I have a hard disk which I don't want to use as a time machine anymore but I do want to delete files on there but I get:

The operation can’t be completed because backup items can’t be modified.

I disabled SIP but it still doesn't let me.

My goal is to delete files from this directory that I don't care about and archive it on Amazon Glacier or B2. I do not care for any other system files on there apart from the actual user data. I have nearly 50 backup snapshots on there and I can't seem to delete any files in there.

Is there a way for me to grant myself full access and just tell MacOS to give me full access.

  • When you say “I have a hard disk...” do you mean an external hard disk or the built in (internal) hard disk? Can you provide a directory listing of the folder you want to delete. Use the Terminal command ls -la and post the output to your question.
    – Allan
    Jun 15, 2020 at 9:17
  • To clarify, you can’t just wipe the drive? erasing the filesystem with all the protections takes about 30 seconds and one line command. This has nothing to do with SIP or even root, there are extended protections and ACL that take a lot of time and effort to surgically roll back for thousands of directories.
    – bmike
    Nov 12, 2020 at 10:29

1 Answer 1


Time Machine is very much an "all or nothing" black box, with very little customization or control.

Files inside one dated backup folder may actually just be duplicate catalogue entries to the same data as the same 'file' in another dated backup folder. That's why unchanged files don't take up more space each backup, and why TM folders are a huge mass of interconnected trouble.

Deleting files from one snapshot probably won't save you any space at all, until you've deleted them from all of the snapshots, so that all catalog entries to the file data are removed.

Normally, the way to delete files or folders from the entire backup is to do so from within the TM application itself. Right-click on the files, and select the option to delete.

My advice is to copy one snapshot of the files that you want to keep to another disk, and then delete the whole backup (or erase the disk).

Oh, and don't forget to re-enable SIP! ;-)

  • 1
    The description of links you give is for soft links - TM uses hard links so they are not pointers to the 'real' one, they all are the same file so it does not matter which one you delete it will take space until you delete the last copy. The general overview here is correct (and the copy one snapshot only works as they are hard links)
    – mmmmmm
    Nov 12, 2020 at 10:17
  • Your explanation deserves a proper answer if we can’t find a duplicate question to close this whole question @mmmmmm
    – bmike
    Nov 12, 2020 at 10:27
  • @mmmmmm Well, yes, I was trying to convey that they are catalogue entries pointing to the same data, in a non-technical way. I'll see if I can revise it.
    – benwiggy
    Nov 12, 2020 at 15:16

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .