Is it possible to copy all my applications from the applications folder onto an external, format my mac, reinstall OS X and finally copy the applications back into the applications folder for installing them?

Will that work? I am asking because my macbook seems to be behaving in a very odd manner, has become excessively sluggish and is preventing me from recording anything in logic.. I have tried the usual freeing up space, clean desktop, fixing permissions, verifying and repairing disk as well as resetting pram and making sure I have all the latest software and firmware updates. The macbook is only 8 months old and is running Lion with 8gb of ram, I really cannot understand what is wrong with it. Even when trying to watch a movie, the player will get serious audio/video synchronisation issues and I noticed that every time my wifi is on the fans speed up like a plane taking off. I even checked and it is clean from any dust. I am perplexed :(

If anyone could help me please, I would greatly appreciate it. Thanks in advance!

4 Answers 4


Sure. That's definitely possible. I would recommend you use Time Machine to create a backup of your computer, that way you wouldn't lose any data. Also, because you're using 'Apple's way', its guaranteed to work better

Backing it up: Time Machine

Time Machine, by default, will backup your entire computer. However, you can choose to exclude certain folders from the backup:

In Time Machine preferences you can click the Options button to adjust settings. A sheet similar to this appears when you click Options:

time machine preferences

This sheet allows you to exclude files, folders, or entire volumes from being backed up. You might want to do this to avoid filling up your backup drive.

Restoring it: Migration Assistant

Then, using OS X Recovery, you can do an Erase and Install. Once that is complete, you can use Migration Assistant to bring across certain information, like just your Apps, or perhaps your user information as well.

migration assistant

This would be the preferred way as it ensures just in case, you wont lose anything you explicitly want to and Apple system applications are reinstalled correctly.


  • Thanks for the answer, I am actually just backing up the data manually because time machine seems to take an image of the entire drive and I want a clean install because perhaps one of the programs or settings may be the fault of the cause, so basically any photos, music, VIs, and apps I will be transferring to the external one by one.
    – guitarist
    Mar 14, 2013 at 0:37
  • Time Machine is recommended, and you can defs do what you want with that. I will clarify on that in my answer in a moment
    – Josh Hunt
    Mar 14, 2013 at 1:05

OK, so. As my predecessor said, it is possible, however:

Some apps have resources in other parts of OS X Volume, i.e.: /Library/Application Support/

i.e. Minecraft or GarageBand. Copying them will not work, you'll have to copy things also in Application Support.

  • Yeah, I was wondering about that actually. I went into that folder to save things like Virtrual Instruments / Components for Logic and the settings I have for each instrument because that would be a nightmare to set from the beginning again!
    – guitarist
    Mar 14, 2013 at 0:39
  • Remember that also apps have resources in you Home Folder: i.e.: ~/Library/Application Support/minecraft Mar 15, 2013 at 11:33

Yes this is possible. You need to grab the applications themselves, which are bundles (actually directories disguised as applications) that have the .app extension. (confirm this by holding command key while clicking them and showing contents)

Nearly all applications save your settings (anything you change when clicking on settings within an application). These are stored per user under "~/Library/Application Support"

So in summary, you could copy everything with Finder or using the terminal / command line.

Copy from Applications to External Drive

Notice sudo because Applications are not in your user folder. They are available to more then one user -- if I could coin a term: "cross-user".

sudo rsync -av /Applications/ /Volumes/ExternalMedium/Applications

Copy Saved Settings to External Drive

Notice backslash is to escape the space. Double quotations could also be used. sudo should not be necessary, because the files are in your user folder--represented by the ~. If you do not do this, the applications will still work, but will be like fresh installs (none of your previously settings will exist).

rsync -av ~/Library/Application\ Support/ /Volumes/ExternalMedium/Application\ Support


  • rsync = a tool whose location can be determined by typing which rsync on the command line
  • -a = archive mode, keep permissions
  • -v = verbose, show each file transferred
  • You would need to change the ExternalMedium to whatever name your external drive is. If there is a space in the name, type a backslash before it or double quote it.

You need to copy the content of both the applications and application support folders. This can be done by drag and drop or via terminal command prompt. Check video at https://youtu.be/vUlJi5Qzmbs

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