One of the coolest features of macOS – and its biggest change from pre-OS X versions of macOS – allows multiple users to have unique accounts on the same computer. Sometimes, however, you can decide only after you’ve created and used an account for a while that you might want to split it into two or more macOS connections.
Maybe you have an account where you’ve mixed up personal and professional goals and decided you need to keep them separate. Or you had a single account for your family, and in the interest of privacy and courtesy, you wanted to keep them separate.
Apple does not have a “shared account” option, as it is perhaps a rare thing that its users would want. But it’s not that difficult in the end. In my examples below, I am considering turning one account into two, but you can also split one into three or more with the same principles.
Start with these considerations:
Will you be sharing an Apple ID between these two macOS accounts, or will they use separate Apple ID accounts? You can also have separate Apple ID accounts for iCloud access and a shared Apple ID account for purchases.
Do you have a lot of information to divide or is much of your information in the cloud?
Do you want to copy a large amount of data, such as locally stored pictures and videos, and then split it between two accounts, or will most or all of it stay in one account?
Small amount to copy or cloud-based access
If you have a relatively small amount of material to move or everything is in the cloud, here’s how I suggest you go about it.
Start with a new user account:
Open the Users and groups preferences pane.
Click the lock icon in the lower left corner and authenticate with Touch ID on equipped Macs or enter an administrator password.
Click the plus sign (+) at the bottom of the user list.
In the New account list, select Standard or Administrator, depending on the permission level you want to grant to the new account.
Create a name for the user, an account name, a password and a hint.
Click on Create user.
Now from your existing account:
Create a new folder in the Users> Shared case.
Move or copy any material that you want to make available to the new account in this nested folder in the shared folder.
Select this folder and choose File> Get Info.
Under the Sharing and permissions section, click the padlock and authenticate, click the + in the lower left corner and select the new user account. Click on To select.
Define this account’s access to Read write in the Privilege column.
Now click on the Following … At the bottom of the information window and choose Apply to some elements. Click on Okay.
You can now sign in to the new account and move these items into that account’s home directory to the appropriate locations.
For all cloud-based accounts, sign in with the appropriate software, through the Apple ID or iCloud preference pane, or the Internet Accounts preference pane.
Lots to copy or divide
If you have a lot of stuff to copy, I suggest a more complicated approach that turns out to be easier in the end: fully duplicate the account.
Take a Time Machine backup or use Carbon Copy Cloner to clone your startup volume. (If you already have one, update to have the latest volume status.)
Warning! As soon as you click on the next item, the Migration Assistant disconnects from all running programs. Make sure everything that is active is logged. Click on To continue.
Choose the Time Machine or Startup Disk option, depending on whether you are using a Time Machine backup or a cloned volume, and then click To continue.
Select the items you want to move from the Select information to transfer list. Uncheck everything except the user account you want to split. If the account is called Allison Allspice, make sure only Allison Allspice is selected.
Click on To continue.
Since the low-level username used by the underlying Unix system is the same, the Migration Assistant will ask you how to resolve the conflict. Choose to rename the account you are importing, which will leave the original account in place, and copy that copy to a new account.
Wait for the process to complete.
Now you can:
Remove media and documents from your original account that should only appear in the new account.
Change your iCloud ID (s) if you intend to change those of the existing account.
Log out of accounts only intended to be used in the new account.
When finished, choose > Log out [account name] and sign in to your new account. Carry out the same operations in reverse for this one, by deleting the equipment and the accounts specific to your existing account and adding those necessary to the new account.
This Mac 911 article is in response to a question asked by Macworld reader Arielle.
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