Time Machine: How to Remove Local Snapshots

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My MacBook Pro is equipped with a 1TB Solid State Disk (SSD), which I figured would offer plenty of space for months to come. When I decided to migrate from Aperture to the new Photos app, I took a close look at my storage requirements, knowing that my photos alone could take up ~400GB of disk space.

I clicked on the Apple logo on the upper right corner, About this Mac and then on Storage. To my surprise, half of the disk space was taken by “Backups“, which are so-called local snapshots created by Time Machine.

How to Remove Local Snapshots Created by Time Machine
Backups consume almost 50% of my disk drive

 Time Machine’s Local Snapshots

According to Apple’s Knowledge Base:

Local snapshots complement regular Time Machine backups that are stored on your external disk or Time Capsule by creating a local backup on your startup disk when your normal backup drive is not available. This provides you with a “safety net” for times when you might be away from your external backup disk or Time Capsule but accidentally delete a file. When your normal backup is available again, Time Machine copies the local snapshot contents from your startup disk to your normal backup drive.

I updated my Mac Mini running OS X Server lately, which serves as the backup destination for Time Machine. After the upgrade, the Mini renamed itself to Mini (2) and thus Time Machine on my MacBook couldn’t find the backup destination anymore. As a result, Time Machine hasn’t been able to backup for about 10 days. I figured because of that, the local snapshots were piling up but should clear once Time Machine completes a successful backup cycle. So my troubleshooting strategy was taking the following steps:

  1. Let Time Machine complete a full backup cycle
  2. Disable and then re-enable local snapshots using the following command line: sudo tmutil disablelocal && sudo tmutil enablelocal

Neither worked but I knew that:

  1. I just upgraded OS X on my MacBook Pro to the latest Beta
  2. Messing around with my huge Photos Library somehow caused the file system of my disk to get corrupted and I had to repair it twice

How to Remove Local Snapshots Folder Manually

Either of those two events could have caused the local snapshots folder to become corrupted, so I decided to clean it up (meaning trash it) manually. Disabling local snapshots leaves a folder called .MobileBackups.Trash at the root of your boot volume and in my case it contained 455G worth of backups.

How to Remove Local Snapshots Created by Time Machine
.MobileBackups.Trash folder

I moved the folder to my Desktop via Terminal (sudo mv .MobileBackups.trash /Useres/mk/Desktop/bla), dragged it into the Trash and then emptied the Trash to get rid of the snapshots. Emptying the Trash may complain about a number of files being in use, you can just skip them, reboot and try again.

Under normal circumstances, local snapshots shouldn’t take up 50% of disk space, but something led to abnormal circumstances in this particular case, I suppose.

How to Remove Local Snapshots Created by Time Machine
Available disk space after deleting local snapshots

After emptying the Trash, don’t forget to make sure you re-enabled both Time Machine and local snapshots. Not having good backups is worse than temporarily running out of disk space. For more on my backup strategy, see My Backup Strategy – Part 3.

18 thoughts on “Time Machine: How to Remove Local Snapshots”

  1. I was able to delete my local snapshots from the terminal with this command, which lists all snapshots, extracts the dates, then deletes them by date. It allows new ones to continue being created, but temporarily clears them”

    tmutil listlocalsnapshots / |sed -e’s/com.apple.TimeMachine.//’|xargs -L 1 tmutil deletelocalsnapshots

    Reply
    • Noel could you break this down for a none coder….I was hoping to find a solution that automated this process as now I have to delete these snapshots 1 by 1 using the date…

      This only became a problem for me (amongst other things) after updating my 2013 Macbook Pro to Catalina.

      When I tried your command line as typed….I got the following:
      sed: 1: “’s/com.apple.TimeMach …”: invalid command code ?

      Reply
    • This did not work for me. I got the following error:
      sed: 1: “’s/com.apple.TimeMach …”: invalid command code ?

      Reply
      • If you copy and paste the above line from this page, the single quote character (ASCII 39) is replaced by what seems to be an Acute Accent character (ASCII 239), the command line will not be able to parse that correctly. You will need to manually replace the two accents by single quotes

        Reply
  2. Your article is very informative. Unfortunately, I am getting source drive errors in com.apple.TimeMachine.localsnapshots volume. I tried using “sudo tmutil deletelocalsnapshots $date”, but there are a couple of dates that simply will not delete. They always reappear when I “sudo tmutil listlocalsnapshots $volume”. Is there any way to “force” these to be deleted? I also tried thinlocalsnapshots, but that did not seem to help either. Meanwhile, trying another backup…

    Reply
  3. PS:
    nearly half of my drive space (37GB) is taken up by “Other Users” — though I am currently the only user — and my wife’s user folder is only 9GB.

    Any idea what could be occupying other 28GB? Might that be Time Machine?

    Reply
    • Hi Eric,

      Time Machine keeps multiple copies of changed data, so you can, for instance, restore a copy of the file from exactly two months ago. In other words, the backup of your wife’s data contains likely multiple versions of files that have changed over the past months. As a result, the backup is often larger than the current data.

      Reply
  4. Running High Sierra on MacBook Pro, I pasted your initial command into terminal:

    “sudo tmutil disablelocal && sudo tmutil enablelocal”

    — and got the reply,
    “disablelocal: Unrecognized verb.”

    Any suggestions?

    Reply
    • Hi Eric,

      It seems like newer versions of tmutil cannot disable local snapshots anymore, you can just delete them – see

      listlocalsnapshotdates [mount_point]
      List the creation dates of all local Time Machine snapshots.

      Specify mount_point to list snapshot creation dates from a specific volume.

      Listed dates are formatted YYYY-MM-DD-HHMMSS.

      deletelocalsnapshots date
      Delete all local Time Machine snapshots for the specified date (formatted YYYY-MM-DD-HHMMSS).

      Reply
  5. Running Yosemite macbook pro
    When I typed in the terminal command (correctly) I got this reply…
    sudo: unable to stat /etc/sudoers: Permission denied
    sudo: no valid sudoers sources found, quitting
    Musics-MacBook-Pro:~ lap2pro$
    Any suggestions?
    Thanks!
    Bill

    Reply
  6. I disabled and then re-enabled local snapshots since then I now get a “Your system has run out of application memory” when I’m working on my computer. I never received message before and now I am unable to use my Adobe applications without getting this error. The only thing that has changed was messing around in the terminal. Have you ever heard of this happening?

    Reply
  7. hi, i tried every possible way you described, but the strange thing is, that i am not able to type in my password in the terminal when i try the sudo tmutil command…. please help me :D

    Reply
    • What do you mean by “not able to type in my password”. If you mean that you don’t see any characters when you type your password, then don’t worry, that’s by design. Even though you don’t see anything you type, just enter your password and press enter. It doesn’t print your password for security reasons :)

      Reply

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