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I am trying to recover about 162 GB of drive space by deleting device backups from ~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup on a MBP running El Capitan (10.11.6.) To be safe I dragged the Backup folder to a folder I created on a NAS, thinking this would simply copy the folder and its contents over. Instead the folder disappeared from the local drive and was nowhere to be found on the NAS.

I think I understand why the drag operation failed without warning*. But the problem I face now is that I have no way to reference the Backup folder in order to actually delete it. Thus 162 GB are occupied with apparently no way for me to free them up. With about 2 GB of free space on that system drive the machine is crawling.

Any thoughts on how I might free up that space without reformatting the drive would be much appreciated.

*This NAS holds Time Machine backups of two MPBs, as well as a couple of shares used for temporary backup storage. If memory serves, rather than mounting the share properly, and accessing it in Finder from the Shared or Devices section of the sidebar to set the drag destination, I created a folder, possibly inside the folder containing the TM backup, and used that as the drag destination. The "copy" was instantaneous (a dead giveaway that something was wrong), and then I later could not find the folder I had created, nor the Backup folder I had copied. Dumb mistake, likely due to sleep deprivation, or lame human multitasking.

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The fact that the copy was instant would lead me to believe that the source drive and destination drive are the same. So I'm guessing that the Backup folder is actually somewhere on the MBP drive.

You could open terminal and do something like

sudo find ~ -name "3d0d7e5fb2ce288813306e4d4636395e047a3d28"

That would search your home folder for the backup file for the sms database. I just picked a random backup file that everyone should have :) as a way of looking for iTunes backups. I limited to the home folder try to speed up the search, but you could do

sudo find / -name "3d0d7e5fb2ce288813306e4d4636395e047a3d28"

and walk away and give it some time. Or keep subbing out different search locations like /Library, etc.

Future compatibility note: The different file permissions in macOS Mojave would likely prevent this from working. But in El Cap I think it should work.

  • Thanks @jay_w, it's a good and obvious insight that source and target volumes would be the same if the copy took no time. I hadn't thought of it (probably because I was just so so sure that I had source and target volumes in different windows, that it wasn't that particular human error.) But sudo find /Volumes/Macintosh\ SSD (the same volume as the source of the drag) turned up nothing. – rtanikel Mar 1 at 14:17
  • I went back and tried to recreate my steps (i.e. the wrong way): My NAS is a Drobo 5N connected by wired Ethernet. I confirmed the connection using Drobo Dashboard software. I opened a Finder window to /Volumes/Drobo5N/dra184002300105/1/Backup_TM (Backup_TM is the share name, and inside it the TM sparsebundle lives.) Within that I created a folder. Although Finder shows it, the folder really is not there. Finder shows no content (not even the sparsebundle) unless I access via Devices and find the same folder. Still, it let me drag from ~/Library and those backup files are gone from ~/Library! – rtanikel Mar 1 at 14:51
  • If you type ls -a and then a space and then Drag Backup_TM to the Terminal window to fill in the path, and then press enter, does it show you any content there? Also, if you go via the Devices and find the folder, and do the same ls -a and drag the folder, does that change the results? (Does it change the file path that shows up in Terminal also?) – jay_w Mar 2 at 17:13
  • Hi @jay_w, ls -aF /Volumes/Backup_TM results in ` ./ ../ .DS_Store .TemporaryItems/ .VolumeIcon.icns* ._.TemporaryItems* ._.apdisk .apdisk MacBook Pro (3).sparsebundle/` The .TemporaryItems folder has a folder within, but is ultimately empty. – rtanikel Mar 4 at 4:31

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