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You have probably wondered precisely where macOS stashes your data and application preferences. Where do the images from the Photos app get backed up on your Mac? How about the music files from your iTunes library?
You can access and open that data via the corresponding application and also via Spotlight or Siri, but you can’t locate it on your Mac with ease. All that data accessible via Finder, for sure. But where? Let’s find out.
Before We Begin…
Get familiar with the different types of Library folders and how to access the user library first. You’ll find the user library and other locations we’ll mention in this article in your Home folder. The “~” (tilde) character in the pathnames refers to this folder.
Memorize the Finder shortcut Command + Shift + G. It gives you a dialog box to paste locations into and jump to them directly instead of navigating through folders one by one. If you’re more of a menu person, bring up this box by clicking on Go > Go to Folder. You can also jump to Finder locations by copy-pasting their pathnames into the Spotlight window.
All photos you import into the Photos app end up within a folder named Masters. This folder hides in the Photos Library, which is that item with the colorful icon in the Pictures folder.
To access the Masters folder, you can either:
- Jump to the location
- Right-click on the Photos Library and select Show Package Contents
macOS organizes photos into nested subfolders based on the date of import. For example, photos that you have imported on December 1, 2017 will appear within …/Masters/2017/12/01/…
2. Music and Videos
If you have added, copied, or downloaded anything to iTunes, you’ll find it under:
That includes songs, movies, TV shows, music videos, and even content that you have imported from a CD.
You won’t see the media folder or you might find it empty if the Copy files to iTunes Media folder when adding to library option under iTunes > Preferences > Advanced has been unselected. It isn’t though, by default.
What’s the easiest way to locate a particular iTunes media file in Finder? Look under the Info section of the file inspector. Bring that up with the keyboard shortcut Command + I when you have the file selected. You’ll find the location information under the File tab.
Want to make the iTunes media files easier to access? Drag the iTunes Media folder to the Finder sidebar to create a shortcut. You could also change the default location to something of your choice from iTunes > Preferences > Advanced.
You might want to go through this Apple support page to understand how macOS organizes your media files.
You’ll find your EPUBs and PDFs from the iBooks app in one of these two locations:
- If you have disabled iCloud sync for iBooks:
- If you have enabled iCloud sync for iBooks:
You can’t access the second location the usual way. If you try to, you’ll end up inside the iCloud Drive folder with your iBooks data nowhere in sight. You’ll have to open the folder via the Terminal app with this command:
open ~/Library/Mobile\ Documents/iCloud~com~apple~iBooks/Documents
Not sure if you have enabled cloud sync for your iBooks files? Head to System Preferences > iCloud > iCloud Drive > Options… to find out. Sync is on if the checkbox next to iBooks appears selected.
Keep in mind that if you want a copy of any ePUB or PDF stored in the iBooks app, you don’t have to go in search of its actual Finder location. Pick any Finder folder, say, Documents or Downloads, and drag and drop the file from the iBooks app to that folder. The original file stays put in iBooks, and you now have a copy of it.
macOS groups your emails by user account, mailbox, folders, and so on, and sends them to this user library location:
You’ll need to dig deep into folder after folder to find individual emails, but it’s all there! Mailboxes show up as MBOX files and are clickable. They open up as regular folders do.
The emails themselves show up with an EMLX extension and you can click on one to open it in the Mail app. The ones that end in .PARTIAL.EMLX are individual messages in a thread. It’s handy that the QuickLook feature supports this filetype, which means you can preview those emails by hitting Space.
Images and other media attachments from emails appear within the Attachments folder hidden inside each mailbox or MBOX file. If you’re looking for attachments that you have downloaded, you’ll find a copy of each within:
Everything that has to do with your iMessage chats lives under:
The folder names will tell you that closed/saved chats go into the Archive folder and media files go into the Attachments folder. Of course, these folders are further divided into various subfolders. You’ll have to dig quite a bit if you’re looking for a particular message or file. You can click on any chat file to view it in a dedicated window in the Messages app.
Now, coming to chats from your active sessions. That is, the chats that are visible when you open the Messages app. Those get stored in the same location as the Archive and Attachments folders, but in a database file named chat.db. Yes, you can open such files with a text editor like TextEdit, but their contents will probably appear gibberish.
6. Notes and Sticky Notes
The notes from the Notes app get filed under:
That isn’t much of a help, because macOS bundles the notes into one indecipherable file with the extension .STOREDATA. To read the contents of that file, first copy it to a separate location to avoid data loss. Now change the extension of the copy to .HTML and open the file with Safari or any other browser.
You should then be able to see the contents of your notes, but I had no such luck and could see only a page full of mangled text. Your mileage may vary on this one.
At least the files attached to notes are easier to view. You’ll find them under:
If you’re looking for the sticky notes from the Stickies app, open this file:
It will open with the default text editor on your Mac. That would be TextEdit, if you aren’t using a third-party app as the default. Unlike the notes database above, this one’s readable. Well, most of it anyway. At least you can identify and copy text snippets without too much trouble.
7. iOS Backups
If you have backed up the contents of your iPhone, iPod, or iPad to your Mac, you’ll find them all at this location:
Yes, iOS backups use a lot of disk space. Recover some of it with our guide for moving backups, apps, and photos off your Mac.
Resist the urge to rename, move, or edit the contents of the files and folders you find in various concealed locations of Finder. You could lose data or cause certain apps or system utilities to malfunction.
Sure, you can view that data and make copies of it to back it up elsewhere. The backups will come in handy when you’re moving between apps or services or even to a new macOS device.
For example, if you have an MBOX file backed up, you can use it to import your emails into, say, Thunderbird or the Mail app on a different Mac.
Having said that, if it’s available, the File > Export option within apps should be your first choice for backing up data.
With its secret Finder folders, macOS does a good job of keeping your data safe and accessible through apps. It doesn’t bother you with the complexities of the underlying folder structures and file types. Still, it’s nice to know where all your data goes, isn’t it? If only to satisfy your curiosity, or to do a spot of guided troubleshooting.
Tell us what else you’re hoping to locate on your Mac and why.