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How to clear unwanted files from Time Machine backups

If you've got a file or two you want to remove from your Time Machine backups, it is possible to do so in the Time Machine interface.

Topher Kessler

August 8, 2013 12:21 PM PDT

Apple's Time Machine feature is really a full-system backup routine that may maintain hourly backups within the past day, daily backups within the last week, and weekly backups as long as there is space inside the drive to keep them, and works on the feature called "hard linking" to share with you unchanged data of previous backup files with new files copied on the backups. This routine should ensure that even with a relatively small backup drive (at the very least the size of the collective data you're backing up), you should have ample system restore points and access to prior versions of files. In this way, Time Machine can maintain extensive snapshots of the system after a while.

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However, copying large data sets cuts down on the number of backups a reduced drive can take, when you want to keep more Time Machine backups available, you don't desire to keep burning large and unnecessary files, such as a copy of the movie you don't plan to watch again.

Deleting all backups of a file in Time Machine

Simply right-click a file in Time Machine and choose the option to delete all backups from it.

(Credit: Screenshot by Topher Kessler/CNET)

Other types of such files can be quite a virtual-machine image for programs like VMWare Fusion or Parallels Desktop, that may sometimes be many gigabytes in size, or large downloads you could have removed but that got duplicated. (To save space on the Time Machine drive, I recommend excluding the Downloads folder at your residence directory from the Time Machine backup routine.)

Even in the event you exclude a file from Time Machine, prior backups than it will still remain until a push them out of the Time Machine drive.

Instead of deleting the file from each backup manually, you'll be able to remove all instances of it immediately from Time Machine in case you wish. To do this, simply go for the file's location and invoke the Time Machine interface (done from the Time Machine menu). When the star-field view of Time Machine appears, locate the file inside foremost window, right-click it, and select the option to "Delete All Backups of [filename]" and confirm the action.

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