Transfer Mac Apps from One Mac to Another

Oct 20, 2011 - 6 Comments

Transfer Mac Apps to Another Mac

With the addition of the Mac App Store, transferring applications from one Mac to another is made extraordinarily simple and can be done entirely through the App Store itself. This is due to the Mac App Stores licensing agreement, which allows you to download and install Mac OS X apps on all of your personal machines, although they must all share the same Apple ID. Additionally, you can transfer apps manually over a network or with an external USB drive, but that method does not work with all apps and is therefore not entirely recommended. We’ll cover both and you can decide which is best for you:

Transferring Apps to Another Mac via Mac App Store

This is the recommended and most reliable method of transferring apps:

  • Open the Mac App Store
  • Click on the “Purchases” tab to list all of your installed Mac apps
  • Find the app(s) you want to install on the other Mac, and click the “INSTALL” button on the right

Any apps that are not installed on the current Mac will display the “INSTALL” button rather than the lighter ‘INSTALLED’ or ‘UPDATE’. Unlike iOS, this has to be done manually even if you have set up iCloud, which does not automatically download Mac apps (yet at least). You can do the same thing with the OS X Lion installer if you’re looking to upgrade multiple Macs.

The downside to the Mac App Store method is that it re-downloads the app, and for users working with constricted bandwidth that may not be the best solution. For those situations, you can attempt the manual transfer via network or USB, but the reliability of this next method will vary depending on the app itself.

Transferring Mac Apps Manually via Network

This is the least recommended method because it’s more complex and some apps may not work at all because of how they are installed. It’s best to use the above Mac App Store method or to simply re-install the app whenever you can:

  • Locate the app you want to transfer in /Applications/ and copy it to the desktop
  • Open ~/Library/Application Support/ and track down the app name, copy this folder to the desktop as well
  • Now open /Library/Application Support/ and find the same app name again, also copy this to the desktop but do not overwrite the other version
  • Hit Command+Shift+K to bring up the “Connect to Server” menu, click on “Browse” and connect to the Mac you want to copy the app to
  • Drag the .app and the two Application Support folders over to the new Mac
  • On the new Mac, move the /Application Support/ folders to their appropriate places, and drop the .app application into the /Applications folder
  • Launch the app to verify that it works

This second method works with many apps but not all. For example, virtually no Adobe app will function with this method, but more self-contained apps like iTerm, Firefox, and Chrome will work fine without incident. The /Application Support/ directories are settings specific to the user and the system, and you may be able to get away with not copying them over if you simply want the application to run without preserving user settings.


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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Mac OS, Tips & Tricks


» Comments RSS Feed

  1. Ross says:

    Copying over simple applications, by just coping from the applications folder is worth trying, as stated. Its certainly much easier than Windows, for installed apps, where you do not have the install source or App Store.

    Its worth mentioning you can see your entire App Store history, by clicking on your name, in the bottom left corner of the store. Click the cloud icon to download each one quickly. Got most of my apps on a new Mac doing that, but just one to manually copy. Didn’t use the migration wizard, I wanted a fresh install.

  2. Days says:

    thank you thank you sooo much!! this blog saved my life!!! literally!! ha ha!!!

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  5. David says:

    App Store or copying DMG directly is the best, messing with the Support folders is ripe for trouble.

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