Move Your Mac's Home Folder to a New Location

Your Home folder doesn't have to be on your startup drive

Advance options for Mac OS user account
Screen shot courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.

The Mac OS is a multi-user operating system with unique home folders for each user; each home folder contains data specific to the user. Your home folder is the repository for your music, movies, documents, pictures, and other files you create with your Mac. It also houses your personal Library folder, where your Mac stores system and application data related to your account.

Your home folder is always located on the startup drive, the same one that houses OS X or macOS (depending on the version). This may not be an ideal location for your home folder, however. Storing the home folder on another drive may be a much better choice, especially if you want to increase the performance of your Mac by installing an SSD (Solid State Drive) to serve as your startup drive. Because SSDs are still expensive when compared to platter-based hard drive, most individuals buy smaller drives, in the range of 128 GB to 512 GB in size. Larger SSDs are available, but they currently cost a good deal more per GB than smaller ones. The problem with smaller SSDs is a lack of sufficient space to house the Mac OS and all your applications, plus all your user data.

The easy solution is to move your home folder to a different drive. Let's look at an example. On my Mac, if I wanted to swap out the startup drive for a much faster SSD, I would need one that could accommodate all my current data, plus have some room for growth. My current startup drive is a 1 TB model, of which I'm actively using 401 GB. It would, therefore, take an SSD with a minimum of 512 GB to meet my current needs; this would be a tight fit for any type of growth. A quick look at the price of SSDs in the 512 GB and up range sends my wallet into sticker shock.

But if I could pare the size down by eliminating some data, or better yet, just moving some data to another hard drive, I could get by with a smaller, less expensive SSD. A quick look at my home folder tells me it accounts for 271 GB of the space being taken up on the startup drive. That means that if I could move the home folder data to another drive, I would only be using 130 GB to store the OS, applications, and other necessary items. And that means a smaller SSD in the range of 200 to 256 GB would be large enough to take care of my current needs, as well as allow for future expansion.

So, how do you move your home folder to another location? Well, if you're using OS X 10.5 or later, the process is actually pretty simple.

How to Move Your Home Folder to a New Location

Before you begin this process, make sure you have a current backup, using whatever method is your favorite. I'm going to clone my current startup drive, which still contains my home folder, to an external bootable drive. That way I can easily restore everything to how it was before I started this process, if necessary.

Once your backup is complete, follow these steps:

  1. Using the Finder, navigate to your startup drive's /Users folder. For most people, this will probably be /Macintosh HD/Users. In the Users folder, you'll find your home folder, easily identified by the house icon.

  2. Select the home folder and drag it to its new destination on another drive. Because you're using a different drive for the destination, the Mac OS will copy the data rather than move it, which means the original data will remain in its current location. We'll delete the original home folder later after we have verified that everything is working.

  3. Launch System Preferences by clicking the System Preferences icon in the Dock, or selecting System Preferences from the Apple menu.

  4. In the Accounts preference pane or the Users & Groups (OS X Lion and later), click the lock icon in the bottom left corner, then provide an administrator name and password.

  5. From the list of user accounts, right-click on the account whose home folder you moved, and select Advanced Options from the pop-up menu. Warning: Do not make any changes to the Advanced Options, except for those noted here. Doing so can cause quite a few unforeseen problems that could lead to data loss or the need to reinstall the OS.

  6. In the Advanced Options sheet, click the Choose button, located to the right of the Home directory field.

  7. Navigate to the location you moved your home folder to, select the new home folder, and click OK.

  8. Click OK to dismiss the Advanced Options sheet, and then close System Preferences.

  9. Restart your Mac, and it will use the home folder in the new location.

Verify That Your New Home Folder Location Is Functioning

  1. Once your Mac restarts, navigate to the location of your new home folder. The new home folder should now display the house icon.

  2. Launch TextEdit, located at /Applications.

  3. Create a test TextEdit file by typing a few words and then saving the document. In the dropdown Save sheet, select your new home folder as the location to store the test document. Give the test document a name, and click Save.

  4. Open a Finder window, and navigate to your new home folder.

  5. Open the home folder and examine the folder's content. You should see the test document you just created.

  6. Open a Finder window, and navigate to the old location for your home folder. This home folder should still be listed by name, but it should no longer have the house icon.

That's all there is to it. You now have a new working location for your home folder.

When you're satisfied that everything is working properly (try out a few applications, use your Mac for a few days), you can delete the original home folder.

You may wish to repeat the process for any additional users on your Mac.

Startup Drive Needs at Least One Administrator User Account

While there's no specific requirement for the startup drive to have an administrator account, it’s a pretty good idea for general troubleshooting purposes.

Imagine that you've moved all your user accounts to another drive, either internal or external, and then something happens to make the drive that is holding your user accounts fail. It could be that the drive goes bad, or maybe something as simple as the drive needing minor repairs that Disk Utility can easily accomplish.

Sure, you can use the Recovery HD partition to access troubleshooting and repair utilities, but it's easier to have a spare administrator account located on your startup drive that you can simply log into when an emergency occurs.