Home > Mac administration, Mac OS X, Mac OS X Server, macOS > Portable home directories will not work on macOS Sierra

Portable home directories will not work on macOS Sierra

As part of the pre-release announcements about macOS Sierra, Apple released the following KBase article:


As part of the KBase article, Apple included a Changes coming with macOS Sierra section which featured this note:

Screen Shot 2016 09 03 at 2 13 42 PM

Portable home directories (PHDs) were Apple’s attempt at providing roaming user profiles. Starting in Mac OS X 10.3.x, you could configure a person’s account so that the data in their home folder resided on a server in a network home folder. The data on the server was then synchronized with copies of the same data residing on the one or more Macs that particular person used on a day-to-day basis.

Portable home directories

It was also possible to configure what data was synchronized between the Mac(s) and the server, to conserve space on the server for only essential data.

Portable Sync Rules

Unfortunately, the idea was better in concept than it was in execution. Depending on how much data needed to be synchronized, the copying process between the server and the individual Macs could take a while.

Picture 1

Synchronization conflicts were also left for the user to figure out, which usually meant a call to the local help desk.

Phd conflict resolution

The synchronization agent itself was prone to crashing when working particularly hard.

Picture 7

The problems with the synchronization process, coupled with the increasing availability of continuous backup solutions like CrashPlan and Apple’s diminishing support for PHDs, helped make portable home directory deployment something many Mac admins avoided. Nine OS releases after PHDs’ initial debut in 10.3.x., it appears Apple now agrees with that sentiment.

  1. Matt
    September 4, 2016 at 10:17 am

    Sadly Apple just keeps giving business less and less reason to buy Macs. Network/Portable Home Directories were brilliant in their ability to quickly deploy and replace computers. Now it’s a case of having to make sure each computer is backed up, and staff can’t simply sit down at any machine and log in, nor can their computer be quickly swapped out.

  2. cashxx
    September 6, 2016 at 7:21 pm

    Anyone else a little worried? They keep taking enterprise features away more and more with every release. I’m waiting for OS X Server to go away completely. Lack of updates to Apple hardware is also a little scary.

    • February 25, 2017 at 10:09 am

      Yep… Their cloud service seems to be the driving force.

  3. September 12, 2016 at 3:26 pm

    I never had a chance to work with portable home directories in our environment but worked with roaming profiles in the Windows world for 11 years. In the Windows world I saw it as something just not quite there yet. It was alright if you only had one system you logged into which most did. If the profile got too big though which was easy to do, it could get painful. By all accounts I’ve read on the internet, Apple’s implementation was more painful than Windows.

    Now the best thing about Windows profiles for me was the mandatory profiles(one way transfer of data on each login). Those were perfect for managing generic lab user accounts. This is something I’ve wanted to do in the Mac world but never have had the time to explore. My guess is that if such a feature existed in the Mac world then Sierra likely has put the kibosh on it.

    At any rate for those arguing about enterprise features considering the industry move toward cloud services…OneDrive on the Windows side and iCloud on Apple’s, the direction is pretty clear and from what I can tell it’s a much better solution. One big argument would be Apple’s lack of enterprise access to data for admins and I can understand that one but let’s face it Apple has rarely if ever been very friendly towards the enterprise market. Hopefully they’ll address it though. It’s that or hope that One Drive for Business becomes much more robust.

  4. September 18, 2016 at 2:35 am

    Great article, as expected from DerFlounder. Never really had a need for Portable Home Directories. Tried it a few times but had too many issues. Easier to give users server space, so important stuff is stored/copied there, and backed up nightly. Guessing maybe schools use this feature more than enterprise?

  5. October 20, 2016 at 8:10 pm

    OK. That is bad news for me. How am I now going to make sure that people can have an account on multiple laptops that have a) the same data in their account and b) work when not i range of the local (fast) network but also when there is no internet at all?

    Or should I forget about macOS Sierra and go to El Capitan? But does that even matter? Isn’t it a question of the version of the Server app?

  6. Roger
    November 9, 2016 at 8:17 pm

    Is there a guide somewhere about how to convert portable home directories to mobile homes (network homes cached locally)?

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