Migration Assistant is a great way to transfer your files, preferences and settings. From an old Mac or a Mac you no longer use.
With this app you can pick several ways to transfer your files.
And easily move all of your user data from your Mac onto a new one.
And if you’ve been looking into migrating from Windows to a Mac.
Then this app may just be what you need.
What Is Mac Migration Assistant?
Migration Assistant is a free tool included with MacOS. It’s an app that Apple provides that lets you migrate. Take a copy your files and folders and transfer them to another Mac.
As an example you can transfer photos, your music, contacts, calendars. And files created by your applications that live in your home folder.
You can move applications you use on your Mac. As well as moving your old Mac’s settings for the system and network.
Migration Assistant uses the idea of a source computer. What does source computer mean?
It’s your old computer. The place where your data comes from.
Migration Assistant runs on all type of Macs from a desktop Mac, to a MacBook Pro or MacBook Air.
When Would You Use Migration Assistant?
Typically, most users would use Migration Assistant when they’ve bought a new Mac. Say you treated yourself to a spanking new M1 Mac. And now you need to move everything from your older Mac on to it.
When you transfer your files to another Mac. That Mac is set up for you so that when you log in. It all looks as it did on your old Mac.
Choice On Moving Your Information
You’ve a choice on how you move your info with Migration Assistant.
You can choose to migrate your user data over wireless – Mac to Mac.
From a wired connection using Ethernet cable or a USB Thunderbolt cable.
Or by using an external drive plugged into your new computer. A drive that has the full Time Machine backup of your old Mac on it.
And the beauty of using Migration Assistant is. It copies your files over, sets up your user account and puts everything where you’d expect it on your new Mac. Plus it handles all the basic file permissions.
And without Migration Assistant’s help. You’d have to do all that manually yourself.
Windows Migration Assistant What Does That App Do?
It’s software that you download to your Windows PC. And use to migrate and transfer your user files from your PC to your Mac.
In essence it’s the PC end of Migration Assistant on your Mac.
When you have an old Windows PC. And you need to move your user files and folders to a Mac. You’d use Windows Migration Assistant to help you do it.
Like transferring from Mac to Mac. The Windows part of Migration Assistant talks to Migration Assistant on your Mac. And transfer your files.
And you’ve a choice on how you migrate. Over wireless or with an Ethernet cable.
You can transfer your music, photos, videos, files, folders, email, calendars, contacts and email accounts.
It’s another extremely useful Apple tool that moves your files, put them where they should be on your Mac. And deals with any file permission issues.
What Do You Need Before You Can Transfer With Migration Assistant?
You’ll need the Mac you’re transferring from. Your old Mac.
Or the Windows PC you’re moving from.
The Mac you’re transferring to. Your new Mac set up with Setup Assistant. And running the latest release of MacOS. Check for any updates after you’ve run Setup Assistant on your new Mac.
Operating System Releases You’ll Need
You’ll need to bring your old Mac. Or your old Windows PC up to the latest operating system release available for your old computer.
There are also minimum levels of MacOS your older Mac needs to run.
And when you’re not moving to a brand new Mac. Then there is a minimum level of MacOS your newer Mac needs to run.
Your old Mac must run releases after OS X Lion (MacOS 10.7.5).
And your new Mac must run OS X Mavericks (Mac OS 10.9.5) or later.
If you can’t upgrade your Mac to these operating system versions. Then this Apple document here will help with an alternative way to migrate.
And for the Windows PC you’re migrating from. It needs to run Windows 7 or later.
Decide How You’re Going to Transfer
You’ll need to decide how you’re going to move your data.
You can use Migration Assistant over WIFI, Ethernet cable or Thunderbolt cable.
Or you can migrate from a Time Machine backup of your old Mac.
For transferring over WIFI, both Macs must connect to the same WIFI network.
For a wired transfer you’ll need the right cables. Preferably Gb Ethernet cable. Or Thunderbolt 3 or 4 cable.
On your old Mac you’ll need to set up sharing. Click on the Apple logo top left of your old Mac’s desktop screen. Pick System Preferences from the menu. Then pick Sharing. And make sure a name is in the ‘Computer Name’ part of that screen.
For a transfer using an external backup disk. Then you’ll need a Time Machine backup of your old Mac on that external disk. And that backup plugged into your new Mac.
Does The Apple Migration Assistant Transfer Everything?
No, Migration Assistant doesn’t transfer everything. It will not transfer your MacOS. And for very good reason.
When you’re moving from an old Mac to a new Mac there’s usually several year’s difference in age between the two. And it’s not always possible to run the same version of MacOS on the old Mac as the new Mac.
Plus, Apple has moved from Intel based Macs to Apple silicon with the M1 Macs.
And that means trying to move an old version of MacOS onto a new Mac could break your Mac.
So you use Setup Assistant to set up MacOS on a new Mac. And Migration Assistant will transfer everything else.
Migration Assistant Will Transfer
You can click to select one of these options. Or them all.
- Your User Account – All the files in your home folder. Photos, music, video’s, file, folders, calendars, contacts.
- Your Applications – Migration Assistant will move all the applications that can run on your new Mac. Old 32 bit applications won’t run on new 64 bit Macs.
Note that applications that are a standard part of MacOS. Like the Photo’s app and the Music app won’t transfer. Because your new MacOS will have the latest versions of those apps on there already. The files you use with those applications will transfer to your new Mac.
- Other Files and Folders – If you pick this option. Then any other file Migration Assistant finds outside your home folder transfers.
