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How To Move Your Mac User Folder To A Separate Drive From The Boot Drive

If your Mac or Hackintosh only has a small SSD, storage space may be limited. For most users, the User folder, which contains their user account, is by far the largest thing saved on their boot drive. This guide is for you if your user folder is filling up your SSD and you want to keep that high-speed storage for the operating system and applications.

It is possible to relocate your entire user account to a drive other than your macOS boot drive. This frees up space on the boot drive and allows large media folders such as Music, Movies, and Downloads to be stored on a larger capacity drive.

Why would you want to do something like that?

Before we begin, let me list a few of the scenarios in which this guide is ideal. If any of them apply to you, this could be a worthwhile endeavor.

  • You have a Mac with a Fusion Drive that you want to separate so that you can use the SSD and HDD separately. Many designers and filmmakers prefer not to use an SSD as a scratch disk because it degrades performance; instead, they prefer to use an HDD as their user folder and scratch disk, leaving the SSD for the operating system.
  • You have a MacBook, MacBook Pro, Mac mini, or iMac that you have upgraded with an HDD using an aftermarket solution such as OWC’s Data Doubler, giving you both an SSD and an HDD to distribute.
  • You have a Hackintosh with large-capacity traditional drives as well as smaller SSD drives, and you’d like to make better use of the larger storage drives.
  • You have a Mac or Hackintosh with an external desktop hard drive permanently connected to it, and you’re fine with moving a user account onto it to save space. Please keep in mind that this option is not recommended unless the external drive is always connected. You will be unable to log in to the account if the system boots without the drive connected because the User folder will not be found.
  • Assuming that one of these scenarios – or a combination of them – applies to you, we can get started.

Requirements

  • A computer that is either a Mac or a Hackintosh.
  • An SSD boot drive that currently houses your operating system and user account. (It could be an HDD, but what’s the point of moving your User folder to another HDD to free up space if it is? You might as well put both on the larger drive…)
  • A hard drive (internal or external) to store your user folder.
  • One important point to remember: it is strongly advised to keep one user account on the boot drive for troubleshooting purposes. If you move all of your user accounts to a different HDD and the OS loses track of them, you will be unable to log in to any accounts, which is difficult to troubleshoot without technical knowledge. As a result, I migrate my large, personal user account to an HDD and leave one unused user account named “Spare” on the boot drive. Its sole purpose is to troubleshoot and restore my other user account if the other HDD fails or the link between the OS and the external user account breaks for any reason.

Instructions

  1. Ensure that both the SSD and the HDD are mounted and ready. The hard drive to which you are transferring your user folder should be formatted as a GUID partition table, Mac OS Extended (Journaled). If it isn’t, use the Disk Utility application to format it. All existing data on the drive will be erased.
  2. Go to your User folder on your SSD boot drive. The User folder will have a name that you specify when you create your account. It should not be confused with the Users folder. The folder you seek is located within Users and will have a distinct name. If your name is Steve, for example, your User folder could be named steve. Mine is referred to as “other” in this guide.
  3. Choose and copy the folder.
  4. Go to your destination drive, the HDD, and copy the User folder. To keep things organized, copy and paste them into another folder. This allows you to use the HDD for purposes other than the user folder. For instance, I pasted mine into a folder called Moved Users. This means I can store other folders on the HDD alongside it without affecting my user account. I frequently keep movies and photos on the HDD, next to my Moved Users folder.
  5. Once the folder has finished copying across, double-check that all of the internal folders are present. It may take some time to copy. Remember that it contains all of your music, movies, downloads, documents, pictures, desktop, and so on. Check that the User folder on the SSD is nearly the same size as the User folder copied from the HDD.
  6. Open the System Preferences application and navigate to the Users & Groups pane.
  7. Inside Users & Groups, click the padlock in the bottom-left corner of the window and enter your password to unlock the pane and make changes.
  8. In the left-hand sidebar, find your User and right-click on it. An option titled Advanced Options will appear…
  9. Go to Advanced Options… and a new window will be opened. Except for the one I’ll mention here, do not change any of the fields; doing so may cause problems with your user account.
  10. Look for the Home directory: field. It will display the file path to your current user folder, which is most likely the/Users/Your-User folder. To the right of this field, click the Choose… button to select a new file path for the user folder.
  11. On the next page, navigate to the HDD and then to the User folder you copied to the HDD. Do not select one of the folders within it, such as Desktop, by accident; instead, select the entire folder. My file path of choice was /HDD/Moved Users/other. If you copied your user folder onto the HDD by hand, it will most likely be /HDD/Your-User-folder.
  12. After you press Open and then OK, the system will notify you that you must restart the machine for the changes to take effect. Following a reboot, the system will look for your user folder in the newly specified location (on the HDD it has been copied to). It will no longer search the SSD for the original copy.
  13. After restarting, verify that the switch was completed. There are a few simple ways to check this. The first step is to navigate to the copied user folder on the HDD and check to see if the folders for Desktop, Downloads, Pictures, and so on now have the proper folder icons, rather than the generic folder icon. The system recognizes the user folder with the custom folder icons as the current user folder in use. The house icon is visible in the following image, and the folders within it all have icons, indicating that the system correctly identifies it as the User folder:
  14. Open TextEdit and save a blank document to ensure that files are being written correctly to the new account location. Select Desktop as the save location, but make sure the Desktop folder you choose to save to has the custom icon:
  15. Once saved, double-check that it was saved to the correct location, i.e. the Desktop folder within the User folder on the HDD. Checking for the file visually on your desktop is insufficient; you must also ensure that it has been saved to /HDD/Your-User-folder/Desktop, or whatever path you have set on the HDD. As an example, consider the following:
  16. When you are satisfied with the results and functionality, go to the original User folder on the SSD and delete it. You now have your SSD space back!

Before deleting the original copy on the SSD, ensure that everything is working properly with the user folder on the HDD.

Incantatem is finite

If you ever want to undo your changes, simply repeat the guide but change the mentions of SSD and HDD, as well as their respective file paths. To summarize:

  • Copy the user from the HDD to /Users on the SSD.
  • Return to System Preferences and direct the system to the /Users/Your-User folder on the SSD rather than the HDD.
  • Reboot.
  • Check that everything is operational.
  • To reclaim the space, delete the now-unused copy of the User folder on your HDD.
  • This should allow you to edit on scratch disks without destroying SSDs, make better use of unused large HDDs, and free up cramped SSD boot drives. This configuration is used on two machines: one Hackintosh that requires a scratch disk for editing and one MacBook Pro that has been modded to have two internal drives. It’s always worked for me, and hopefully, it will for you as well.

Just keep one unused user account on the boot drive for emergencies.

Was this guide helpful, and will you use it? Do you require assistance with the procedure? Make your presence known in the depths.

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