How to transfer your data from an old macbook to a newer thunderbolt macbook or macbook air.


Some of the newer macbooks and macbook airs do not have an ethernet port or firewire port, so you can’t connect them to an older macbook to copy your old files and settings accross. What do you do?

You buy a Thunderbolt to Ethernet adapter!

Read on for more info!

Apple has a great piece of software called ‘Setup Assistant’  that automatically transfers all your settings and programs from your old Apple computer to your new one. You connect the two computers with an Ethernet (or firewire) cable, run ‘Migration Assistant’ on your old computer, and then ‘Setup Assistant’ on the new computer does the rest.

Here’s the hitch, Apple have removed both the ethernet and firewire connectors from the newer Macbooks. This limits the options you can use for ‘Setup Assistant’ to connect the two computers together…

1. Firewire is no good as the newer MacBooks do not have firewire. :-(

2. Ethernet is no good as the newer Macbooks do not have ethernet.  :-(

3. Thunderbolt is no good as the older Macbooks don’t have thunderbolt.  :-(


So what do you do?

Here are 5 options listed from fastest and simplest to slowest or most complicated….


Buy an Apple Thunderbolt to Ethernet adapter (they are approx $30). This gives your new macbook an Ethernet port and then you can plug in an ethernet cable from your old Mac directly to to your new Macbook.



Personally I think it’s poor form on Apple’s part that they don’t include one of these adapters with every Macbook or Macbook Air, at least while we transition from Ethernet.  The ‘Setup Assistant’ on the new Macbook Pro actually tells you to connect to an Ethernet network, but there is no Ethernet port on the Macbook Pro!!!

If it’s boxing day, and you have your little Macbook Pro ready to go, but the Apple store is closed, then you can’t get a firewire to Ethernet adapter. Very sad. You’ll have to try one of the next options!



If you have a time-machine backup you can simply connect the time-machine backup (USB or wi-fi) to the new macboook and ‘Setup Assistant’ can import from there.



The next quickest way if you don’t have a Time Machine backup of your old computer would be to make one. Grab a USB drive and make a Time Machine backup, it might take 5-10 hours or so, but then you can use  ‘Setup Assistant’ to import from the time-machine backup.



If worst comes to worst, you can use an existing wireless network (eg a wireless router) and if you have no ethernet connection this is what ‘Setup-Assistant’ will try to use, but this may be very slow. For example I had a friend and it said it would take over 100 hours to do the Migration!

If you do use a wireless network it will be best if it’s an Apple Extreme network or other very fast 802.11n network. Also if you have any other computers being used on the network (which you probably do) then it will slow everything down. So only do this as a last resort. And turning off all the other wireless computers, ipads etc in the house will make it faster.



If you don’t have access to a fast wireless network, then you can use  a ‘computer-to-computer’ network with ‘Migration Assistant’ (but not with ‘Setup-Assistant’).  ‘Migration Assistant’ is in Applications/Utilities/Migration Assistant.  ie if you skip through all the ‘Setup-assistant’ steps without importing your settings, then you can manually use ‘Migration Assistant’ on the new mac. You need to ‘Create Network’ on your old mac, then tuen on ‘Internet Sharing’ in the control panle of your old mac, then use Migration Assistant on both macs.  See this good article for more info on this!

6. USB-C to Ethernet (UPDATED NOV 2017)

If you have a new 2016/2017 macbook or macbook pro with USB-C you can connect it to an older mac with  a USB-C to Ethernet like this:

The Belkin USB-C to Ethernet adapter will do the job on newer USB-C macs.

You can grab one of these from here:


7. USB-C to USB-C (UPDATED NOV 2017)

If you have 2 newer USB-C macs you can connect the two computers together directly using a USB-C to USB-C cable.  USB-C is thunderbolt so you can connect them directly, then you’ll need to enable target disk mode on ht computer you ar copying from.  See this article from Apple about target disk mode.


More information:

If you are unsure about what Migration Assistant is, Apple have an article here.

If you’d like some more detailed info on Migration Assistant check out



47 responses to “How to transfer your data from an old macbook to a newer thunderbolt macbook or macbook air.”

  1. virginia

    I want to buy a Macbook Air and transfer absolutely everything from my Macbook Pro. I have a lot of information on my Family Tree maker program Can I transfer program and all to the new Mac?

    1. Migration Assistant should do it all automatically.

  2. Tony

    Hi Wayne, I’ve enjoyed reading your various articles these last weeks while trying to dig myself out of problems with my mac. Thank you. I just bought a macbook pro retna 15″, and need to transfer the content off an old 17″ macbook pro, that I can no longer boot up. The screen boots up through the apple icon phase, but otherwise has a scrambled display of digital squiggles. Can and should I take it into a genius bar, and will they assist? Or can I simply buy a thunderbolt to ethernet cable and will the hard drive and desk top show up on my new retna?

