Synchronize. Backup. Bootable Backup.
Whatever your backup or sync scenario, ChronoSync has got you covered!
Back to more guides

MORE GUIDES

Sync The Home Folder Between Macs Using ChronoSync

INTRODUCTION

One very common question about ChronoSync is "How can I synchronize my home folder with my other Mac?" Back before macOS became a multi-user operating system and back before the advent of App Store sandboxed applications and iCloud, the answer was pretty simple. Today, that question has a complicated answer. This guide, and the linked guides, offer a multi-part answer to the above question and demonstrate best-practices when keeping a home folder in sync between two Macs.

AUDIENCE

This guide assumes that the reader is familiar with macOS, The Finder and understands how user accounts are setup and managed. This guide can touch on advanced topics and may not be suitable for beginning Mac users.

THE HOME FOLDER

macOS creates a home folder for each user account. These can be found by navigating to the root of the Startup Volume using Finder and opening the 'Users' folder. Your home folder should have a house icon rather than a folder next to it. Home folders are identified by the short name specified in the user account that created it. Note that the home folder used to appear by default on the Desktop and in Finder sidebars but Apple has taken steps in recent OS versions to make it less visible. Now it no longer appears in such places. If it does not appear in your Finder sidebar, we recommend you invoke Finder Preferences, select the "Sidebar" tab, and enable your home folder as a favorite. It will have the house icon with your short user name next to it.

The home folder of each user account contains documents, media, desktop items, preference settings, and other information. This keeps all of your personal files and information separate from other user accounts on the Mac.

Some information such as preferences, and application specific settings is kept in a hidden folder within the home folder called 'Library'. macOS has chosen to keep this hidden as the OS and application files are the only processes that should be modifying items in the 'Library'.

HOME FOLDER SYNC GOALS

Syncing the home folder stems from the desire to have everything including data files, e-mails, calendars, settings, personalizations, etc. the same on two different Macs. The most common reason would be the need to switch between a mobile and desktop Mac and keep the user experience the same when making the switch. In most cases, this can be achieved by syncing user data files located in the home folder between the two Macs.

CAUTIONS

There are known problems and issues when syncing two Macs, so these warnings must be heeded:

BACKUP

Before running any sync for the first time, make sure to backup all data on each Mac in the event something goes wrong. Since home-to-home files syncs are usually bi-directional syncs (syncing files both directions), this is especially important. When running any sync, ChronoSync can archive any changed or deleted files, but it is a lot easier to restore files from a backup rather than restoring from the ChronoSync archive. ChronoSync, Time Machine, or any other backup application can be used to perform the backup of each Mac.

IDENTICAL VERSIONS OF macOS

Home folder syncs must only be done between identical versions of macOS. For example, do not attempt to sync between Mountain Lion and Mavericks, and avoid syncing between different versions of the same OS (10.9.1 vs 10.9.2).

Also for Home folder syncs, ensure all apps such as iPhoto, iTunes and iCal are the same version. Of course personal files, including documents, raw media files, downloads, etc., can be synchronized or backed up to any OS version or any device accessible via Finder using the Mac ChronoSync is installed on.

SYSTEM FILES AND APPLICATIONS

Never attempt to sync files outside of the home folder such as 'Applications', 'System', or 'Library' between two Macs. Problems can arise if Applications, or System files are synced that can easily result in application failure or a corrupt OS. In syncing two Macs, the focus needs to be on the home folder and the data files stored therein.

WHAT TO SYNC AND WHAT NOT TO SYNC USING CHRONOSYNC

The ChronoSync-recommended home folder sync practice is to only synchronize specific folders inside the Home Folder. macOS has chosen to hide the 'Library' folder located inside the home folder and we don't recommend syncing that folder between two Macs. There may be certain situations where a particular 'Library' file or folder can be synced, but that should be discussed with a ChronoSync Support Specialist.

The first step in setting up your home folder sync is to consider what exactly you need to sync. Keep in mind, many items may already be kept in sync via iCloud, iTunes, or IMAP e-mail services. Documents saved to iCloud, Safari Bookmarks, Keychains, Contacts, Calendars, etc. can be kept in sync using iCloud, so review your iCloud settings to make sure the data you need is not already kept in sync via some other means.

This guide recommends syncing the following folders:

  • Desktop
  • Documents
  • Downloads
  • Movies
  • Music
  • Pictures
  • Public

Review the above list and make an individual decision about each folder you want to keep in sync between the two Macs. Keep in mind that large items such as Movies or other Media may take considerable time to synchronize, especially if using a WiFi connection.

GETTING STARTED

Now that you have a good understanding of what you want to sync between the two Macs, it is time to explain the plan of how to setup ChronoSync, ChronoAgent, and the various sync documents needed to sync the home folder. The approach this guide takes is to create separate, individual sync documents for each folder that will be synced. ChronoSync allows the separate syncs to be combined into a single operation for scheduling or running the separate sync documents called a Container document.

