How to Move Your User Data to a New Mac Without Using Time Machine


If you want to copy your entire setup from one computer to another, there are useful features that you can rely on such as Time Machine and Migration Assistant. However, if you prefer moving your files selectively to a new machine without losing all your user preferences, there is a way to do it. You only need to know which files to move. Migration Assistant is the suitable way to go if you’re planning to move everything, but if you’re interested in capturing Preferences related to the OS, like Dock and trackpad settings, follow the instructions below.

Setting Up Your New Mac

First, you need to make sure your new Mac is configured the same way as your old user. Your account name, or short name, of your account is the most important thing you need to know.

STEP 1: If you’re not sure what your account name is, check the name of your home folder — that is the same as your account name.

STEP 2: Next, make sure that the account name for your user on the new Mac exactly matches with that of your old.

Preparing Your Transfer Media

The best type of removable media to handle this process is with a USB drive, or if you don’t have one, you can use a hard drive. It can be helpful if you recreate the original file path when organizing your media. For example, if you have a file from the location: /Users/yourname/Library/Preferences, you could put that in a folder with the exact same file path in order to avoid misplacing them on the new system. This is particularly necessary because preference files in the wrong location is considered useless.

Copying Your Home Folder

All the contents saved on your home folder should be successfully carried over to your new Mac. This is where most users keep their files, so obviously moving everything in here going to your new Mac should be a piece of cake.

STEP 1: Copy everything except the Library folder. Do this by simply dragging and dropping the files, similar as to how you would with a normal directory. You’re going to deal with the Library folder on the next phase.

Copying Relevant Files in the Library Folder

User preferences in the macOS can be stored in a couple of places. The ideal location is ~/Library/Preferences, which is where macOS’ system application typically use.

STEP 1: To access it, locate the Library folder inside your user folder.

NOTE: In the sample screenshot below, the folder name of the user is “alexander” where the Library folder is found.

STEP 2: You can also access it by clicking on the Go menu at the top, then selecting the Go to Folder option. In the Go to the folder field, enter the path “~/Library/Preferences” and then click Go.

NOTE: In this folder, you will find a number of Property Lists or PLISTs, which are the actual files that contain your preferences.

You have two options to take: the first one is by copying over every file in here. However, if you don’t also copy over all the apps associated with those preferences, you’ll get a lot of junk. So, it’s better if you copy everything that starts with “” These are the preferences that are solely related to macOS system programs, like the Dock and other Apple products like the Final Cut Pro.

STEP 3: Drag and drop the files you have selected into the correct folder on your transfer media.

Transferring Applications

Next thing you need to do is the tricky task of copying over applications. Not all applications place their files in a single location, so you will have to search through your system to make sure you’ve got everything that application needs. Because of this, it is recommended to do a fresh install on the new system.

If you need to copy an application manually, you should try to bring along its files.

STEP 1: To help you locate all of them, it would be helpful to use an app called AppCleaner.

NOTE: This app helps users uninstall applications by revealing all the files associated with that particular app. It searches a few certain places for files that includes the given app’s name.

STEP 2: You can search for an application’s related files by dragging and dropping its icon in the AppCleaner window.

STEP 3: To view a file’s location in Finder, click the magnifying glass as shown in the image below.

NOTE: We used the Firefox program as an example. Take note that there are some files that are not needed to be transferred. For example, you don’t need logs, crash reports, or anything stored in the /var/ path. This is because all these components will get rebuilt on the new system as needed. The files in the ~Library/Application Support/ path are normally unnecessary as well.

You probably will have a hard time copying larger apps like Photoshop. Applications like that usually litter your system with files, and it’s a challenge to be able to collate them all. There are also licensing files you probably don’t have access to. You can export workspaces and keyboard shortcuts separately, which is normal, and that’s usually what people would want to preserve.

Finishing Up

STEP 1: Once you have your transfer media loaded up, copy everything onto your new system and then reboot it.

STEP 2: Test everything and make sure that you were able to copy all the important files before disposing your old Mac system.

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