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

Transferring files from one User Account to another

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How to copy from one User Account to another:

Log in or switch to the account you wish to copy files FROM.

  1. Quit all apps whose data you're moving.

  2. In the Finder, navigate to that account's home folder.  It may be easiest to open a second Finder window to the Shared folder, in the Users folder at the top level of your internal HD. 

  3. You cannot copy the default sub-folders properly (Desktop, Documents, Downloads, etc.), but you can copy their contents (but be very careful of duplicates, per the pink box above).  It's probably easiest to do the whole procedure for one of those folders at a time, to be sure everything gets copied, and placed in the correct location.

  4. Copy (don't move) the desired files or folders you wish to the Shared folder, by selecting them and pressing Cmd+C (or selecting Edit > Copy from the menubar);  then selecting the second Finder window for the Shared folder and pressing Cmd+V (or selecting Edit > Paste from the menubar). You may be asked to enter your administrator password when copying certain items.

Log in or switch to the account that you're transferring files TO.  

  1. Quit all apps whose data you're moving.

  2. In the Finder, navigate to the Shared folder.   It may be easiest to open a second Finder window to the home folder of the account you're transferring things to.

  3. Copy (don't move) the files or folders you wish from the Shared folder to the desired locations, such as the Desktop, Documents, Music folder, and so forth. You may be asked to enter your administrator password when copying certain items.  When the copy is complete, switch back to the FROM account and delete the contents of the Shared folder.

When you're certain everything has been copied, either delete the copied items from the FROM account, or if you copied everything from it, and don't want it any more, go to System Preferences > Accounts, select it, and delete the entire account and home folder.

You can copy files and folders between accounts on the same Mac.  That can be helpful if you've set up a new Mac with a temporary account, used it for a short period, then used Migration Assistant to transfer an account from another Mac and want to consolidate the two.

But you usually can't "merge" two "normal" user accounts successfully.  If both accounts have data for the same application, it will be very difficult or impossible to merge them by copying files & folders.

However, in some applications you can export data from one user account, then import it into the other one.  Usually, it's best to export to the Shared user folder (<your internal HD>/Users/Shared), then import into the other account from the Shared folder, although sometimes you can import directly into one account from another.  But you must do it application by application, as they're all different. 

But if there are things in one account that don't exist in another, you can copy them.

If you don't know where to look for specific files, see Time Machine FAQ #28.  While that's mostly for restoring selected things from Time Machine backups, the location of some common data files are shown in green there.

Either approach may be easiest to do via Fast User Switching, so you can switch back and forth between the two accounts.  To enable Fast User Switching:

  1. Go to System Preferences > Accounts, click the padlock at the bottom, and enter your Admin password.

  2. Select Login Options, check the Show fast user switching ... box, and select what you want to be shown at the right of the menubar. 

Once it's enabled, you can click that menu item at the right of your menubar and select another user account.   When you click it, you'll be prompted for the password.  The first account will be suspended, not logged-off, so you can switch back and forth quickly (thus the clever name).

Some things are easier to copy than others.  If you just want to copy, say, a folder with some movie files, and there isn't a folder of the same name, in the same place, in the new account, it's easy, via the procedure in the blue box below.

If there is a file or folder of the same name, in
the same place, you'll get this prompt: 

If you select Replace, the existing folder and all its contents will be deleted and replaced with the one being copied.  If there are multiple duplicates, you'll get one prompt for each, unless you check the Apply to All box.

There is no "merge contents" option.

This will be a problem especially in the Library folder, since many things there are created automatically for each user account.  Unless you're certain which things in that folder to copy or replace, you may create a major mess.  Proceed with great caution, at your own risk.



If you're copying large files/folders, be careful not to fill up your internal HD.  It's usually best to keep it below 85% full if possible, but if it gets up to 90% or even 95% briefly, you should be ok.  So you may need to do the copy in smaller chunks, then verify that everything was copied properly, and delete the originals.

If some of the items have special permissions, those permissions won't be copied via this procedure.  The new account will have Read & Write rights, all others will have Read only rights.