I just got a new 4K iMac, which I'm pretty thrilled about. So many pixels! Faster machine! Thunderbolt at last! The one downside: I set it up as a new machine to get started quickly, but lost most of my Messages history in the process.

When you set your computer up as new, you can associate your Apple ID, which syncs quite a lot of data and settings over to your new Mac—but the vast majority of your Messages history stays where it is on your old computer for security reasons. Womp womp. (This is the same story if you try to set up an iPhone as new rather than restoring from backup, too.)

Lucky for me, I know my way around a few hidden folders that helped me get my iMessage history to my new Mac. This trick is also really helpful if you simply want to reference an older conversation or quickly find an attachment from your conversation history.

How to find your iMessage archive

  1. In the Messages app, go to Messages > Preferences.
  2. Check the "Save history when conversations are closed" box.
  3. In the Finder, head to the Go menu and select Go to Folder.

  4. Type in ~/Library/Messages.
  5. You should see two folders: Archive and Attachments along with a file database labeled "chat.db".

Archive holds all your past messages from conversations that you've closed or saved; Attachments holds all the images and video from those conversations. The chat.db holds all the information from your active message history.

Archived conversations are labeled pretty clearly: They're all in folders labeled by date closed, and individual files give you the name of the participant along with the date and time. Open one, and you'll see the conversation pop up in Messages. You can't edit, search, or export conversations to a different format, but you can copy and paste sentences.

The Attachments archive is another story: It's designed primarily as a backup for Messages, not for users to really go snooping around, so it's labeled with incomprehensible numerics. You can find archived photo and video in here, but prepare to do some digging.

How to transfer your Messages history to a new Mac

  1. Turn on both your old and new Macs. Make sure the Messages app is closed on both.
  2. Open the AirDrop window on the new and old Macs. (If AirDrop isn't working, you can also use File Sharing.)
  3. Open the ~/Library/Messages folder on your old Mac and new Mac using the method above.
  4. Drag the Messages folder from your old Mac to AirDrop.

  5. If you've already been using the Messages app on your new Mac, make a copy of this folder and save it to your desktop.
  6. Delete the data from the Messages folder on your new Mac.
  7. Drag the data from the Messages folder you copied from your old Mac to the now-empty Messages folder.

  8. Restart your new Mac.

After you restart, you should have your old Mac's full Messages history available to you on your new Mac.


Having trouble getting Messages to cooperate? Let us know below and we'll try to troubleshoot.