Mac Tutorials

How to Transfer Data from Mac to Mac

Don’t leave your most important data behind when upgrading to a new Mac. There are a number of ways to move files from one Mac to another, allowing you to take your applications, documents, photos, and other things with you to your new computer. In this article, we’ll show you the best methods to use.

 

Before we begin:

 

Before you copy files from one Mac to another, it’s a great idea to get rid of some of the data you don’t really need anymore. Use the MacKeeper Duplicates Finder to quickly find and remove all your files and photos that are identical to others, cutting down on the amount of data you need to migrate.

 

Here’s how to use it:

  1. Download MacKeeper and install it on your old Mac.
  2. When the application opens, select Duplicates Finder in the sidebar.
  3. Click the Start Scan button to find all duplicate files.
  4. Review and select the duplicates you want to delete, then click Remove Selected.

You can use different methods to migrate Mac to Mac, depending on the type of data you want to move and the condition of your old Mac:

Use Migration Assistant

Migration Assistant is a tool built into macOS that allows you to copy all the stuff you had on an older computer to a new Mac. It’s available on OS X 10.7 Lion and later versions of Apple’s operating system. Here’s what to do:

  1. Open Migration Assistant on your new Mac from within the Other folder in Launchpad. Alternatively, if you haven’t started using your new Mac yet, follow the setup process until you get to the Migration Assistant screen.
  2. Select the option to transfer information From a Mac, Time Machine backup or Startup disk, then click Continue.
  3. If prompted, enter your Mac’s administrator password, then click OK.
  4. Now open Migration Assistant on your old Mac. If it doesn’t have the Launchpad, you can find Migration Assistant in Applications > Utilities.
  5. Select the option to transfer To another Mac, then click Continue.
  6. On your new Mac, select your old Mac in the list of options, then click Continue.
  7. If you see a security code displayed on the screen, ensure the codes are the same on both machines, then click Continue.
  8. Select the information you want to transfer to your new Mac, such as your user account, programs, and system settings, then click Continue when you’re ready to start the process.
  9. Once the transfer is complete, you can log into your existing account on your new iMac, and all the data you’ve chosen to migrate should be there.
To use Migration Assistant to move content from one Mac computer to another, open the app on your new Mac from within the Other folder in Launchpad.
Step 1. Open Migration Assistant on your new Mac
Migration Assistant on Mac showing all options for transferring data. To use Migration Assistant to move content from one Mac to another, select From a Mac, then click Continue.
Step 2. Select the first option, then click Continue
Migration Assistant on Mac showing options to transfer data. To use Migration Assistant to move content from one Mac to another, select To another Mac, then click Continue.
Step 3. Select this option in Migration Assistant on your old Mac
Migration Assistant on Mac showing the transfer information window. To use Migration Assistant to move content from one Mac to another, select your old Mac, then click Continue.
Step 4. On your new Mac, select your old computer
Migration Assistant on Mac showing options for transferring information. To use Migration Assistant to move content from one Mac to another, select your preferences, then click Continue.
Step 5. Choose the data you want to transfer

Hints from our experts: To get ready to use Migration Assistant for data transfer, you should update your software on both Macs and enable Wi-Fi on both computers. If either machine is running OS X El Capitan or earlier, they’ll need to be connected to the same Wi-Fi network. If you use any antivirus or VPN software, disable it until the migration is finished, or it could cause issues.

Transfer your data to the new Mac without Migration Assistant

If you find that Migration Assistant isn’t working, your old Mac doesn’t support it, or you simply don’t want to use it, there are other ways you can move your data, including:

  1. Migrate data from Mac to Mac with AirDrop
  2. Use File Sharing to copy files from Mac to Mac
  3. Clone data from Mac to Mac via Time Machine backup
  4. Move files from Mac to Mac with iCloud storage
  5. Transfer from Mac to Mac using iMessage
  6. Transfer files from Mac to Mac via Bluetooth Sharing
  7. Move data from Mac to Mac via email
  8. Use Target Disk Mode to clone Mac to Mac
  9. Use an external hard drive to transfer the old Mac to the new Mac

1. Migrate data from Mac to Mac with AirDrop

AirDrop is an easy way to send files, photos, and other data from one Mac to another wirelessly. To use it to migrate data from Mac to Mac, you’ll need to be running OS X 10.7 Lion or a more recent version of macOS on both desktop machines. Then follow these steps:

