OSX Tips:  Setting-up a new Mac from an old one or its Backups

Transferring  Home  Folders  not  on  a  Startup  volume

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The Transfer Your Information or Select Items to Migrate window will look like this when the Main Admin Account is on the Startup volume, but testaccount's is not:


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Restoring the home folder volume via Disk Utility:

If you're transferring from another Mac or "clone," this may be your best bet.  You can only transfer the entire volume (disk or partition) this way, though -- you can't omit anything.

  1. If you're transferring to another separate volume on the new Mac, you can do this either before or after migrating the OSX volume.

  2. If you're transferring to the OSX volume, it's probably best to do this after migrating the OSX volume.

  3. On Snow Leopard or earlier, if you're restoring a home folder volume to a startup volume (to consolidate the home folders there), be sure to remove the check from the Erase destination box!  On Lion and later, you cannot do this - - the destination is erased automatically.

Depending on the circumstances, you can do this while logged on to either Mac, or, if there are no accounts with home folders available, by starting the new Mac from its Install disc.  See  Copying a volume via the Restore tab.

Copying a home folder via the Finder:

If you're transferring only selected User Account(s) from another Mac or "clone," you can drag the desired home folder(s) to the new volume via the Finder to copy it/them. 

  1. You must be logged on to the User Account being moved, to preserve the ownership and permissions.  So the volume the home folder is on must be accessible at the same "path."  If it's on an external HD that used to be connected to the old Mac, and you want it on the internal HD of the new Mac, connect the external to the new Mac, log on the the account and copy the home folder, then change the location per the blue box above. 

  2. If the home folder is on an internal HD in the old Mac, it's not at the same "path" yet -- OSX expects it on an internal HD in the new Mac.  In such cases, you can't log on to the transferred account;  you must restore the old volume to the new one via Disk Utility, per the green box above, or restore the home folder via Time Machine, per the tan box below.

Because OSX is extra-careful with
home folders,  you may get this prompt;  click Authenticate

Then a prompt for your Admin password.




Then click Continue on the warning message that follows.


That may not be as dire as it sounds;  you just have to transfer the home folder(s) separately.  There are three ways to do that, depending on the particular circumstances.

In most cases, you can transfer the Startup volume first with Setup Assistant or Migration Assistant, and the other volume second with one of the procedures below.

But if there are no home folders on the Startup volume, and you're using Setup Assistant, you must create an Admin User account, and you won't be able to transfer your data into that account.  Worse, the accounts you do transfer may lose permission to their files on other volumes, especially Time Machine backups.

You may be able to do some complex transfers, such as "consolidating" a Mac with two volumes into a single Startup volume on the new Mac, but in most cases it's best to transfer the old Mac's configuration to the new one if at all possible.  (If there isn't room, see scenario A in the gray box below for some workaround techniques.)  Make sure everything was moved and is working properly before changing things more than necessary. 

In some cases, you may have to tell OSX that a User account's home folder is in a different place.  See the blue box below.

  1. An entire volume can be copied, via the Restore tab of Disk Utility.  In many cases, that's the best way.  See the green box below.

  2. Individual home folders can be copied to the new volume via the Finder, but to preserve ownership and permissions, it must be done while logged-on to the account being moved.  See the pink box.

  3. Time Machine backups can be restored to an "alternate" location.  See the tan box.

There are too many combinations of setups, etc., to detail here.  But see the gray box below for outlines of two common ones.  The information here should allow you to figure out how to do what you want.  If not, post a thread, containing details of what setup you want to transfer from, and how you want the new Mac set up, in the appropriate Apple Discussions forum:

OSX Mountain Lion 10.8

Mac OS X v 10.7 Lion

Mac OS X v.10.6 Snow Leopard

Mac OSX v.10.5 Leopard

Changing the location of a home folder:

  1. 1.Go to System Preferences > Users & Groups (System Preferences > Accounts on Snow Leopard & Leopard), click the padlock at the bottom, and enter your Admin password.

  1. 2.In the sidebar, control-click (right-click) the account being moved and select Advanced Options, bringing up this window.  Read the  WARNING carefully!

  2. 3.Change ONLY the Home directory;  click the Choose button, locate the copy of the user's home directory and select it.  The "path" will change automatically.

  3. 4.You may have to Restart to log on to that account.


Restoring home folders via Time Machine:

If there's an Admin user account on the Startup volume, do the transfer normally.  Then log on to that account and use Time Machine's "Star Wars" display to restore the home folders that are on a different volume, one at a time, to the new Mac.

Since you're on a different Mac from the one the backups were made on, you'll need the Browse Other Time Machine Disks option to view the backups from the old Mac.  See Time Machine FAQ #17 for details.  As noted there, you'll need to restore the folders to an "alternate location" (the new Mac), not the place they were backed-up from.   See FAQ #16 for that.

