Why and How to Move your Users Directory
for OSX 10.5.x Leopard
Written by Rick Stephens
All tasks in this guide are to be performed at the readers risk.
It is possible to make your data difficult or impossible to access. Or
if improperly performed you can even
permanently erase your data files.
No guarantee is implied or rendered, especially since we are not doing the
work ourselves. Your results are dependent on your understanding
and implementation of the suggestions made in this guide. We advise you do
you fully read and understand the
procedures in this guide and have an independent backup of your data. Mistakes
happen, preventing data loss with prudent backups is one of life's keys to
The User Directory:
We have found it enhances performance and makes it easier to protect
our data by
default location on the boot drive to a separate hard drive.
The User Directory is the folder (named Users) that contains each user's Home
am still running the very same directory, copied from drive to drive over the
on a brand
new Quicksilver G4 back when OSX 10.0.4 first released in 2001. That Users Directory
has traveled from computer to computer, through OS revision and OS upgrade, on
RAID arrays and back to individual drives many many times through
One of the best reasons to move your User Directory is it makes it
simpler to backup. With everything that is 'you' contained on one volume, you
know what's important and where it is. In
installation disposable, or at least easily replaceable, as it contains nothing
by an OS installation disk. And moving to a new computer is much simpler -
G4 or G5 to an Intel Based MacPro where the OS installation is different - as
you only move your User(s) over.
Another great benefit, and the one nearest and dearest to the heart
of a Macgurus' speed addict, is performance. The slowest component of a computer
is storage. By taking advantage of the computer's ability to simultaneously
access multiple drives you enhance the performance of
the entire computer. Having the OS on one independent drive and the User Directory
on another effectively doubles your available storage speed.
I also place an Applications folder on drive 2 - right next
Users folder. This Applications folder contains all of my personal Applications
FinalCut and anything else
I have bought. I leave the applications that are installed by the OSX installer
on the root drive since all updaters will look for them there. And besides, those
are as disposable as the OS installation itself.
Having your major applications on the User drive gives not only the
same backup benefits but also improves enormously the performance of those applications
that use large and separate data storage. Since most
large photo, video or audio databases will be on their own separate drive(s)
or RAID array the User drive is not in use when you are editing photos, film
audio tracks. Sticking the big application
on the otherwise unused User drive gives that application 100% drive accessibility
other User data like emails and what not which will not be accessed while you
are running your flagship applications.
multithread is enormous so separating your data into discreet drives and RAID
your computer to utilize its storage to the maximum possible.
Configuring your drives:
We have a favorite partition scheme we like to use that allows
us to have everything inside the computer backed up and self contained.
Lose either drive and you still have everything on the other drive - AND
- gain performance by multitasking the storage accesses over 2 drives.
We use the fastest outer tracks of the drive for the active OS and
User Directory partitions, and we use the inner slower tracks for
the backups. We run at least a daily backup of the User partition and
a once weekly for the OS.
What you need is an identical size pair of
drives. In this example, and what I am using on my workstation, is 500 GB
Seagate 7200.11 drives. These are the fastest current 7200 RPM drives available.
As shown in the graphic below. We partition a 100 GB
OS partition on Drive 1 and a 400 GB Users partition on Drive 2. The second
backup partitions are the reverse with a 400 GB partition on drive 1 to backup
the User Drive and 100 GB second partition on Drive 2 to backup the OS
installation. These sizes are my choice for my computer and should be adjusted
Give the OS install plenty of extra room for swap files and updates for the
future. I ran out of space on what I used to think was a massive 40 GB OS
partition - I am glad to have bumped that up to 100 GB on my MacPro.
Your Copy and Backup Application:
Every computer at MacGurus has a licensed copy of SyncronizeProX
on it to handle backup and copy duties. There are other applications available,
and others, but we have had years of satisfactory experience with this one
and can recommend it. It will make copying large
complex volumes a snap, and will get the permissions correct while creating
an exact duplicate. Superb at performing those timely backups, easily set
up to make automatic - middle of the night backups. (if it ain't
automatic, it ain't a backup!) SyncronizeProX can handle a perfect backup
of your OS installation and your data files.
How to get started:
No matter whether this is brand new clean computer with no data
in the User Directory, a computer that has a significant amount of data in
the User Directory, or you are moving in from
another computer entirely and want to import the User Directory
- the steps are the same.
You will need a pair of identical sized drives installed in your
Mac. Using this guide you will partition the second drive, copy and separate
the data and the OS over to it, then partition the first drive and copy
the data and OS installation back to it creating the configuration where
we have performance and redundancy in one setup using those 2 drives.
