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Short and Sweet: Migrating a Mac OS X Shortname

A few ways to solve the problem By Esther Schindler
Someone I know migrated from a Macintosh G4 computer to a new MacBook Pro, and had to rename his shortname in the process. Originally, he set up the new computer with the same shortname (which he wants to use) and then subsequently deleted the account with the shortname once he migrated all the old data.

"Does anyone know how to change the user's shortname?" he wanted to know.

There are a couple of ways to go about it. But, before you do this for-real, create a test user, and experiment with that. Change your existing account once you are satisfied with your test.

The GUI Approach
If you don't want to mess with Terminal, and are scared by the command line, here's one way to approach the problem.
  • From the Applications folder, choose the Utilities folder.
  • Start NetInfo Manager
  • Change the value associated with the 'name' property for the given account. Save your changes.
  • You need a new instance of the System Preferences application to view your changed NetInfo information. So, close/open a new System Preferences, and go to Accounts under System to confirm your change.

Bare Metal

If you're more comfortable at the Mac OS X command line, you may prefer this approach.

First, create a brand-new account with the new short name. You'll need to be root user, so launch NetInfo Manager, authenticate yourself, then enable root user.
  • Login as Root.
  • Go to the Users directory, and delete the home directory of the new account you just created. Then duplicate the old account's home directory, and rename it to the new shortname.
  • Go inside the new home directory, into Library:Keychains, and rename the file with the old shortname to the new shortname.
  • Go into Terminal and use the chown command, like this:
  • root# chown -R newname.groupname newname
    • newname is your new account shortname
    • groupname is the groupname
  • Logout as root, and log back in as yourself.
  • Disable the root account in NetInfo Manager again.
Alternatively, I'm told, you can use sudo bash. At least one Mac administrator points out that there's no need to enable root when you can sudo into it.

The Easiest Solution
However, Ronald Cross cautions that this isn't a task you should take on lightly, and you should do so only as a last resort. Apple provides instructions on how to accomplish the task, but, Cross says, their procedure actually isn't complete. Says his Web site, "The best option is to simply learn to live with your present short username. Or, if the account was just created, create a new account with the desired short username and then delete the 'unwanted' account."

If you want to tackle the job anyway, Cross and James Bucanek created a free utility program, ChangeShortName, to automate much of the process.

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Esther Schindler has been writing about technology professionally since 1992, and her byline has appeared in dozens of IT publications. She's optimized compilers, owned a computer store, taught corporate training classes, moderated online communities, run computer user groups, and, in her spare time, written a few books. You can reach her at esthers@digitalmediaonlineinc.com.
Related Keywords:mac os x, shortname, short name, administration, migration, operating system


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