Slim down your SSD with symbolic links


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Reader Josh Gillam loves the speed of his SSD but not its capacity. He writes:

Late last year you wrote about speeding up an old Mac with an SSD. I followed your advice by replacing the media drive in my MacBook Pro with an SSD, leaving the original hard drive for other things. The problem I face now is that my SSD fills up quickly. Is there a way I can better manage its storage so files are stored by default on the old hard drive rather than the SSD?

Absolutely. There are a couple of ways you can go about this. If you find that a lot of the storage is being used by iPhoto and iTunes, you can simply shift their files over to the old hard drive and then point the apps to look there for their resources.

For iPhoto, copy the iPhoto Library archive from youruserfolder/Pictures to the old hard drive (where you copy it isn’t important). Then launch iPhoto while holding down the Option key. An iPhoto window will appear that lists any iPhoto Library archives you have as well as the path to the currently selected archive. Select the archive you moved and click Choose. (If you don’t see it in the list, click Other Library, navigate to it, and click Open.) You can now delete the original iPhoto Library archive. Whenever you work with iPhoto it will load and save images using this iPhoto Library archive.


iPhoto and iTunes let you store libraries outside of your home folder.

Working with iTunes is less straightforward as you have to additionally adjust some settings within its preferences. I’ll let Apple show you the way.

The other thing you might consider is moving some folders within your user folder to the old hard drive and creating symbolic links to them. The idea is that any app that wants access to folders such as Documents, Movies, Pictures, and Downloads will be directed to copies you’ve created on the old hard drive. This can’t happen until you create links that tell the operating system “Look over there for the folders you want.” Doing so requires some folder copying and the tiniest bit of Terminal work. Like so:

First, consider which folders you want to place on the old hard drive. The advantage of an SSD is that it accesses files very quickly and so you want to keep those files most often accessed on the faster drive. For this reason I’d suggest moving folders that contain large files that aren’t used all that often—in my case the Pictures, Music, and Downloads folders. I would very definitely keep the hidden Library folder on the SSD as it contains lots of little files that the OS touches constantly.

Copy the folders you want to move to the old hard drive. You needn’t put them in any particular place. I’ve created a folder at the root level of my old hard drive, named it My Home Folders, and then moved the folders into it. Now, to Terminal.

Within Terminal enter cd and enter the location of your home folder on the SSD drive. The easy way to do this is to type cd, followed by a space, and then drag your home folder into the Terminal window. Press Return and Terminal will list the name of your home folder followed by a prompt—chris$, in my case).

Now type sudo rm -rf, a space, and then the name of the folder you want to delete. So, to delete the Downloads folder you’d enter rm -rf Downloads and then press Return. Enter your password when prompted, press Return again, and the folder will be deleted. Repeat this for each folder you wish to delete (again, after making sure that you’ve made copies on the old hard drive).


I'd use this command to delete my original Downloads folder (after first making a copy).

You must now create links to the folders you moved to your hard drive. You can do this by typing ln -s, entering a space, and then dragging in the folder on your old hard drive that you want to create the link to. In our example I would type ln -s and then drag into the Terminal window the Downloads folder from the My Home Folders folder I created on my old hard drive. When I press Return the link to the folder is created within the home folder on the SSD.

Worth noting is that when you delete those folders from the SSD’s home folder they’ll also disappear from Finder windows’ sidebars. You can put them back (minus the custom icon, which you also lose) by navigating to the original folders on the old hard drive and dragging those copies into the sidebar. (If you drag the links from the SSD’s home folder into the sidebar the links will simply disappear from the home folder.)

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