Relocated Items in macOS Catalina Explained

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After upgrading to macOS Catalina, you may be surprised to discover a shortcut on your Mac's desktop to a Relocated Items folder that wasn't there previously. The generation of this folder is actually normal behavior when upgrading an older version of macOS to Catalina, but we're highlighting it in this article because a lot of users are confused about why the folder exists and what to do with its contents.

What Are Relocated Items?

Relocated items are older files and data from previous macOS installations that Apple is not sure what to do with after upgrading to Catalina.

Catalina is the first version of macOS to adopt wholesale the relatively new Apple File System (APFS), which is optimized for the flash storage used in recent Macs. Aside from introducing a bunch of other new technical features, an APFS-formatted disk uses a space-sharing "container" that can house multiple secure "volumes" or file systems. This allows the disk's free space to be shared on demand and allocated to any of the individual volumes in the container as required.

When you upgrade to macOS 10.15, Catalina is installed on a dedicated read-only system volume called "Macintosh HD," while your files and data are stored separately in another volume named "Macintosh HD - Data." The idea behind this setup is that it helps prevent the accidental overwriting of critical operating system files, since the user can no longer alter data or store files on the read-only system volume.


In practice, the average user shouldn't notice any difference after the split, since both volumes appear in Finder as a single unified Macintosh HD volume (although if you want, you can view them separately in Disk Utility).

However, during the upgrade process, files or data that were previously stored in the startup volume are now stored in the new Macintosh - HD Data volume, and Catalina may not be able to find a corresponding home for them there. That's where the Relocated Items folder comes in.

The Relocated Items Folder

While creating the two separate volumes during the upgrade process, Catalina reviews the files and data on your hard drive to check that they're valid, authorized, and in the correct location. Any files and data that couldn't be stored on the Macintosh HD - Data volume in a folder equivalent to their original location, are placed in the Relocated Items folder. This folder also includes a PDF document with more details about these files.

Amongst a bunch of other things that you may not recognize, the folder can include configuration files that were modified by you, by another user, or by an app. Regardless, the modifications make them incompatible with macOS Catalina and are considered redundant as far as the system is concerned.

Can I Delete the Relocated Items Folder?

It's worth reiterating that the Relocated Items folder you see on the Desktop is just a shortcut that can be safely deleted. Doing so will not remove the folder or its contents from your hard disk. You can find the actual folder in /Users/Shared/Relocated Items.

Whether or not you delete the Relocated Items folder proper is entirely up to you. Removing the contents should be safe as far as your Mac's operating system goes, just be sure to check the contents carefully for anything that looks familiar. If you have any third-party apps that don't work since you updated to Catalina, then the Relocated Items folder may well contain data related to them, but it likely needs updating by the developers in new versions of these apps. If you recognize custom configuration files in the Relocated Items folder, then you might want to keep them around for reference in case you want to recreate them at a later date.

If your Relocated Items folder isn't very big, then simply remove the Relocated Items shortcut on your Desktop to remove the eyesore and carry on. But if you feel strongly about deleting the actual files, see below.

How to Delete the Relocated Items folder

To delete the actual Relocated Items folder, simply drag it into the Trash and then empty the Trash folder. Having said that, some of the contents may resist being deleted when you come to empty the Trash because of old security permissions on the relocated files.


If that's the case, one way to get rid of the files is to disable system integrity protection (SIP) on your Mac. The following steps explain how to disable SIP, but before you go ahead, note that the process involves rebooting your Mac and using Terminal. If you're not familiar with the Terminal command prompt, or if you have any other misgivings about the steps, our advice is to just leave the Relocated Items folder where it is, or move it elsewhere out of sight. MacRumors cannot be held responsible for any data loss.

  1. If the Relocated Items folder is in your Trash, right-click it there and select Put Back from the contextual pop-up menu.
  2. Restart your Mac via the Restart... option in the Apple menu bar, and when the boot cycle starts again, hold down the Command and R keys to enter Recovery mode.
  3. From the Recovery screen menu bar, select Utilities -> Terminal.
  4. Type csrutil disable and hit Enter.
  5. Restart your Mac via the Restart option in the menu bar.
  6. Now delete the Relocated Items folder, then empty the Trash.
  7. Restart your Mac and enter Recovery mode again using Command-R.
  8. From the Recovery screen menu bar, select Utilities -> Terminal.
  9. Type csrutil enable and press Enter to re-enable SIP.
  10. Restart your Mac via the Restart option the menu bar.
Once you've followed these steps, the contents of the Relocated Items folder should be gone from your system for good.

Article Link: Relocated Items in macOS Catalina Explained
 
Last edited:

chrfr

macrumors G3
Jul 11, 2009
8,380
2,632
So basically, if you installed anything in /usr/local/ or /opt it'll get put into the relocated items folder?
/usr/local doesn't seem to be affected, but anything you have at the root level of the disk probably will be.
 

zorinlynx

macrumors 603
May 31, 2007
5,653
6,773
Florida, USA
This folder might contain very important data, delete with caution!

