How to Use Migration Assistant with macOS Catalina

If you just upgraded to a new Mac, or used the clean install method to upgrade to macOS Catalina, chances are you’re going to need to copy information from your old Mac, or older Mac OS, to your upgraded Mac.

There are a number of ways to perform this task but by far the easiest is to use the Migration Assistant included with the Mac operating system. The Migration Assistant can transfer your applications, documents, computer settings, printer setups, and user accounts to your new or updated Mac.

The macOS Catalina version of the Migration Assistant hasn’t seen a lot of changes, at least not on the external interface of the app. If you’ve used the Migration Assistant in the past, you should be right at home with the newer version.

Migration Assistant transfer status.
Migration Assistant can transfer information from your older Mac, or an older version of the OS, to your newly upgraded Mac.

There are, however, a few tips we’re going to go over that may help you overcome any problems that could arise when moving information to your macOS Catalina-equipped Mac.

Ways to Use Migration Assistant

In this Rocket Yard guide we’re going to look at two of the possible ways to move the information to your new install of macOS Catalina. If you wish to migrate from an older Mac to a new Mac you just purchased, you’ll find detailed instructions in the guide:

Migration Assistant: The Easy Way to Transfer Your Data to a New Mac

The method we’re going to focus on involves directly connecting a startup drive, clone, or Time Machine drive to your Mac. The reason for concentrating on these two methods is to avoid some common issues that can occur when migrating data; slow or inconsistent network performance, or failure of the Migration Assistant to locate a network-connected drive (or Mac) to transfer data from.

Preparation Before Using the Migration Assistant

As we mentioned, this guide looks at transferring information from a directly connected storage device, and our preparation notes reflect that. Check the Migration Assistant link above for more detailed information about transferring data and files using network connections or Target Disk Mode.

Migration Assistant will work with a source drive running OS X Snow Leopard 10.6.8 or later. However, you should, if possible, update your source drive to the most current version of the Mac OS that the drive is currently using. As an example, macOS Sierra’s last minor version update was to macOS Sierra 10.12.6. Updating to the latest revision for the operating system helps to ensure that bugs, and issues that could affect data transfer, are reduced as much as possible.

Migration Assistant supports the following connection methods:

  • FireWire, Thunderbolt, or USB 2 or later (USB 3.1 or later is preferred).
  • Direct connection of drives that contain a valid Mac OS system or a Time Machine drive.
  • Third-party apps should be updated before they’re migrated, to ensure you have a recent version.
  • Drivers for third-party devices should be updated before migrating.

You should have a current backup before you begin the Migration Assistant process. The exception: if you just performed a clean install of the Mac OS and haven’t made any changes yet. In that case, as long as you still have the Mac OS Installer, you can skip the backup step. Make a note; this is one of the few times we have ever said, “Go ahead. Who needs a backup?”

Using Migration Assistant with a Startup Drive or Clone

If the source drive that contains the startup drive or clone is in an external enclosure, make sure it is adequately powered and plugged into your Mac.

If it’s housed on a partition on an internal drive, you should be all set.

Disk Utilities app can be used to mount volumes on your Mac.
If the volume you wish to migrate data from isn’t mounted on your Mac, you can use Disk Utility to force the device to mount.

Make sure the source drive is mounted on your Mac’s Desktop. If it isn’t, try the following:

Launch Disk Utility, located at /Applications/Utilities.

Find the drive/volume/partition in Disk Utility’s sidebar.

Right-click the volume and select Mount from the popup window.

With the source volume mounted on your Mac, you’re ready to start the migration process.

Quit any currently running apps.

Launch Migration Assistant, located at /Applications/Utilities.

The Migration Assistant window will open with a brief description of what the app can do, and a warning that all other apps will be closed. Click the Continue button.

If asked, provide your administrator password and click OK.

Migration Assistant allows you to choose the transfer method.
You can select the type of source to use for transferring data to your Mac.

All apps will close and Migration Assistant will provide three methods for moving information:

Select “From a Mac, Time Machine backup, or startup disk” and then click the Continue button.

Migration Assistant will look for storage devices directly connected to your Mac, showing them as a row of icons along with the drive names. Migration Assistant will also continuously look for other sources it can use. Do not wait for the “Looking for other sources” to end.

Select the disk you wish to use as the source of information to move to your Mac, and then click the Continue button.

Select the source for Migration Assistant to use.
You can select any source device that contains a bootable Mac OS system, or a drive holding a Time Machine backup.

Migration Assistant will examine the selected source and display the items that can be transferred to your Mac. The list is dependent on the type of information on the source Mac, but you’re likely to see:

  • Applications
  • User Accounts – with each account including:
    • Library
    • Downloads
    • Movies
    • Pictures
    • Public
    • Trash
    • Desktop
    • Music
    • Other data
  • Other files and folders
  • Computer & Network Settings – including the following:
    • Computer
    • Printer
    • Network

A checkmark in the box associated with each item indicates that item will be copied to your Mac. An item with a disclosure triangle indicates there are sub-items you can choose to be included.

In some cases, you may see a yellow exclamation point next to an item. This indicates a conflict between the item on the source and an item on the current Mac. You can either deselect the item or allow the Migration Assistant to resolve the conflict for you. You’ll be guided through the resolution options if a conflict occurs.

After you’ve made the choices for which items to copy to your Mac, click the Continue button.

Select the information you wish to transfer using Migration Assistant.
Place a checkmark next to the items you wish to have moved to your Mac. Don’t forget to expand the disclosure triangles for even more choices.

Tip: It’s usually safe to copy over user information, as well as Other files and folders. Applications and Computer & Network Settings can be problematic, especially if you performed a clean install of macOS Catalina because you had issues with the previous version of the Mac OS. Copying those items over may just copy the problem files to the new version of the OS. Instead, reinstall applications you need, and reconfigure any needed computer and network settings.