  1. On your old Mac, right-click the file you want to send to your new Mac, then click Share.
  2. Choose AirDrop from the list of options.
  3. Select your new Mac in the AirDrop menu to start the transfer.
  4. Accept the file on your new Mac from the AirDrop notification that will appear on the screen. Files received over AirDrop will automatically be saved in the Downloads folder.
The right-click menu on Mac showing the Share option. To migrate data from one Mac to another Mac with AirDrop, click Share to send a file to your new Mac.
Step 1. Right-click your file, then click Share
The Share menu on Mac showing all sharing options. To migrate data from one Mac to another Mac with AirDrop, click AirDrop to send a file to your new Mac.
Step 2. Select AirDrop
The AirDrop window on Mac showing all available devices. To migrate data from one Mac to another Mac with AirDrop, select your new Mac to send your file.
Step 3. Choose your new Mac
The AirDrop notification on Mac showing Accept and Decline options. To migrate data from one Mac to another Mac with AirDrop, click Accept to allow a file transfer.
Step 4. Accept on your new Mac

Note from our team: If you need to send multiple files, documents, photos, and other items over AirDrop, it’s a good idea to put them all into a single folder first. You can then send the entire folder to transfer everything, rather than having to send each file individually.

2. Use File Sharing to copy files from Mac to Mac

Another way to copy files from one Mac to another on the same network is with File Sharing. This allows you to wirelessly access selected files and folders on your old Mac while using your new one. Here’s how to set it up:

  1. Open System Settings on your old Mac.
  2. Select General, then click Sharing.
  3. Enable File Sharing, then enter your Mac’s password to confirm.
  4. Click the i button next to File Sharing, then enable Allow full disk access for all users.
  5. Under Shared Folders, click the + button, then find a folder you want to share. Select it, then click Open. Repeat this process for all the folders you want to access on your new Mac.
  6. On your new Mac, open Finder, then select Network in the sidebar.
  7. Double-click on your old Mac, then click the Connect As button.
  8. Enter the administrator username and password for your old Mac, then click Connect.
  9. You should now have access to all the folders you chose to share on your old Mac. To copy files to your new machine, simply drag them into a local folder.
System Settings on Mac showing the General menu. To use Bluetooth file sharing to copy files from one Mac to another Mac, first click Sharing to see all sharing options.
Step 1. In Settings, click General > Sharing
System Settings on Mac showing the Sharing menu. To use Bluetooth file sharing to copy files from one Mac to another Mac, enable File Sharing to allow your new Mac to access files on your old Mac.
Step 2. Enable File Sharing
System Settings on Mac showing the Sharing menu. To use Bluetooth file sharing to copy files from one Mac to another Mac, click the i icon next to File Sharing to access the preferences.
Step 3. Click the i icon
System Settings showing the File Sharing menu on Mac. To use Bluetooth file sharing to copy files from one Mac to another Mac, allow full disk access if necessary, add your folders, then click Done.
Step 4. Enable full disk access and add folders
Finder on Mac showing the Network folder. To use Bluetooth file sharing to copy files from one Mac to another Mac, select your old Mac to connect to it.
Step 5. On your new Mac, select your old Mac in Finder > Network
Finder on Mac showing a connection to another device. To use Bluetooth file sharing to copy files from one Mac to another Mac, click Connect As and sign in to your old Mac.
Step 6. Click the Connect As button
The Network connect prompt on Mac showing the login options. To use Bluetooth file sharing to copy files from one Mac to another Mac, enter the admin username and password for your old Mac, then click Connect.
Step 7. Sign into your old Mac

3. Clone data from Mac to Mac via Time Machine backup

A simple way to clone a Mac to a new Mac is by using a Time Machine backup. To do this, you’ll need an external drive big enough to hold all the data on your old Mac. Now, follow our instructions:

  1. Open System Settings on your old Mac.
  2. Select General, then click Time Machine.
  3. Click Add Backup Disk, choose your external drive, then click Set Up Disk. Your Mac will immediately begin backing up all your data. Wait for this process to finish before disconnecting the drive and moving the data to your new machine.
  4. To restore your new Mac from the Time Machine backup, you can use Migration Assistant. Alternatively, you can copy files from the backup to your new machine manually by connecting the external drive and dragging the files you want to copy to a local folder in Finder.
System Settings on Mac showing the General menu. To clone data from one Mac to another Mac using Time Machine, first select Time Machine to backup your old Mac's data to an external drive.
Step 1. In System Settings, select General > Time Machine
System Settings on Mac showing the Time Machine menu. To clone data from one Mac to another Mac using Time Machine, click Add Backup Disk to backup to a new external drive.
Step 2. Click Add Backup Disk
The Time Machine settings on Mac showing the option to select a new drive. After making a selection, click Set Up Disk to clone data from one Mac to another Mac using Time Machine.
Step 3. Select your drive, then click Set Up Disk

