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I'd like to delete a file from my Time Machine backups, but there seems to be no option to do so in the Big Sur version of Time Machine.

I go to the Time Machine menu and select "Enter Time Machine". Then I see the view with the stack of windows. I browse to a file and select it. Now I want to delete it so it doesn't exist and take up space in backups. There is no option to delete it - either the action menu in the toolbar, or the control-click context menu.

How do I delete a file from Time Machine backups? There used to be a way to do this.

(I'd take a screenshot, but the key shortcuts for screenshots don't work in Time Machine. Not sure if this is just a Big Sur thing or if that's always the case.)

Update:

I should mention I'm using APFS for my Time Machine volume. That seems to be relevant. Also, I contacted Apple support about deleting entire snapshots (slightly different goal than the one here in this question). They said you can't do it anymore. It seems like there's some bugs here, because I have a "Move to Trash" option if I control-click one of my backups. It seems to work initially but then the backup comes back.

I don't like losing this much control over my files. I may look for another backup solution.

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The history deletion and erasure tools are removed from Time Machine graphical interface on Big Sur.

If I had an HFS+ formatted drive and I needed to try and excise data surgically, I would find a Mac with an OS from before the deletion tools were removed. For APFS destinations, I’m not aware of any easy workaround.

At work, we typically take a drive out of rotation if it has problematic files and archive it under physical security until we erase it. Adding a new clean destination then erasing the old drive is how we are recycling or reclaiming drives now.

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You can't delete individual files or folders from Big Sur's Time Machine. And using the command line tmutil does not help.

Big Sur uses the new Time Machine to APFS (TMA). TMA is very different to the old TMH (TM to HFS+).

TMH used hard linked folders to avoid storing the same folder and its files many times. These hard links were the main cause of corruption or inconsistencies with TMH backup.

TMA uses an APFS snapshot for each backup. This is proving far more reliable. But the downside is that you can no longer delete individual files or folders. You can delete whole snapshots.

For a more in-depth discussion of TMA, have a read of the many blogs posts from Howard Oakley, starting with Time Machine: 1 How it works, or fails to.

I have many large folders for which I want a backup, but don't need lots of history. TM has never been a good fit for this and TMA's lack of folder delete makes it worse. I exclude them from my TM backup, and use Chronosync to backup just the current version of the folders.

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I was also trying to search for the gear icon and couldn't find one. Instead click on the Top level of your HD and right click then select "Delete Backup". Hopefully this deletes everything for that date.

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  • Interesting. You have a "Delete Backup" option there? Mine says "Move to Trash", and it doesn't work! Which filesystem do you use for Time Machine? I'm going to update my question to mention that I'm using APFS. That seems to be relevant.
    – Rob N
    Dec 17, 2020 at 13:52

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