    Reaching out to you because your dialogue is so user friendly and common sense based. By the way your picture of you and toddler is refreshing. Reminds me of time I got to spend with my son in the mountains of N. Carolina. Our children grow so fast, its so important to spend real and quality time every day with them. Thanks so much. Tony

    1. I don’t suppose you had a time machine backup? Id not.. in order of simplest options.. (1). Take to genius bar and I’d say they should assist for free seeing as you just purchased a new mac. or (2) Try to boot old mack in firewire target mode which just turns it into a big hard drive, ( press and hold down the T key while booting up old computer until the FireWire icon appears), then transfer data to new mac using thunderbolt to firewire adapter. (3) you method might work if it’s just the screen that’s faulty, but you’d need to work out how to launch the immigration assistant app on the old mac.

  3. I backup my 2009 macbook to an Iomega drive via the firewire 400 port. I am going to buy a 2014 macbook pro 13” retina. I think apple makes a Thunderbolt to firewire 800 cable. Can I migrate old to new using a firewire 800/400 adapter or do I have to use the Thunderbolt ethernet cable?

    1. It’s worth a go. I can’t see why it won’t work.

  4. Tony T

    I have just bought a new macmini I7. (awesome) Need to transfer my word and excel files . Only have USB on the Macair. What do you suggest. I have an external drive and also an HDMI to ethernet adaptor.

  5. Millicent

    How do i transfer data from an old mac to a new one, when the old version’s screen is cracked and unreadable?

    1. Boot the old mac into firewire target disk mode, then use it like an external hard disk.
      “Start up the computer and immediately press and hold down the T key until the FireWire icon appears”

      1. You can also use Target disk mode with thunderbolt cable.

  6. Rick

    Hi. Any idea why my MacBook Pro seems to revert to step 1 of the setup assistant AFTER I’ve gone through the necessary steps in migration assistant on my old MacBook and everything appears ready to sync? Thanks!

  7. Tim

    I’m transferring approximately 350gb of data from my old MacBook to a newer MacBook Pro (late 2012) via an ethernet connection. How long (ball park) should I expect this to take? It’s been running about 2 hours now and there is no “estimated time remaining” message to refer to. Thanks!

    1. Plug Ethernet directly from Mac to Mac (not though network) if you have 1Gigabit Ethernet it should take in the ballpark of 2-4 hours or somewhere around that.

  8. bayo

    Hi I am trying to transfer data from my old Mac book pro to a newer one using a thunderbolt cable it has spent the last 20 minutes looking for the other source am I doing something wrong?

    1. Give Apple a ring their tech support is very good and all new macs have 90 days free support.

  9. Joseph

    hi my mac book pro screen will not work it will start up but no screen is there a way to transfer my data to my mac desktop do i need a wire or something that easy

    1. Boot into Target disk mode (Apple T) and plug it in as if it were an external hard disk (via firewire or thunderbolt).

      1. Joseph

        thanks you

  10. Rachael

    The screen on my 2009 Macbook just died a few days ago. I’d been planning to replace it soon anyway and just bought a Macbook Air. Thing is, most of the programs on my old Macbook haven’t been updated for a few years. Is there a way to transfer my files but not programs? I’ll put a newer version of Office, etc. on the Air. Also what about my Safari bookmarks? Thanks for your help!

    1. The easiest way to transfer a lot files quickly from one mac to another is to boot the old computer into ‘Target Disk Mode’ then it will show up on your new computer as an external Hard disk and you can copy the files that you want across.
      See this Apple article for details:

  11. dan

    I purchased a new macbook air for my wife , my old ( family ) imac is a desktop with 4 accounts on it , most of the programs ( word / excel / family tree ) are on my account as main admin but i only want to copy over my wifes account since it is her mothers day gift and her hard drive space is very small and she doesn’t need all my pictures either . the entire machine is backed up to a 3 gb hard drive daily . Any advise how i do this , if i use assistant it will copy the who thing including all 4 accounts .
    help please.
    thank you

    1. Run “Migration Assistant” and I’m pretty sure you can just tick one user to migrate across. There are check boxes for what you want to migrate. Just check the one user. Another option would be to copy it all across then go to System Preferences, Users & Groups and delete the users you don’t want.

  12. al

    I’m trying to clean my mac air to give it to my daughter before she leaves for school, how can i move all my stuff out to a hard drive and clean this air up for her?
    i want to transfer all my stuff to a macpro that i just got.

    1. 1. Use migration assistant to transfer to mac pro.
      2. Do a fresh install of OS X onto the old mac air. (

  13. David v

    This works to a mac pro??