Then associate the restored home folder(s) with the account(s), per the blue box above.

Some common scenarios:

A.  Transferring from one volume to two, such as from a Mac with everything on its HD to a new Mac with a solid state drive (SSD) and traditional rotating hard drive (HD): 

  1. 1.Use Setup Assistant to transfer apps (if desired) and all user accounts to the SSD, but omit the contents of the sub-folders (Desktop, Documents, etc.) in the user home folders that you want to end up on the HD.  That is, leave the account checked, but un-check some or all of the folders inside it.  These are temporary, but necessary to preserve permissions.

  2. If you have one or more relatively-small home folders, it may be easier to let Setup Assistant copy the entire folder to the SSD;  then in step 2, copy it from the SSD to the HD.

  3. 2.When your Mac restarts, log on to each account to be moved to the HD and copy its "real" home folder (or contents of the sub-folders you want to move) from the old Mac to the HD (or, if you have Time Machine backups, restore them, per the tan box above).

  4. 3.If you copied the whole home folder(s), change the location of those to the HD, per the blue box above.

  5. 4.Restart your Mac.

  6. 5.Log on to each user account.  Verify that everything was transferred properly, then delete the temporary home folder on the SSD.

  7. If you use Time Machine to back up your Mac, see Time Machine FAQ #32 for information and considerations with multiple volumes.

B.  Transferring from two volumes to one, such as from a Mac with Solid State Drive  (SSD) and hard drive to one with just a HD:

  1. Note:  There must be a user account with a home folder on the old Mac's Startup volume.

  2. 1.Transfer the user accounts (and Apps, etc.) normally. 

  3. 2.You cannot use Disk Utility to Restore the home folder volume to the Startup volume while you're running from the Startup volume.  So either:

  4. a.On Snow Leopard or earlier, start the new Mac from it's Install disc, and restore the home folder volume to the new Startup volume, per the green box above.  Be sure to un-check the Erase destination box when you set up the Restore.  Then restore the home folder(s) from the Time Machine backups, to the Users folder, per the tan box

  5. b.On Lion or later, use Time Machine to restore (tan box) or the Finder (pink box) to copy the home folder(s), to the Users folder.

  6. 3.Log on to the user account whose home folder was on the old Mac's Startup volume. and change the location(s) of the other home folder(s) per the blue box above.

In most cases, OSX, apps, and all user home folders should be in a single volume.

Putting them in different volumes on the same physical drive usually will not make things easier, and will degrade performance, not improve it.

There are times when putting some user data on a different device makes sense, such as a large iPhoto library, or a "scratch" disk for photo or video editing. 

Or, if you have a solid state drive and a hard drive, the SSD may not be large enough.  In that case, it may be best to put some home folders on the HD. 

Otherwise, it's usually best to keep the home folders on the main OSX volume.  Put only the large sub-folders (such as Pictures, Movies, Music, and/or Documents, but not Library), or the contents (such as iPhoto Library, iTunes, and/or iMovie) on the secondary drive. 

See these Apple articles for help moving iLife data:

  1. Moving your iTunes Music folder

  2. Moving your iPhoto '11 library

  3. Moving your iPhoto '08 or earlier library

  1. Moving iMovie '11 footage to another drive

  2. Moving iMovie '08 footage to another drive

If you do put home folders on a separate volume,  it's strongly recommended that an Admin account and its home folder remain on the Startup volume.  If there isn't one, and you have a problem with the separate home folder volume, you cannot log on to your Mac!  And in some cases it will greatly complicate transferring to a new Mac.

So if you're transferring from an available Mac that doesn't have an Admin account on its Startup volume, create one via System Preferences > Accounts before starting.

If you have multiple internal drives and/or partitions, and use Time Machine to back up your Mac, see Time Machine FAQ #32 for information and considerations.

This page applies to transferring apps, user accounts, and/or data to a Mac running Leopard or later, via either Setup Assistant or Migration Assistant, when either or both have, or will have, one or more home folders not on the Startup drive.  It assumes familiarity with the general functioning of the Assistant you'll be using.  If you're not familiar with them, it's best to review them first.  See Using Setup Assistant on Mountain Lion or Lion, Using Migration Assistant on Mountain Lion or LionUsing Setup Assistant on Snow Leopard or Leopard,  or  Using Migration Assistant on Snow Leopard or Leopard  for details.

Those apps only transfer from Startup volumes (such as another Mac's Startup disk or partition, or a backup of it, containing OSX),  to the volume they're running on.  If you transfer from a Startup volume that has user accounts on a different volume, any such accounts you select will be transferred, but their home folders on other volumes won't.