4. Move files from Mac to Mac with iCloud storage

If you don’t have an external storage device for backups, you can move files from Mac to Mac by using iCloud storage instead. Here’s how:

  1. Open System Settings on your old Mac, then click Apple ID.
  2. Select iCloud, then click iCloud Drive.
  3. Enable Sync this Mac and Desktop & Documents Folders, then click Done.
  4. Return to the iCloud menu, then select iCloud Photos.
  5. Enable Sync this Mac, then click Done.
  6. Sign into your iCloud account on your new Mac.
System Settings on Mac showing the Apple ID menu. To move files from Mac to Mac using iCloud storage, first click iCloud.
Step 1. In System Settings, select Apple ID > iCloud
System Settings on Mac showing the iCloud menu. Click iCloud Drive and set your backup settings to move files from Mac to Mac using iCloud storage.
Step 2. Click iCloud Drive
System Settings on Mac showing the iCloud Drive options. Set your preferences, then click Done to move files from Mac to Mac using iCloud storage.
Step 3. Set your preferences, then click Done
System Settings on Mac showing the iCloud menu. Click Photos to set your backup settings to move files from Mac to Mac using iCloud storage.
Step 4. In iCloud menu, select Photos
System Settings on Mac showing the iCloud Photos options. To move files from Mac to Mac using iCloud storage, enable Sync this Mac, then click Done.
Step 5. Enable Sync this Mac > click Done
The iCloud login window on Mac. To move files from Mac to Mac using iCloud storage, enter your iCloud email address and password, then click Next to sign in.
Step 6. Sign into iCloud on your new Mac

As long as you’re using the same iCloud account on both Macs, your most important data—including the Desktop and Documents folders, system settings, and photos—will be synced across both devices.

5. Transfer data from Mac to Mac using iMessage

One of the fastest ways to transfer data between two Macs is by using iMessage. This isn’t ideal for large files, but it’s quick and easy for smaller documents, photos, videos, and more:

  1. On your old Mac, right-click the file you want to send to your new Mac, then click Share.
  2. Choose Messages from the list of options.
  3. Enter the phone number or email address you’re using for iMessage on your new Mac, then Send.
  4. Open Messages on your new Mac and save the file to your computer.
The right-click menu on Mac showing the Share option. To transfer data from Mac to Mac using iMessage, click Share.
Step 1. Right-click your file, then click Share
The Share menu on Mac showing all sharing options. Select Messages to transfer data from Mac to Mac using iMessage.
Step 2. Select Messages
Messages on Mac showing an attached file. Enter your iMessage email address or phone number, then send the file to transfer data from Mac to Mac using iMessage.
Step 3. Send to your iMessage account
Messages on Mac showing a file received over iMessage. Drag the file to a folder on your new Mac to transfer data from Mac to Mac using iMessage.
Step 4. Save the file on your new Mac by dragging it to a folder

6. Transfer files from Mac to Mac via Bluetooth Sharing

If you need to transfer files from a Mac that doesn’t support AirDrop, the closest wireless alternative is Bluetooth Sharing. Here’s how to use it:

  1. On your new Mac, open System Settings > Bluetooth to make it discoverable over Bluetooth.
  2. On your old Mac, open Bluetooth File Exchange from the Applications > Utilities folder.
  3. Find and select the file you want to send to your new Mac, then click Send.
  4. Select your new Mac in the list of Bluetooth devices, then click Send.
System Settings on Mac showing the Bluetooth menu. To transfer files from Mac to Mac via Bluetooth Sharing, leave this menu open to make your Mac discoverable over Bluetooth.
Step 1. Open Settings > Bluetooth on your new Mac
Finder on Mac showing the Utilities folder. Double-click Bluetooth File Exchange to open it and transfer files from Mac to Mac via Bluetooth Sharing.
Step 2. Open Bluetooth File Exchange on your old Mac
Bluetooth File Exchange on Mac showing the file explorer. Select a file you want to send, then click Send to transfer files from Mac to Mac via Bluetooth Sharing.
Step 3. Select your file, then click Send
Bluetooth File Exchange on Mac showing the send screen. Select your new Mac, then click Send to transfer files from Mac to Mac via Bluetooth Sharing.
Step 4. Select your new Mac > click Send

