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Typically, Finder displays the Eject symbol next to an external storage device, and an inverted version during mouseover, like this:

enter image description here

but today, Finder displayed a Refresh symbol, and an X during mouseover, like this:

enter image description here

The storage device was my Time Machine backup and was connected via USB. The device appeared normal in Disk Utility. I did not interact with the symbols, but ejected it using Disk Utility. After replugging the device, the unusual symbols did not reappear.

Can someone link me to documentation regarding the meaning of this (preferably on Apple's Support site)?

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I can't find a support document that directly addresses your question, but I'm pretty sure that those icons represent a disk that is in use and can't be ejected.

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Agreeing with previous answer from @calion, adding link to Apple's published System Icon standards:

https://developer.apple.com/macos/human-interface-guidelines/icons-and-images/system-icons/

This means Finder will not simply let you "eject" that removable media as it is currently in use - if you were to look in your Time Machine preference pane in sysprefs, you'd most likely see a backup in mid-progress.

Given that you are uncertain of this, I strongly recommend that you change your Time Machine prefs: select the checkbox for "Show Time Machine in menu bar" so that you have an ever-present telltale there for when Time Machine is actively backing up.

  • Was already enabled. TM backup was not in progress. – jsejcksn Mar 22 '18 at 16:46
  • Apologies. In the past, I've used the app WhatsOpen to trace which app has files on either a given volume or in a given directory (I no longer remember the relevant Terminal commands to do this there) but clearly that's harder to discover after the fact. Might show up in console logs. – GerardFalla Mar 22 '18 at 17:02
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    I agree that the Stop Progress icon would seem to indicate a process, but the "Refresh" symbol in my example isn't on that page, so I'm still searching for that one. – jsejcksn Mar 22 '18 at 17:08
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    Hm…I was assuming that that "refresh" symbol was animated, indicating a process in progress. If that's not the case…yeah, I share your confusion. – Calion Mar 29 '18 at 13:52

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