How to move a user account from one Mac to another

With macOS, you can set up your Mac with separate user
accounts. That way, multiple people can use one computer, but
the files, app settings, and other data for each user are kept
separate from each other.

But what if you have two Macs, and you want to move a user
account from one Mac to another? Macworld reader and newlywed
Nolan wrote in with questions about just such an activity. He
and his wife want to migrate his account from a computer he
owns to her Mac, and he’ll sell his old computer.

But he has questions about how to handle this appropriately.

  • Each of them have separate Time Machine backups.
  • He has Backblaze running for cloud-based archiving on his
  • His wife’s Macbook doesn’t have enough storage to let him
    use his Photos library in place, so he wants to move this to an
    external drive.

What to do? Since they’re already making Time Machine backups
(good data hygiene, Nolan!), it’s the right place to start. But
the large Photos library could complicate matters.

My suggested order of tasks would be:

  1. Copy the Photos library (and any photos or videos not
    imported that you want to store with it) to an external volume,
    as well as any files you need to reduce the size of your user
    account to migrate it successfully to the other computer.
  2. Perform a manual Time Machine backup of that old computer
    (Time Machine menu > Backup Now).
  3. Now, with two copies in place, delete that media from your
    original account. (OK, you might want to make a third
    copy. I won’t stop you.)
  4. Force a Time Machine backup again.
  5. Unmount the Time Machine volume from one Mac, and mount it
    on the other Mac.
  6. Launch Migration Assistant (Applications >
  7. Follow the steps until you reach the Select Information to
    Transfer screen. Uncheck all the boxes but the one for your
    user account to import.
  8. Click Continue and wait for it to complete.
macos high sierra migration assistant select items

Migration Assistant can be used to just import a single
account from another device or a backup.

Your account and associated files from your old machine are now
ready on the new one. You may have to copy applications
manually or reinstall them, however. And you can have issues of
apps were purchased across multiple Apple ID accounts, too.

As for Backblaze, the software offers an option called Inherit Backup State, which retains your old
backed-up files at its servers, and doesn’t upload again files
it’s already got fresh copies of. This would include your
account’s files, of course. Make sure you have your external
drive with photos and other media attached so you can add that
to the backup set, too.

You can follow Backblaze’s instructions on inheriting a backup,
but contact the company for more handholding if the
instructions don’t precisely match the outcome you’d like. The
mode is really for migrating from one computer to another, but
I think the process is close to what Nolan would like here.
(Nolan confirmed via email that he was able to make a backup
inheritance work.)

Meanwhile, retain the Time Machine backup of the old Mac for as
long as you can as an added backup while new archives are
formed in Time Machine and Backblaze.

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