, when in Time Machine, right-clicking on a file will show an option to delete all instances of the selected file in the current and other Time Machine backups.

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  • Thanks for the answer, and upvoted... but... ` right-clicking on a file will show an option to delete all instances of the selected file in the current and other Time Machine backups`: I must be missing something... I can select the file(s), but I don't see any way to delete it/them. MacOS 10.14, and 1.5 years after your answer, so maybe this is no longer possible?
    – Dan
    Mar 26, 2019 at 15:29
  • @Dan I just tried it (macOS High Sierra 10.13.6, updated), and right-clicking offers me a "delete" selection. You must be viewing the file from within Time Machine, and not in the Finder. Mar 26, 2019 at 19:59
  • thanks very much for replying. I think I discovered where the issue is... so I have my hard drive (USB) TIme Machine, and then the "local" TM which (I think?) is buffering local backups until the next time I connect the USB TM. I was entering TM (clock icon) without the USB drive plugged in. I wanted to delete a screencast that I forgot to stop (11.1GB file on Desktop), no reason to fill up the USB drive. But that doesn't work. Once I plugged in the USB TM, I could select "Delete". Hope that makes sense? Many thanks again for replying.
    – Dan
    Mar 26, 2019 at 20:30
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    For others who found their way here, I don't think this is possible on APFS external drives. Sep 6, 2021 at 0:10
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    @RushilSrivastava that is correct and it is due to APFS technology, not Time Machine per se. Any APFS snapshot will be ready-only. source. Apr 11, 2022 at 8:06
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Right click, then delete all instances used to work in earlier macOS versions but sadly it no longer does in macOS 14 Sonoma. Now, the only right click options you have are restore, copy, and info. Delete is gone.

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I hate when developers just silently break a useful function. Then you update your OS hoping for a better OS and suddenly it's worse.

The easiest thing to do is probably to create another backup and delete the entire old one via Terminal and tmutil.

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