7. Move data from Mac to Mac via email

Another great way to move data from one Mac to another when you’re dealing with smaller files is via email. First, ensure you have an account set up in Mail on your old Mac, then follow these steps:

  1. Right-click the file you want to send to your new Mac, then select Share.
  2. Choose the Mail option.
  3. A new email will open with the file already attached. Enter the email address you want to send it to, add a subject if necessary, then click the Send button.
  4. On your new Mac, open your Mail inbox to find the email with the file attached.
  5. Right-click the file, then select Save to Downloads Folder.
The right-click menu on Mac showing the Share option. To move data from Mac to Mac via email, click Share to send a file to your new Mac.
Step 1. Right-click your file, then select Share
The Share menu on Mac showing all sharing options. Select Mail to move data from Mac to Mac via email.
Step 2. Select Mail
Mail on Mac showing a new compose window with a file attached. Enter your email address, then click Send to move data from Mac to Mac via email.
Step 3. Send the file to your email address
Mail on Mac showing a new email with an attached file. To move data from Mac to Mac via email, right-click the file, then click Save to Downloads Folder to save it.
Step 4. Save to Downloads on your new Mac

8. Use Target Disk mode to clone Mac to Mac

One of the fastest ways to clone files from Mac to Mac directly is by using Target Disk mode, which makes your old Mac act like an external drive when it’s connected to your new Mac. To do this, you’ll need a USB, USB-C, or Thunderbolt cable. You can then follow these steps:

  1. Connect both computers using the appropriate cable.
  2. Shut down your old Mac, then start it up again while pressing and holding down the T key.
  3. When your old Mac has been booted up, it’ll appear as an external drive on your new Mac. You can now copy files from your old machine to your new one.
  4. When you’re done, Eject your old Mac by dragging its disk icon to Trash, then press its power button to shut it down.

Important: Note that if either of your Macs is running macOS 11 or later, you’ll need to connect the two computers using a compatible Thunderbolt cable.

9. Use an external hard drive to transfer the old Mac to the new Mac

If you prefer to keep things simple, the traditional method of moving files using an external drive is a great way to transfer Mac to Mac data. First, grab an external drive that has enough storage space for the files you want to move, then do this:

  1. Connect your external drive to your old Mac.
  2. Open Finder, then select your external drive in the sidebar.
  3. Drag and drop all the files you want to transfer to your new Mac into the Finder window to copy them to your drive.
  4. When you’re done transferring, press the Eject icon next to your external drive in the Finder sidebar.
  5. Disconnect your drive from your old Mac, then connect it to your new one.
  6. Open Finder, then select your external drive in the sidebar.
  7. Drag your files from the external drive to a folder on your new Mac to copy them over.
Finder on Mac showing an external drive in the sidebar. Select the external hard drive to use it to transfer files from your old Mac to your new Mac.
Step 1. Select your external drive on your old Mac
Finder on Mac showing an external drive. Drag files you want to transfer into the Finder window to transfer files from your old Mac to your new Mac using an external hard drive.
Step 2. Drag in files you want to transfer
Finder on Mac showing an external drive. Eject the drive when you're done with it to keep its data intact.
Step 3. Eject your drive when finished
Finder on Mac showing an external drive. Select the drive in the sidebar to use it to transfer files from your old Mac to your new Mac using an external hard drive.
Step 4. Connect your drive to your new Mac
Finder on Mac showing an external drive. To transfer files from your old Mac to your new Mac using an external hard drive, drag files out of the window to a folder.
Step 5. Drag out files you want to save

How to migrate applications to a new Mac without Migration Assistant

If you want to transfer applications to a new Mac without Migration Assistant, you have several options, including:

  1. Use App Store
  2. Use external devices
  3. Use AirDrop

1. Use App Store

The simplest way to transfer applications to your new Mac is to re-download them from the App Store from your account. In this case, you won’t have to repurchase them—they’ll be free to download again. Here’s how:

