If you’re running Lion on a portable Mac, you might notice that your hard disk space declines with every passing day, not because you have so many things on your Mac but because Lion is continuously taking local backups.
According to Apple:

“Time Machine keeps local snapshots as space permits.”

That’s all great no? Well not really as my backups have swollen to over 40 GB.
What makes this all worse is the fact that you have no control over this process what so ever! You can not say how long he may keep the backups, how much space he can use and you can’t delete the folder as it is hidden and secured.
Lucky you can delete the folder with a little extra help and you can disable Local “Snapshots” with a simple Terminal command.

As a Lion user you can see how big your backup has become simply by going to “About this Mac” and then click “More Info”. the screen you get looks like this:

As you see, backups take up 46,32GB on my Mac

This feature sure is handy when you’re abroad and you accidentally deleted a few files and want to put them back.
But on the other hand, the feature also devours space, and I don’t want that (even though I get it back when I need it).

Apparently there’s a folder on your Macintosh HD that hosts all those backups, it’s called “.MobileBackups” which is hidden by default. This folder is only accessible by the system itself.

I tried everything from renaming and deleting the folder with Terminal, but every time I got the warning that I do not have enough privileges to do so.

I looked further and realized I have one app that can delete locked files from my Trash, the app is called CleanMyMac. It also has a function “Quick Erase Files” and I decided to give it a try using a Terminal command I made hidden files visible:

defaults write com.apple.finder AppleShowAllFiles TRUE; killall Finder

To undo, repeat the same command but change TRUE to FALSE.

I dropped the folder “.MobileBackups” onto the “Quick Erase Files” in CleanMyMac and clicked Erase.
Boom! Suddenly my hard disk space grew from 175 to 225 GB.

If you want to disable snapshots and local backups completely, fire up Terminal, type the following command and your password and they’re disabled!

sudo tmutil disablelocal

If you want the feature back, change disable with enable.

Here is the text that Apple provides us with:

If you have a portable computer, Time Machine keeps a copy of everything on your computer’s internal disk, and saves hourly “snapshots” of files that have changed. Since Time Machine stores the snapshots on your computer’s internal drive, they are called “local snapshots” to distinguish them from backups stored on an external backup drive.

Local snapshots are periodically condensed into daily or weekly snapshots to minimize the space used on your disk. If your internal disk is low on space, Time Machine stops creating new snapshots, and some or all existing snapshots may be removed to make space available for applications to use. If sufficient disk space becomes available again, Time Machine resumes creating local snapshots.

If you want Time Machine to stop saving local snapshots, open Time Machine preferences and slide the switch to Off. Snapshots will resume when you turn Time Machine back on.

Time Machine saves local snapshots on portable computers only, and not on desktop computers.


19 Responses to Lion’s local backup devours disk space

  1. avatar Jeroen says:

    sudo tmutil disablelocal is enough. Lion will kill the .MobileBackups file itselves within a few moments / minutes.

  2. avatar jimmy says:

    Hii , i have tried this thing for a few weeks and im tired of figuring out whats wrong . Basically i think i have messed up my terminal by changing the location or user or something which im not sure about . I have tried the Su tmutil disablelocal but when it asks me to type my password , nothing appears on screen while i type my password but it recognizes the wrong one and the right one . Weird . Im really confused what to do now ??? ! any ideas or suggestions ??? How do i completely get a new terminal as it was in the beggining ? 100gb of mine has been utilized as backup and i really need the space ! plz help


    • avatar IanBauters says:

      When you type a password in Terminal, it’s normal nothing will show, just type it and press enter, it will work, as your password will have been entered. Also be sure you use Terminal with your administrator account, if you don’t, type login "name of administrator" (without the quotes) and press enter, followed with the password of your administrator password.

  3. avatar Adam says:

    Hi, What exactly is ‘other’ i have 107 GB of ‘Other’ and i cant think what it could be, my documents total 8 GB, Photos, Movies, Music are all accounted for but i cant figure out what 107 GB of ‘Other’ is?