First **Before doing anything - Backup
your DATA!** Then
we can move on and partition your new Users drive.
Partitioning is accomplished in Disk Utility. We want to be certain
we use the faster - outer
tracks of the drive for the active partition and the slower - inner tracks for
the backup partition. In Disk Utility the upper partition is the
outer-faster partition. In the picture below is my User drive, named
'Local', and the smaller 100 GB partition called 'BackupRoot' (since
I named the OS
In your naming don't use spaces or special characters as they can give you
problems later with their path names.
In this screen shot the outer fast partition is called Local.
The Disk Utility
of a 500 GB drive partitioned into 365 GB and 100 GB partitions. I find that
an ideal set up for me using 500 GB drives. Your partition sizes can
be adjusted to match your needs and hard drive capacities.
2) Create New Users and Applications Folders:
Now that we have the drive formatted we go to the new User Drive
and create our destination folders for Users Directory and our Applications
folder. Throughout this guide I will continue to call the User
drive partition 'Local'.
To create these folders open a Finder window, select the 'Local'
volume and create new empty folders called 'Users' and
another called 'Applications' just as shown at right.
3) Populate the User Directory:
Now we are going to copy our old User Directory, and
all the Home Directories it contains, into the new User folder on 'Local'.
No matter where it currently exists - on the current system drive, on another
or on an external
- we want to
drive and make a perfect copy of the contents into the new User Folder
using your backup or copy utility. Using SyncronizeProX we would do it
4) Link to new User Location:
Leopard makes this really easy. Open System Preferences. Go to Account
Preferences. Click the lock to make changes and enter your Admin
Users password. Right click (or Control+Click) on the user's name
that you wish to change the Home Directory path and open the Advanced Options
Your Home Directory line will
show the path:
For 'name' you will see the users short name.
My short user name is ricks,
so on my computer the default path is: /Users/ricks
We are going to edit that path to read:
For 'volume name' enter the name
of the drive or partition where you copied the new Users Directory.
On my computer that hard drive name is 'Local' - so on my
computer the path becomes: /Volumes/Local/Users/ricks
You can also use the button
and navigate to your new Home directory. Use the Navigation window to work your
your Home directory. Clicking Open will fill in the path for you.
Check it to make sure the path shown matches the guidelines listed above.
Repeat the 'resetting the path' process for each User that you are
Restart to Activate.
After a restart you will now be operating from the new location for
your Home Directory. To make a quick check that it indeed is operating off the
new location, do a Get Info on your Home Directory
the Finder Sidebar. It will indicate the path in the 'Where:' field under General.
5) Now to configure the System Drive:
Copy the original Boot drive (Drive 1)
to the Backup partition on Drive 2 so we can repartition Drive 1. Before doing
this we need
the old Home Directories from Users on the Boot drive since we don't need it
any longer - and it may be too large to fit in the new 100 GB Backup OS partition.
the old Home folders if they are small enough that
will fit on that smallish BackupRoot partition on drive 2
- but if you choose not to delete them altogether - do a Get Info on the
current boot drive and make sure it will fit in BackupRoot before
attempting the copy.
Use SyncronizeProX, or another copy program that can make bootable
backups, or even Disk Utility Restore, to copy the operating system off the
original drive into the Backup OS partition on drive 2.
You will need to have root password to enable SyncronizeProX to make
the copy when it asks for a password. Disk Utility will only require your Admin
6) Reboot to the Backup OS drive:
To reformat the original system drive we'll need to boot to a different
drive. So, in System Preferences, under Startup Disk, select the BackupRoot drive
and press Restart. We will partition the old boot drive from there.
7) DownLoad and install Symbolic Linker:
We are going to need to make a couple Symbolic Links, which will
be detailed a little later,
Symbolic Linker. Download and unpack the disk image. The read-me is decent
- the short version is: drop the plugin "SymbolicLinker.plugin" into
Menu Items folder on your current boot drive 'BackupRoot'
and you now have an application installed to easily create Symlinks. That
accessed via contextual menus, simple and easy to use.
8) Partition Drive 1 (the original OS drive):
In Disk Utility, select drive 1 - the original OS drive - and select
the Disk Utility Partition tab. Select 2 partitions under Volume Scheme. Make
the upper fast partition the boot drive, in this example I use the name 'Root'.
lower partition is going to backup the new Users drive, so name it accordingly.
I use the obvious "Local Backup" for this partition
name. Hit the Apply button when you have both partitions set to your liking.
