Here’s Where macOS Stores Photos, Books, Music and Other Files
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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 Search More Efficiently In Mac OS X With Our Top Spotlight Tips Search More Efficiently In Mac OS X With Our Top Spotlight Tips Spotlight has been a killer Mac feature for years, with Cupertino regularly schooling Redmond in the art of desktop search. Here are a few tips to help you find more on your Mac. Read More 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 How To Access The OS X Library Folder & Why It's Handy How To Access The OS X Library Folder & Why It's Handy Most OS X Library folders are best left alone, but it's useful to know your way in and around the User Library. Read More 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.

home-folder-location

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.

1. Photos

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.

photos-library

To access the Masters folder, you can either:

  • Jump to the location ~/Pictures/Photos Library.photoslibrary/Masters/
  • Right-click on the Photos Library and select Show Package Contents

open-masters-folder

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/…

masters-nested-folders

2. Music and Videos

If you have added, copied, or downloaded anything to iTunes, you’ll find it under:

~/Music/iTunes/iTunes Media

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.

copy-to-itunes

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.

itunes-file-location

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.

change-itunes-media-folder

You might want to go through this Apple support page to understand how macOS organizes your media files.

3. Books

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:
    ~/Library/Containers/com.apple.BKAgentService/Data/Documents/iBooks/Books
  • If you have enabled iCloud sync for iBooks:
    ~/Library/Mobile Documents/iCloud~com~apple~iBooks/Documents/

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

ibooks-secret-location

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.

ibooks-icloud-sync

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.

4. Emails

macOS groups your emails by user account, mailbox, folders, and so on, and sends them to this user library location:

~/Library/Mail/V5

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.

mbox-files

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 6 Great 'Quick Look' Features You Probably Don't Use (Mac) 6 Great 'Quick Look' Features You Probably Don't Use (Mac) Read More 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:

~/Library/Containers/com.apple.mail/Data/Library/Mail Downloads/

5. Chats

Everything that has to do with your iMessage chats lives under:

~/Library/Messages

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.

imessage-chat-file

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:

~/Library/Containers/com.apple.Notes/Data/Library/Notes

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.

notes-backup-contents

A simpler way to view and back up your notes in plain text format is by using a third-party app like Exporter or Notes Exporter. That’s one less macOS problem to worry about 10 Free Apps to Fix Common Mac Quirks and Annoyances 10 Free Apps to Fix Common Mac Quirks and Annoyances Like any other operating system, macOS comes with its own set of quirks. Some are good, some are bad, and some can be overridden using third-party applications. Read More !

At least the files attached to notes are easier to view. You’ll find them under:

~/Library/Group Containers/group.com.apple.notes/Media

If you’re looking for the sticky notes from the Stickies app, open this file:

~/Library/StickiesDatabase

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.

stickies-database-contents

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:

~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup

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 Move Backups, Apps & Photos Off Your MacBook to Create Free Space Move Backups, Apps & Photos Off Your MacBook to Create Free Space If you're desperate, and you don't fancy paying over the odds for a solid state drive upgrade, here are a few ideas for further maximizing the available storage on your MacBook. Read More .

Found It!

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 How To Use Your Downloaded Gmail Data How To Use Your Downloaded Gmail Data You can finally download a copy of your Gmail data! The MBOX file Gmail gives you is ideal for keeping an offline backup or moving all your emails to a new service or Gmail account. Read More 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.

export-photos

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.

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  1. Christopher Milligan
    February 5, 2018 at 5:09 pm

    Where are ebook files that are not epub or PDF?

    I have ebook files scattered all over the place and it's really confusing. I can't locate where on my MacBook Air my Amazon ebook library is.

    The Kindle app on my Mac (High Sierra) says:

    chipahoy/Library/Application Support/Kindle/My Kindle Content.

    However, there are only a few ebooks listed there, and my Amazon ebook library is a few hundred files.

    There are also ebook files located at:

    Kindle/Data/Library/Application Support/Kindle/My Kindle Content/

    and

    Library/Containers/com.amazon.Kindle/Data/Library/Application Support/Kindle/My Kindle Content

    Then, I have my Calibre library. Can I have them all in one place, like where my Calibre library is? What is the best way to designate where they should go, and will it be recognized by Amazon?

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      February 6, 2018 at 2:43 am

      Do the files in all three locations appear in the same format?

      I don't remember seeing a setting to change the default folder for Kindle eBooks on Mac, but you can move the Calibre library to a different location using the Switch/create library... hidden behind the Calibre Library toolbar button.

      Why not use an Automator workflow or an app like Hazel to automatically drop eBooks from multiple folders into a single one as soon as they get downloaded?