What is the Home Folder?

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The Home folder is the location where Mac OS X stores documents, files, preference settings, pictures, music, videos and so on.  Windows users will recognize this folder structure as it is similar to the "My Documents", "My Pictures", and "My Music" folders found on recent Windows versions.

The Home folder is identified by an icon that looks like a house.  Each user in Mac OS X has their own account and is isolated from other users (in most cases).  This results in a level of isolation.  If the users "switchtoamac" and "getamac" exist on a particular OS X system, the files created and stored by "switchtoamac" will be inaccessible by "getamac" and vice-versa (if neither were administrators for the system)

A user's Home directory is only accessible by the user that is currently logged into OS X.  Note however, that in addition to accessing its own Home directory, an OS X Administrator can access the Home directory of each individual user on the system, but the Administrator will have to pass through a security validation procedure (password based) to access another user's Home folder.

Mac OS X separates each user and provides each user with their own "Home" folder under the OS X "Users" directory.  For example, if a particular Mac OS X installation had the users "switchtoamac" and "getamac", the following Users directories would be created:

  • /Users/switchtoamac
  • /Users/getamac
The following two images show the Home Folder on Mac OS X Leopard (10.5) and Mac OS X Tiger (10.4) respectively



Each user's "Home" folder can store documents, files (including pictures, music, etc ..), settings, and program caches such as cached pages and cookies for Safari.  Each file type is organized into separate folders as shown above.

Anything you place or store on your Mac OS X Desktop will be visible in this folder.  You can view your Desktop folder by accessing the Home Folder through the Finder or more quickly by using the following procedure:

Click on the desktop background and then press Command (the Apple key) and up arrow simultaneously.

You will now see your Home folder and an icon for your Desktop folder.  Open the Desktop folder and you'll see any items currently placed on the Desktop in this folder.  In the example below an icon representing a text file named 'Untitled' and an image called 'Picture 1' are shown :

The ideal location to place documents.

Each user has his or her own Library folder.  The Library folder is user specific and it holds files and settings specific to individual's preferences, recent items, web site bookmarks, Address Book entries, keychain, installed Widgets and so on.

The folder to store movies and videos. If you use iMovie, Mac OS X will save your iMovie projects within this folder (by default).

The location where Mac OS X places music files.  In fact, if you use iTunes a folder will be created called "iTunes" and this is where iTunes will store and organize your music.

The folder for storing photographs and pictures. If you use iPhoto, Mac OS X will create an iPhoto folder to store and organize all photographs you have uploaded and organized into iPhoto.

The location to place files you want to share with other users.  This is similar to the "Shared Documents" folder in Windows.

The default location to store your personal web site(s).  Other users on your Mac will only be able to read this folder, they will not be able to change the contents.  If you have enabled Personal Web Sharing on your Mac, you will be able to access the folder with a web browser such as Safari.

Benefits of the Home Folder

Some benefits of this implementation are easy backups, user experience, and customization.  Backups are a breeze.  If a user wants to back up their documents and settings, all they need to do is backup their Home folder.  Mac users can customize their computing experience as they see fit.  Each user's settings only apply to that specific user; other users will not be impacted.  An additional benefit is that users, to some degree, can customize how software will work under their account and these changes are stored under the user's Home folder.

  •  July 13, 2008 - corrections and images added
Created: 12:46 PM on Dec 27, 2006
By: switchtoamac