9) Copy the OS Back to the Root drive:
nearly done. On this step we again use our bootable copy application to copy
the operating system back to the
new digs. Nice part of all this copying is that process defragments beautifully.
You will have a very clean and pristine operating system.
**If you prefer you can install a clean fresh OS at this
point. This is the time to do it if that seems appropriate. If you choose this
option then you will need to relink
the Users since fresh OS install will still be set to defaults. You will also
need to reinstall Symbolic Linker on the fresh install since it also only resides
on the BackupRoot drive.**
10) A Little Modification to the new Root drive:
Before we boot to our new OS on the 'Root' drive, let's do one
little change that we are blocked from doing once booted to that drive. We
are going to delete the old Users folder altogether, it no longer
serves a purpose there, and replace it with a Symlink pointing to
the new User directory located on Local. This is the solution for the
chance that any applications go looking for 'Users' at the default location
the boot drive - regardless of the configuration we set into Preferences.
When any application does that it will be redirected to the new location
through the Symlink without ever knowing the difference. Pretty cool solution.
One example is iTunes which likes to use the Shared folder inside
Go ahead right now and toss the old Users folder that resides
on Root in the trash - and empty trash.
Since we already have the Symlink tool (Step 7), let's use it to
create a Symlink that points at your new User Directory on 'Local'. Open
drive and right click (or Control click) the Users folder and in the
menu, under More in
the list of menu items will be the Make
Symbolic Link command. Select that and immediately a Symlink
symlink' will appear right under your original Users folder.
down the Command key and drag the folder called 'Users Symlink' onto Root.
Holding the Command key moves it as opposed to copying it if you just drag
and drop the link without the Command key.
the Symlink is over in Root, highlight it and edit it to simply read 'Users'
instead of 'Users
Make sure you remove the space as well.
The result of this will look like the graphic at right with folders
called Applications, Library, System and a SymLink pointing to Users. These are
be on your Root drive now.
11) Restart from Root:
**Important!** After you have finished copying
the OS to its new location on Root and placed the Users Symlink, go into System
- select and boot to Root! We
want to finish up while running off our primary system installation and all
changes will be
made from there from here on.
12) The New Applications Folder:
Now that we have a second Applications folder on Local we want to
add a Symlink inside that Applications folder that lets us navigate to the original
Applications folder on the Root drive. This gives us access to all
applications from one place, even though we have applications folders on two
To accomplish this, go to the Root drive and right
click on Applications.
Then under the 'More' menu select
Make Symbolic Link.
This will have created a Symlink called "Applications Symlink".
Rename this new Applications symlink to " root Applications".
Insert a space at the beginning of the name - before "root". (space root space Applications)
This will insure that the root Applications Symlink is located at the top
of the applications list. It will look like the
graphic at right after you rename it.
Next we want to move the just created root Applications symlink
from the Root drive into the new Applications folder on Local (see
graphic below). To do that, open a second Finder window and open it to Local.
Hold down the Command key and drag root Applications into
the Applications folder on Local. Holding the Command key moves the link as
opposed to copying the link should you not hold down the Command key.
From now on install your new personal applications into the
new Applications folder. As the graphic below shows: Photoshop, AJA Data Rate
Calculator, SyncronizeProX, etc.
You can either move your already installed
over from the root applications folder or reinstall them as required.
End result is all personally purchased applications end up stored in Local Applications
the Applications folder link in the Sidebar with the one from Local. The
default Sidebar Applications folder points to root Applications. Drag it
out of the
Sidebar and it will go poof, it is just an alias. Replace it by dragging
folder from Local
to the Sidebar in its place. Instantly you have a easy way to find all
your Applications from the one easy to locate link.
Last step - Set up your Backups:
Finally got there! Everything is now done
except configuring your automated backups. Using SyncronizeProX we set up
auto backups for the User drive Local to BackupLocal for
every night at midnight or 1 AM or thereabouts. I like to have the Root
backup an hour later but only once a week on friday nights. That way
any changes made on the OS drive during the week get updated then,
and any wrecks during the week leave the backup OS intact until
friday night, just in case I need the weekend to fix something.
My apologies for the length of this guide. And thanks for sticking
with me to the end. If you have any comments, questions or suggestions please
feel free to email
I am always happy for the feedback. I made assumptions in quite a few places
that the reader has some OSX operating knowledge. While that may not always
true, the problem assuming the opposite makes for a book length guide. My
apologies again if I missed something or phrased something that makes this
difficult to follow.
Enjoy the speed!
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