So our late 2015 iMac locked up the other day, and I had to restart it. My wife and I both use the computer, both with our own (both admin) users. I was logged in on my user when the machines crashes. After the restart, the computer booted to the user login screen, only my wife's user showed - mine was gone. Logging in on hers, it looks like my user is just "gone" - doesn't show in System Preferences. However, when I go to /Users, there is a folder with the my user name, but very little data in it.

But I have hope that somehow, somewhere, my files remain?

Our 1.02 TB HD is 98 GB away from capacity. My wife's entire user is only 432 GB. So there's a missing 500ish GB.... that would seemingly line up my missing user and data.

Apple advised me to update to Catalina (hadn't gotten around to it yet), which I did, but that didn't bring anything back. Obviously restoring the user would be ideal, but really all I care about is my music, pictures, etc. Anyone have any idea on how to get at that information, that is still seemingly on the HD?

  • I’ve never heard of Apple advising people to write more data to a system where data loss or data recovery is the issue. Is it possible they didn’t understand your problem? I would stop using your Mac immediately if you want to try recovery. Either way, whether they did or didn’t understand, spilt milk. I hope the awesome answer helps.
    – bmike
    Apr 11 '20 at 21:45

Questionable advice from apple. I suspect you do not have a backup of your data. You should have a backup of all your data. Since you do not have a backup, this implies you do not have administrator level knowledge of macOS. You best find a professional to look for your data.

If you really, really need your data, you need professional help. One of the best professional restorers is "drivesavers.com".

This isn't a good time to be running around trying to fix your computer. The best advice is to buy a new computer and wait until it is safe to go out. Another good advice, is to buy an external drive and run from the external drive. An external SSD from OWC is what I'm running on now. Here is what I am using for my startup drive: https://eshop.macsales.com/item/OWC/ME3NH7T00/ plus https://eshop.macsales.com/shop/SSD/OWC/Mercury_6G/

You should use the terminal to look around the root of the harddrive, / and the user directory /Users. The thing is the more you use your machine the less likely you will be able to recover your data. https://discussions.apple.com/docs/DOC-11071 Please post back the result of:

ls -l /Users

While requiring administrator knowledge of the mac, you can try:

  • Immediately backup your wife's data
  • You should try cloning the drive of your machine
  • You should try all data recovery on the clone of your drive.
  • get an external drive
  • install macos on the external drive
  • try to find a data recovery app that will get back your data

a bunch of data recovery tools:

Perhaps Disk Warrior will be of some help: http://www.alsoft.com/DiskWarrior/

"Stellar Phoenix Macintosh - Mac data recovery software, recovers data from damaged, deleted, or corrupted volumes and even from initialized disks." They have a trial version, so I guess you can see if your data can be recovered... http://www.stellarinfo.com/mac-data-recovery.htm

"Data Rescue II is the best data recovery software on the market for recovering files from a problem hard drive. Data Rescue II works when other tools fail. Data Rescue II is also completely safe to use since it does not attempt any risky repairs to the drive while its scanning." http://www.prosofteng.com/products/data_rescue.php

FileSalvage is an extremely powerful Macintosh application for exploring and recovering deleted files from a drive or volume. FileSalvage is designed to restore files that have: -- been accidentally deleted. -- become unreadable due to media faults. -- been stored on a drive before it was re-initialized/formatted.


"TestDisk is a free data recovery utility. It was primarily designed to help recover lost data storage partitions and/or make non-booting disks bootable again when these symptoms are caused by faulty software, certain types of viruses or human error (such as accidentally erasing a partition table)." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TestDisk

Wondershare Data Recovery for Mac

"Recover lost photos, video, documents, email and archive files from any Mac-based hard drive or external hard drive, iPod, USB drive, SD card, digital camera, mobile phone, and MP3/MP4 player, due to accidental deleting, formatting, virus infection, improper operation, unexpected power failure, and other unknown reasons. Also, iPhone recovery allows you to recover lost photos, videos, SMS, contacts, note, calendar and call history from iTunes backup file. With the free trial, you can preview all your recovered images, videos, music, documents and archive files prior purchasing this Mac Data Recovery." http://software.bigbigsoft.com/data-recovery-mac

"If there is any chance of recovery at all your best bet is Prosoft Data Recovery." by macjack


Eric Root's list:


Chterando's list:


  • Well done. Great edits with recovery options.
    – bmike
    Apr 11 '20 at 22:14

Fully admitting that I should be backing up our data, and that I absolutely do not have anything close to or resembling "administrator level knowledge", I figured this out and wanted to post my solution. With the hope that if this happens to someone else, they can stumble across this post and find an easy win.

Step 1 - as bmike suggested, I stopped everything and backed up our data via Time Machine. Had to format my 4 TB PS4 external hard drive, but whats a few hours of game reinstall and updates down the road vs. losing all of our music, family pictures, etc. While Time Machine was backing up, I realized that it too was looking at ballpark 900 GB of data on the drive. Tried showing hidden folders, nothing anywhere near that size floating around.

Step 2- After Time Machine was completed, I plugged in a different (small, 500 GB) external drive. My user folder still showed in Finder, but Get Info revealed a paltry 43 MB. THIS WAS WRONG. When I dragged any of the folders onto the external, it would ask for my wife's user admin password. Upon entering it, it revealed it was copy X GB of information onto the external. Once the data was on the external I could see and access everything - music, pictures, docs, etc. Everything was there.

So yes, backing up your data is key and you're kind of an idiot if you don't. Point taken.

BUT if this happens to you, and you can still see your user folder... Grab an external drive and start copying the folders. All is not lost.

  • Sounds like your larger directories might have been outside of your home folder with the home folder containing symlinks to them. I do that on our system—all our photos, music, and ebooks are in /Users/Shared, and the "normal" places in both user accounts are symlinks to them.
    – WGroleau
    Apr 12 '20 at 23:37
  • I suspect permissions problems. Hard to tell now. The easiest way to sort permissions problems is from the terminal. I recommend a bootable backup with Carbon Copy Cloner on another drive. I have both a bootable external drive and a timemachine backup. Glad you got the prolems sorted. Apr 25 '20 at 5:26

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