    Any suggestions?


    • avatar IanBauters says:

      Well Adam,
      As far as I know “Other” is associated with everything that is your Operating System + documents that aren’t categorized under “Audio”, “Movies”, “Photos” and “Apps”. What I also saw is that my Aperture Library (which is about 50GB) isn’t listed under “Photos” but actually under “Other”!, So iPhoto library is probably in there too and any videos inside iMovie or Final Cut Pro too.
      So don’t worry, “Other” are probably a lot of your own files, and the system doesn’t quite yet knows what it has to place where so you’d get a better view.
      If you’re really concerned, run an app like “Grand Perspective” and scan your Macintosh HD, it will show you where your biggest files and folders are!
      Hope this explains some things to you if you have any more questions, feel free to contact me.

      • avatar Andy says:

        Thanks for these steps, the worked very well for me. However, like @Adam noted, I now have 110 GB of “other” that I did not have before I “deleted” the local snapshots… could it be that removing the .MobileBackups folder pushes the snapshots into the big scary world of the rest of the HDD?

        • avatar arne says:

          same here. just succesfully deleted the 40+ GB that had my new macbook had collected in just two weeks. however, using the “sudo tmutil disable local” command, intantly made the 80GB of “other” go up to 90GB, meaning some 10GB of space might have moved from the local snapshots in “backup” to “other”? how to fix this?

  4. avatar Helene says:

    Thanks a lot for all the info. I certainly have this problem with Lion – my ‘snapshot’ is currently 107 GB! What I don’t understand, though, is that the system is supposed to create local backups only when the machine is away from Time Machine/Capsule. So why does it still create local backups when my machine is *connected* to Time Machine/Capsule?

    • avatar IanBauters says:

      I’ve been wondering about this for a fair amount of time too, I have to say that I don’t know and Apple isn’t telling…

  5. avatar Isaiah says:

    Hi, I put the password into terminal and all that however I still cannot find the “.MobileBackups” file, is there a certain way to find it besides using spotlight.

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  7. avatar matt says:

    when i open the about this mac and click more info, it shows me that it is full and the whole bar is yellow indicating that its is entirely full from “other”. all the other things like audio, movies etc apparently have zero :/ pleeeeaassseee help me.

  8. avatar TR says:

    I wonder if local backups can be stopped just by turning off Time Machine, at the Preferences, when the external hard disk is disconnected?

  9. avatar Crisaide says:

    Thank you for this post!

    It helped a lot. I was very annoyed with that feature, my mac was slow, and I had already 100 GB in back up files. Well, just wanted to say that just doing the command: sudo tmutil disablelocal it’s enough. The system will do the rest.
    Take care!

  10. avatar Rowz says:

    Does this happens with mountain lion? I did the sudo tmutil it worked for a while but the backup files on my Mac came back even after disable the local snapshots. After deleting the mobilebackups file my “other” section of my hd the files kept on it got bigger. What I did was I turn off time capsule and I just do a manual back up once a month. Any help please?

  11. avatar RobbieP says:

    This was brilliant! I had over 100gb of Backups that I couldn’t remove. Paid £11.49 to activate the license for CleanMyMac and worth every penny! Thanks guys!

  12. avatar jmn88 says:

    I have been experiencing this “backups” problem however I have never used time machine. 2 weeks ago, I had 300gb of backups now I 494gb of backups on my 500gb mac harddrive. Its doesn’t make much sense. I tried using the terminal command ‘sudo tmutil disablelocal’ but I have had no luck.


  13. avatar Michael says:

    I used the Terminal command:
    sudo tmutil disablelocal

    And it didn’t clear out the space but categorized the backups as OTHER. When I ran the opposite command:
    sudo tmutil enablelocal

    It cleared all of the space being used by backups. I went from 48GB free to 127GB! I didn’t need to use the Clean My Mac app. Thanks for the tip.

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