- System & Network – Will migrate your system and network settings. If they will run on your new Mac.
You can find out more about what Migration Assistant will transfer at this document here.
Migration Assistant And Your Other Apple Devices
You may wonder how Migration Assistant helps you in transferring from an old iPhone or iPad to new ones.
Migration Assistant doesn’t directly help you transfer your information from an old Apple gadget. Onto your new one.
You could use iCloud. And copy your mobile device’s data to Apple’s cloud storage. Then just by logging into your new mobile device with your Apple id you move your data over.
Then you can use those Mac backups to restore everything to your new iPhone or iPad. And migrate from old to new quickly and easily.
And if you used your old computer to back up your mobile devices before you migrate. Then Migration Assistant will transfer your gadget’s backup.
And those backups will move to your new Mac when you migrate. Ready for you if you every need to restore your Apple phone or tablet after a failure.
Where Is Migration Assistant Located On Mac?
Migration Assistant is located inside a folder inside your Applications Folder.
Open up your Applications Folder.
Inside there you’ll find the Utilities Folder. Open that folder up.
Inside you’ll find the Migration Assistant tool.
Click on it to open Migration Assistant.
How To Transfer From An Old Mac To A New Mac?
1. On your new Mac log in and Start Migration Assistant.
Go to Applications, then the Utilities folder. And click to start Migration Assistant.
2. Click Continue. Then put in your admin user account and password.
3. Next choose how you want to migrate.
You pick the first option to migrate Mac to Mac over WIFI or from a wired connection.
Or if you plan to migrate from your Time Machine backup. Or from a Startup Disk.
Then click Continue.
4. Click on your Source.
On this next screen Migration Assistant searches for the source for your migration.
The Mac you’re transferring from will appear here.
- When transferring over WIFI. Go to your old Mac and start up Migration Assistant there. And pick the option ‘To Another Mac’. Then click Continue. This allows your old Mac to show up as the source over WIFI.
- When transferring over Ethernet or USB Thunderbolt cable. Go to your old Mac. Open System Preferences. Click on Startup Disk. And click on Target Disk Mode. This will reboot your old Mac. And make it visible to Migration Assistant on your new Mac.
If your old Mac shows you a security code. Check it’s the same on your new Mac.
- When transferring from a Time Machine backup. Plug in your external drive into your new Mac.
Click on your source when it appears. Then click Continue.
If you’re migrating from a Time machine backup then on the next screen you pick the backup and click Continue.
5. Then Pick what you want to Migrate.
Click on all the options: Applications, User Account, Other Files & Folders and System & Network.
Or just the ones you want to move. Click Continue.
When migrating an administration user. Then you’ll next be prompted to put in a password. You can use the password you used on your old Mac.
And if the user name already exists on the new Mac you’ll next get asked what you’d like to do.
Overwrite the account on the new Mac with the old Mac’s information. Or create a copy. Your choice. After that Migration Assistant does its work.
How Long Does Migration Assistant Take To Copy Files From One Mac To Another Mac?
It depends on how you choose to migrate. And on how much data you’re migrating.
Migrating over WIFI is the slowest and least reliable way of migrating. Migrating using a wired connection. Like Ethernet or USB Thunderbolt is faster and more reliable.
The fastest and most reliable way of migrating Mac to Mac. Is from a Time Machine backup of your old Mac. Particularly if that backup is on an SSD external disk drive.
For instance if you’re migrating from an old MacBook Air with a 125GB internal drive over WIFI. Expect that migration to take several hours even with the fastest most reliable WIFI.
Migrating a larger amount of data and you’d be better off with wired connection. Or using an external drive with your old Mac’s backup on it.
You can get far more detail. And work out how long your migration could take by looking at this document on the site. How Long Does Migration Assistant Take?
Does Migration Assistant Wipe An old Mac?
Migration Assistant does not wipe your old Mac. It copies your user data as part as the migration process. Your old Mac stays the same.
And your old Windows PC, if you’re moving from a PC stays unchanged.
Other Apps With Similar Names To Migration Assistant. What Do They Do?
Data Migration Assistant – is a Microsoft app that runs on a Windows PC. You’d use this app when you’re migrating a SQL server database or an Azure SQL database. From an old version to a new version. It highlights those issues that might cause performance issues. Or issues that will break your database.
You can find out more about that application here.
Lenovo Migration Assistant – is a Windows PC tool made by the company Lenovo. And you’d use it to move your data from an old Lenovo PC to a new one.
You can find out more about it here.
Jira Cloud Migration Assistant – Is a software tool that allows you to migrate your Jira software development environment. From your local server to the Jira Cloud platform. And you can find out more about this here.
Azure Migrate – is a Microsoft tool that allows you to migrate a company’s windows servers. Or VMware servers or databases to the Microsoft Azure cloud services. Click here to learn more.
They all migrate in one way or another but are quite different to the Apple Mac Migration Assistant.
Migration Assistant is a great tool for transferring your user data from one Mac to another.
And the best way to transfer your files, settings, and applications when you’re ready to upgrade and replace your Mac.
While you’re here. Why not take a look at the other Migration Assistant articles we have on the site?
About Paul Gregory
I’ve been a system administrator for various corporates for 15 years. And as admin I’ve helped many with their Mac’s and there many Apple devices.
I’m excited by watching users, armed with a little knowledge take control of their Mac’s and their files. And why not?
When I’m not at work or working on the site I like to chill with few beers. And watch a bit of car racing. From Formula 1 to stock car racing. The competition is my thing.