    1. Yes, this works on any any mac.

  14. Susie

    Tried to use MA today, and got an error message saying there was too much data. Everything checks by default when you start (User account, Apps, Files and folders, and Computer & network settings). What needs to be checked so you don’t lose anything? Are some of these duplicating data? Thx! :-)

    1. Never heard of that – might be worth a quick call to Apple support.

  15. Ian

    Hi Wayne,
    Impressed with your knowledge. My question is I have 2009 MBP Running Snow Leopard 10.6.8. I have Adobe CS5 master and Final Cut Pro 7. These are the programmes I use the most and as such will be buying the new 2015 MBP. When I went to upgrade to Mountain Lion a couple of years ago I found that my computer slowed considerably (These programmes barely ran). So much so that I re installed Snow Leopard and restored from a backup I made prior to installation of ML.
    Will Migration assistant cause the new computer on Yosemite to slow in the same way?

    1. I imagine it would. You might want to check how much RAM you have. See my article on ‘Does my computer have enough memory?’

  16. Chad

    Im trying to setup my wife’s computer from an old macbook pro to a macbook air via migration assistant (I’m using a Time Machine Backup on an external hardrive) and after estimating the space needed it says, “Not enough space available to transfer. 111.4GB selected, -44.2GB available. Select fewer folders in Documents & Data or turn off the other items to continue.”. It says she has 485MB of Apps and 110.88GB of Documents & Data. We have already gone back and deleted a ton of photos and other large items, but there is no way there is 110.88GB of documents and data (obviously since she was using a 4GB Macbook Pro). Any ideas?

    1. Yes check out this article, it will let you see what’ sussing up the space.

      1. Chad

        thanks a lot!

  17. Lois

    Hi there – I’ve got a 3 year old Mac air and I recently got a new mac book pro but basically the new Mac Pro has already got some programs installed onto it that I want to keep. I want to transfer all of my programs (photoshop etc) from my air to the new pro but will this get rid of the existing programs and files on the new pro if I was to transfer the stuff from the air onto it as well?

  18. Trevor

    I am trying to transfer all the contents of my old Macbook Pro to a brand new Macbook Air. The Air does have enough space for all my stuff (mostly pics – I am an avid photographer). How do get the Time Machine backup content with the pics into the iCloud as way to avoid the space limitations?


      I think you’d need to upload all photos from the macbook air to icloud (sync), then tell iCloud to put a low quality version on your Macbook pro, so that the iphoto library in now smaller, then do the transfer.

      I wouldn’t do that though. I’d grab a small external drive and use it for all the photos you can’t fit on your macbook air.

      Up to you.

  19. KeithM

    I’ve bought a 2015 MBP and I am trying to transfer from a 2009 MBP using the thunderbolt to Ethernet adaptor to connect the two. Both are running the same OS X and updated, etc. I start Migration assistant but it wants to do it wirelessly. How do I go about creating a direct connection between the two so it does not take 300 hours to transfer data?

    1. Go to system preferences, network, and select Ethernet.

      Easiest just to plug both macs into your router that you use for internet or into an airport base station and it should all work. If you don’t have a router and you have plugged them into each other directly… you may need to set thing manually.

      Go to System Preferences then Network then click on ‘Ethernet’.
      It should assign addresses but you may need to give them an address manually – I can’t remember.
      Try giving one mac and the other
      Then in System Preferences turn on File Sharing.

  20. Lea

    My 2013 macbook air cannot detect my apple tv that i purchased 2013 also? I already update my apple tv still not connecting 😦😦😦

  21. imran

    I am unable to login into macbook.I have no other user,and i want to backup the data before installing the OS.Please let me know how can i do it?

  22. Jerry Hicklin

    I have a 2016 macbook (usb c) and bought a 2017 macbook pro. Can I use the usb c to transfer using Migration assistant?
    I have read where you can’t transfer data with usb c and then some other sites way you can. Thanks in advance

    1. It should work fine. USB-C is thunderbolt so connect them using target disk mode. I’ve done this with older firewire macs and it’s actually faster than connecting them over a network.

      See this article from Apple about target disk mode:

      1. Jerry Hicklin

        Thank you very much.

  23. Teris

    Hi: I have an old macbook from 2008. I want to transfer my documents, music etc to a macbook air that I just bought on black Friday. What is the best option to transfer the information. I have a lot of information to transfer.

  24. Tomas

    Can I use a USB A to USB C cord to transfer files from an older Macbook Pro to a 2017 Macbook Pro? It is just the standard cord that came with my USB C phone.

  25. Chris R

    How about USB-Ethernet dongle? Monoprice, $13, less than half of the Ethernet to Thunderbolt, for Macbook Air (from MBP circa 2010 with an Ethernet port).

  26. Donna Werner

    I am having problems transferring files from very old Mac to new Mac. I got the thunderbolt cable. . it’s plugged in. I have the OLD Mac in Target Disk Mode. But I don’t see ANYTHING on my new Mac that shows the connection.
    This is the most frustrating thing. When I got this new MAC, I tried several times on the phone with Apple support and could never figure out how to do it. Then my puppy chewed my cable on my old Mac and there was no way for me to get it to turn on. I finally found time to get to the store with the cable to get a new one. . I’m trying again and it is just not working. In the OLD days, Apple was very helpful.

    I need these old files and honestly just want to throw the old MAC against the wall.

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