Mac OS X: How to recover a home folder (directory)

Sometimes you may inadvertently perform an Archive and Install installation without preserving users. Or you need to get files from a user's Home folder whose account you've deleted—or you want to "undelete" that user altogether. If you need to recover items in a Home folder, here's how.

Note: These instructions apply to Mac OS X 10.2 to 10.5 and won't work if you used the "Delete Immediately" function to delete a user (if this is the case, you may be able to use a third-party file recovery utility to recover the Home folder, which will have the same name as the deleted user account's short name, if there has been limited disk activity since you deleted it).

This article has been archived and is no longer updated by Apple.

Recovering user accounts after an Archive and Install

If you forgot to select the "Preserve Users and Network Settings" option before doing an Archive and Install installation, all is not lost. See How to get files from a previous home directory after Archive and Install to find out how to recover your (and any user's) Home folder.

Recovering a deleted user account or user's files from the same computer

  1. If you just want to recover certain files from a deleted user, skip to step 5. If you want to resurrect everything from a deleted user account, choose System Preferences from the Apple menu.
  2. Click Accounts.
  3. Create a new administrator account (select the "Allow user to administer this computer" checkbox). You can use the same short name as the former user's account if you wish—this account will essentially replace the former one.

    Note: If you don't want this account to have long-term administrator access, deselect the "Allow user to administer this computer" checkbox after completing the rest of these steps.
     
  4. Log out of your account, then log in as the new user account.
  5. Go to /Users/Deleted Users, then double-click the deleted_user.dmg file (where deleted_user is the name of the deleted account) to mount the disk image on the desktop.

    Note: If the Home folder was protected by FileVault, you'll need to enter the former user account's password to proceed. In general, make it a point to turn off FileVault before deleting a user to avoid this situation.
     
  6. If you only want certain items, drag those files onto your desktop to copy them. If you want to resurrect the deleted account, copy everything from the disk image to the same locations in your (new user's) Home folder.
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