Time Machine continues to backup excluded folders

I just realised that my Time Machine backup is backing up folders that are in the Exclude list! I would like to preserve all the other data but remove the folders in the Exclude list from all current and future backups. Any ideas on how I may do this and why Time Machine is acting this way?

As an aside, it was while digging around for help on this issue that I discovered the sad news of James Pond’s demise. He ran the excellent Pondini website, which was the definitive resource for Time Machine related issues.

I would try removing the exceptions from the Time Machine settings and set it up again.


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+1 for setting up time machine’s exceptions again. Sometimes a plist goes weird and a reset might help here.

Thank you guys for the advice. I removed the exceptions and reset Time Machine by deleting the /Library/Preferences/com.apple.TimeMachine.plist according to this guide.

I am now noticing some strange and disconcerting behaviour.

  1. The excluded folders are getting sporadically omitted from the backups taken since the reset. For example, two sets of backups seem to have been taken for 11:36 pm last night (I did the reset around 7:40 pm and kept the Time Machine drive as well as the power plugged in.) One set excludes the folders that are to be excluded and the other doesn’t.

  2. After doing the reset I tried to remove earlier versions of excluded files from the most recent backup prior to the reset as per the instructions that @WayneG linked to above. This doesn’t seem to have worked as I expected, in that, the folder in question still appears in many older backups (though not all) and can be seen when I enter Time Machine.

If Time Machine is not honouring exclusions then I worry that it might be messing around with files that I expect to be backed up too. I would greatly appreciate some help in navigating this. Thanks!

If I understand you correctly, you are concerned that, since TM is not excluding correctly, it may not be including correctly as well. Is that right?

Yes @jec0047, that is a worry.

It’s really hard (at least I find it so) to understand what you’re looking at when you “Enter Time Machine”. In all probability there are one or more local snapshots on your machine and it’s difficult to tell whether the GUI is showing you those or the contents of your TM disc (in fact, I don’t know if there’s any way to know).

I recommend you take a look at the terminal command tmutil. In particular, in your case, the “isexcluded” option will tell you whether a particular item is included or excluded.

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I’ll check tmutil out, thanks! Is there a way to delete all previous backups of a particular folder via tmutil? I’d like to delete all the backed up data of the folders whose exclusions were not being honored. I’m not sure if the Delete all backups of [item] option, accessible after entering Time Machine is working. Also, frustratingly, it doesn’t show any progress indicator or message about the task being completed.

I don’t see a verb to accomplish that directly. In Terminal type “man tmutil” to see what tmutil can do (you can also type that into Google or DuckDuckGo).

BTW I recommend creating a copy of your hdd or ssd before fiddling with tmutil.

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Yes, I have a SuperDuper! and CrashPlan backup. I have to nuke and pave my Mac anyways so do you think it best to eventually start over with the Time Machine backup too? I guess I’ll lose the versions when I do though. Bummer :-/

No, I don’t necessarily think you have to nuke & pave your time machine backup. I suggested making a separate backup in case you inadvertently mess up your time machine backup with tmutil.