My example:

I once had an external drive called "Storage" on my Mac, that was mounted in /Volumes/Storage -- when I upgraded to a Mac with larger internal storage, I didn't have to use the external drive anymore so I copied the contents to /Storage which was in the root folder.

Upgrading to Catalina moved that Storage folder (with lots of important stuff!!!) to the Relocated Items directory. If I had blindly deleted it, I would have deleted about 300GB of stuff that I would have had to restore from backup.

So check that folder CAREFULLY before deleting it. What I ended up doing was create a new APFS volume called Storage and moving the stuff there, as for historical reasons I want it separate from my home folder in /Users.
 

ouimetnick

macrumors 68030
Aug 28, 2008
2,515
722
Beverly, Massachusetts
Wasting your time, I have a few folders like that (Previously Relocated Items..1...2...3 aso), just delete them, done. (About 60 MB)

My Updated OS is near to 2 decades old (10.0b), never reinstalled, runs like a charm.
So you were able to pull your hard drive from a PowerPC based Mac into an Intel machine with out any issues and carry on? I didn’t know you could do that.
 

fjfjfjfj

macrumors 6502
Mar 20, 2009
295
59
New York, NY
Sounds like a fresh install will be in order for me.
I did the same thing...a clean install. It’s such a great feeling. And I find it becomes easier and easier with so much in the cloud. All music, photos, and documents are just there! (I of course do a backup first). Only a few apps to reinstall. It’s actually quite nice and running zippier after indexing.
 

displaced

macrumors 65816
Jun 23, 2003
1,424
180
Gravesend, United Kingdom
So things like MySQL/PostgreSQL DBs from Homebrew installs will be preserved in their existing/default location?
That’s right. /usr/local was untouched for me - all stuff installed via homebrew was still fine.

Looks like this change is still respecting the usual macOS and POSIX conventions for where user and system data lives.
 
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BigBoy2018

macrumors 6502a
Oct 23, 2018
935
1,743
So less control over my files. I trust myself to not screw up important files. More nanny state style control to lock the Mac platform down and iOS it.
Couldn’t agree more. I prefer not to have an OS with a bunch of ‘child safety gates’ on it.

Somehow ... in over THREE decades of using a mac my system has never been so borked that I couldnt recover it myself.

I may be a little more mac savvy than most, but Apple seems to be making an OS for the lowest common demoninator.

For ya’ll who think this is just wonderful, just wait for another couple OS releases and see Apple lock down the Mac OS even more.
 

manu chao

macrumors 603
Jul 30, 2003
6,388
2,356
I once had an external drive called "Storage" on my Mac, that was mounted in /Volumes/Storage -- when I upgraded to a Mac with larger internal storage, I didn't have to use the external drive anymore so I copied the contents to /Storage which was in the root folder.

Upgrading to Catalina moved that Storage folder (with lots of important stuff!!!) to the Relocated Items directory. If I had blindly deleted it, I would have deleted about 300GB of stuff that I would have had to restore from backup.

So check that folder CAREFULLY before deleting it. What I ended up doing was create a new APFS volume called Storage and moving the stuff there, as for historical reasons I want it separate from my home folder in /Users.
It took me years (of OS X) to fully accept that no user data should be stored outside the /Users folder. It felt overly complex but you save yourself potential trouble by sticking to this rule.
 

zorinlynx

macrumors 603
May 31, 2007
5,653
6,773
Florida, USA
So less control over my files. I trust myself to not screw up important files. More nanny state style control to lock the Mac platform down and iOS it.
You still have full control over the system. If you want to hack on MacOS, you can disable all the extra security features.

Partitioning the OS separate from user data is good practice. Not only does it increase security, but it makes system updates cleaner (just update the OS partition, don't touch the user ones) and also makes it easier to migrate to a new system. (Just copy the data partition verbatim)
- - Post merged: - -

It took me years (of OS X) to fully accept that no user data should be stored outside the /Users folder. It felt overly complex but you save yourself potential trouble by sticking to this rule.
Indeed. A lot of really old school Mac users like myself went by the "Put stuff in the root of the boot drive" for a long time; it was a hard habit to break.

It's weird because I've been a UNIXhead for a long time too, and typically on UNIX systems you don't do that. But Macs have always felt "different" and thus I'd subconsciously treat them differently. It doesn't help that MacOS classic encouraged data storage pretty much anywhere and kept the OS entirely contained in a "System" folder. In fact, you could make any volume bootable just by copying a System folder to it. Mac power users would keep a minimal copy of System around for this purpose.
 

Arcade

macrumors 6502
Oct 1, 2012
328
117
Bronx, NY
I was able to delete the folder with no warning after reviewing it all I had was a log file for when I first installed mcafee on my Mac.
 

mannyvel

macrumors 6502
Mar 16, 2019
267
450
Hillsboro, OR
That’s right. /usr/local was untouched for me - all stuff installed via homebrew was still fine.

Looks like this change is still respecting the usual macOS and POSIX conventions for where user and system data lives.
Is it that /usr/local is symlinked to the Relocated Items folder? Where the heck did it go?