Want to delete your old library after migrating to Photos for OS X? Don't!

Turns out that Photos does pretty sophisticated library management; enough so that you're not duplicating space if you're migrating from iPhoto or Aperture. If you've migrated an existing iPhoto or Aperture photo library to Photos, Photos creates a brand new library structure but doesn't, in point of fact, duplicate your images. Instead it creates links to the original and preview versions of your images.

When you're looking at your Photos library in the Finder, it includes all of your original images and previews. But the images exist only in one location on your hard drive, even if you have multiple photo libraries.

Here's what Apple has to say (opens in new tab) for people anxious to pull the delete trigger:

After you migrate your iPhoto or Aperture library to Photos, you might feel tempted to delete your original iPhoto or Aperture library. Because the migrated library takes little additional space, you don't need to delete the original library.

So don't do it, even if you're tempted to.

You can still use your original photo library with iPhoto (version 9.6.1, as of this writing) and Aperture (version 3.6) after you've migrated it to Photos. Just bear in mind that any changes you make in iPhoto or Aperture will be resident only in those applications, not Photos. So if you make new image edits in Aperture or create a new iPhoto album, those will only appear in their respective apps, not Photos.

(Hat tip: Dave Sanderson)

Peter Cohen
  • That sounds a lot like the argument for Windows' winsxs folder that gobble up gigabites.
    "No, those are just links and no actual disk space are used"
    But they still reduce the reported/usable disk free space like a real file.
  • I deleted mine so what do I do now? I do have a backup on an external drive. Sent from the iMore App
  • Same here... Hmm.... I am using iCloud Photo Library, so that should be fine, right?
  • This makes me think that I now have this 88 GB file that really doesn't have anything there. Because whenever I go to share a video or anything on Facebook, it takes FOREVER to "prepare"
  • Definitely sounds strange to me. After migrating to Photos, I saw that I had an Aperture Library of about 256GB and a Photos library of the same size. Since I had multiple backups of the Aperture Library I deleted it. No problem. Perhaps, as ISRS says above, this works because I opted in to iCloud Photo Library? Whatever the answer is, it sounds a little more complicated than the article suggests.
  • Exactly.
  • What about just backing up all your photos to an external drive, blowing everything away, and starting over in Photos? That should clear up any confusion. Sent from the iMore App
  • Glad you fixed this article. The first one was telling people to delete their original libraries.
  • This is completely wrong. When I updated to photos it doubled the space on my hard drive. I went to Apple they showed me how it was doubled I deleted the old library and had lots of heartache....
  • I had the same results. My iPhoto library is 164 Gigs in size and my new Photos library is now 170 gigs since adding new photos after the transition. This is wasting a lot of space! What are we to do?
  • Unless your using iCloud photo liabray Sent from the iMore App
  • I don't get it. I've deleted the iPhoto library, and I've not lost anything. Everything was migrated to Photos.
  • I did the same and had no problems it work 100% plus when I delete iPhoto it freed up a lot of space. It all sounds like a conspiracy like no one walk on the moon.
  • hahaha looks like that.
  • Sounds like Apple is using Hard Links. Many disk tools double count used space when dealing with hard links. However, the free space will still be accurate. You may even notice used space + free space exceeding your disk's capacity. Any free space gain is from removing files that aren't used in both databases (iPhoto's actual database, edited versions or exports of photos for example). Deleting iPhoto's link to the actual photos wouldn't regain free space, but may show less space used. A few commenters have noted that they removed the original database without issues. However, I'm not familiar with this particular situation so don't go deleting all the things just because I said so. Hard links are a way of creating more than one directory entry, or pointer (what most think of files) to the same data on the file system. If you execute the command "ln /dir1/file1 /dir2/file2", /dir2/file2 will point to the same block of data (file) as /dir1/file1. Any edits to /dir1/file1 will be "mirrored" in /dir2/file2 and vice versa because file1 and file2 are actually the same file. The block of data, continues to use disk space until all links to it are removed. In this case both /dir1/file1 and /dir2/file2 would have to be deleted before the disk space is unallocated and free space returned. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hard_link for more details.
  • Ugh, the new Photos... Do. Not. Want. I launched it and did the import thing and turned on iCloud backup. I came back 3 days later and Photos told me there wasn't any more room to backup on my computer. I checked my Pictures library and I have a 50GB iPhoto library AND a 50GB Photos library. Thankfully I haven't deleted either one, but I don't know what to do now. I really don't like the interface of Photos and Apple has said the will no longer update iPhoto. My wife and I have Macs for home use, and she has an iPhone but I'm an Android user. All of my photos go to Google Photos and Flickr automatically, but I'd like to share some of my phone photos with her via a Photostream. I also have an Eye-Fi card in my DSLR but the Eye-Fi Control center doesn't import to Photos, just iPhoto. I don't know which app to get behind.
  • So the headline of this article is not true, if directly after migrating the new library is as big as the old one, or what????
  • Regardless of this "don't worry, just leave it", I just want to get rid of it. The application libraries and plugings alone are gigantic. Any guide on how to do this safely. Especially, with these so called "hard links" mixing up stuff between iPhoto and Photos?
  • Oh Lord! All of this is so confusing. After reading the article i feel I should not delete old library and after reading the comments i feel it is ok to delete old library as the collection is saved in Photos. What should we do exactly? Delete or not?