Some individual folders have special preparatory steps to avoid common issues that can occur and those steps are explained in detail below.

Each individual sync document will be a bi-directional sync document. This synchronizes files in both directions between the two Macs, replacing older files and folders with the corresponding newer version. When using this type of sync your procedure is an important component of keeping files in sync. The workflow has 3 important components:

  1. Make sure to always synchronize each time you switch to work on/use the other Mac.
  2. Always run every sync from the ChronoSync Mac using the same Container or sync document.
  3. If a conflict should arise, choose the file from the computer you last used.

SETUP STEPS

Step 1: Install ChronoSync

Make sure you have ChronoSync installed on the Mac you use most or your 'primary' Mac. This tends to be the most convenient setup and works well for most. The 'ChronoSync Mac' is where you create and store the sync documents, build the container document and run the sync.

Step 2: Install ChronoAgent

Install and configure ChronoAgent on the Mac you'll be syncing your home folder to. (We have a set of guides for installing, configuring and syncing to ChronoAgent Macs at http://www.econtechnologies.com/chronoagent/video-guides.html).

Note: Many of the steps performed can be accomplished by using a standard file sharing connection and you technically don't need to install ChronoAgent. However, ChronoAgent offers better performance, security and reliability versus a standard file connection. It also eliminates common problems, such as permission errors, that typically occur when using standard file sharing.

Step 3: Create Sync Documents

Now you are ready to start creating sync documents for the folders you have decided to synchronize. You will need a separate sync document for each of the 7 main home sub-folders you have decided to synchronize. The reason these are setup separately is to create flexibility and to allow for the special steps required when setting up syncs for items such as Music, Movies, or Pictures. This flexibility also allows you to run just one sync document, such as for the Documents folder, when you don't need to synchronize the entire home folder.

Utilize the following linked guide to create a new sync document for each of the following folders you have decided to keep in sync. Syncing The Desktop, Documents, Public, or Downloads folders between two Macs

  • Desktop
  • Documents
  • Public
  • Downloads

Utilize this guide to create a new sync document for each of the following folders you have decided to keep in sync. Syncing The Pictures, or Movies Folders Between Two Macs

  • Movies
  • Pictures

Utilize this guide to create a new sync document for each of the following folders you have decided to keep in sync. Syncing Music Folder Between Two Macs

  • Music

Step 4. Create the Container document

Once the sync documents containing the folders from above have been created, they can be added to a container document. A Container is a document that contains multiple ChronoSync sync documents. A container document allows you to control several sync documents as if they were one document. Running a synchronization on a container will execute each contained document in the order it is listed. Choose 'Create a new container document' from the Document Organizer, or 'File -> New -> Container' from the menubar to create a new container. You can add the sync documents to the container by simply dragging them in and out or by selecting "Add..." from the toolbar.

Step 5. Run the synchronization

Once all the above-mentioned settings are in place, run the synchronization by choosing "Synchronize" on the toolbar in the Container document.

WATCH FOR THESE ISSUES

Conflicts

Make sure to always synchronize each time you switch working to the other Mac. If you fail to do this, conflicts may arise. A conflict is when the same file has changed on both computers. Since you have to choose between one file or the other, you would lose the changes made to one of the files. If a conflict does arise, then choose the file from the computer you last used.

Scheduling

Since you need to synchronize every time you switch Macs, it is not practical to schedule your Home to Home Container document. Instead, you should manually run the sync every time you switch Macs to ensure the two Macs always stay in sync. Doing this will take some getting used to, but it's a habit that should be practiced.

Errors or Problems

If you encounter any errors or have any problems you can contact us by using our support form.

3 Things to Remember

Since this is a bi-directional sync designed to keep files and folders in sync between two Macs, you should pay attention to your workflow.

  1. Make sure to always synchronize each time you switch to work on/use the other Mac.
  2. Always run every sync from the ChronoSync Mac using the same Container or sync document.
  3. If a conflict should arise, choose the file from the computer you last used.

Working on two Macs simultaneously can result in unusually high numbers of Conflict errors being reported and there may be difficulty merging the changes that can occur to the same files on both Macs. Instead, consider this workflow:

To switch from Left to Right Mac:

  • Using Left Mac.
  • Run Sync from Left Mac (The ChronoSync Mac).
  • Choose "Left Files" for any conflicts.
  • Begin using Right Mac.

To switch from Right to Left Mac:

  • Using Right Mac.
  • Run Sync from Left Mac (The ChronoSync Mac).
  • Choose "Right Files" for any conflicts.
  • Begin using Left Mac.

If you have any problems while using our products or have any questions about this guide, contact us by using our support form.