Mac migration old to new methods

In case you have just purchased a new Mac, and you’re upgrading from an older computer, you’ll want all your documents and data to be available on the new machine.

With the release of Mac OS X 10.3 “Panther” Apple offers a Migration Assistant, to help move data between your new and old Mac. The Migration Assistant will allow you to  migrate  installed software, system settings and user data from the old Mac system to the new Mac.

Meet Mac's new Migration Assistant
Meet Mac’s new Migration Assistant

The migration Assistant works improved with each new release of Mac OS X.

But despite Apple’s best efforts there are occasions when the Migration Assistant tool can fail.

Should You Migrate or Do a Clean Installation? Read on.

Method 1: The automated migration process on a new Mac

Apple provides an very helpful tool as part of its Mac operating system; Migration Assistant. This utility is the same as the first time Setup Assistant which runs as part of the setup of a new Mac; so if you already set up the new mac computer, you will use the Migration Assistant.

When you set up a new Mac for the first time, the Setup Assistant offers to copy your files. Follow these steps:

    1. Connect two Macs using a Thunderbolt, FireWire, or Ethernet cable.
    2. Connect the new Mac to a hard drive in which you have cloned your startup volume (using a program like Intego Personal Backup), or link it to a drive on which you’ve completed a Time Machine backup.
mac migration assistant transfer
Mac Migration Assistant transfer

Next: Select the Mac or hard disk where you wish to replicate your data and then select the information you need to move — user accounts, software, other files and folders, and preferences –and wait while the files are replicated.

Mac Migration Assistant: Select info to transfer
Mac Migration Assistant: Select info to transfer

Next: For this (mostly) automated process the Migration Assistant is easy to use.

Mac Migration Assistant transfer from a Windows PC
Mac Migration Assistant transfer from a Windows PC

The benefit of using this system is that all of your files get replicated, and that it is very straightforward.

You may also use the Windows Migration Assistant to transfer your music, pictures, files, and other information from a Windows computer to your Mac. The Migration Assistant helps to migrate this information to the proper places in your Mac.

However, the drawback of using the Migration Assistant is that all of your files get replicated. This is a drawback because in the event you’ve been upgrading your Macs through time by installing new versions of OS X over old ones, and migrating data from old Macs to new ones, you’ll have hundreds, even thousands of older documents that you no longer desire..

If the Migration Assistant fails

The Migration Assistant my fail if a user account is corrupt or not recognized on the old system. The program may initiate the transfer process but does not finish, ending with a error message or stalling with no transfer..

Another example happens when you could be migrating from a newer to an older Mac OS X version – a effective downgrade. Apple intends that that the migration process is used to migrate from older to newer systems.

Another case would be where an older Mac does not have FireWire port, is not using a Mac OS X version that supports network migration, or cannot connected by a network.

You may want more control over what gets moved than that which the Migration Assistant provides, and therefore you may want to consider performing a manual clean setup (see below).

Method 2: How to to manually copy files from your old Mac

A Manual Mac System Migration is only a fancy term for copying things over. The important thing is knowing what has to be transferred and how to connect both machines.

In this process you will manually copy files from the old Mac or from a backup. This process can be time consuming, but it does  enable you to sift through your files to get what you actually do need and thus slim down your Mac content..

What to do Before Migration

Notes: If you are not familiar with the way the Mac OS X file system functions and how to carry out the steps below, seek help. This process requires reasonably advanced Mac User abilities.

Check-list for the Old Mac

Deauthorize any activated software that is installed (e.g., Adobe Creative Suite, Microsoft Office for Mac, etc.). Later, you can reauthorize the applications on the new machine, or revert back and reauthorize the old machine if events fail on the migration.

If you are not going to continue using the old Mac for any audio or video playback after you make the migration, then you will need to deauthorize your computer in iTunes so that you don’t lose 1 system out of the limit of five. This is accomplished in the Store menu, select “Deauthorize Computer”…

Apple ID deauthorize this computer
Apple ID deauthorize this computer

It is recommended to backup your existing data prior to the move.

Connect on the New Mac

If you have not already done so, login to or make the user accounts on the new Mac which you’ll be migrating the old information into. It’s usually a great idea to create a new account for this purpose or at least produce a spare admin accounts on the destination machine that you can use if something goes awry during the migration.

If the two Macs support FireWire you can use FireWire Target Disk Mode to connect the old Mac to the new.  To do this, reboot the old Mac and hold down the T key at startup. When the FireWire logo appears on screen, connect a FireWire cable between the two Macs. The old Mac’s hard drive can be mounted on the desktop of the new Mac as an external FireWire drive.

You can also use File Sharing via a local network to connect the Mac computers; basically, turn on File Sharing on the old Mac, access it using ethernet or WiFi on the new Mac, then mount the  hard disk on the desktop as a remote server.

Optionally you can copy your old Mac data onto an external USB2 or FireWire hard drive, a Flash drive, or (worst case) remove the hard drive from the old Mac and place it into a suitable external enclosure and connect it to the new Mac.

Select what is to be Moved

1) All User Documents

On the old Mac’s home directory (your user folder is typically “~”), copy the contents of your existing Desktop, Records , Movies, Music, Photographs and Websites folders (aka ~/Desktop, ~/Documents, etc.) Do not transfer the whole folders – just copy items from the previous folders to the matching folders on the new Mac.

Mac User Documents - Home Folder
Mac User Documents – Home Folder

Additionally, move any user created folders which might exist in the home directory or in the very top level of the old hard disk (“/”).

