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Archived - How to get files from a previous home directory after Archive and Install

Learn how to restore a user's home directory after an Archive and Install installation. When performing an Archive and Install, you can select the Preserve Users and Network Settings option. If you do, this automatically preserves the users on the computer and keeps their home directories properly associated with them. In other words, if you selected Preserve Users and Network Settings, you do not need this article.

This article has been archived and is no longer updated by Apple.

Mac OS X 10.4.11 or earlier: If you didn't select Preserve Users and Network Settings before the Archive and Install installation, it is assumed that you wish to keep former users' files but you don't want them automatically associated with any existing user. When this happens, the files are located here:

/Previous Systems/Previous System n/Users/

Above, "n" equals a number such as 1. Each time you Archive and Install, a new numbered Previous System folder is added to the Previous Systems folder (Previous System 2, and so forth).

Mac OS X 10.5 or later: If you didn't select Preserve Users and Network Settings before the Archive and Install installation, it is assumed that you wish to keep former users' files but you don't want them automatically associated with any existing user. The files are located in a time-stamped folder:

/Previous Systems/Year-Month-Day_HourMinute

For example, a folder named "2007-11-08_1100" would be created in /Previous Systems/ if you performed the installation at exactly 11 a.m. on November 8, 2007.


If you need to get something out of a previous home directory, follow these steps:

  1. Open Disk Utility (Mac OS X 10.3, 10.4 or later) or Disk Copy (Mac OS X 10.2.8 or earlier). It is located in the Utilities folder, in the Applications folder.
  2. If you use Mac OS X 10.2.8 or earlier or Mac OS X 10.4 or later, from the File menu, choose New > Image from Folder or Volume.
    If you use Mac OS X 10.3 through 10.3.9, from the Images menu, choose New > Image From Folder.
  3. A dialog sheet appears. Select the Previous System folder, then the Users folder, then the folder with the name of the former user.
  4. Click Image.
  5. Save the image file to your desktop (press Command-D), and name it whatever you wish.
  6. When the process is complete, the image file appears on your desktop.

    Tip: The image can also be archived (saved) to a CD or DVD using Disk Copy, Disk Utility, or the Finder, if desired.
  7. Drag any desired files from the mounted image to wherever you wish.


In Mac OS X 10.5.x, if you performed an Archive and Install installation of Mac OS X without preserving users, but later realized that you wanted to preserve users, these steps can be used to recover a user's entire Home folder:

  1. Enable the root user
  2. Log in as root.
  3. Verify that you do not currently have a user account created with the same short name as the home folder that you want to recover.  If you already have a user with the same name as the home folder you are recovering, delete the user account using System Preferences.  Note:  If the new user already has documents in their Home folder which you want to keep, be sure to select the option "Save the home folder in a disk image" or "Do not change the home folder" when prompted.  You must keep at least one administrator user on the system, so if you are removing your only administrator user, first create a temporary administrator user which can be deleted after step 9.
  4. In Finder, open the hard drive, then navigate to Previous Systems/YYYY-MM-DD_HHMM/Users (where YYYY-MM-DD_HHMM is the date and time when the Archive and Install was performed).
  5. Locate the Home folder that you want to recover.
  6. Open another Finder window, go into the hard drive again and navigate to the Users folder.
  7. Drag (move) the the user's (short name) folder from /Previous Systems/YYYY-MM-DD_HHMM/Users to /Users.
  8. Use the Accounts pane in System Preferences to create a new user with the same short name as the home folder moved in the previous step. 
  9. Click OK when prompted with "A folder in the Users folder already has the name "short name".  Would you like to use that folder as the Home folder for this user account?". This will correct the ownership on all files in the Home.
  10. Log out.
  11. Log in as the user created in the previous step.
  12. Disable the root user.
Last Modified: Nov 9, 2011
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  • Last Modified: Nov 9, 2011
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