[How to] Transfer Apps Between Macs

Transferring applications from one Mac to another has been made very simple with the introduction of the Mac App Store and can be done entirely through the App Store itself. This is due to the Mac App Stores licensing agreement, which allows you to download and install Mac OS X apps on all of your personal machines, although they must all share the same Apple ID. Also, you can transfer apps manually over a network or with an external USB drive, but that method does not work with all apps and hence is not entirely recommended.

Transferring Apps to Another Mac via Mac App Store

This is the recommended and most reliable method of transferring apps:

  • Open the Mac App Store
  • Click on the “Purchases” tab to list all of your installed Mac apps
  • Find the app(s) you want to install on the other Mac, and click the “INSTALL” button on the right

Any apps that are not installed on the current Mac will display the “INSTALL” button rather than the lighter ‘INSTALLED’ or ‘UPDATE’. Unlike iOS, this has to be done manually even if you have set up iCloud, which does not automatically download Mac apps. You can do the same thing with the OS X Lion installer if you’re looking to upgrade multiple Macs.

The only disadvantage to the Mac App Store method is that it re-downloads the app, and for users working with constricted bandwidth that may not be the best solution. For those situations, you can attempt the manual transfer via network or USB, but the reliability of this next method will vary depending on the app itself.

Transferring Mac Apps Manually via Network

This is the least recommended method because it’s more complex and some apps may not work at all because of how they are installed. It’s best to use the above Mac App Store method or to simply re-install the app whenever you can:

  • Locate the app you want to transfer in /Applications/ and copy it to the desktop
  • Open ~/Library/Application Support/ and track down the app name, copy this folder to the desktop as well
  • Now open /Library/Application Support/ and find the same app name again, also copy this to the desktop but do not overwrite the other version
  • Hit Command+Shift+K to bring up the “Connect to Server” menu, click on “Browse” and connect to the Mac you want to copy the app to
  • Drag the .app and the two Application Support folders over to the new Mac
  • On the new Mac, move the /Application Support/ folders to their appropriate places, and drop the .app application into the /Applications folder
  • Launch the app to verify that it works

This second method works with many apps but not all. For example, virtually no Adobe app will function with this method, but more self-contained apps like iTerm, Firefox, and Chrome will work fine without incident. The /Application Support/ directories are settings specific to the user and the system, and you may be able to get away with not copying them over if you simply want the application to run without preserving user settings.