Moving the user data might take a substantial period of time, especially if there are plenty of pictures, movie or music files involved. Photo libraries, home movie collections occupy a great deal of drive space. Some data pruning here can accelerate the procedure.

If you discover you do not have access to a folder – it is marked with a red don’t Enter badge – you have a permissions issue. On a FireWire or USB connection, one solution is to pick the source drive in the Finder, use a Get Info (Command-I), authenticate by clicking on the lock, and then check the option to Ignore ownership for this volume..

Ignore Ownership on this Volume
Ignore Ownership on this Volume

Optionally, you can do a Get Info on every folder and fix Sharing and Permissions to provide everyone as Read & Write access.

2) Applications (A Mixed Variety here)

Now it is time to move all third party, non-Apple software that is within the Software folder (/Applications), and almost any program folders in the root level of this hard disk (place these into the Programs folder on the destination server ).

Copy anything you’ve bought, downloaded or that didn’t come equipped with the original system – Microsoft Office, Filemaker, internet browsers, graphics programs, games, etc. .

Don’t replace any Apple applications in the Programs folder that exists on both Macs – Safari, Mail, iCal, Address Book, etc. .

Whatever Apple software programs are on the destination server would be the best to begin with; simply move the non-Apple software, then use Software Update to patch your system as needed.

This is a fantastic time to choose which of the many programs in your Programs folder you wish to keep. You might find dozens of programs that you seldom use. In that case, do not copy them.

If your new Mac did not include the iLife Suite (iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD, iWeb and GarageBand) you ought to reinstall these programs from an iLife installation CD or DVD.

With the exception of iTunes, which can be freely downloaded, I’ve found it’s a good idea to reinstall this package instead of migrate.

If you’re moving to an Intel Mac or any Macintosh running Mac OS X 10.5″Leopard”, Classic is not supported and these folders do not have to be moved. If you’re moving into a PowerPC Mac running Mac OS X 10.4″Tiger” or earlier and still want Classic style – copy these things from the old Mac to the root level of this new drive.

3) Preferences and Application Support Documents

The remaining parts of the migration are the Preferences and Application Support documents. There are lots of locations where these things are stored. If you in doubt as to what copy over, leave it for now, then you could always copy an item it later if it was required…

Mac Top Level Library
Mac Top Level Library

I don’t suggest that you copy the Preferences folder since this probably contains plenty of files for programs you no longer use. I recommend that you go through this folder and copy over any files or folders for programs which you do use, especially when, when you start them, their installation differs. However, you might just wish to manually reset the preferences for your programs; this is a good way to rediscover your programs and their interfaces.

The Library Folder:

There’s a special folder in your home folder named Library. By default, this folder is hidden, but it includes many files that you ought to copy. First, you want to get this hidden folder on the new Mac. From the Finder, press Command-Shift-G, and then type: /Library. Click Go to see the contents of the folder. In another Finder window, do the same thing to observe the old Library folder. Press Command-Shift-G, then input, by way of instance, /Volumes/backup-disk-name/Users/your-user-name/Library, and click Go.

The following items are in the Top Level Library folder on the old hard disk (e.g., /Library):

    • from /Library, copy folders for non-Apple applications
    • from /Library/Application Support, copy folders for non-Apple applications
    • from /Library/Fonts, copy all unique items (don’t replace existing fonts on the new Mac)
    • from /Library/StartupItems, copy all items for the apps you still wish to use
    • from /Library/PreferencePanes, copy all items
    • from /Library/Preferences, copy all non-Apple items
Mac User Library
Mac User Library

These items are within the User Library of your Home Folder (e.g., ~/Library):

    • from ~/Library, copy folders for non-Apple applications
    • from ~/Library, copy the Mail and Mail Downloads folders
    • from ~/Library, copy the Safari folder
    • from ~/Library, copy the Calendars folder (if present)
    • from ~/Library/Application Support, copy folders for non-Apple applications
    • from ~/Library/Application Support, copy the AddressBook folder
    • from ~/Library/Application Support, copy the iCal folder (if present)
    • from ~/Library/Fonts, copy all items
    • from ~/Library/StartupItems, copy all items for the apps you still wish to use
    • from ~/Library/PreferencePanes, copy all items
    • from ~/Library/Preferences, copy all non-Apple items

You can copy any preferences for the following Apple apps: Mail, iCal, Address Book, Safari, iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD, iWeb, GarageBand, Keynote, Pages, Numbers, Final Cut Pro, Aperture, or Logic.

The final stage

Move your specific items to the very same places on the new Mac as existed on the old. After everything is duplicated restart the brand new Mac, then launch each program to be certain it works and confirm your user information is present.

You’ll have to reauthorize any actuated (tethered) applications upon first launching – you should get an activation waiting online from the deauthorize procedure you performed before the migration.

You’ may now authorize iTunes to have access to your previous music or movie library (items you likely bought through the iTunes Store).

Some applications, especially complex applications with several components (Adobe, Quark, etc., may need re-installation from original disks or downloaded installers..

Mac Keychain Considerations

You’ll have to re-enter the passwords for some programs and web sites after performing the manual migration. The keychain file where these things are stored was intentionally not moved in this procedure to prevent potential account corruption.

You can use the Keychain Utility (/Applications/Utilities) to see the original passwords of your original user keychain.

Mac Keychain Utility
Mac Keychain Utility

The keychain file can be found on the old drive at: ~/Library/Keychains/login.keychain

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