  1. Open the App Store on your new Mac.
  2. If you’re not already signed in, click Sign In in the bottom-left corner and sign into the same App Store account you were using on your old Mac.
  3. Once you’re signed in, click your name in the bottom-left corner to see all the apps you’ve downloaded and purchased in the past. Click the blue download icon next to each of those you want to install on your new Mac.
The App Store on Mac showing the Discover screen. Click your name or sign in to access your App Store account to migrate applications to your new Mac without using Migration Assistant.
Step 1. Sign in or click your name in the App Store
The App Store on Mac showing the Account screen. Click the download button next to an app to migrate applications to your new Mac without using Migration Assistant.
Step 2. Click the download button to install apps

2. Use external devices

For software that isn’t available from the App Store, you can migrate it from one Mac to another using an external storage device. First, connect a drive with enough storage space to your old Mac, then follow these steps:

  1. Open Finder on your old Mac, then select Applications.
  2. Find the app or game you want to migrate, then drag it to your external drive in the Finder sidebar.
  3. Once you have finished copying the apps you need, click the Eject icon next to your external drive in the sidebar.
  4. Connect your external drive to your new Mac.
  5. Open Finder, then select your external drive in the sidebar.
  6. Drag the apps you want to copy over to the Applications folder in the sidebar.
Finder on Mac showing the Applications folder alongside an external drive folder. Drag apps to the external drive to transfer them to a new Mac without using Migration Assistant.
Step 1. Drag apps to your external drive on old Mac
Finder on Mac showing an external drive. Click the Eject button to safely disconnect the drive when you're finished with it.
Step 2. Eject your drive when done
Finder on Mac showing the Applications folder alongside an external drive folder. Drag apps from the external drive to the Applications folder to transfer them to a new Mac without using Migration Assistant.
Step 3. Drag apps back to Applications on new Mac

3. Use AirDrop

AirDrop is an easy way to share software as well as files. Here’s how to use it to transfer an app from one Mac to another:

  1. Open Finder on your old Mac, then select Applications in the sidebar.
  2. Right-click the app you want to transfer, then click Share.
  3. Choose AirDrop.
  4. Select your new Mac in the list to begin sharing.
  5. On your new Mac, click Accept in the AirDrop notification to receive the transfer if necessary.
  6. The app will be saved to your Downloads folder after it has been transferred. We recommend dragging it from here to the Applications folder so it’s easier to find later.
The right-click menu on Mac showing the Share option. Click Share to send an app to your new Mac via AirDrop without using Migration Assistant.
Step 1. Right-click an app, then click Share
The Share menu on Mac showing all sharing options. Select AirDrop to send an app to your new Mac without using Migration Assistant.
Step 2. Select AirDrop
The AirDrop window on Mac showing all available devices. Select your new Mac to send an app to it via AirDrop without using Migration Assistant.
Step 3. Choose your new Mac
Finder on Mac showing the Downloads folder. After sending the app via AirDrop, drag the program from Downloads to Applications to save them in the correct location.
Step 4. Drag from Downloads to Applications on a new Mac

How to migrate data from a broken Mac to a new Mac

As long as your broken Mac still powers on, it’s possible to migrate its data using Target Disk mode. You don’t even need a working display for this. However, if your Mac doesn’t power on anymore, your options for migrating data are very limited.

 

If you have an older Mac with a removable hard disk or SSD, you can remove it, put it into a compatible drive enclosure, and then connect it to your new Mac as an external drive. If that’s not an option, you may need to turn to Apple or a third-party data recovery specialist for help.

FAQ

What should you transfer to a new Mac?

It’s best to transfer all the data you want to keep when switching to a new Mac, including files, photos, and videos. You may also want to transfer applications, however, in many cases, it’s best to download and install a fresh copy on your new Mac.

How long does Migration Assistant take?

Migration Assistant may take as little as a few minutes, or as long as a few hours. It all depends on how much data you need to transfer from your old Mac to your new one.

How to transfer photos from Mac to Mac

You can transfer photos from Mac to Mac using iCloud Photos, AirDrop, iMessage, or email. For larger photo libraries, you can also use an external drive or Target Disk mode.

Does Migration Assistant transfer everything?

Migration Assistant can transfer documents, apps, user accounts, and settings to a new Mac, and you can customize it only to transfer what you really need.

Where is Migration Assistant on Mac?

You can find Migration Assistant on Mac in the Utilities folder inside Applications. If you’re setting up a new Mac for the first time, Migration Assistant will appear as part of the setup process.

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