Migration Assistant may reset user passwords that are being moved. Be sure to make a note of any new passwords that are created; you will need them to log in to a specific account.

Set new passwords for user accounts.
Migration Assistant may reset user account passwords. Be sure to write down the new passwords so you can log into the account later.

Migration Assistant will offer conflict resolution, if any exists. Follow the onscreen prompts to mitigate any issues. This usually involves deleting a user account or renaming a user account.

Migration Assistant will start the transfer process, and display a status bar to let you know how the process is going.

Once the transfer is complete, you’ll be able to click on the Quit button to leave Migration Assistant and log in to your Mac.

Using Migration Assistant with a Time Machine Drive

Transferring information from an older Mac or a previous OS version can also be performed using Time Machine. Using Time Machine has a number of advantages:

  • You can bypass using a network connection or Target Disk Mode, which has been known to have transfer issues for some users. Instead, if the Time Machine drive is an external device, just connect the enclosure to your new Mac.
  • If you have an external drive available, you can create a Time Machine backup of any Mac you have, and use Migration Assistant to transfer the information for you.
  • And of course, if your Time Machine drive is internally housed on your Mac, you can use it for the Migration Assistant source, with no cables or network connection needed.

The actual process is nearly identical to the one outlined in Using Migration Assistant with a Startup Drive or Clone, found above.

The differences are as follows:

When selecting a source for the information to be transferred, be sure to select the Time Machine drive from the list.

After you select the Time Machine drive, you’ll be asked to select which backup set on the Time Machine drive to use. 

Warning: Time Machine drives can house backups from multiple Macs; make sure you select the correct backup set that belongs to the Mac you wish to migrate data from.

Make your selection, and click Continue.

Migration Assistant can resolve most conflicts that may arise when transferring information.
Migration Assistant can help resolve any conflicts between an account you are transferring and one that already exists on your Mac.

At this point you’ll perform the same steps as outlined above:

  • Choose which items to transfer.
  • Generate new passwords for user accounts if needed (be sure to write down the passwords; you’ll need them later).
  • Resolve any conflicts.
  • Transfer the actual information.

Incompatible Software

Migration Assistant will not move apps or services that are not compatible with macOS Catalina. At the end of the transfer process, Migration Assistant will display a list of apps that have not been migrated.

Make a note of the apps in the list, and contact their developers for an updated version.

Migration Assistant generates a list of incompatible apps.
Not all apps will be transferred; those that are incompatible with the newer version of the Mac OS will be left behind.

Note: Not all apps will have updates available. You will likely have some apps that will need to be replaced with equivalent products. It’s also possible to maintain a partition with the older version of the OS just for running the older apps. Another option is to use Parallels or another virtual machine environment to run an older version of the Mac OS concurrently with your new version. I use Parallels to run some games in OS X Yosemite that don’t run on later versions of the Mac OS.

Migration Assistant Secrets

These may not actually be secrets, but there’s a good chance these tips aren’t well known:

You can use Migration Assistant more than once, to consolidate users scattered across different Macs to a single new Mac. Just be careful not to copy any information other than the user data. Copying apps, or computer or network settings, from multiple Macs can cause issues later on.

Avoid Wi-Fi; although Apple says Migration Assistant has no issues using Wi-Fi as long as both Macs are on the same Wi-Fi network, it’s been a source of problems for many users. Problems include not being able to find the source Mac, or Migration Assistant losing the connection during file transfers.

If you can, choose one of the other connection options.

Troubleshooting Migration Assistant Issues

One of the two common issues encountered with Migration Assistant is the failure of the app to find the source device you’re trying to copy from. Usually this can be resolved by selecting another communication method:

  • Replace Wi-Fi connection with wired Ethernet.
  • Physically connect two Macs and use Target Disk Mode for the transfer.
  • Use a clone, startup drive, or Time Machine drive connected directly to your Mac.

The other common problem is having Migration Assistant freeze or quit during the transfer process. This can happen when the source device is disconnected accidentally or a network connection has issues. It can also occur because of corrupt files or hardware issues on the source or destination.

The best way to fix this type of issue is to check the source and destination before running the Migration Assistant. You can use Disk Utility’s First Aid feature (or a similar app that can check and repair a drive) to verify that the drives involved in the migration are fully functional.

Recovering from a frozen Migration Assistant can be as easy as restarting the Mac and rerunning Migration Assistant; in the worst case, you may need to erase and reinstall the current version of the Mac OS.Have you run into Migration Assistant issues? Let us know the problems you encountered and how or if you were able to fix the issues.



LEAVE A COMMENT


  • Back in the beginning of September of 2017, I did a migration using Apple Migration Assistant (macOS 10.12 Sierra) from Mac mini fusion drive 1 TB to a new iMac with SSD 2 TB.

    It seemed to work OK, but I was shocked to find that many items were missing and worst of all, no warning was issued. I noticed that by sheer chance, since the target had much less disk space used than the source disk after the migration.

    Eventually I could do a migration of all stuff using SuperDuper! Simply, I cloned the source into the destination disk.

    Last but not least, repair the directory of the disks with DiskWarrior to avoid even more issues (I did in the example above). That is why I am still in macOS Sierra until Apple releases documentation to rebuild the directory of APFS disks (safety net):

    DiskWarrior 5.2 & Apple File System (APFS)
    What’s in the works
    The next major release of DiskWarrior will include the ability to rebuild APFS disks. Apple released a portion of the APFS format documentation in September of 2018 . Our developers are now waiting for the remaining portion of documentation to update DiskWarrior in order to safely rebuild Apple File System (APFS) disks.
    https://www.alsoft.com/diskwarrior5apfs