Is it possible to move the home folder to a new installation of Ubuntu to keep all settings and tweaks made to the user to that computer? Like if I create a new user on the new installation of Ubuntu with the same name and password as the user I whant to move to the new Ubuntu installation. Will it work, or even better, is it safe?

1 Answer 1


Yes. I have done many times. rsync has a mode "-a" which preserves ownership, file times, everything. Can send files across network. Or you can copy to an ext4 formatted external disk and restore with rsync. Just remember don't copy with the ordinary drag and drop, use rsync and preserve the archive of all properties ("-a").

Suppose my.old.computer has your account "myuser".

Set up new computer my.new.computer. Create "myuser" there. if you are fastidious, get the user ID and group ID from old system and assign them when you create the user account. That may reduce problems, but I think I only do it because I'm old fashioned and this went wrong once in 2005. Know what I mean about uid and gid? Numbers of the user account. On the old system run "id myuser" , then when you create the new user on new computer, you assign same uid and gid.

Create some other account on both of these systems, we don't want to try to copy a user folder for "myuser" when that user is logged in, since a session depends on files you destroy. Repeat: Must not log in as myuser when you want to copy files for the myuser account. On either system.

On new system, as root, move the default user directory out of way (be safe, don't delete!), then create new directory

sudo mv /home/myuser /home/myuser.orig
sudo mkdir /home/myuser
sudo chown myuser.myuser /home/myuser

You need that last step so that your ordinary user account can rsync the files in. We don't want to do that as root

Then copy the folder /home/myuser from old to new, using the rsync flags -rav.

Can send files from old system to new system. On the old system

cd /home
rsync -e ssh -ravn myuser  [email protected]:/home


  • -r: recursive
  • -a: archive mode
  • -v: verbose mode. You can leave that out, it will go faster. But with less reassurance.
  • -n: don't actually make any changes

I put the -n flag because I want a test run; if there are errors we will find out. After testing, run same command with no -n flag.

This will only work if your user account has permissions to copy and write the files in /home/myuser. I'm not entirely sure how to do that without being root, but I used to know, and I bet somebody here knows what to do.

Or if you are in new system, can copy from other

cd /home
rsync -e ssh -rav my.old.computer:/home/myuser .

Period . means the current working directory. Run with the -n first to see what's wrong.

I've done this many times. The manual setting of the uid and the gid really should not be necessary, since the combination of ssh and rsync should assign the new files correctly. However, I got this wrong once and all the new files turned up as used by the wrong user. Where you expect to see ls -la output like this:

rw-------   1 myuser myuser        174 Aug  4 22:43 .Xauthority

you see user numbers, like

rw-------   1 504 50004        174 Aug  4 22:43 .Xauthority

or, worse, some other user's name. It happens because the uid and gid really determine file ownership; the human-readable name is superficial.

You can usually fiddle your way out of that with chown, but you'll not see if if you line up the uid and gid.

Do not worry too much if the copy over fails once, or does something you don't expect, because you can always run over again. You are not destroying the old computer, and the new computer is, well, blank slate.

I think some tar lovers will say that the best way is to tar up the old thing, move the tar.gz file, then expand that. In 2003 or so, that seemed vital to us, but lately the rsync method has worked fine.

By the way, if one is interested in learning about rsync, the man rsync is one of the best, most helpful man pages ever. It is human readable with a ton of examples and it is one of the reasons I cling to rsync like a life raft in system maintenance.

  • Thanks for your suggestions, but there is one thing I now realized that I didn't specify in my question. The "old computer" is the "new computer". I will do a complete reinstallation of Ubuntu on it becouse of me removing windows from it (I "dual-booted"), and now the system won't boot. I'll try one last thing (separete boot partition in sda1), but if that doesn't work I'll do a complete installation of Ubuntu and remove all data on the disk. My plan is to backup the home directory and place it on a usb. Then do a complete reinstallation of Ubuntu, and replace the new users home directory. Commented Aug 16, 2016 at 6:47
  • Will that work if I, like you said, just keep all the archive properties with eighther tar or rsync? Commented Aug 16, 2016 at 6:49

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