We have 20 or so backups on a 3TB drive. We need to go into each backup and delete some specific folders from each.

Attempting to do so via Finder brings up "backup items cannot be modified". We tried to modify the permissions which took a long time but this didn't help.

macOS Catalina 10.15.7


1 Answer 1


Golden rule: Never try to delete Time Machine from Finder.
If you're lucky it won't let you. If you're unlucky it will - & that's no end of trouble.

To delete the entire history of a file or folder, first select it in Finder then from the Time Machine menu bar item, select Enter Time Machine

You can then right click your unwanted item & select "Delete all Backups of…"

enter image description here

If the history goes back a long way, this may take quite some time. Be patient.

  • Perfect. Many thanks. We don't intend to use in TimeMachine again, only to send the drive to a client, although we've opted to instead encrypt the drive first, then copy over the files we need.
    – HippoDuck
    Commented Sep 14, 2021 at 15:01
  • 1
    @Giacomo1968 - thank you for the vote of confidence ;) but I don't really have a great deal of knowledge on the new APFS Time Machine structure. I see you're picking up some good info on your linked question, though. Wish you luck:)
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Nov 27, 2021 at 11:20
  • 2
    You can read more about the specifics of being unable to delete files from APFS backups here: eclecticlight.co/2022/07/19/… Commented Jan 20, 2023 at 0:08
  • 3
    With encrypted drives, you can only delete backups with tmutils To do so, find backups: $ tmutil listbackups Delete desired backup: $ sudo tmutil delete -p BACKUPPATH With BACKUPPATH = /Volumes/...
    – vintagexav
    Commented Feb 20, 2023 at 16:02
  • @vintagexav Does that still work? See apple.stackexchange.com/questions/465301/…
    – Barmar
    Commented Oct 12, 2023 at 20:09

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