How to delete the horrid sparsebundle from your Time Capsule

Short version: Here’s how to actually delete a sparsebundle Time Machine backup file from a Time Capsule — use Windows.

Long version: We have an Apple Time Capsule here at home and it’s almost always been an incredibly great wifi router with built in storage. The kids, especially, benefit from having all of their laptop files auto-magically backed up via the Time Machine app without me needing to do much of anything. Sweet.

But even a big, fat Time Capsule hard drive eventually gets full. I was looking at the drive on our capsule tonight via the Apple Airport Utility. Each computer backup shows up as a single file that starts with the computer’s name, adds a bunch of junk and ends with the special file format, .sparsebundle. Under the drive tab, there’s just one option to delete and it deletes everything on the disk. That’s not what I wanted to do. I wanted to keep the kids’ laptop backups, stored in the wacky sparsebundle format, but delete some extra folders and an old backup of a computer we don’t use anymore.

So I flipped over to the Finder and down in the “Shared” section I could click through to see the full contents of my Time Capsule’s hard drive. The old sparsebundle was right there so I right clicked on it and choose “delete.” Super. A dialog box asks if I want to permanently delete. I click ok. Then nothing — scrolling bar of nothing that will literally stay up for hours with nothing happening. Yuck.

I tried two solutions I found online but neither worked. One was to right-click on the sparsebundle, choose show package contents, go inside the folder called “bands” and delete bunches of the files in there. Nope — same freeze up.

Another online suggestion recommended doing the show package contents trick and then right clicking on the file called “token,” going to the “get info” screen and unchecking the “locked” check mark. But my token lock box was already unchecked. No dice.

Eventually I found the solution to deleting the unwanted sparsebundle by reading an Apple support board post. The trick is to use Windows. Or, in my case, use VMWare running Windows 8. Open the Windows Explorer and navigate to your Time capsule via the IP address — in the address bar you just type \\ and then the address which for most folks starts with 192.168 and then has two more bits, like A dialog box asks you to log in. I have a password on my Time Capsule but no log in name. I just put anything into the log in name field and typed in my password. Once I was in, all the sparsebundles were displayed and a right click and delete worked in under a minute. So awesome:

using windows to delete a sparsebundle

UPDATE: In the comments, there’s also a way to force the Finder to connect to the Time Capsule the same way Windows connects via Microsoft’s SMB (Server Message Block) protocol. No Windows required. I haven’t tried it myself, however.


  • kgelner

    Like you, I ran into the “cannot delete sparse bundle” issue too.

    But I’m pretty sure you don’t need Windows. Instead, from the Mac in Finder, Click on the “Go” menu, then “Connect to Server”. In the box that pops up enter “smb://” or whatever the IP address of your Time Capsule is. It may also ask for a login, enter whatever you used to set up the time capsule… this is mounting the disk the same way Windows is and I think has greater ability to delete things from the drive.

  • Wow! That worked like a charm! I’ve been hunting for that solution. Thanks @kgelner:disqus

  • Sadly I get “Folder can’t be found” when trying to use Finder and the IP address reported by the Air Port utility. I wonder if Apple changed anything since you posted that?

  • David Henderson

    The windows method worked great for me. Unfortunately the suggestion to use finder to connect to the time capsule via SMB gave the same result as trying to delete the sparsebundle in the other ways mentioned – i.e. “the scrolling bar of nothing”. It may be that I just didn’t give it enough time but after trying for hours using other methods was a bit fed up so tried the windows method – which did work and at least gave a real time acknowledgement that at least something was actually being deleted! Never thought I would see the day – a windows OS proving more useful than a Mac OS – and on a Mac device too!! But the opening line does appear correct – to delete a sparsebundle backup of a Mac on time capsule – use windows! Oh the ignominy of it all. :(

  • Rynnix

    The force connect through Finder trick just worked for me, quickly and cleanly on the first try. I was looking for a workaround to reconnect to my suddenly (and mysteriously) missing backup drive, a drive I’ve been using successfully for years, mind you. Everything else I tried led to spinning wheels of despair and broken dreams. This little trick, however, restored my faith in humanity for the evening. Thanks for the suggestions, folks.

  • Tobey Llop

    Thanks for the discussion. Windows also takes a long time, but at least it shows progress!

  • Shazam Mac

    rename sparsebundle. Change the extention from “xyz.sparsebundle” to “xyz.s” then delete the file. This worked for me.

  • Brian

    Time Machine was complaining that it could not delete a sparse bundle that had become unusuable, but the appropriate command in Terminal did the job right away and the backup is currently being prepared (I trust it will complete by the end of the week but you never know with TM especially over a network). The command to use is rm -rf followed by the filename. Here rm is the Unix command for ‘remove’, and r and f are options: r says to do it recursively so it applies to all of the files and f stands for ‘forced’ which means prompts as to whether you really want to delete a file are bypassed.

    Getting the file name is tricker: cd means ‘change directory’ and you should start off with cd /Volumes which will get you the list of volumes, and your Time Capsule or other backup disc should be among them. At each step, you can use ls to list the contents of a directory, and cd to change to a specific subdirectory, and finally when you are in the right directory the file you want to remove will be listed and you can do an rm on it.

    Progress on my network backup: 919 MB have been backed up so far, so the process seems to be working.