Best migration method?

I’m moving from my mid 2012 MBP (El capitan) to an early 2015 with a clean install of Mojave on it. I have a SuperDuper clone. I’m wondering what the best method is to make the switch:

  1. Use Migration Assistant to move the contents of my current device into the new machine
  2. Use SuperDuper to simply copy my current setup and then upgrade to Mojave

I’ve done the SuperDuper method in the past and I like that it tends to to be relatively seamless with minimal licensing issues. But of course it moves over all of the junk that I’ve been moving around for years.

Last time I used Migration Assistant, I was plagued with licensing/relicensing issues. But maybe that’s changed?

Or maybe there’s a third option?

I’ve had nothing but trouble cloning old machines to new ones. I also don’t like Migration Assistant because it brings over junk and gremlins. You probably won’t like this, but I recommend starting from scratch and bringing everything over manually. It’s a few hours of headaches vs. years of small annoyances.


I think @jcenters is right and his advice probably should be followed.

I have to admit, however, I personally don’t do that.

I just find it way too tedious to copy over all my various settings and preferences until a vanilla system again feels like my system. It’s not just the myriad of apps (lots of CLI stuff too), but all the customizations I’ve come to rely on over the years. So I shamefully admit, it’s been ages since I did a clean install on my main systems.

Lately I’ve used MA several times and to my great surprise it’s always worked really well. Even when my wife recently migrated her 2010 MBP running HS to Big Sur on a brand new M1 MBA there were absolutely no hiccups whatsoever (and thanks to a direct wired Gigabit connection it didn’t take forever either). I used to do the cloning thing too, but as long as MA is making things this easy on me and not causing any problems, I won’t bother.

I have to say, I’m in complete agreement.

If you have a straightforward setup, it may be not that bother to properly do a ‘fresh’ install. And as @jcenters says, you’ll reap long term benefits.

If you have a complex setup, as I and @Simon do, it’s a pain in the proverbial. And I resolve every update to just get on with it, and every update… It’s too much to tackle, the beast has grown, and there’s things I’ve forgotten, small scripts relied upon, rules set… I succumb and just use MA.

Thanks for the feedback-- it’s been very helpful. I would agree with everyone here that Josh’s approach is the best. But while my setup isn’t that complex, I have several pieces of older software (i.e. Adobe Creative Suite) which I believe will run on the new system but may not install. At least that’s what I’m seeing on the Adobe forums. And several other apps for which I have long ago lost the installers, but which continue to run like my 2005 Toyota. I’ll give MA a try and report back.

Me too. A fresh start is obviously better but much more time consuming, so I usually just use MA on a cloned copy of the drive. I’ve been known to go through the clone before hand though and manually trash stuff in /Library and ~/Library. One has to be careful not to toss needed things…but getting rid of cruft like old Adobe folders from 5 versions back and stuff related to apps that you no longer use or that aren’t 64 bit and hence can’t be used as well as tossing the applicable extra things for trashed apps is a good idea…it does take time albeit a lot less than a clean install and it does require some knowledge and thought which depending on the user may or not not really be an option.

It also depends on what I was upgrading from and to…both hardware and macOS version wise…although again I’ve found that MA really works pretty well…the only drawback is that it brings everything over and a lot of it might be stuff you don’t want or need or doesn’t work any more.

I’m not sure why people think this. I usually always migrate and never had any issues, but I recently got an M1 Air and decided to do fresh install there… and for weeks every few days I keep finding software that isn’t installed that I need and it’s a pain to go find it, find the serial numbers, etc. and install it.

This is where keeping a clone backup of the old configuration is extremely useful. Migrate only Users. Then scan the /Applications folders on the new machine and the backup and fill in the blanks as needed. Migration of applications is often impossible anyway, as moving to a newer macOS version often obsoletes older user applications, as in 64-bit only, or Notarized only for M1 Macs.

In addition, for disaster recovery purposes, before you update or migrate you should already have created a compendium of software serial numbers and sources. I use the Software Licenses category in 1Password for this purpose since that comes along with Logins at no extra charge. 1Password is the first application I install when testing a new macOS version (beta or release) so that I can cut and paste URLs and credentials as I install and test a myriad of third party applications.

Perhaps I should have said a fresh start every 3 or 4 macOS versions is better…a lot of cruft from no longer used or maintained applications and the like gets carried along…so every few years perhaps a fresh start is worth it. The problem is that it’s such a pain in the rear that few of us do it unless forced into it…it takes so long to get everything reinstalled, serial numbered, configured, and setup with preferences and toolbars and whatnot that we just don’t do it.

Hence my thought about using MA from a clone that I spent an hour or so cleaning up before doing the MA thing…in particular I always look in startup items and places like that for things that I clearly don’t need any more. OTOH, I can’t really tell you how much assorted Adobe crap is in my library folders that I have no idea which pieces are needed and which are cruft. The only way to fix that would be to nuke it all and reinstall Lightroom, Bridge and Photoshop with my Photographer’s Bundle info…and I would hate to muck up a decently running machine.

Just for instance…in my ~/Library folder I’ve got 16 folders with 2012 dates on them…11 are completely empty and there’s one for an old version of GraphicConverter, one with some Automator actions in it all dated 2012, one labeled PubSub with a sqlite database in it that I have no idea what it is for, and so on. Similar folders exist for every year since then and I know a lot of that is worthless. Since the startup and login processes look for things like startup items, launchd, or similar auto launched stuff…clearing out a lot of old stuff makes some sense.

My current 2015 rMBP has been upgraded every year since it was new via the install over the old OS method…and there have always been the odd strange beachball occurrences and mysterious pauses like it’s looking for something and not finding it. Makes me think that maybe when I upgrade to an apple silicon laptop it might be worth doing a more thorough scrub or perhaps reinstall apps and such and just accept the hours/days/weeks it will take to get things ‘right’ again.

To a large extent…the fresh/migrate is just like better being the enemy of good enough…there’s a point when it’s not but redoing everything once a year when we get a new macOS is just too hard for most of us.

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Well, feels good to hear this, since the Library folder in mine is equally cluttered after having been transferred from at least three previous machines.

So this time I went with the Migration Assistant and so far, so good. The transfer went without an error. So far I’ve hit only two licensing issues, both of which were easily resolved. It’s early days yet, but I’m hopeful. I don’t know if the MA method is any cleaner than the cloning.

This is my approach. It’s too much work to do with every new macOS version, but every few years, it’s nice to get a clean start, even if it does take some time to reinstall everything.

Migration Assistant is, in my view, the best answer. Unless you’re completely bored during home quarantine and want to spend hours on a “fresh start” – but do that for the entertainment value, not technical reasons.


Yep. Hell, I still have files that were created under WordStar on my CompuPro, which used CP/M on 8-inch floppies. If I didn’t copy all the junk and gremlins each time I upgrade hardware, all that would have been lost long ago. Not that it’s all that precious, but it’s good to remember who I was.