MacOS user directories on a thunderbolt drive

Buying a new Mac Mini to replace an old Pro tower. Would like to keep the os (Mac and boot camp) on the internal SSD and have the user directories on a Thunderbolt drive. I know the importance of keeping a admin account on the SSD to troubleshoot, but would like to preconfigure the user accounts to exist this way before reestoring files from the Pro. When I have tried this in the past, drive numbers seem to change causing all sorts of hell.

If this is not doable, would prefer to put some of the users bigger subdirectories (photos and videos) on the thunderbolt or a NAS device.

Any how to or best practices would be greatly appreciated.
Arthur CashinAsked:
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John CrawfordIT AdministratorCommented:
It sounds like your re-engineering the directory structure of OS X (Berkley Unix), Does not sound possible if I understand you.

The user directories, I hope you dont's mean the login accounts of login users! ( i hope i am misunderstanding you!)
Arthur CashinAuthor Commented:
No, just want to use symbolic links to overcome the internal 2T disk limitation of a Mac mini. My Mac Pro boot drive is 4Tb, 3Tb Mac OS, 1 Tb boot camp. The machine is on its last legs and I probably can’t wait for the new Pros next year. Just some planning to prevent a catastrophic event.
John CrawfordIT AdministratorCommented:
Ok, so you have not purchased the Mac mini yet and are planning?
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I'm not sure what you mean about drive numbers.  External disks now mount onto /Volumes/disk_name by default and that's all you need to reference.  You can just have the directories on the other disk and use the ln -s command on the folder to link them all.
ln -s /Volumes/external_disk/Users/* /Users/

How many accounts are you talking about?  It would be easier to just mount the external drive onto the /Users folder if you have a lot of accounts and need to create and delete new accounts all the time.   When you install the Mac mini, leave the one admin account in the root /Users/ folder, so that you can still load the admin account folders if the external drive becomes unmounted.  Then copy that folder to the external drive before you mount it.

Another way is to install Server and use OD to set the account directories to be on another disk.  Then use OD to create new accounts and they'll default to the external disk instead of the local disk's /Users/ folder

If you don't want to use OD, you can also manually set the account directories to be in another location, after you create the account.
If you need to do a lot of them scripting them via the command line would be easier.
sudo dscl . -change /Users/<username> NFSHomeDirectory <old_path> <new_path>

There are many ways to do this because it's BSD.  Your home folder can be anywhere you want it to be.
John CrawfordIT AdministratorCommented:
If this is a business environment and you have several people using this mac? Home environment external HD ok with each user shortcut folder on the desktop, but these days no way. Business environment, a windows file server, 2012, 2016.

Are users doing video editing stuff or is it just Office work?
You do not want the headache of using a Windows file server as a mount point for a Mac Home directory.  Either get a Mac server or a NAS that doesn't have a mismatched SMB.
John CrawfordIT AdministratorCommented:
Ive been using windows servers for many years and they seem to work fine with macs, also the mac servers get bad reviews, when i used mac servers back in the 90's they were not reliable, that's when people moving from Novell to NT.

 Microsoft seems to have done a good job with active directory and even basic file servicing. All of this again depends on what your doing which is not clear (office, excel, word, video editing)
OS X did not exist in the 90s.  Let's talk about the technology today  You can't really go by something that no longer exists.  MacOS 6 through MacOS 9 basically died when OS: X came out.  It's a completely different OS now.

Starting with Lion or Mountain Lion, Apple removed SAMBA because of GPLv3 licensing and rolled their own version.  It's not playing nicely with file shares from Windows, especially if multiple users have access.  You'll have more trouble with OSX compatibility with SMB on Windows.  Use a NAS that supports Macs, because they're still linux based and use SAMBA to share to OS X and Windows.  It's less of a headache for a Mac user.

The error messages on a Mac SMB does not match the real error message on the Windows side, so you won't know exactly what's wrong when users have a problem.  You'll have to track down the exact time a user has an error to find the real error in the Windows event log to be able to track down the real issue.  It's tedious, especially when the Mac side gives the same message for different events on the Windows side.  Macs do not release a file from being in use on the Windows side properly and Mac users will find a file locked even after supposedly closing and disconnecting.  The Apple team has not really figured out Windows SMB and wrote their own version that's not fully compatible with Windows.  The various versions of OS X's SMB also behave differently.  They've fixed some of the earlier, more egregious, issues, but it's still not completely compatible with Windows SMB.

Do not use Windows file shares for Macs, unless you mostly run Windows and just need occasional Mac access.  It's less of a support headache to run Linux SAMBA server or a NAS with SAMBA shares if you have a mostly Mac shop.
John CrawfordIT AdministratorCommented:
The point is: It's the same company.  You can use 2003 2008 2012 etc server, Domain Controller not needed, Setup simple file share wizard. Right click on My computer, Manage, Users and groups: Enable Guest, you have simple shares that work like a champ. Connect as Guest

Of course you have to enter:  smb://NAMEOFSERVER

In the Go menu, Connect to Server.

If this is too complicated, just buy another Mac and setup shared folders,  If you know a PC guy they can do this easily.
@John Crawford,
You're straying from the question.  Your answer doesn't resolve what was asked.

You also appear to not have that much real experience with lots of Macs in a Windows environment.  That works if it's a handful of users, and for doing simple file transfer tasks, not for a mounted home directory share.  Once you have a large number of Mac users, a Windows SMB share becomes untenable with too many Mac users.

Macs work better on a Mac SMB share.  Yes, they can connect to Windows share, but you'll have a lot of issues with the Mac users, if you're doing more than the occasional file transfer.  They're currently not fully compatible.  If you work with lots of Mac users in a Windows environment, you'll have encountered this already.  It hasn't been fixed.

@Arthur Cashin
Do you need additional help or details to get started?

I've provided the correct answer to the question instructions on how to mount the disk and link the shortcuts, as well as alternatives using OD, or DSCL to set the mounted folder.

Do not use a Windows share for network mounting user home directories, or you'll have a lot of issues.  Windows shares are only fine for simple file transfers from Macs, not for a permanently mounted work share.  If it's only a single user, it's fine to work directly off the share.  You can't really work off the same files and folders with more than 1 Mac user.  Even then, that 1 user can run into issues accessing files that they've previously accessed.
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