OSX Time Machine Backups

Going to get my OSX-geek on for a few minutes. So, feel free to ignore this.

However, if you’re running OSX and using Time Machine and, if, for example, you need to delete some old copies of backups to free up space, there’s a way to do it. I don’t think it’s well-documented though.

While it is possible to have Time Machine simply ignore any give directory, which, of course, eliminates the need to go in and tell TM to delete old backups of it, this isn’t an option in managed OSX environments where a Time Machine backup policy is enforced through Open Directory, Workgroup Manager, etc.

There may also be cases where one needs to free up some space with little risk of loss by deleting older, unneeded backups.

First, the setup:

  • Open Finder.
  • Check on the window’s button bar for an Actions button. Naturally, it’s not labeled as such, but it’s a small gear with a small option button next to it.
  • If the Actions button isn’t there, right-click on the button bar of the finder window then click Customize Toolbar. In the upper right corner of the sheet that appears, there will be an Action button (labeled as such, too). Drag it to a suitable place on the toolbar then click Done.

To delete old backups:

  • Start Time Machine. You may use the Time Machine app in the Applications folder or click the Time Machine icon on your menu bar (if it’s enabled) then click Enter Time Machine.
  • Once Time Machine starts, use the Time Machine Finder windows to navigate to the object and time that you wish to delete. For example, I keep some virtual machines in /Users/Shared/Virtual Machines for which I only need to keep about a week’s worth of backups. So I click through until I’m in that directory.
  • Adjust the Time Machine scroller on the right side of the screen to the date where you want to begin deletion.
  • Click the file or folder you wish to purge.
  • Now click the Action button on the Toolbar then click either “Delete Backup” to delete only the single backup or click “Delete all backups of…” to delete, well, every backup of that file or folder.
  • Click OK when prompted.
  • You’ll need to have administrative access to apply the change.

Now, just wait. You can click Cancel to return to your desktop, but Time Machine will happily start purging old backups of whichever object you specified. Depending on the volume of the data and type of Time Machine backup drive, it could take just a few minutes or even a few hours.

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