I am running two new Mac's that both were delivered in 2020 with macOS 10.15 Catalina installed (2017 iMac Pro delivered in 2020 and the new 2020 MacBook Air).

On update from 10.15.4 -> 10.15.5 both of these Macs created Relocated Items and wiped out my the contents of my /etc and /var directories.

  • My understanding is that this behavior is not expected for Catalina -> Catalina updates. The documentation on Relocated Items seems to apply mostly to Mojave -> Catalina.

On the iMac Pro, I was also redirected to the full setup procedure because /var/db/.AppleSetupDone was moved. This was also moved on the MacBook Air, so I'm not sure why I didn't see it there as well.

My conjecture is that this has to do with my use of synthetic.conf to create a link from /p that points to /Volumes. This is to map directories between system when I connect to a smb drive on a linux computer. But I can't see why this would cause any issues as it is supported mechanism.

  • Why I think this may be related. The relocated items show in the directory: /Users/Shared/Relocated Items/Security/System/Volumes/Data/rivate which seems like a misspelling of "private" without the "p", which is my only clue. (Although, this seems like it would indicate something surprisingly sloppy in the coding...)
  • Also /Volumes/System/Data/private contains etc and var which are precisely the folders that are causing me problems.

Other software that is impacted includes MacTex 2020 (which installs its paths in /etc). This also wipes out all the printers I install (because they put stuff into /etc as well).

Possibly related...

I ran the permissions to see if this has any impact on my next update.

Any ideas would be helpful!

  • That's very interesting. I also have a Mac (Macbook Pro 16) delivered in 2020, and I recalled something similar. When I checked just now, I have 3 folders: Relocated, Previously Relocated... & Previously Relocated... 1. But they all contain only one file at the end. For example: /Users/Shared/Previously Relocated Items 1/Configuration/private/etc/sudoers.system_default. If you inspect the file /Users/Shared/Relocated Items/What Are Relocated Items?.lpdf you will see the filename is actually: Quarantine.lpdf - Read it & get an Orwellian sensation!
    – Seamus
    Jun 5, 2020 at 19:05

2 Answers 2

  • I also experienced this problem over several Catalina and Big Sur updates.
  • I too had a /p link defined in /etc/synthetic.conf
  • I too noticed the rivate misspelling.

So before updating to macOS 11.4 today, I rebooted in recovery mode and removed my synthetic.conf. The update then installed normally, without blowing away my /var and /etc directories and without running the new installation setup. I conclude that having a /p link does cause this problem.

  • Thanks so much for confirming I'm not crazy! :) Glad to know it works with removing the file; I wish they could do this automatically. This makes me want to file a bug report with Apple. Although I don't see any way to do that without having access to some type of beta software.
    – dgleich
    Jun 1, 2021 at 16:38
  • You can file bug reports here: feedbackassistant.apple.com
    – rob mayoff
    Jun 1, 2021 at 16:39

This is totally expected and a result of the software needing an update.

Every macOS install can be a full archive and install and run the full migration, so you will see all of the changes needed as if the OS was a major update. Apple is releasing more and more large features in dot releases, so I treat every update other than a security patch as major. Full backup, spot check that the backup has changed files (I use Time Machine and BackupLoupe) and this has saved me many lost days and worse when a reboot or update shows me I had damaged files or a software installer did things it should not have to make updates painless.

  • If you can point to others having their /etc directories entirely deleted in an update process and reinitialized, please share the information. This has not been my experience in any previous version of macOS and this behavior breaks MacTex installs among other issues as this uses /etc/paths.d.
    – dgleich
    Jun 5, 2020 at 17:14

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